Saturday, August 27, 2011

why "bring a little bread"?

If you know me, you probably know that I'm not exactly into overt religious expression. It doesn't bother me so much when other people tell me how they feel about God, but I usually refrain from reciprocating.

And, if you know me, you also probably know that I just started divinity school.

So. How exactly does that work?

I wish I knew. I've discovered over the last week, my first week of class, that divinity school is not just an extension of my college religion major. Already, two of my classes have required that I tell others--strangers!--about specifics of my spiritual life and religious leanings. To say this has made me uncomfortable would be quite the understatement.

Somehow, though, I know this discomfort serves a purpose. These feel like growing pains or sore muscles after a long run, not signs of injury but signs that I am stretching myself. Thus, I've decided to expand the scope of this blog.

Perhaps it was meant to be. I took the name "bring a little bread" from Genesis 18, when Abraham and Sarah welcome in three strangers for a meal. In verse 5, Abraham tells the men, "Let me bring a little bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on—since you have come to your servant." To be honest, I chose this title not only because I like the passage and what it says about hospitality, but also because it was an obscure enough reference that I didn't think anyone would realize it's biblical!

Of course, I haven't done a complete 180 in the last week. I still don't feel comfortable talking about my personal religious or spiritual views, and I don't intend the focus of this blog to shift entirely to what I'm learning about religion and about myself in school. Rather, I hope to bring my full experience to the table--not only of the food I make, but, to be just a little bit trite, of the spiritual nourishment I take in over the course of my time in divinity school, and perhaps beyond.

P.S. - That bread at the top? It's Cook's Illustrated's "almost no knead" bread. Try it; it will change your life.

Monday, August 22, 2011

summer across the south

I've lived in Nashville for just over a week now, and I have discovered that although it differs from Charleston in a number of ways, the two cities share at least one thing in common: they have awesome summer produce. High-quality, inexpensive fruits and vegetables are hard to find, so as soon as I decided to move to Nashville I began scouring the internet for places to buy produce here. Luckily, I almost immediately found Green Door Gourmet, a local "farm to fork venture" that offers weekly CSA boxes for $20, with no seasonal commitment. I ordered my first box on Friday and picked it up on Saturday; I was not disappointed. Corn, heirloom tomatoes, peppers, squash, basil, cucumbers, and okra filled my rather large box to the brim, and they even threw in a free bag of locally sourced cornmeal for good measure.

But what to do with all of it? I'm only one person, and this was a LOT of vegetables. Nostalgia kicked in soon enough, and I decided to combine some of my okra, tomatoes, and corn with black-eyed peas for the quintessential southern summer dish.

I'm not even going to feign humility here; this turned out damn good. (Unfortunately, the pictures did not, so you'll have to trust me on this one.) One thing I love about food is that it can make me feel at home no matter where I am, and as I create a new home in a new city I find this quality especially important. It's nice to know that even though I'm nine hours away from Charleston, at any moment I could be eating the very same variety of tomato I would find at the farmer's market on Marion Square.

black-eyed peas with summer vegetables
makes about 6 servings as a side dish, 4 as a main
nutrition: it's healthy except for the time to calculate 
   nutrition facts now that i'm actually busy!

1 tbsp butter
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 c diced bell pepper (about 1/2 medium)
1 c okra (about 8 large pods), sliced into disks
1 c corn kernels (from about 1 large ear)
1 medium tomato, chopped
2 cans black-eyed peas, rinsed and drained, OR
   1 c. dried, prepared from package directions
1 c water
1 tbsp molasses
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1/4 tsp dried thyme
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper
1/2 tsp salt, or more or less to taste

Melt butter in large cast iron (preferred) or nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add garlic and bell pepper and cook until lightly browned, a minute or so.

Add okra, corn, and tomatoes, and cook until slightly softened and blackened in spots, 5-7 minutes or more. Add black-eyed peas, water, molasses, vinegar, thyme, and red pepper, and stir to combine. Let cook down until little liquid remains. Add salt to taste (and more molasses, vinegar, thyme, or red pepper, if you want) and serve.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Oh, Charleston... I will miss you!
Thank you to my friend Christina for this lovely picture!

I leave for Nashville in less than a week, and I am in a state of disbelief. I have spent some of the best years of my life in Charleston, and I can't believe my time here is coming to an end. The funny thing is, I never expected to like it here. I planned to be in Charleston for a year, two max, yet here we are approaching three and my parents are practically having to tear me away for my move!

Let me be clear, I'm excited about Nashville and this new grad school adventure, but the change is bittersweet in the truest sense of the word. It is hard to leave such a charming, vibrant, captivating city. I won't even go into the difficulty of leaving the people who surround me here--you (and hopefully, you know who you are) have filled my life here with love and laughter and genuine connection. I can't thank you enough.

Okay, enough with the sappy stuff--this is a food blog, after all, and the purpose of this post is to share with you some of my favorite food/drink finds in Charleston. I'm not attempting a comprehensive list and am naturally predisposed to sandwiches and pizza (as you'll see), but it's a start! Even so, I hope it helps you discover some new gems. These places are all very affordable, which is a bonus...and one of the reasons why they're all on my list of favorites!

The Bagel Shop:  Great bagels, better coffee, best sandwiches.
Bin 152:  A lovely little wine bar with a host of offerings by the bottle and glass, plus generous and relatively inexpensive cheese plates.
Black Bean Co.:  A wide selection of wraps and pitas (the best value), and my favorite yogurt and granola in Charleston.
EVO:  I generally don't eat "meat lovers" anything, but for their pork trifecta I gladly make an exception. I love pizza, and EVO does it right.
Gene's Haufbrau:  An unrivaled beer selection and greasy (but good!) bar food to go along with it.
GrazeOne of the few places I'll venture to Mt. Pleasant for...have only been for lunch, but I'm sure dinner is equally fantastic! 
The Kickin' Chicken:  Okay, so their food isn't that great. I've gone to trivia here practically every week for two years, though, so I just had to put it on here. Oh, and cheese pretzels...get them.
Macaroon Boutique:  French pastries and breads made by French people...always a good choice. They recently added a second location that focuses on lunch, and I've heard good things.
Mellow Mushroom:  This is a southern chain, but I just want to say how happy I am that they have a location across the street from the Vanderbilt campus.
Nirlep:  I have to admit that I've only been here once, about a week ago. Indian restaurants are few and far between in Charleston, though, and my experience at this one was top-notch.
Santi's:  margaritas.
Sermet's Corner:  This is a sentimental favorite for many reasons. Food is hit-or-miss, but I like the atmosphere. My mom always orders the chicken with butternut squash ravioli, and it never disappoints.
Sugar Bakeshop:  So cute, and great baked goods to boot. If I'm not baking my own cookies, cakes, etc., I get them from here.
Ted's Butcherblock:  Anyone who knows me knows of my love for Ted's. Great sandwiches, high-quality meats, cheeses, and other gourmet treats, monthly beer dinners, Friday night $5 wine tastings and $12 dinners, a bacon of the month club (!)...the list goes on and on. Probably my favorite place in Charleston.

Now, I just have to start looking into the (cheap) Nashville food scene. Suggestions are welcome!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

fig & walnut cinnamon rolls

Oh my gosh, I LOVE figs. Fresh ones have been hard to come by this season, so I've only had a precious few thus far...but if I could, I think I would eat them every day.

preferably over Greek yogurt, drizzled with honey.

I can't, though, so I have to make do with dried figs, fig preserves, perhaps even the occasional fig newton. Since I'm moving out in just over a week, so I am currently trying to eat every food item I have in my apartment (a gallon of nutritional yeast, anyone?). One of those items was a jar of fig preserves, barely touched since I bought it to pair with a wedge of brie a couple months ago.

After very little deliberation, I decided to make a healthier version of cinnamon rolls. This was determined partly by my love for all things sweet and breakfast-y, and partly by the walnuts in my freezer, the half-block of cream cheese in my fridge, and the three bags of powdered sugar in my pantry. I told you I was dead-set on eating least I didn't try to incorporate the nutritional yeast.

The resulting rolls were sweet, sticky, and wheaty enough to make me feel like I was eating something marginally healthy for breakfast (I wasn't). Even though I've painted this recipe as a pantry-cleaning endeavor, these buns are worth making regardless of your aim. I think they'll be an even better winter breakfast, when figs aren't in season, I want to eat warm and nutty things all the time, and it doesn't matter what I look like in a swimsuit. 

fig & walnut cinnamon rolls
makes 12 small rolls
per bun:  229.1 cal, 7.1g fat, 37.8g carb, 2.5g fiber, 5.0g protein, 6+ weight watchers

   1/2 c fig preserves, room
   1/2 c chopped toasted walnuts
   1 tsp ground cinnamon
   1 1/4 c all-purpose flour
   1 1/4 c whole wheat flour
   2 tbsp sugar
   1 1/4 tsp baking powder
   1/2 tsp baking soda
   1/2 tsp salt
   1 1/4 c nonfat milk
   3 tbsp butter, melted and divided
   1/2 c powdered sugar
   2 tbsp light cream cheese, softened
   1 tbsp nonfat milk

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Spray 9" round pan with cooking spray. Combine fig preserves, walnuts, and cinnamon in a small bowl; set aside.

Whisk together flours, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. Combine two tablespoons of melted butter with milk in a medium bowl, and add to dry ingredients. Mix to form a ball of dough, then turn dough out onto lightly floured surface.

Form dough into a roughly 9 x 12" rectangle and brush with remaining melted butter. Spread preserve and walnut mixture over surface. Roll long side of dough into a pinwheel and cut into 12 rolls.

Place rolls in pan, cover with foil, and bake for 10-12 minutes. Remove foil and bake for 10-12 minutes more, or until rolls are light brown and filling looks caramelized.

Prepare glaze: using a mixer set to medium, mix together powdered sugar, softened cream cheese, and buttermilk. Pour glaze over warm rolls and serve.