Healthy Home Market, Rooster’s and Other New Places

On Friday we ate at Roosters Wood-Fired Kitchen on Morrison Boulevard, across from Southpark. We chose this restaurant because it was casual, kid friendly and reasonably priced. They use local and organic ingredients when possible. The menu is a la carte, but not super expensive like you’d find in a fine dining restaurant. They bring bread out before the meal and the “kid food” was really good. Good enough for an adult. Mac and cheese was definitely made with real cheese and the chicken fingers were delicious. Haleigh ordered a burger which she and Brian liked. I didn’t try it, but it looked yummy. I had gnocchi and a salad. The portions were just right – more than enough for one person. Most restaurants give you enough for two or three. I don’t eat that much… neither does Brian. He ordered the pasta special and salad. I was hoping for more veg in our meals, but it was a la carte. Next time we’ll order another side vegetable. Linsey wanted to sit outside (which would have been nice – it was beautiful and comfortable outside), but when we walked in and saw the open kitchen we changed our mind. The atmosphere was cool. We’ll definitely go back for the food and the ambiance.

Oh and I just purchased a Groupon for Table 274 in Cotswold ($12 for $25). They have local menu selections. Can’t wait to try it. Yay Groupon for offering a discount for a restaurant that supports local agriculture! You can click on this link if you want the Groupon.

I was going to do some shopping Sunday morning and decided to check out Healthy Home Market on South Boulevard. I usually go to the one on Independence, which is smaller. After reading some reviews on yelp.com (to make sure it was worth the trip) I figured I check with Brian to see if he’d want to go. I’d read quite a few good things about their beer selection and I knew that would spark some interest for him. (He loves to try new brew and he’s rubbed off on me.) The beer selection was nice. They had some local brews and some organic ones. I even found a local one to try – Carolina Strawberry Ale. Pretty good. It’s not sweet or anything, but you can smell the strawberry. The bottle is cool and girlie. It’s girlie beer. I like it, but to be honest I don’t see Brian standing around holding one.

The girls were not happy that they had to tag along, but once we got there they were glad they came. They got a few treats and some chicken wings from the deli while I poked around and shopped. They have a meat counter – with local and grass fed beef and pastured chicken (and it’s way cheaper than the stuff I buy from the farmers market). They are at least twice the size of the Independence store. They had more deli selections and prepared food. More bulk items. (The selection and process of buying in bulk was intimidating the first couple times, but now I’m hooked. I’ll probably only rarely buy prepackaged flour, sugar, beans, salt, etc. It’s much cheaper and the quality is way better when you buy from bulk bins. Even cheaper than Trader Joe’s. Plus you can decide how much or how little to buy.)

Most of the produce is organic and some of it is local, or at least regional. And they have all the specialty items I use. I have a feeling Teeter and TJ’s will be seeing less of me. And they have these great classes, talks and community events. We’re looking forward to Customer Appreciation Day (Saturday, May 21, 1-4pm). Love this store.

I’m looking forward to exploring South End (downright excited about it actually). I am not familiar with the area at all, but that is going to change. They have the kind of natural and local food stores and restaurants that I like – all clustered together. I’m going to check out Atherton Market, right down the street from HHM and Berrybrook Farm, on East Boulevard next time I’m in the area.

Brian visited the Peach Stand in Fort Mill and discovered that they sell the milk we like. It’s just as far as my every-other-week-milk-pickup location, but (like HHE on South Boulevard) they have other local products that I’m interested in. Plus, I can make the trip on my own schedule. I can’t wait until we run out of milk so I can go check it out!

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Naples and Exploring Natural, Organic Markets and Restaurants

Naples. Naples. Naples. I can’t wait to go back. As I mentioned in my previous post, we were in Florida visiting my sister last week. We decided to drive three hours and spend a few days in Naples during the work week. We stayed at the Best Western Inn & Suites which was highly rated on every site we checked. I can confirm that it was definitely a great place. The kids were thrilled. They were expecting the usual one-room-with-two-beds hotel room and had no idea what a “suite” was. (We’ve stayed in them before, but apparently they don’t remember.) It had a separate bedroom, large bathroom and small kitchen. The living area was nice and roomy all the rooms were very nicely furnished and decorated. There was a balcony with a couple chairs and a table. It was screened in, which was nice. Though the view was just of the pool and adjacent building… hey it was Florida. The pool is surrounded by lush, green trees and plants and brightly colored tropical flowers. So our view was what I’d call “tropical rain forest”. Oh and the building was made of beautiful stones, not some drab brick or stucco. I wish I had taken a picture. The first morning I woke up and looked out the sliding glass doors I felt like I was in paradise.

There were two separate pools and hot tubs (both nice) and they served a continental breakfast… which was nothing to brag about. I think I ate two hard boiled eggs while I was there and only to sustain me. They had white toast, waffles, apples, juice, cereal, oatmeal – nothing I want my family to eat in the morning. Haleigh usually ate toast and an egg. Linsey and London ate questionable waffles with “pancake syrup” (not to be confused with 100% Real Maple Syrup). I had a stash of organic apples, so we skipped their conventional ones.

Just a word about “pancake syrup” and sweeteners… Pancake syrup is usually made of corn syrup, sometimes high fructose corn syrup (sometimes both), and artificial coloring and flavoring and other disgusting additives and preservatives. (Click here for Aunt Jemima Ingredients and Nutritional Info.) My kids prefer it over real maple syrup which baffles me. At home Brian, London and I use the real the thing. I have made the girls pancake syrup the way my mom did when I was growing up – sugar, water and artificial maple flavoring – but won’t be making it again when this last batch is gone. We don’t use it much anyway and they’ll just have to learn to like the real thing, or go without. Luckily they also like fresh fruit and even peanut butter on their morning pastries. 100% Maple syrup is better for you than pancake syrup, but it’s still sugar. We rarely eat pancakes or waffles  anymore because I don’t believe they are healthy. Once you add the syrup, they pretty much become pastry. Newsflash: Pastries aren’t good for you. Pastries are a rare treat at anytime of day, especially breakfast.

I also don’t buy refined sugar at all anymore. We use mostly raw, local honey and 100% pure maple syrup for sweeteners when needed. I also use sucanat (whole cane sugar) or muscavado (unrefined brown sugar), which I get at a health food store, Healthy Home Market, and very rarely (mostly Brian’s coffee) we use evaporated cane juice. I usually buy organic and fair trade certified sweeteners. All of these cost more than refined white table sugar, of course. But we still spend less on it than we used to, because we eat so little of it – which is the way it should be really. I cut sugar out completely or at least by a third in almost every recipe.

While we were in Naples, we decided to kick typical vacation food to the curb and attempt to eat what we would if we were at home. To our complete surprise, we were right next to Naples version of Healthy Home Market, Nature’s Garden. And they had a cafe that served cold sandwiches, salads and a few hot dishes (chicken, rice and soups). We ate lunch there, twice. We tried to eat at a local restaurant that serves fresh, local and organic foods, but we were too late and it was a little more upscale than we expected. Not the kind of place you take three young kids on vacation. We ended up the Cheesecake Factory (blech!) that night. (Click here to see my review on Urban Spoon.)

Also across the street, though we didn’t get to explore it until the morning we checked out, was a group of stores called Food & Though 100% Organic Market. There was a small, boutique-like clothing and bedding store, gardening center, grocery store and cafe (wish I had known about this earlier in our stay). The organic clothing and bedding store was something new for me. I found my new favorite t-shirt – a 100% organic cotton “Eat Local” t-shirt. I would love to buy the bedding, but WOW! Not. Cheap. Eventually, I’ll replace all of ours, but that will take some time and planning. I also bought several packets of organic, heirloom seeds from the gardening center. I planted them yesterday!

The beach and the people in Naples were fantastic. What a melting pot. It was refreshing to be around such a diverse group and in such a beautiful place. In fact, many of the families we encountered weren’t even speaking English. Spanish, French, Italian, and others I can’t name. It truly felt like we had stepped into paradise.  We arrived late in the  afternoon on Tuesday. We had planned to walk out on the beach for a quick look and then go out to dinner. But after stepping out onto the beach, we changed our minds. We went and grabbed some sandwiches from that Nature’s Garden, ate and changed into our bathing suits. It was the best decision ever. We stayed to watch the beautiful sunset. When the sun finally disappeared completely, the people on the beach oohed and aahed and broke into applause. It was worthy.

After exploring Naples’ and Tampa’s natural, organic markets and restaurants, I realized that I have not done this enough in our own home town. I’m sure Charlotte has similar shops, and I know they have several restaurants I’d like to try. I mentioned that I was going to explore more of these stores in Charlotte to Brian and his response was, “I’m already ahead of you.” He found an app on his phone that lists “natural” places in Charlotte. At least once a week I plan to check out a new place. I may try the Healthy Home Market on East Boulevard this week. I’ve been to the one on Independence, but I’m thinking the East Boulevard store might have more to offer. We’ll see.

Tampa, Food and Surprises

Last week we visited my sister and her family in Tampa, FL. What a beautiful city! The weather was perfect. It was a nice 85 degrees most of the trip and the humidity hasn’t set in yet. We visited Tampa’s Lowery Park Zoo. This is the best zoo I’ve ever been to. Sadly Linsey and Brian missed out on it this trip. Linsey contracted a stomach virus and they had to leave almost as soon as we entered. She broke our hearts, crying in disappointment and discomfort when she finally decided to throw in the towel and go home. She’d been looking forward to the trip all week. She is finally feeling like herself again, five days later.

Next to the sick kiddos, the hardest part of the trip was finding real food. Luckily Tampa, just like Charlotte, has also been affected by the slow food movement. And thanks to a long growing season, it was no surprise that there were several local, organic, real food restaurants to choose from. Unfortunately many of them were expensive and too upscale for kids (of course) or inconvenient while vacationing and on the road. We shopped at Greenwise (Publix version of Whole Foods) for groceries. We found some grass fed beef there, which we used to make delicious burgers one night, and most of our usual staples. I wish Harris Teeter would open a similar, greener and healthier version of their stores. Maybe they could do it better. I still see things at Whole Foods and Greenwise that shouldn’t be on their shelves – typically in the middle aisles, where there is still too much processed food.

My sister planned a secret girls’ night out for us while we were there. What a surprise! She took me to a cooking store of sorts. They sell cooking supplies, but they also have a kitchen in the back where they have classes and demonstrations (fun!). Everyone was so nice. They had an “instructor” there that was into natural cooking. I so want to be in her class. The owner, our host, was funny and very entertaining and the “bartender” – a sweet, 70-something year old southern belle with bright red hair – carded me. (That’s right! As in asked-for-ID.) We were there for a charity event benefiting a temporary home for kids who are abused, neglected, etc. There was food and wine and shopping for cooking supplies at a 10% discount… yipee! If this store were in Charlotte I would definitely look into cooking classes or demonstrations. In fact there must be something like it here. I’ll be looking into that soon. Thank you so much Heather for a fun, memorable night.

Another surprise (I’m switching gears now) was a full-fledged, small, private farm smack in the middle of Heather’s residential neighborhood. We walked to it – twice. They sell fresh, pastured eggs, raw milk, honey and a few other things. The coolest thing is that you can just walk onto the farm and check it out. The first time we went a little girl that lived next door was our tour guide. There were chickens running around everywhere. The cows were in a small pasture and a few pigs were in a pen (not a good one on any level). We got there at milking time, so the girls (and I) got to watch the entire process – moving the cow into the stall, feeding it hay to keep it calm and happy, cleaning the underside and hooves of the cow and then attaching the pump to the udders. I was hoping they would offer us a taste. I wish I’d asked. I really want to taste the warm milk, fresh from the cow, just as it is described in a book  I recently read Growing a Farmer  by Kurt Timmermeister. It was neat to see the things I had read about in action. I’ve visited farms before, but not since reading this book and not on this small, yet diverse scale. The first time we only went for the orange blossom honey. It was yummy with a light floral taste and a hint of citrus. It’s even slightly orange compared to other honey. (Click here for an interesting article about the farmer, Marion Lambert, and his honey.)

Here a cluck. There a cluck. Everywhere a cluck, cluck.

Later in the week we needed eggs, so we decided to visit again. The girls were so excited and Brian wanted to see the farm as well. This time I brought my camera. We ran into the farmer on this trip, Marion Lambert. He explained in more detail what the cows ate -mostly alfalfa and grain. I wouldn’t exactly call these grass fed, though they are pastured cows. He only has a few acres, not enough to grass feed his small herd. And he doesn’t use organic feed. This is a simple farm. Not the idyllic, perfect one I have in my head. There are only a handful of those. But still, this is a natural farm. One I’d be happy to support if I lived nearby.

Several neighbors help out on the farm. The first time we visited we met a mother and daughter that volunteer and also benefit from the farm. They were walking and feeding a donkey who had some health issues. She mentioned that one of the pigs were hers. Which brings me to one thing on this farm that I would not support. The pigs are not well cared for. (It’s always the poor pigs that are mistreated! Usually the smartest and probably most aware animals on a farm.) There are three or four of them in a small pin, lined with some sort of metal floor along most of the pen. The back side is not lined with metal, and this is the pigs only mud source. There is no shade and no place for them to root – a pigs favorite past time. They looked listless and sad and they were filthy (pigs are surprisingly clean animals). I know that pigs are tough to care for, but it didn’t seem like anyone really cared at all. I wanted to ask about it, but I thought it would be rude to mention it on my first or second visit to the farm. Then again, maybe it wasn’t right after all – to keep quiet and look past the cruelty to the pigs, even though everything else on the farm seemed pretty good – and just to be polite.

It was a good trip (as usual). Visiting family is always fun, but when they live in a beautiful city like Tampa, it’s even better. During the week, when my sister and her husband were working anyway, we also visited Naples for few days. Wow! Great hotel, great location and a beautiful sunset. (More on that in a future post.)

Ballast Point Park in Tampa

Ballast Point Park in Tampa

Hillbilly Produce, Super G Mart, Harris Teeter and… Food Lion

I drove all the way out to Hillbilly Produce just to buy chestnuts this morning (they’re so yummy and good for you)… and they were sold out. The guy I spoke with said they probably weren’t going to get anymore in. Boo hoo hoo…  This is about the third time I’ve been here and I’m still not impressed. But I did buy 3 pie pumpkins for $5 and some more Grateful Growers pork chops while I was there. I was bummed that I missed out on the chestnuts.

While I was pulling away, I decided to check out the international food market, Super G Mart, across the street (where Bi Lo used to be). Several people, including my Korean mother have mentioned this place to me several times. I’m so glad I finally went!! Maybe it was meant to be… the first things I noticed was that they had chestnuts! They are the Asian variety I think because they are much larger than the ones you’ll find around here. I bought a huge bag of them – probably around 3 or 4 pounds. I’ve already roasted a few (in the microwave) and they are yummy. So I got what I was searching for, just in another place.

I walked in without a cart or basket thinking I was just going to look, but after my fingers and arms started cramping from carrying so much stuff, I decided to grab a basket. By the time I left, my forearm was sore from the weight of the basket and my fingers were cramping from carrying stuff that wouldn’t fit in the basket. Next time I’ll be sure to get the shopping cart.

The produce selection is pretty amazing. They have most of the standard stuff plus lots of exotics. They had my favorite Asian sweet potatoes (which are actually yams, I think and also really good for you) so I stocked up on bunch of small ones – perfect size for snacking. They taste much better than the standard sweet potato and are better for you. You should definitely try them if you find them in an Asian market. I also scored a couple of 2 quart sized, Low Sodium Kikkoman Soy Sauce on sale for $8.99 each. I picked up some enoki mushrooms and organic, non-gmo tofu. I’m not sure I’ve ever eaten these mushrooms, so this is my “something new to try” for the week.

Tofu is something that I’ve eaten once or twice before. Even though this was a staple in my house growing up, I’ve never really given it a fair chance. I think my mom puts in her egg rolls (which I love, as does anyone who’s ever tried one), but I can’t really remember trying it any other way. I’m sure I must have as a child. Maybe that’s when I formed my unfair opinion about it. So it’s another food (like the eggplant) that I’m going to give a second chance. I don’t know how I’m going to use it yet.

Harris Teeter made me very happy today. I was out of milk, so I had planned to use some Organic Valley coupons there this morning. I decided to check the sale add before going and it’s a good thing I did. They were super doubling coupons! So all of my $1 off coupons were now worth $2! I got 4 half gallons of milk for $3 each, 2 small containers of heavy whipping cream for about $0.35 each and 2 bricks of cream cheese $0.59 each!! I also grabbed some of their eggnog. There was no coupon for that, but I couldn’t resist the thought of sipping a nice warm cup of eggnog (with a little spiced rum) with all this cold rainy whether we’re having. I also picked up some Lara Bars for $1 each (usually $1.50). I highly recommend these. They only have a few ingredients and no added sugar. My two favorites are the peanut butter and the cashew one. The fruity ones (apple and cherry) are pretty tart – too tart for my taste. I got Seattle’s Best Cinnabon coffee for $4 after vic savings and coupon and Starbucks coffee for $6 after coupon.

Seventh Generation products were also on sale. Some of them weren’t worth the small savings, but the detergent was on sale for $9 and I had $1 off coupons (but not subject to doubling). I also picked up the paper towels, toilet paper and automatic dish washing gel. The bonus is that more seventh generation coupons were generated when I checked out. I’ll be going back for more tomorrow probably.

Oranges and tangerines were on sale too. They are in season now and taste so good! I’m sure my kids will be happy to know that we have something besides apples in the house. This should hold us over until the clementines show up.

I forgot to pick up ginger root for dinner tonight, so I decided to run by Food Lion because it was convenient. It’s been awhile since I’ve been in there. I got the ginger, but also wanted to see if they offer any of the products that I usually buy these days. Nope. Not one. I couldn’t easily find any organic produce (though I just gave it quick look). Didn’t see any eco-friendly/safe cleaning products, though I do remember buying Greenworks there before. Food Lion, you guys need to get with the program. If this is your usual grocery store, might I suggest you step out of your comfort zone and venture to a Harris Teeter at the very least. This might be a good first step into a healthier lifestyle.