Northern Girl in Nashville

Earlier this month I drove to Tennessee for a high school reunion. It was one of those x0th reunions. I won’t say which number. It was great to see friends, take in a few sights, and enjoy some southern cooking. I was nostalgic even before I hit the road.

Being born in Chicago, Illinois and living there until the age of 12 meant my tastebuds experienced childhood and early puberty in the up-north-and-Midwest then took an abrupt dive south as teen angst and adulthood hit me in the heart of Tennessee (and later the Carolinas and Virginia). 

Part Chicagoan and part Nashvillian, I am now 100% mishmash of north and south.

The flavors of the south sunk their roots deep in my soul and regularly give a little wiggle to make sure I’m paying attention. So when I crave comfort food, it is usually southern or country dishes. (Though, I will gladly accept pizza or sushi or tacos too.)

I love fried catfish and okra. Corn bread. And more recently pimento cheese spread (but it better be the good stuff). Tree-ripened peaches and homegrown strawberries…

While in the Nashville area (Lafayette, Mount Juliet, and Cookeville) I ate delicious, genuine southern biscuits and garden-grown corn-on-the-cob picked a few steps from the door and grown surrounded by a century farm (one in operation for over 100 years). I got to enjoy good food with dear friends. 

I drove a long way in a short amount of time (1300 miles crammed in to three days). But driving had its advantages.

Along the way there, I went through Sevierville, TN. Sevierville is the original home of Dolly Parton. It has some beautiful land and views and is now filled with tourist attractions and outlet stores too. The one that caught my eye and pulled me off the interstate was the Lodge Cast Iron factory outlet store.

I have long loved a good, well-seasoned cast iron skillet and a cast iron Dutch Oven has been on my wish list for some time. I got a lid for my skillet at home. Just think of all the yummy food these heavy treasures can cook! 

I have a specific fondness for southern beverages too.

Iced tea is one of those. If you’re from the south you know that I mean sweet tea. Because in the south, if it isn’t sweet then it’s just a hot beverage gone cold.

So I’ve been on a mission this summer to make perfect ice tea and peach tea. Be in the lookout for a new Tea for Tuesday! 

My dialect is perhaps a bit more north than south, but it can jump almost all over the place. A little twang will pop when I’m not expecting it (especially if I’ve talked to any southern friends recently).

It’s not just the drawl. In the south, for example, grown women call each other “girl.” 

“Hey, girl!” “How y’all been, girl?” All sprinkled with a dash of twang that makes it seem perfectly okay to call somebody “honey” or “sweetheart” even if you don’t even know their first name.

Y’all are probably familiar with the term, “y’all.” In Chicago we said, “you guys.” It was unisex and if you had a strong Chicago accent it was pronounced, “youse guys.” Singular is “you” or “youse.”

I can say, “you,” or, “you guys,” just fine. And I occasionally say or write, “y’all,” too. (Maybe more times than I care to admit.)

But I have a hard time calling any grown woman, “girl.” Picture Arnold Schwarzenegger (as the terminator) saying, “hey, girl,” with a little southern twang. (Look at me! I’m trying to do slang, y’all!) Yep, that’s how I feel, and I’m pretty sure that’s how I sound too. It’s best if I just step away from the expression. 

But food is free game! My game. My tastebuds speak many languages.

My gracious hosts sent me on my way with an ample supply of yellow squash, tomatoes, pears, cucumbers, and corn too. 

Recipes ensued and there was much yummyness. 

There were happy memories too. I might have to go back again soon. (Or at the very least visit a Cracker Barrel.)


Cucumber and Tomato Salad (a mix of genuine southern-grown and balcony-grown produce) – totally refreshing yum on a hot day.

Late Night Run

Pretty sure I should be embarrassed by this late night run to Harris Teeter for cat food. The cats wouldn’t have let us sleep if they didn’t get their food. So I bought their favorite flavors. But what I didn’t need was two flavors of ice cream, a box of frozen fudge bars, and four slices of Edwards frozen pie slices — two packs of two, one of cheese cake and one of key lime pie. 

The cats would have been happier if I’d avoided the frozen food aisle entirely. They’d have had their food a few minutes earlier. At this point, they may be getting lightheaded from eating so late and meowing so hard.

But it’s hot and very humid. I might have called it sultry if it were more interesting. It was just flat and heavy and warm. So I guided my cart to the frozen food section.

Like a sparkling oasis, the ice cream cooler sported dangling reduced-price labels — Breyers and Harris Teeter brands were on sale as were the fudge bars and Edwards frozen pie slices. (I’d never had their cheese cake slices before.) It’s not like we have to eat all of this at once.

And yeah, I should probably just stop making excuses and cut right to embarrassment. I feel a little guilty. I made the check out girl laugh, so that’s good.

I shall now make myself feel better by enjoying a fudge bar. They’re fat free and generally pretty darn yummy. 

Happy 4th of July!

It’s full of stars … Somewhere. Near us it was fairly full of raindrops and unusually cool. The temperature was actually really pleasant. Could have used a little less rain, but the plants are happy! We celebrated with hot dogs, corn on the cob, yummy pimento cheese spread, and lots & lots of flags as the neighborhood was dotted with them. We heard a bit about Juno and Jupiter and generally relaxed. Have a happy 5th of July, folks!
(Breaking the adverb rule with gusto! And added pimento cheese! That makes everything better I think.)

My Feet are Happy

I am currently waiting in Hall D of the Convention Center in Washington DC. Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman were scheduled to start a Q&A here at Awesome Con over an hour ago. Their photo ops are running late, so Peter and Jenna are still op-ing while most of us non-photo-opers are trying to be patient.

I haven’t been to a con in years. So far, most of my day here at Awesome Con has been spent waiting. I’m not sure how normal that is. First we waited in line for our badges. It moved quickly. Then we waited for StarTalk Live seats. We enjoyed StarTalk but left a little early so we could get in line to get seats to see the Peter Calaldi & Jenna Coleman Q&A.  I left my daughter and her friend in that line while I went on a mission to get us food. Then I waited in the food line. We ate the food in the P&J Q&A line. Lots of lines. Lots of waiting.

I hear the waiting wasn’t so bad the other two days of Awesome Con. That’s good.

Our early-line-waiting paid off as far as seats. We have sweet seats for general admission to the Peter & Jenna Q&A. I’m talking non-VIP seats that are almost as good as many of the pay-extra-for-em VIP seats and even better than some of them.

But we’re still waiting for Peter & Jenna at the Q&A — it’s going on an hour and a half late now. The audience has all new questions at this point.

My daughter and her friend have run off to the Exhibition Hall. They got wristbands to get them back in to the Q&A hall. It’s full. I’m holding seats. While I really wanted to go to the Exhibition Hall, at least I’m not down there spending money and tiring out my feet. That’s something, right?

They announced that Peter and Jenna would be here soon. I’m keeping my fingers crossed. My daughter and her friend are back with a hat, a bow tie, and a needlework Minecraft chest in tow. Pretty cool.

Still sitting here. I managed a whole blog post! We’ve been promised the Q&A will start soon. Really. Probably really. Hopefully really. Maybe really.

My bottom is planted in my sweet seat. I might eventually have a good view. My feet are happy too.

Yay, it’s starting!

Tra for Tuesday: Bananas

One of these days I’m gonna post exactly what what goes down the first time around without fixing the many typos that proliferate from typing in WordPress on my phone’s tiny keypad. 

As it is now, each time I type I feel I have a one-in-three chance of hitting the letter I wanted. 

I’ll bet you’d never guess but this is actually supposed to be a post about tea (and on Tuesday) — Tea for Tuesday. But I made one typo then another and another and, combined with autocorrect, pretty soon the topic completely changed. 

It’s like 100 monkeys in a room with 100 typewriters. Something’s bound to happen but not what I planned. My fingers are the money’s, wait, see … My fingers are the m-o-n-k-e-y-s, monkeys.

Somebody needs to give my them a bandana, no a banana. No, that wouldn’t help either. 

Wait, I know what I want.

Perhaps you’ve seen spikes or horns? Some people have objects surgically implanted under their skin. (Do they find tattoos and piercings too blasé or mainstream?) Either way, useless fluff!

I want a stylus tip implanted in my finger! If that goes well, maybe I’ll do all ten. (Actually, maybe three or four would be good — thumbs and index finger. See, I’ve put some thought into this.)

Release the monkeys!

(I’ll drink more tea and write about it again soon, maybe even on a Tuesday.)

Tea for Tuesday: Numi Emperor’s Pu-erh Tea

Pu-erh is not everybody’s cup of tea. I’m not even sure it’s MY cup of tea. It can be strange stuff — neither black, green, white, nor oolong. It’s an earthy fermented brew unique in both creation and flavor.​

Today, I’m reviewing Numi’s Emperor’s Pu-erh. Of all the pu-erh I’ve tasted this one comes out as a good, basic, organic starting place that is pretty easy to find (though you may want to shop for the best price or look for a sale) and gives a baseline for what to expect from other pu-erh.

At it’s best, pu-erh is earthy and woodsy. It can be almost pleasantly musty. Or it can smell and taste like moldy socks on a hot day. An old fish pond. Potting soil. Mushrooms. A hint of smoke. Chocolate. Malt. Sweet. And oily if that’s even possible. Sometimes there are hints of all of those flavors from the very same leaves. What the heck? Weird stuff.

Numi Emperor’s Choice Pu-erh has just a hint of fishy smell or essence of seaweed aroma and a hint of smokiness. After steeping for a few minutes it tastes woodsy and earthy with a hint of resinous-ness (is that a flavor or even a word?). I don’t find much of a mushroom flavor in it, but it can have a bit of chocolate and malt. Overall the woodsy taste is pleasant. The fishy smell seems to dissipate fairly quickly, but it can be off-putting if you’re not expecting it. The brew is dark and slightly reddish. I can steep a couple of cups from one tea bag, but not as many cups as some of the loose leaf pu-erh that I’ve tried.

Why in the world would anybody drink fishy dirt tea?

Not all Pu-erh tastes like fish or dirt. Pu-erh is supposed to be chock-full-o health benefits, as is most tea. But pu-erh is supposed to be extra good for digestion, cholesterol, and weight loss. That sounds good to me. Plus I just plain like trying lots of kinds of tea. I first tried pu-erh several years ago, and I’ve been trying it again recently. I’m still not sure that I like a lot of it. And I feel like the more I know, the less I know.

I learned recently that there are two kinds of pu-erh — raw (or Sheng Cha) and ripe (or Shu Cha). The raw variety is the kind that ages over many many years and develops a unique flavor. Sometimes it’s called green pu-erh. Or “aged raw pu-erh.” It can be pressed into bricks, cakes, disks, or tuo cha (little cup-or-bowl-shaped disks). Properly aged, it can become a coveted delicacy and quite expensive. If properly stored it will continue to age and change over time.

The ripened version is also aged, but with a lot less time involved. The fermentation process is speeded up to mimic what can happen to the raw green version over many years. So the ripe kind is usually aged for a few months. (It can also be weeks or years depending on the tea.) Moisture is controlled. Microbes are added. It can be loose (and later bagged) or pressed into the same shapes as Sheng Cha.Then it becomes “ripe,” is dried, and is packaged.

In the end, both Sheng Cha and Shu Cha end up a dark and almost reddish color with a mellow, complex flavor.

Ripe pu-erh is the tea you’re probably going to find most easily in grocery stores or American tea shops. This is what Numi’s Emperor’s Pu-erh is. There probably aren’t many microbes still living on this tea further maturing it, but it may change some with age and it has a very long shelf life.

Once you get used to Emperor’s Pu-erh try other pu-erh teas and judge from there if you like them better or not. Your tea really shouldn’t taste like actual moldy socks on a hot day or a dried fish pond, but just a hint of that is not uncommon. Enjoy!🙂

  

 

Snowzilla! And sleeping cats.

Our little section of the country just had a blizzard, dubbed Snowzilla, that lasted 36 hours. We had hours and hours of snow and wind then sunshine enough today to make the snow glisten and look BEAUTIFUL. Digging out will take time.

It’s hard to tell exactly how much snow we got since the wind was a-blow’n and made some gargantuan snow drifts. (Is that a car or a snowdrift or both?) But as far as I can tell our area got 25 inches of snow. My mom’s town, an hour away, got 38 inches. That’s just crazy snow. I don’t think I’ve seen quite this much since I lived in a suburb of Chicago back when I was a kid. (I’ve seen close, but …)

No school for the kids tomorrow and no school on Tuesday either. The county rarely (if ever) announces two days, straight up, in a row. No announcement about Wednesday yet.

Metro (our subway and bus system) has been closed since Friday evening. That’s practically unheard of. They need to clean the subway/train tracks as well as more of the roads for the buses. I think they’re hoping to open again Monday, but I’m guessing full service won’t be back until Tuesday? Wednesday? Who knows.

In our humble abode we’re well stocked on food, but I wish I’d shopped for a shovel earlier last week. By the time I tried to buy one there were no shovels to be had. I would have looked sooner and harder if I didn’t think I had a garden shovel in storage. But when I went to fetch the shovel I realized the shovel wasn’t so much a shovel as a flat edger for trimming grass next to a sidewalk. Why do I even have that? It’s not going to move much snow. We’d do better with a large pot or even a cookie sheet.

I ended up using a piece of cardboard (folded slightly origami style) to shovel a section of balcony near our door. I didn’t want too much snow falling back into our home when we opened the door to go out. But I’d really like to shovel off more of the balcony as a whole because there’s a lot of snow. That’s going to melt, and it’s going to have to go somewhere.

This morning, after the snow had stopped, our cat Mojo for the first time EVER in his entire life climbed up onto my lap and went to sleep. He’s never ever done that before in our 15 years of being his family. So much for teaching old dogs (and cats) new tricks. He taught himself.

He climbed up while I had my legs stretched out under a blanket. First he tried to get comfortable on my shins. Then he shifted and found my lap more comfortable (it’s a lot softer). He curled up and finally went to sleep. A total first. I hated to have to move him.

He loves sitting next to us on the couch. But sitting on us has never been his thing. He was a feral cat before we adopted him from an animal rescue group. Terrified of people, we couldn’t even pick him up for YEARS after we got him. So maybe today he felt cold and wanted some extra warmth, but it’s not like it’s never been cold in here before. This was a landmark move for our skittish and brave boy. I’ll be curious to see if he does it again.

Our totally laid back cat Fletcher slept by my feet the entire time. It was kitty heaven.

So today we all watched Interstellar. We haven’t sat as a family and watched a movie often enough recently (except Star Wars but that’s Star Wars so …). Dave had seen Interstellar before, but Sara and I had not. It’s a long movie. But by the end we were all in tears. Then Dave was laughing at all of us for getting so emotional over a movie. But MOVIE! We liked it and would like to watch it again because it glossed over some details that we’d like to catch next time around. It really had to gloss over some of the details because otherwise it would have been, like, a five-hour move. But we liked it. We were all warm on the inside with all the beautiful sparkling snow on the outside. It was nice.

 

Tea for Tuesday: Tea for Health and Wellness

Teavana finished up many sale items and rolled out with seven new tea blends this week as part of a new “Wellness” line. Each new tea has a specific health benefit as well as a lovely aroma and presumably good flavor too. I got to try one of them.

Their new blends are Defense, Purify, Rejuvenate, Recover, Rev Up, Comfort, and Serenity. These are mostly blends of actual tea as well as fruit or fruit flavors and sometimes herbs. I’m not sure if any of the ingredients are organic. The store folks said, “yes,” but I don’t see that on the website right now (I could be missing it). For blends containing citrus peels organic is the better way to go. Sprays sit on the outside of the fruit and can leach into the peel.

While you can’t tell much about taste from any of the Wellness tea names, you can tell more from the descriptions and the ingredient lists.

For example Rev Up is a blend of black, oolong, and green teas mixed with mango, apples and passion fruit for a lot of tea flavor enhanced with a tropical kick. It claims to boost your metabolism with the blend of tea. With black tea and oolong, it certainly has caffeine so there’s at least some real potential for boost there. I like that it’s a blend of real tea and a nice, but not overpowering, fruit flavor.

I was able to try Rev Up as an iced tea. It tasted like a real-tea iced tea along with tropical fruit. I most noted the mango flavor, but I’d say there’s certainly a blend. I think I’d like this one in the summer, but I could see drinking it hot in the winter as well. It is similar to their Limited Edition Holiday tea called Joy but mixed with a bit more tropical fruit instead of just apricot.

The new blend called Comfort contains ginger, orange peel, lemon, rooibos, chamomile, spearmint, fennel, peppermint, and more. Teavana claims these can help you balance yourself and feel good. I’m not sure how well that claim is going to sit with the FDA (we shall see), but I do know that many of those ingredients — ginger, fennel, and mint — can help settle nausea or an upset stomach. I certainly feel better when my stomach is not upset. This is one of the few Wellness blends with no actual tea in the mix. That’s good if you have an upset stomach as the caffeine of real tea can be rough on a stomach. Plus caffeine can make some folks feel unsettled emotionally too. Chamomile, on the other hand, is very gentile and soothing. My grandmother let me drink chamomile ea when I was a kid.

Other teas are Defense with extra vitamin C (I have no idea how much) and white tea along with spices, pineapple, lemongrass, and blackberry leaves.

Purify with jasmine-scented white tea, apples, hibiscus, rose hip, beetroot, orange, and rose petals. It says these ingredients will help to keep you hydrated. Well, drinking liquids certainly helps to keep you hydrated, so there’s that. The red from hibiscus and beetroots makes it a really pretty blend. The pigments in those are also good anti-oxidants.

Rejuvenate with gobs of caffeine (for a tea) from black tea and yerba mate is energizing along with spices like ginger, cinnamon, and cardamom.

Recover claims a detox affect with citrus, mint, and green tea.

Serenity is their relaxing blend with chamomile, blackberry leaves, lemongrass, lavender, rose, apple, lemon balm, beetroot, and orange. This is the other blend with no real tea or caffeine. It’s another pretty one to look at. Chamomile and lavender are usually considered soothing and relaxing. Lemon balm may help releave depression in some people.

I’ll look forward to trying some more.

On a side note, my order for sale items I purchased online at Teavana.com are all listed as “on hold.” Apparently, if one item ends up out-of-stock, the warehouse puts the entire order on hold (not their official policy according to their website, but that’s what’s happening to me and many other folks). We shall see if I get any of my order. Ugh! I may have to drink some Serenity or Comfort if this doesn’t go well (or check out some other tea vendors).

I hope all is well with all of you.

 

 

Happy New Year! 

I don’t know how it got to be 2016 already. At this rate it will be 2017 in about a month. Our cats seem completely unphased by the passing of the year. They ate dinner, so it’s sleepy time for them. 

Wishing everyone a wonderful year filled with fun, family, friends, laughter, and new things to wow and amaze you (in a good way).

Happy 2016, folks!

Tea for Tuesday: Teavana’s Maharaja Chai Oolong Review (and Sale Notes)

All right, tea! It’s this post-Christmas time of year that Teavana digs out what’s left of the year’s batches of tea and puts them on sale for 30-75% off. It’s a good time to stock up if you find a favorite listed. And it may be a good time to try something new too.

Keep in mind, some of the sale teas will be discontinued (most of the tea that’s 75% off), so when these are gone, they’re gone. (I’ve added a partial list of discontinued teas to the end of this post.) It’s good to stock up if a favorite is listed. Some tea is just marked down to make room for fresher batches, so why not try a new blend or some black tea pearls?

You can not only find tea on sale but also lots of tea ware such as tea pots, tea strainers, mugs, and travel tumblers (many of which come with their own tea strainers).

One of my favorite styles of travel tumbler is on sale, the Stainless Steel Tea Tumbler. They call it the “Chai Tumbler” on the website, who knows why “chai,” but you can use it for any kind of tea. A similar model was called simply, “Stainless Steel Tea Tumbler.” Since my old version has lost it’s vacuum seal, and no longer keeps the heat as it once did, I might have to grab a new one. This is my favorite because it doesn’t have a push-button on top (those are hard to clean properly). The one I like has a regular screw-on lid that doesn’t leak and is easy to clean. When mine was newer and insulated properly, tea could stay hot for 6 hours (and warm for even longer). The Teavana store at our mall has this same style of Stainless Steel Tea Tumbler, but different patterns on the outside — one is somewhat holiday specific with words like “tinsel” and “twinkle” emblazoned on a white matte finish, the other is a shiny ombre cranberry red.

Also on sale for 50% off is the ever-popular Maharaja Chai Oolong tea. It’s a flavorful, well-balanced chai made with oolong instead of the more traditional black tea. Oolong is less likely to get bitter and adds a hint of floral fruitiness to the mix.

In this chai, I note pepper, cardamom, ginger, and cinnamon. Also present is nutmeg and cloves. There’s something that almost sparkles on the palate — a mint-like sensation without any mint. And it’s all mellowed out by the addition of carob (with it’s chocolate-like taste) and chicory for a smooth richness. It has a fair amount of natural sweetness without adding sugar or honey, but you may prefer to add some if you like your chai sweet.

Keep in mind that temperature, how much tea you use in a cup, and brew time make a huge difference in taste, and I especially find that to be true with a lot of chai blends. The volatile components release at different temperatures. If you don’t like it at first, try brewing it differently. Or if chai is too spicy for you, mix it with a little plain tea of your choice to pump up the tea and bring the spice down a few notches.

This is one of those few chai blends where none of the spices seems to overpower the others. It becomes a new whole. A really yummy whole. Nice on a cold winter’s day (which, hopefully, we’ll get a few of).

Enjoy!

Updated to add this note: The discontinued teas include Acai Matetini Mate tea, Toasted Nut Brulee Oolong tea, Tomato Lime Cocktail, My Morning Mate, Grape Wulong Oolong, and Marshmallow Macaron. I’m guessing there are a few other discontinued teas that they simply didn’t have in stock. The list is usually longer. Many of these are no longer offered online, but you may find an actual store with some of these (or others) still in stock for a VERY limited time.

Also, the sale on non-discontinued teas probably ends on January 3 January 10. Traditionally, they only have the sale once or twice per year, so act quickly if you’re interested. Lots of yummy teas are available. Local brick and mortar shops may have a somewhat different selection of sale items from those on the Teavana website. Teavana will roll out with new teas on January 11.

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