Real Food, Busy Week, Charleston, SC

What a great week! Brian surprised me. He had planned a trip to Charleston for our anniversary. He arranged everything. Sitters were lined up. Hotel booked. We would leave on Friday, as soon as we could wrap up the work week. Meals were a little more hurried throughout the week and Haleigh’s rehearsal schedule is throwing me off. I’d forgotten to thaw the pizza sauce one night (which was leftover from a batch I made a couple weeks ago). Since we don’t have a microwave to thaw it fast, I had to come up with Plan B: a white sauce. I made a roux of one part butter and one part whole wheat flour. Added whole milk, fresh garlic and goat cheese. Too much milk. I reduced it, but not enough. It came out runny and practically disappeared into the crust. But the pizza was still awesome because the sauce and the toppings were so flavorful.

Homemade whole wheat crust, white sauce (flour, butter, milk, goat cheese), sauteed shiitake mushrooms and onions, aji dulce peppers, a few leftover chopped tomatoes, arugula and prosciutto.

My mom makes this wonderful dish with pork, kielbasa, hot dogs and sauerkraut served with mashed potatoes. It was one of my favorites growing up. Since we’ve cut back on the meat around here, I usually choose one of the three meats. This time it was kielbasa. And to put my twist on it and to save time, I made it a one pot dish with diced diced veggies and cubed potatoes, instead of mashed. I threw the sauerkraut on at the end just to warm it through.  This was quick and tasty.  Everyone loved it.

Sausage, Peppers and Potatoes

One day for lunch I used leftover rice to make fried rice. Saute onions in oil or butter. Push them aside then scramble some eggs  (we like a lot, so I use two per person).

One pot meal!

Add sesame seeds and rice. I like to get the rice nice and browned for great texture and flavor. The rice gets a little chewy and even a bit crispy in places. Sometimes I have to add a touch more oil and crank up the heat to get it that way. They don’t call it fried rice for nothing. Then I add the soy sauce and cook it for a little longer. A  tablespoon of butter right on each plate before serving is my little twist. Butter and soy sauce are so good together.

These bars are my “candy” and one of the few processed foods I buy regularly. They are filled with sugar, but the natural kind – from fruit. Dates. There is no added sugar, and usually five or less ingredients. I’ve only been able to find the Coconut Chocolate Chew flavor at Healthy Home Market. Luckily I don’t go there often. The Cashew Cookie is easier to find and has slightly less sugar. It’s good, but cashews and dates don’t tempt me the way chocolate and coconut can.

Chocolate Coconut Chew Larabar

Only five ingredients: Dates, Almonds, Walnuts, Unsweetened Coconut, Unsweetened Cocoa Powder -but 22 grams of sugar!!

This is a healthier snack. One I have more often… and guilt free! Apples dipped in peanut butter (no added oil or sugar, only ingredient is peanuts) and shredded coconut.

My apple dippers with peanut butter and shredded coconut.

And as for the weekend in Charleston… calming and delicious. I researched some restaurants before we went (something I always do before a trip these days) and we visited a few. If you’re ever in the Charleston/Mt. Pleasant area try The Glass Onion (my favorite restaurant – I had fried quail, greens and grits, also tried the deviled egg which comes highly recommended), Crave (I had scallops, lobster risotto and green beans) and Charleston’s Cafe (for breakfast I had the Southern Benedict – eggs, fried green tomatoes and bacon on french bread topped with hollandaise – one warning: “chippers” are potato chips, yummy but not a fan of chips for breakfast). There were so many great restaurants in the area. We visited the Charleston Farmers Market at Marion Square in Downtown Charleston and had lunch there. Brian had a delicious crepe from Charleston Crepe Company (in high demand, we waited around 15 minutes for this crepe) and I had a bowl of homemade lemon, chicken and rice soup. I love exploring places through food! Check out this Chihuahua we found occupying Charleston Saturday morning:

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!

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.