Monday, August 31, 2009

Low Country Boil

Less than 24 hours after returning from a lovely weekend in Charleston, one of our cats puked on my freshly unpacked luggage. The reason I am sharing this tidbit of info with you, is because one miraculous aspect of the culinary ecology of living with a variety of animals in your home made itself evident. After seeing the cat vomit I just walked past it, cursing the felines, not able in my pregnant state to muster the stomach to clean it up. The next time I past it, the vomit was gone.

I asked Chef if he had picked it up, and he answered no. Thus, the only possible explaination is that one of our dogs...most probably Pumpkin the ultimate scavanger, our living vacuum cleaner ate it. While I curse our pets for the messes they make, every once in a while they prove themselves to be useful in the most wonderful ways.

Back to the weekend in Charleston...three girlfriends from college, myself and our significant others and offspring rented a great house on Isle of Palms. Each couple took a meal to make, ours was dinner the final evening. It was the birthday request of Kate, my old college roomate, for Chef to make Low Country Boil.

Low Country Boil is a quintessential coastal dish of the Southeast. It is one I have grown up with my entire life, and it is so simple and delicious anyone can make it. What made this particular boil special is that earlier that day a group from our party went out on a boat and caught blue crabs to add to the mix. It was the perfect meal to end a perfect weekend beach trip!

Good Life Recipe # 11/ Low Country Boil/ Chef Scott Schwartz
Serves 12

  • 4 lbs of small red potatoes
  • 2 medium onions quartered
  • 5 quarts of water
  • 1/2 cup blackening seasoning
  • 2 lbs of kielbasa, or andouille sausage cut into 1 1/2 inch pieces
  • 6 ears of corn halved
  • 4 pounds of large fresh shrimp (peeled and deviened optional)
  • Add potatoes and onions to large pot
  • Add 5 quarts of water and seasoning
  • Cover pot and heat to a rolling boil. Cook 5 minutes
  • Add sausage and corn, return to a boil
  • Cook 10 minutes or until potatoes are tender
  • Add Shrimp to stockpot, cook 3 to 4 minutes, or until shrimp turn pink
  • Drain and serve with sauce of your choice

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Ode to Beef Jerky

Beef Jerky is one of those foods that is hard to make look appetizing in a photograph. Shoot, it looks far from appetizing in real life. Even nestled in a bed of bib lettuce, it just looks charred strips of leather. I used my creative licence as a writer in the above was the best I could do...but in no way does it do this particularly jerky justice.

A few weeks ago Chef and I received a package from friends in NYC. We had taken Jason and Lauren to lunch while we were there and in return they mailed us a thank you. Lauren and Jason are both artists, great artists actually. When she sent me an email requesting my address to send a little something, little did I know what she had in store for us. An entire box of beef jerky from China Town.

Over lunch that day in NYC at
Momofuku Noodle Bar the conversation somehow drifted onto the subject of beef jerky. Jason proclaimed that he is a connoisseur of beef jerky, and that he had in fact found the most delicious beef jerky in the world. Lauren, confirmed this with a recollection of how they devoured a pound of it in just days. Being that they are both from the South, Chef and I knew that they spoke the truth.

We concurred, we too love beef jerky. Me personally, I have always had a fascination with truckers and I hope I am not stereotyping when I write this, but jerky seems to be their snack of choice. Even when I was a vegetarian for seven years I would buy vegetarian beef jerky. There is something to the flavor...sodium...lots of it!

When I opened the box, I had to laugh. It was so perfect and unexpected. The jerky came in a variety of flavors, Fruit flavor, Spicy flavor, and Oyster flavor written in both English and Chinese. It came with instructions on how to care for the jerky, as well as a card that read
The Beef King. Let me tell you this is beef jerky like none other. The taste of each is subtle and delicate, and the best part of all you feel like you are eating beef. It was not puckered with salt, in fact the opposite. While it was definitely dried beef, you could still taste its juices. My mouth is watering just writing about it.

This little treat made me realize that I am missing something in my life. A food dehydrator. Dehydrating food is a great way to save foods from going bad, turning them into healthy delicious snacks. Perhaps I need to invest in one, but with every cupboard in our house packed to the nines with cookware, I am not sure if I have room for it. Perhaps it is time for a little clean out.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Roadside Stand, I Love You

I love roadside stands. They are such an authentic part of our culture, and I try to support them as much as possible. When traveling they are a great way to try local treats and seasonal foods. There is nothing like picking up a bag of fresh fruit to munch on as you make your way down a back road.

Growing up in Florida I would drive up and down US 301 to visit with my dad, who lived about 400 miles North of my mom. 301 winds through the center of the state, through the forsaken farm lands of Florida. Over the years I have seen fast food restaurants pop up, which is sad because for decades the only places to stop for snacks along the way, aside from gas stations, were fruit and vegetable stands, or the occasional boiled peanut peddler.

For many years I have wanted to do a short documentary on what should be considered the original fast food joints. I imagine many of the old timers that still sit rocking away behind their wooden tables laden with fresh food have seen many a strange traveler down this stretch of US highway. Stories of mobsters cruising to Miami in the 1950's and hobos fresh off trains during the Depression...many of the family farms that own these stands are well over 100 years old.

Here on Amelia Island we have two roadside fruit and vegetable stands, each with a strong following of local customers. There is one on 14th Street that has been thriving for over 15 years now, and another, the one pictured above, nestled in a gas station parking lot, located just a stones throw away from a mega grocery store. Even though it faces tough competition, every time I frequent this stand there is always at least one other person shopping for food. We even have a man that sells local fresh seafood out of a little shed that once housed a hot dog/snow cone vendor. I have yet to muster the courage to buy seafood roadside, but people do.

Roadside stands are usually a cash only affair. Most are family run operations, and you know your money is going directly back into the local economy by supporting them. They are little monuments to the real food of our grandparents and the generations before them...altars of American authenticity.

Good Life Quest # 8/ Roadside Shopping
Find a roadside stand in your area. If there are none, next time you are on a road trip slip off the highway and take a state road. You can usually find roadside stands there. Stop and pick up something unique, or just something delicious. Take note of the people there, their accents and way of being. Salt of the earth.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Deadliest n' Delicious

Whew. Sorry about skipping out for the past week, but we had a house guest tornado hit our house. A crew of five...three awesome kids and two equally fantastic adults. While they were here we had a very special meal. Actually, it was requested by our company...Alaskan King Crab.

Most people are familiar with this mega crustacean because of the show Deadliest Catch. We watch it, or should I say Chef watches it...and when you see the crabs in the traps you really don't get a good idea of the sheer magnitude of this sea creature. One crab leg is pratically the length and width of my forearm. Yes, my forearm. It is a beautiful thing.

One of my least favorite things about eating crab is all the effort that goes into it. It is more work that it's worth and by the end of the meal I always find my shirt speckled in crab juice. The size of the King Crab makes for easy eating. I take a pair of shears and cut down the side of the leg and then pick it out, not with a little seafood fork...but a big old dinner fork. Big huge mouthfuls of crab.

Every time we have King Crab we never finish the platter. It is one of those type of meals you think you are going to be able to eat forever...that nothing will keep you from finishing every last bite. I think the reason we fill up so quickly is not so much the crab, but the sopping of butter that occurs with each bite.

Alaskan King Crab are only fished two to four weeks a year, so needless to say they are a precious and expensive commodity. It is a luxury to say the least... our crustacean feast was fit for a king!

oh, p.s. I was reading the Huffington Post article about best undiscovered cities to eat local food...and ta da there 29 South was nominated by their readers amongst other farm to table restaurants nationwide! Check it out at We are number 62.

Thanks for the nomination Robert Smith...aka Uncle Bob!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Death by Grocery Bag

In the past two years I have noticed a trend at the grocery store. It is not just the long haired, Birkenstock, patchouli smelling types that bring canvas bags to carry their groceries is the lady with the gold bracelets in a white tennis skirt...and the fella in the gray suite and red tie. I can't help but wonder why this sudden shift has occurred.

I would like to think that all these people have suddenly become passionate about the environment. Whatever the reason...this new trend is catching on fast and furious, and for that I am thrilled. I dare to say that is has become fashionable! Which is a good thing, because at my grocery store they don't even offer the paper or plastic option. They just start shoveling the stuff into plastic bags before I can get a word in edgewise.

At the store, I try to thwart the baggers attempts to bag my meat separately, and place my nail polish in its own tiny bag to then be dropped into another big bag. I have to be alert though, because more often than not they sneak more bags in that necessary.

First off, we all know they are made of plastic and that plastic sticks around in our landfills forever. The tricky thing about plastic bags is that unlike other types of trash they have the gift of flight which allows them to traipse along through the air and land more often than not in a body of water. According to the United Nations, there is 46,000 pieces of plastic litter afloat in every square mile of ocean.

Living in Florida most of my life, I grew up cutting plastic six pack holders into pieces before throwing them away. I was taught that they were notorious dolphin and turtle killers. It is estimated that over 1 million birds and 100,000 marine creatures die due to plastic strangulation or entrapment every year.

For me, aside from the environmental impact factor, the sheer annoyance of the accumulation of plastic bags in my cupboard is enough to make me bring a cloth bag. I tell myself I am going to use them as trash bags, or take them to be recycled...which I do when they get so unruly I can no longer close my cupboard door.

In all honesty, I do throw away the occasional bag with a tinge of guilt. In the USA alone with trash 100 billion plastic bags a year...that is the equivalent to flushing 12 million barrels of oil down the toilet. That takes gas guzzling to a whole new level. Definitely something to think about.

Good Life Quest # 7 / Shop Canvas
Next time you go to the grocery store bring a tote bag to lug your goods home plastic bag free. If you don't have a tote, most stores now sell cloth bags for $1. The bags they sell are large and are well designed for packing in lots of groceries.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Bun in the Oven

Yup. Last week my midwife confirmed what the pregnancy test I took the day I left for Massachusetts said with two simple red lines...I have a bun in the oven. For those of you I have not told personally, don't take offense...I was waiting for this visit to confirm the news and I have only told those who have called or I have seen in person over the last month.

We brought Lil' Bit to the visit today so she could see the woman who delivered her into the world just over a year ago. It was a lovely reunion, but this will be hopefully the last visit my squirmy one year old will attend. The gynecologist examination room floor is not exactly the place you want to set your still crawling baby down for a romp if you know what I mean. Thank God Chef was there to handle the little beastie!

My midwife informed me that she will be on pregnancy leave herself when my March 13th due date comes around. This is upsetting, but this being my second pregnancy perhaps my little fetus will beat hers to the punch and come early enough for her to deliver. She was so supportive of my choice to go natural, and did an incredible job. I see her as kinda irreplaceable.

When I bought the jar of peppercini two weeks after Father's Day and ate half of it in two days, it was a tell tale sign. Lately, I am craving all foods with marinara sauce, which happened to me last time as well. Italian food up the well as lemons lots of lemons.

Eating for two is fun, yet daunting. I was 2 lbs away from my pre-pregnancy weight when I took the test, and I have already gained six pounds in the past month. Look, I was on vacation! Still, last pregnancy I gained 40 lbs and this time around I am determined to keep it under 30. We will see. The exhaustion in these first few months makes exercise seem more like a nail in a coffin than anything healthy. Plus, unlike my last pregnancy of books and afternoon warm baths and lots of couch time, I have a 1 year old in full bloom to keep up with. It is a whole different ball game.

The one thing I am really looking forward to is slipping into my pair of maternity jeans. I would wear them forever if I could. In fact most maternity wear is fabulously comfortable. I know I am only 2 months along but I am toying with the idea of making the switch midwife said my uterus was huge...that counts right?

Having two children less than two years apart is daunting...but millions of women do it. You just gotta hunker down for three or four years and dive in full force.

I have to interrupt this thought to share with you the conversation I am totally eavesdropping on. I am in a coffee shop and an older man and woman just sat down at a table next to me. The man is a total grump and just told his wife that "this is not my kind of place. I thought we were eating at 29 South. What is this?" He points to something on the menu. She responds "lettuce." Nice. I had to stifle a laugh. There is nothing worse than seeing two people that have obviously been married forever sitting across from each other utterly miserable, speaking to each other with total disdain. Why do people do it? Ugh.

Okay...I gotta get out of here. I think he is complaining about the ice tea. "It is too strong." His wife ordered him a water..the enabler. These people are making me depressed, and I am pregnant. I need joy. Hey... at least they dig our restaurant.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009


I am going to write this at the risk of sounding a bit Martha Stewart...a simple table arrangement can really transform a room. There, I said it...and you know what...I don't feel ashamed because it is damn true. Look, in the past year it has hit me that I have become a homemaker. Now, I grew up in a household with a mother that was a high power attorney, a true product of the woman's liberation movement. While she was a brilliant lawyer, and excellent mom, she knits and needlepoints, but homemaking was not her forte.

Since I was not raised with any sort of model for homemaking in the traditional sense, I sometimes find myself overwhelmed in my new role. I am so new to this whole homemaker thing, and being a creative type and a Pisces to boot, lets just say rational organization does not come naturally to me. Oh, I have my own way of having everything in its place, but lets just say you wouldn't necessarily know that from the looks of things.

My neighbor is a whole different story. Her house looks like it is in a constant state of being photographed for a decor magazine. Absolute perfection. I watch her bustle about her yard, meticulously manicured without any help from a lawn service. I seek some solace in the fact that she uses synthetic fertilizers and herbicides while I toil in my garden the old fashioned way. She has two little boys and from the looks of it, she wears a size six maybe. I mean, this woman even finds the time to wash her and her husband's SUVs on a regular basis. She is a supernatural homemaker. Betty Crocker on steroids.

The culture of family in America has really left us homemakers holding the bag...the vacuum bag that is. Back in the day women had their mothers and aunts living with them, helping with children and we are on our own.

This year I have become a homemaker...and some how this epiphany transformed my before seemingly meaningless chores as part of some larger grander plan. At least that is what I am telling myself. I began to think about what makes a home a warm friendly habitat and two images came to mind, fresh flowers on the kitchen table and hot muffins fresh out of the oven.

When you walk into a room with fresh flowers it just has a different feel. It is such a simple gesture to make a home more inviting. A bright bouquet can bring a little light into even the dingiest bachelor pad. If you want to get a little creative, incorporate a veggie or fruit into the arrangement. So there you have it. Flowers and muffins.

Good Life Quest # 6/ Table Flowers
Find some flowers. On the walk home, on a hike, in the grocery store (if you find them at the store buy the different bunches) at the farmers market...wherever. At the grocery story buy a vegetable or fruit that you find beautiful. Bring your flora home and arrange them in a container. Place it on the table most used in your home. How does it change the atmosphere of the room? Does it make it more homey?

Monday, August 3, 2009

Baby Food? Human Food.

I want to begin this with a very simple statement. There is nothing extraordinary about making your own baby food. It doesn't require you to be a health freak, or a hippie, or an extreme dietary Nazi. Nope, all it means is that you have a food processor and whatever you eat you set a little aside and puree it for your baby. It is what people have done for thousands of years, and in most other nations they never stopped.

Would you want to eat jarred food every day for months on end? Why would you do that to your kid? The first flavors your baby tastes should be fresh, bright, rich, and delicious. Not dull, grayish, mush. Baby's tastes are fickle...for example Lil' Bit would have nothing to do with blueberries when she was six months seven months later she will eat them until she is sick.

When Lil' Bit was five months old I introduced her to solids. I told people I was going to make her food and they treated me like I was some sort of saint. I got a book or two, The Petite Appetite was my favorite, and then from there I just followed my instincts and my own diet. Avocados, bananas, baked sweet potato, and pureed spinach where some of her favorites.

At first I just made veggies specifically for her, and then I had the brilliant realization that I was wasn't making baby food...I was making real food that I would eat myself. I set aside some of it not to puree and had a nice side for dinner. Now, it is the opposite. Whatever I am making for dinner I make extra for her just slice it small now that she has a few chompers. Granted you have to be careful of certain foods like pine nuts, and other high allergens, but babies can really pretty much eat anything. Check out the book Real Food for Mother and Baby, by Nina Planck. A local and traditional food expert, she does a great job explaining the realities behind eating for new moms and new babes.

One day at the grocery store I decided to do a little recon and see what was actually in baby food. Being that I try to eat only organic foods I compared the ingredients of the Gerber baby foods and those of Earth's Best organic baby food. Earth's Best only had two simple ingredients in most of their food, vegetable and water or fruit and water. In fact if you are going to go the jar route, make sure water is the only other ingredient listed in whatever simple baby food you choose other than the veggie, fruit, or meat. Anything else listed, is a filler that decreases the nutritional value.

In the USA baby food is a $1.25 billion dollar industry. Three companies, Gerber, Beech Nut, and Heinz, control 95% of the market. The Center for Science in the Public Interest did a study on baby food and found that most of the food sold are diluted with fillers and they only have 1/2 of the nutritional value of the actual veggies named on the jar.

In February this year we went to NYC and I decided to buy a few jars of baby food for Lil' Bit just to make travel a little easier. I tried to give her some carrots and she took two bites and then refused to eat anything else out of the little jars. Who could blame her?

Don't get me wrong...I am not super hardcore about processed foods. Ok...maybe a little hardcore, but I do give her the occasional organic cookie, but fruit is her main sweet of choice. If we are at a friends house I let her eat whatever if I didn't bring anything else. It is important to be relatively flexible.

Real food is so much less expensive than "baby food" or processed food in general, and it is something you and your baby can share together. Easy on the pocket book, and taste buds. It is more bang for your buck because it has higher nutritional value as well.

Human food is baby food. Simple as that.

ps. pasta is one of Lil' Bit's favorite foods of all time. You can mix any veggie into it, and slap a little Alfredo and cream cheese...delicious for all. Pastina is a tiny pasta Italians serve their babies and it makes a fabulous food for the little toothless ones!