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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Cherry Tomato & Ricotta Frittata {recipe}

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Remember when I promised to post my cherry tomato and ricotta frittata recipe “very soon”?  Like 2 months ago, soon?  Well, here she is, just in time for the first frost and an impending seven solid months of the tomato-less hell that is winter.

I know, I know.  Excuses, excuses.  But seriously, grad school is tough y’all.  Over the past couple of months, I’ve cried in front of several fellow PhD students, cried my self to sleep after my first accounting seminar, cried in my professor’s office, cried when my boyfriend “jokingly” locked me in the bathroom, and left my first microeconomic theory midterm choking for breath because the tears were gushing so fast and so hard that all my facial orifices had clogged.

I am a character from a cheesy 80’s sitcom.

But I took a break from all that excitement, just to get this frittata recipe up here on the blog.  Now hurry outside and pick the last of the cherry tomatoes before the first frost comes!

cherry tomato and ricotta frittata

Check out the bite-size video below to see just how darn easy this frittata is to throw together.  It tastes great when reheated and makes for a pretty mean breakfast sandwich, should you be so inclined.

Snag the whole recipe here!

 

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Gluten-free-for-all

Thanks to goodnessknows for sponsoring this post and encouraging me to refocus on healthy living goals!

I remember once proclaiming that I’d rather date a vegetarian than someone who was gluten-free.  I said “vegetarian” like it was something utterly disdainful, the penultimate compatibility failure.  Fast forward a few years, and I’m the (most-of-the-time) vegetarian touting a gluten-free fellow.  Oh, how the tables turn!  Starting this blog 6.5 years ago was sort of like my healthy living “puberty” — back then, I was dipping my toe in the internet’s complex, often conflicting, never-ending pool of health-focused information.  I was intrigued, excited, and totally misguided.  But, just as our bodies physically mature over our lifetimes, our tastes, preferences, and views shift and expand, strengthen and sag too.  And thank god for that.  Otherwise I’d still be eating fat-free dairy for snacks and microwaved broccoli for breakfast every day. goodnessknows

Near the time I started blogging, I learned about the gluten-free diet from my friend Tracy, who, after an onslaught of tummy troubles, found that dairy-free, gluten-free foods made her feel “normal” again.  At the time, “gluten” was a word few people knew or cared much about, and this whole gluten-free diet thing sounded MISERABLE to me.  So, I made it my mission to find Tracy a decent gluten-free, dairy-free pizza so that her new GF life wouldn’t be completely devoid of joy.
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Good to Freaking Great {some thoughts on healthy living}

A big thanks to goodnessknows for sponsoring this post (and contributing to this grad student’s emergency vacation fund!).  

The well-documented link between mental stability and physical activity is one I won’t drudge on about here.  In short, mental health and physical health are intertwined just like the pastel colors in those rainbow bagels I see all over the internet these days.  Basically, bagels are my therapy.  I MEAN EXERCISE.  Yes, exercise.  And by therapy, I simply mean that I am happiest and most emotionally stable when I get some form of exercise each day.  I joke that like a dog, I need walked twice a day.   Even small amounts of exercise (like walking) boost my energy and mood.

Goodness Knows #tryalittlegoodness

Of course this all sounds wonderful, but the truth is that when life gets crazy, exercise is the first thing to disappear from my routine (followed closely behind by healthy eating), and in those high-stress chunks of days, I feel my happiness dissipate — not to depression, but to numbness.  I become numb to the world as I focus with champion-like intention on the task at hand.  You see, I’m what my dad calls a “go-getter” always seeking out some thing, some goal, and hunkering down till I obtain it.  A goal-getter, really.  I know this about myself, and actually, I like this quality.  But, each time, after the smokey stress cloud clears, I look back on the weeks or months that have lapsed and am often disappointed that I let so much life pass me by; that my mission for mindfulness was yet again neglected; that I sacrificed those things that help me be my best me.

Goodness Knows #tryalittlegoodness

I’ve got my sights set on this balanced rainbow bagel of life as I head into what will surely be the most stressful couple of months this gal has tackled yet.  As the great Mr. Tolle, my 10th grade biology teacher, proclaimed: “organization is key.”  And thus, I’ve organized some thoughts on my health goals for the fall.

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Behind the scenes of a recipe video shoot

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A few years ago, in a creative writing workshop, my group was asked to write a paragraph about how to make guacamole.  We had five minutes or so, the first four of which I spent wondering why my brain had suddenly turned into a lumpy pile of pudding, and the fifth of which I utilized to quickly scrawl my go-to guacamole recipe (link here, if you’re curious).  The instructor then asked our neighbors to read our guacamole stories aloud.  ALOUD.  THE HORROR.  The guacamole stories began to flow.  Tales of quirky childhood loathing of all things green, grass included.  Words of wisdom, lessons learned, ideas on what the heck NOT to do.  A gal who sat close to me weaved together a perfect description of a grandmother hand-mashing avocado with her beautiful, wrinkled hands.  I could taste the guacamole.  I could see the grandma.  Heck, I felt like I KNEW the grandma.

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And then it was time for my story.  My neighbor (who happened to be the wickedly talented Keia Mastrianni) read my story to the group.  It went a little something like this:  slice an avocado, mash it, add 1/3 cup diced red onion. . .  I was mortified.

It took me longer than I’d like to admit to recognize that I don’t perform well creatively when put on the spot.  I need time and a lot of it.  As much as I’d hoped both sides of my brain would mature equally, the Type A traits run this show.  Brainstorming sometimes leaves me creatively numb, a reaction that is amplified when I let any sort of self-doubt creep into the conversation.  You can’t write.  No one is going to read this.  Did you really just type that sentence?  Is “delicious” the only adjective you know?  Mary, even YOU are bored right now.  What are you doing?  YOU’RE AN ACCOUNTANT FOR GODS SAKE.

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6 Year Bloggiversary

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Dang, guys.  It doesn’t feel like a whole year has passed since I wrote my five-year-bloggiversary post, but here we are.  SIX WHOPPING YEARS of blogging under my belt.  Last year, I reminisced on starting the blog and how over the past five years my blog has become my wing man of sorts.  A support system, really.  A crutch.  Who woulda guessed year six would be one for the record books?

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I had a few cool media spotlights this year, including being listed as one of Charlotte’s 16 food accounts to follow on Instagram on Charlotte Agenda, and a fun introduction on #weloveclt written by my pal Vanessa Smith Have you met Mary Cowx?

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I was also selected as a Design Charlotte Influencer and got to talk all about how cool Charlotte is in this video:

My most popular post over the last 365 days was my Buffalo Chicken Dip recipe (originally posted in 2010, most popular blog post, six years running), dangit… 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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Bike to work: challenge accepted. {fitness}

When my friends from goodnessknows asked me to team up with them on a bike-to-work post, I didn’t hesitate to say yes.  I mean, bike rides + delicious snacks?  How could I decline?  Truth be told, I had an ulterior motive — I recently moved to Columbus, Ohio to pursue my PhD in Accounting, and one of the biggest perks of the city is the awesome trail system.  Though, I have several years of walking to work under my belt (max distance of 1.6 sweaty miles each way), biking to work is a new challenge.  Currently, I live about 6 miles from work, and my daily commute takes an average of 20 minutes (including the walk from the parking lot to the building)–a distance that seemed a little TOO FAR to bike.

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But, how could I type up a bunch of words on why biking to work is a great idea (healthy for you, healthy for the environment, etc.), if I didn’t actually give it a shot?  Exactly.  I needed some street cred.  I had to actually give this bike to work idea a go to see how a bike commute stacks up against my normal car commute.  Since I don’t have a means to gauge the environmental impact, I focused on calories burned (the primary health factor) and total time (my most valuable resource) spent.  For this not-so-scientific study, I tracked calories burned using a heart rate monitor and commute duration (time and mileage) using MapMyRide.

bike commute vs car commute

The results:  the bike commute took about 13 minutes longer, but resulted in an additional 200 calories burned. 

Honestly, these results are pretty surprising.  I expected the bike commute to take closer to 45 minutes!  13 additional minutes of my time to burn 200 extra calories, seems like a wise spend.  Factor in the return trip home, and that’s 400 calories for 26 incremental minutes of personal time.   Seeing the stats stacked up, it’s hard to find a reason NOT to bike to work . . . except maybe the sweat factor.  Perhaps this could be remedied with a quick bathroom baby wipe wipe-down.

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Lentil Dal with Spinach and Carrots {healthy recipe}

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When I was kid, my parents didn’t sneak vegetables into my meals, per se.  (Though, my step mom did occasionally “hide” Brussels sprouts under a blanket of Velveeta cheese.)  Rather, it seemed like they picked the vegetables they knew the kids would eat.  BROCCOLI.  POTATOES.  POTATOES.  POTATOES.  This worked out well for me, because as a kid I hated most cooked vegetables, including green peppers, tomatoes, and CARROTS.  Oh, how I loathed the mushy cooked carrot.

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This dal recipe has three cups of minced carrots and ten ounces (two regular-sized bags) of spinach (or more, if you like).  While the spinach is discernible, the carrots blend right in with the lentils and you forget they’re even there.  Hallelujah.  This lentil dal is a very healthy dish, yet hearty and satisfying.  I’ve made if many times over the last several months, and finally made the effort to write down the ingredients on the last batch.  This recipe is forgiving — add as little or as much of the seasonings as you like.  Extra veggies always welcome.

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Corkbuzz Charlotte: much more than “just” a wine bar {restaurant review}

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My level of wine expertise falls somewhere between red wine neophyte and casual red wine drinker.  While I enjoy drinking [red] wine, just pronouncing “Tempranillo” or “Sangiovese” gives me quivers of self-doubt.  Over the years, I’ve developed some “tricks” to make it appear as if I know more about wine than I do.  In fact, I once wrote an article for Urbanspoon (on their now extinct official blog) called How to Order Wine Like a Boss.  The article consisted of 600+ words of advice on how to successfully order a bottle of wine at a business meeting without looking like a schmuck.

corkbuzz entrance

Despite this light-grade wine anxiety, one of my favorite nights-on-the-town is spent sharing wine and small plates with friends.  Recently, I did just that with Frank Vafier, co-owner of  Corkbuzz, a restaurant and wine bar in South Park.  You’d think drinking wine with a wine bar owner would be intimidating but Frank is an easygoing sort of guy.  We spent the evening talking about ping-pong tournaments, karaoke, and our shared interest in dinner parties while we tasted several dishes on the Corkbuzz dinner menu.

According to Frank, the idea for Corkbuzz was hatched by his niece, Master Sommelier Laura Maniec.  Laura is one of about thirty female Master Sommeliers in the world, and at one point in time she was the youngest Master Sommelier, period.  Despite these rather impressive credentials, the Corkbuzz philosophy on wine is relaxed, with a focus on “enjoying wine and talking about wine in a way that makes everyone feel welcome and never intimidated.”  Their approachability is exemplified by their knowledgable unpretentious servers, the restaurant’s no-corkage-fee policy, and the “ask the Master Sommelier” link on the website that invites website guests to send their wine questions Laura’s way.

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Oysters in Uptown: a look at Sea Level in Charlotte, NC {restaurant review}

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We were on a family vacation to Daytona Beach the first time an oyster graced my presence.  I was about 10 years old and, needless to say, disgusted.  Fast forward twenty+ years, and here I am writing about Sea Level, a delicious new oyster bar in Uptown Charlotte.  What is it about oysters that entice people?  For me, it’s the contrast of the fresh garnishes with the cool, salty meat.  Horseradish, cocktail sauce, and Tobasco.  A squirt of lemon.  A saltine.  A traditional French Mignonette (my pick).  Sure, oyster purists like them plain, but I prefer to approach oysters as if they’re the nachos of the sea.  Who’s with me?

Sea Level Entrance

Sea Level is located uptown at the bottom of the Hearst Tower (entrance off of 5th street) and is co-owned by the same folks who brought us Crepe Cellar and Growlers Pourhouse in NoDa plus Paul Manley, who helped open Pearlz Oyster Bar in Charleston, SC.  I’ve eaten at Sea Level three times (so far), including an informative and delicious evening of oysters and drink pairings with my CLT Food Blogger friends.  While the farm-to-fork and sustainable foods concepts are becoming well represented in Charlotte, Sea Level is applying these food sourcing missions to seafood by shortening the food chain between oyster farmers and restaurants and by only purchasing non-threatened species.  Sea-to-fork, if you will, which doesn’t have quite as nice of a ring to it. . . So, since we’re talking oysters, how about sea-to-slurp?  (HOT NEW PHRASE ALERT.)

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