The Best Revenge: My Top 10 Tools For Living Well in 2015

17 01 2015

Let’s get this out of the way right up front, shall we?  Anyone who says that “stuff doesn’t matter” is a liar and a fake.  Of course stuff matters!  I don’t mean matters as in I’d-pause-to-remove-my-Rolex-before-saving-a-drowning-child matters; that kind of stuff-matters person could benefit from being the one drowning while some other pompous ass removes his watch.  But I’m talking about basic stuff – a decent place to live, indoor plumbing, a really good rain slicker, a healthy meal, you know, stuff.

If you are pissed off about not being born into money, or your shitty job, or are coveting your neighbor’s new lawn mower, remember that living well is the best revenge.  You don’t have to be rich to cherry pick the best tools for your life and purposefully acquire them.  I’m not talking about collecting stuff for stuff’s sake.  I’m talking about collecting a small, carefully curated selection of quality things that will make your life easier.  In my life, creature comforts rule.

top10Presently I’m all about deciding what’s important to me and getting the best stuff for my circumstances.  Unless you are the timekeeper at a billion dollar sports arena or the New York Stock Exchange, you probably don’t need a Rolex.  But if you are trying to put your new portable kitchen island together for your apartment, you need a decent drill/driver.  The cheap one will piss you off and negate any joy from having solved your space problem.  Big buzz kill.  You deserve to enjoy life, no matter your lot in it.  That’s why you go to work every day.

Having the right tools for a given job makes all the difference.  Whether that job is making an angel food cake or installing flooring or simply staying dry in a rainstorm, the right equipment makes it easy and the result is a happier, nicer you.  Fixing a bad attitude is as simple as handing someone the right tool for the job.  Let’s call it situational therapy.

So instead of making you a list of resolutions about all the great things I’m going to do to make me a better person in 2015, I decided to get real.  I made a list of the must-have things for 2015 according to me.  Things that make my life as a human easier, and therefore make me a nicer person to be around.  What we all really need are the right tools for the job, whatever job we are doing, in whatever circumstances we are doing them.  Aren’t you glad I spared you all that motivational drivel about self-improvement?  Instead, I hope you find some inspiration to set your own priorities for purposeful acquisition of the tools you need for living life well. You are welcome.

  1. A nice place to live, even if it costs a bit too much. Your home is your castle, whether you own or rent.  It should be a place that puts you at ease and welcomes you. My awesome castleapartment is indeed my castle, and it’s new insulation and windows save on my utilities, so it all works out.  Homeownership is totally overrated.  But if you must do it, go for the newer, slightly-too-expensive, already-remodeled, water-tight home of your dreams.  Those fixer-uppers never really get fixed up before something else happens.  Trust me on this.  Been there three times.IMG_2748
  1. Reliable transportation. Now by reliable, I don’t necessarily mean new or pricey.  In my case, it turned out that reliable meant new and rather cheap because I have a slim budget and needed an all-inclusive vehicle.  The only way to get a vehicle with the maintenance expenses included is to go new. I got a rolling cargo box with just enough get-up-and-go to keep me from beating on the steering wheel in frustration.  It’s a cool little car.  I could go on, but you are already losing interest.  So just set yourself up with a decent vehicle that will not die on the road and leave you unable to pay for repairs on your modest salary like my last one did.
  1. DanskoClogA really good pair of shoes. If you sit behind a desk all day, this might not be on your list. Yet.  It may be number 8 here, but it’s really all the numbers.  If you are in agony over the pain in your feet, knees, and back because of your bad shoes, nothing else is going to be ok.  For an all-day stander and walker like me who can’t wear athletic shoes at work because they are not appropriate, check out brands like Dansko and Merrell.  Restaurant workers will love Dansko and Shoes for Crews (stick with the clogs).  In the trades?  Check out Timberland and Red Wing.  What’s on my feet is now the key to whether I’m having a good day or a really shitty one.  Your feet are your foundation.
  1. DanskoTriclimateOuterwear that actually keeps you warm, dry, or both. Is it cold where you live?  Does it rain a lot?  Then I have one word for you:  North Face.  OK, so that’s two words, but not when you type  There is no better jacket to protect against cold and rain.  It is that simple.  I recently invested in their Boundary Triclimate model and have absolutely no regrets.  None.  It is rare that I make a purchase over $100 and don’t beat myself up about it or consider returning it as a frivolous purchase.  Spending over $250 is monumental for a working class chick like me.  I have not been cold or wet one day since owning it.  Best. Purchase. Ever.  I look forward to being warm and dry for years to come.  Bring it, global warming.  We got this.
  1. Good tools. Like, you know, tools.  I remodeled 2 houses using crappy tools and the 3rd pushed me over the edge.  Using crappy tools made things way harder than they had to be, resulted in glaring mistakes, and ultimately cost more money as I had to re-do projects because the crappy tools ruined them.  One of the best purchases of my life was a Dewalt Dewalt pry barDrill/Driver.  It cost $200, which I think is the cheapest model they make.  But it works like a million bucks, every time.  That’s a stupid amount of money for the average homeowner to spend on a tool I told myself.  For years.  Then, tears streaming down my face and on the verge of a break down, I went to the hardware store and took the plunge.  Why the hell did I wait so long?  Black & Decker, I’m sorry, but your so-called drills and drivers suck.  Also, this handy little thing called a pry bar is the diggity bomb for a myriad of tasks.  Bite the bullet and get you some real tools like the pros use.
  1. Benriner Mandoline. Speaking of pro tools, chefs love these. If you don’t cook up anything more than reservations, you can skip this one.  If you cook at all, and ever need to slice anything, or want to make noodley julienne things (like carrots or zucchini, or potatoes for hash browns), you need this tool.  It is simply the best.  Full disclosure:  I am a cook and I manage a gourmet kitchen shop.  But that’s actually good for you, because I have used all the mandolins.  The good, the bad, the cheap, and the expensive.  And I can say unequivocally that this bad boy is the best.  It comes with 3 different julienne blades, is adjustable for Benrinerthickness of slices, and stays sharp.  It cleans up super easy. The next best one is by Jaccard, costs over $100, and takes up a lot more space in your cabinets.  At about $65, this is a true investment for your kitchen that is space saving and makes quick work of whatever you need to slice or julienne.  It comes with a finger guard, which I never use because I’m crazy like that.  You can spend 15-20 minutes slicing a 5 pound bag of potatoes with that dull knife you’ve got or you can spend 5 minutes with the Benriner and have them all picture-perfectly the same size.  What’s it gonna be?
  1. A great smart phone. OK, so I know phones are like clothes and everyone has their style.  But all you flip phone and TracPhone hangers-on need to stop fighting it and get a state-of-the-art digital device with a real carrier so you, too, can be connected 24/7.  This is a great time we live in, with so many advances in every area of life that this average chick can’t keepiphone up. But thanks to my iPhone 5S, knowledge is at the end of my fingertips. I am on my fourth year and second version of iPhone and I hear people complain about every other phone type in the universe but the iPhone.  My phone does so much I don’t even know all the stuff it can do.  But it does everything I need it to do and does it quickly and simply.  It’s a solid investment.  Apple makes a great phone.  But whatever you get, just get connected.  Don’t miss this fascinating time in which we live.
  1. Ceramic knives. Another cook’s tool that you reservation-makers won’t need. There are lotsKyoceraSantoku of ceramic knives on the market, but Kyocera is the best for the money.  You do not need to spend more.  For about $60, you can have a great santoku that never needs sharpened, goes in the dishwasher, and can slice a tomato or a potato with the same ease.  I have a lot of knives at work in the kitchen, and use them all when teaching classes.  I recommend this knife to home cooks more than any other because it can handle any job you have with no sweat and no smashing.  It’s wicked sharp and stays that way.  Try one and you will never use another steel knife.  That’s a promise.
  1. The right bags for you. Now, this is probably more of a woman thing ScoutPocketRocketthan a man thing, but men need bags too – at least when they travel or have little kids. But I’m not talking strictly about suitcases here; think shopping totes and purses and cosmetic bags and diaper bags and, well, bags.  Bags for whatever.  My new favorite bags are from Scout Bags.  This DC-based company has got a pretty tight lock on what I want and need in a bag, and the prices are reasonable compared to all the really fancy handbags and totes in the universe.  Waterproof? Check. Durable? Check. Cleanable?  Check. Stylish? Check. The Pocket Rocket is my next investment because I like to keep things organized and I am tired of my 5 year old leather Nine West handbag (also a great $50 investment, by the way – that’s $10 a year).  I presently have The Nooner to keep my lunch and snacks cold and The Weekender to carry, well, everything a person needs for a couple few days.  I’m not willing to spend my shoe budget on bags, so this does it for me.  Whatever your thing, invest in the right bags for you that are good quality and durable so you don’t have to replace them often.
  1. Good, clean food. I absolutely believe that we are what we eat.  That’s an entire article unto itself, or perhaps 3 articles.  I have had some health problems that led to a lot of research in this last year or so, and what I have learned is a lot.  If I had to distill it down to easy-to-live-by guidance, I would say this:  eat whole, fresh or frozen organic foods at home and avoid anything highly processed.  A lot of problems with our health can be solved by losing the boxes, bags, and – to a lesser extent – cans from our lives.  When eating out, choose locally owned restaurants that focus on local ingredients.  The most important thing is that the food not be highly adulterated, modified, manipulated, or altered to withstand weed killer, mass
    processing, or to last longer.  We should eat it the way it comes, not fold, staple and mutilate it and then try to make it look like food again.  Pesticides and preservatives are chemicals – you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to imagine that those chemicals are harmful to our bodies.  Just be kind to you and eat the best quality food ingredients your budget can stand.  More expensive does not necessarily mean better, but in our marketplace right now it often does.  That’s just wrong.  But the more we purchase organic, clean foods, the more availability goes up and the price comes down.  Farmers and manufacturers are about the bottom line, so vote with your wallet and what you want will become more readily available with a little time.

Food Lion Giveaway! The Winners

28 08 2014
Four $25 Gift Cards will be given away Wed., Aug. 27th!

Four $25 Gift Cards will be given away Wed., Aug. 27th!

Thank you all so much for checking out my article about the fresh changes at Food Lion, and leaving your comments about what you are most looking forward to exploring in your local store.   I hope that you will go seem them for yourself very soon – it will not be a wasted trip!

You can view the weekly sale flyer for your local store by logging into to register your MVP card, and you can also clip coupons directly to your MVP card and apply them at the checkout.  There’s an app for that!

I selected four of you at random from the comments section of my original article, as promised.  If each of you would email me at with your mailing address, I will send your gift cards out today!  If you are uncomfortable with emailing your address, just send your phone number in an email and I will ring you up to make arrangements with you.

Drum roll please…and the winners of the $25 Gift Cards to Food Lion are:

Brenda Elks                                                 Cassie Gaffney

Pat Duncan                                                 Sylvia Sanderlin


Food Lion Ad 8 28 2014

An Old Friend Gets Fresh: Food Lion Giveaway!

24 08 2014

Here in Coastal North Carolina, we have nick names for our grocery stores.  Some of them are funny, some are just abbreviations, and some are, well, laced with left handed compliments like only a Southerner can deliver.  You know, that old “bless their heart” thing we like to attach to insults, as if that makes it more palatable somehow.  Harris Teeter is simply “The Teeter.” Lowes Foods is just “Lowes” (they don’t sell food at the other Lowes).  Piggly Wiggly is “The Pig,” though there is only one Pig in the region where I live so many are not acquainted.  Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s haven’t been here long enough to get knick names, and The Fresh Market is, well, too fussy for one.  Food Lion is “Food Kitty” or “The Lion King.”  Yeah, I know, it’s goofy.  But that’s how we roll.  I am not including Walmart because I try not to go there.  Ever.

My Neighbordhood Food Lion at Landfall Shopping Center, 1319 Military Cutoff Rd., Wilmington, NC

My Neighbordhood Food Lion at Landfall Shopping Center, 1319 Military Cutoff Rd., Wilmington, NC

Food Lion is famous for purveying every part of the pig under cellophane.  If you need oxtails or smoked ham hocks or fat back or streak of lean, Lion King is your place.  I love that about them; they reliably have all the old Southern essentials.  But folks, you have got to go see what the heck is going on at The Kitty.  It is not just your Grandma’s grocer anymore!

The eMail

I was a bit surprised to get an email from a representative of Food Lion a few weeks ago.  I almost disregarded it, as I do so much seeming junk mail.  Instead, I gave it a read.  It turned out to be an inquiry regarding my blog – yup this one – asking me if I’d be interested in reviewing the changes they are making to my local store.  When I said that I would be happy to go take a look, since I shop there occasionally anyhow, they offered to provide me with gift cards – some for me, some to give away to you.  So I guess you could say I was compensated for this, but no one has said one word about what to write.  In fact, all they asked was that I give away some of the gift cards to my readers; they didn’t even ask me to write anything.  So this article is all me with no influence from the folks at Food Lion.  The gift cards are already in my hand, so let the review begin!

The Facelift

I don’t know if your neighborhood store has made these changes yet, but mine has.  It is awesome!  There’s been some painting and reorganizing, new display cases, new checkout lanes (our store used to have this awkward corral thing in the middle of the checkout lanes) and signs, and a tweaking of the store color scheme, all of which serve to modernize the store.  The store was immaculately clean, which is something the fancier competitors are a bit slack on at times.  Take a look for yourself.

One thing that’s missing is a self-checkout.  I’m guessing that was intentional, since personal service seemed to be the name of the game.  A young lady even helped me unpack my cart at the register.  Still, I like a self-checking option for my less chatty days.

The Food

What really matters to me are the improvements in the product offerings.  I have been living with a new (to me) medical condition over this past year that has made it necessary to be very selective about foods, and to eliminate a good many things from my diet altogether.  Basically, I don’t each much of anything from a package these days, and if I do I have to scrutinize the label for rogue substances that aggravate my condition.  I also can’t eat meats from animals that have been fed grain diets, because grains are off my list (except for rice).  So until now, my shopping at Food Lion had been reduced to produce and household items – and frankly, the produce was never all that great in years gone by.

Fruits & Veggies

Imagine my surprise when I found all this lovely produce with so many new varieties!  The produce, while mostly not organic, has greatly improved in quality.  It was a feast for my eyes!  I actually checked the store two weeks ago and went back again this week, wanting to see if I would notice a lapse in quality.  I did not.  The fruits and vegetables looked super fresh, and the selection had improved even in the two weeks since my last visit.  In produce, you can still get basic hot house tomatoes at the same steal-deal prices that Food Lion is known for, but you can also get sweet little gourmet grape & cherry tomatoes for a little more money.  They even had Cherokee Purples!  The spinach was calling my name from the top shelf, so it went in the cart with the little tomatoes.  Potatoes were on my list, so I grabbed a 5 pound bag of golds for the same price I pay at any other store, $3.99.  They had white potatoes on sale, but I was in the mood for yellow.

More Meaty Options

Aside from the aforementioned pork, I have never been very impressed by Food Lion’s selection of meat.  I have now officially changed my mind.  Both chicken and beef went in my cart today.  The beef was grass fed ground beef, and I hope they will offer more grass fed selections in the future, like a steak or a roast.  The chicken is antibiotic and hormone-free and veggie fed.  Not organic, but it meets all my requirements.  I have been buying my chicken at the Teeter and my beef at Whole Foods – so I am thrilled to find selections friendly to my dietary needs at the Lion King!

All of the meat now comes into the store already packaged, according to the Landfall Store’s Perishables Manager, Fred.  Right away, I thought of the folks who used to work at cutting and packaging the meats; did they lose their jobs?  Fred assures me that the changes have not resulted in a loss of jobs, but rather an increase.  Apparently, all the freshy-fresh changes throughout the store take more people to deliver it all to you.

Fred says the new vacuum packed beef – some of it Angus – ensures freshness.  It also makes the meat freezer-ready; no more unwrapping and re-wrapping at home, so less trash for the landfill.  A very nice lady was grilling samples of the beef, but I was not able to partake due to the seasoning used (my diet is such a bummer sometimes).  There are also new ready-to-

Ready-to-Cook Selections look delish!

Ready-to-Cook Selections look delish!

cook, pre-seasoned selections in the meat case including kabobs, bacon-wrapped chicken or beef medallions, jalapeno poppers, and bacon-cheddar potato skins, just to name a few.  All the ingredients are carefully listed on the packages for folks like me to review, and the selection is the best I’ve seen at any local grocery store.  I guess they opted out of the more-expensive-to-operate deli counter of their competitors, but these selections look every bit as good.  I hope some of you without dietary restrictions will try these ready-to-cook selections and let me know what you think.

Boxes, Bags, and Cans

The industry insiders call this the “grocery” department.  Think of it as all the edible stuff on the shelves that doesn’t require refrigeration.  I was extremely impressed with the changes in this category.  As I roamed the aisles, I found something notable in every single one.  One employee told me that they removed about 200 products and replaced them with 400 new ones (don’t quote me on this; I may have the quantities wrong).  She said the changes were based on customer feedback, and thanks to my neighbors for your input.  But can I just say that the product selection is really, really good from my perspective.  There were undoubtedly some professional buyers and researchers involved in these changes, and they scored a home run with me!

The products they have picked in the natural, whole foods, gluten free, and specialty categories are mostly brands that are already well known and trusted among those of us using these product types.  Udi’s, Bob’s Mill, Nature’s Path, Enjoy Life, and Bear Naked are among them.  But I swooned when I saw King Arthur gluten-free offerings on the shelf!  King Arthur has long been my most trusted brand of flours and baking ingredients, so I grabbed a box of their Multi-Purpose Gluten-Free Flour and some Enjoy Life Chocolate Chips to experiment with some cookies or a cake.  New and worth a try are Nature’s Place (which seems to be a proprietary label for Food Lion that is on dry goods and some of the chicken), Back to Nature, Eat Smart, and Anna’s, all of which have short ingredient lists absent a bunch of chemicals.

For all you traditionalists, never fear!  Mt. Olive, White House, Duke’s, and all the budget-friendly Food Lion store brand products are still on the shelves.


Now, I’m not eatin’ this stuff anymore y’all, so I only breezed through.  But I noticed a few things right away.  There’s some mighty fine looking big cookies begging to be eaten, the bread looks fresh and good, and there were some fine looking Savory Crisps from 34o Bakery that have only a few ingredients and look perfect for the cheese tray at your next cocktail party.  I did not torture myself with further inspection, but you really should go look at the goodies in the bakery – if you can!

In my opinion, they have done an outstanding job of selecting new product offerings while holding onto the beloved brands of loyal customers.  I have a few products that I’d like to see that I didn’t find today, and I will be asking my local store manager if they are able to get them.  But mostly I was pleasantly surprised.  I might be able to save a couple of trips across town now that my neighborhood store has more of the products I use.

Can I just say, “Way to go, Food Lion!”

The Give Away!

Four $25 Gift Cards will be given away Wed., Aug. 27th!

Four $25 Gift Cards will be given away Wed., Aug. 27th!

I have four $25 Gift Cards to give away to you so that you can experience the new Food Lion for yourself – on them!

If you will simply tell me what you are most looking forward to or happiest to see offered from my comments and pictures here, you will be entered to win.  I will select four winners randomly on Wednesday, August 27th, and announce them here on my blog, along with instructions for claiming your winnings.

Here’s a little something I threw together with my freshy-fresh Food Lion purchases.  Enjoy!


Spinach Salad with Roasted Chicken Breast, Roasted Chilled Potatoes, and Lemon Herb Vinaigrette

Spinach Salad with Roasted Chicken Breast, Roasted Chilled Potatoes, and Lemon Herb Vinaigrette

I’m Writing Less, Doing More (Food Porn)

23 03 2014

I haven’t been doing much creative writing lately (unless you count recipe development) because I’ve been cooking.

Cooking at home, making quick dishes that use what I have on hand.

Cooking at work for members of the Cape Fear Food & Wine Club for various cooking classes and events.

I even cooked for friends recently, laying out a buffet of finger foods for their daughter’s Baby Shower – it was how I spent my “day off.”

Yesterday’s “No-Tomato Italian” cooking class menu was particularly tasty.  Italians love tomatoes, but they don’t eat them at every meal or every day – there is a whole country of good eating that we Americans often overlook in favor of pasta and tomatoes when thinking of Italy.  I think the best meals are the ones where the focus is on quality ingredients prepared in a minimalist fashion, which is exactly what yesterday’s class was all about.  The menu was Melon & Prosciutto Salad with Blood Orange & Shallot Vinaigrette, Lemon Oregano Roast Chicken with Parmesan Polenta and Balsamic Grilled Onions, and a delicious Orange Olive Oil Cake with jarred Peaches.  One of the students recently went to Italy and said that my recipes transported her back to that trip.  Frankly, that’s the most flattering thing anyone could say about my food.

Of course, I failed to get any pictures.  As a marketing manager, I suck.  As a cook, instructor, merchandiser, writer, and General Manager I do a pretty good job.  Perhaps its all those other responsibilities that interfere with my being better at marketing and social media – I just have too much on my plate.  How can you worry about pictures when you are feeding, educating, and entertaining guests?  The person in front of me is always my focus, and I never seem to get back to all those potential guests and customers out there in cyberspace.  There’s just not enough time.

So perhaps this little picture book of a handful of the food I have created lately will encourage my local readers to stop into The Seasoned Gourmet to say hey, or to join the Cape Fear Food & Wine Club to take some classes with me and taste my food themselves or learn to make it.  If nothing else, it will serve to inform you all that I am not gone, just busy doing rather than writing.

If you’d like any of the recipes for the tasty food shown here, just ask and ye shall receive!

Happy eating!


Battle Sriracha Cha!: Kirsten’s Curry Steals the Show

4 02 2014

I struggled with how to approach this dispatch, especially since I have a little friendly competition of sorts from my new friend Cole Dittmer of the Lumina News.  While we are not being judged for our literary prowess – or at least I’m not (I don’t have an editor and I’m not being paid), we are both writing articles about tonight’s festivities at the regional cooking competition Fire on the Dock, part of the Competition Dining series here in North Carolina.  Our articles are both behind-the-scenes looks at the competition, and to be fair to the competitors we divided our efforts.  Cole’s work will focus on Chef Katie Carter and the team from Olive Café and my article concentrates on Chef Kirsten Mitchell and Team 1900 Restaurant & Lounge.

I am sure that Cole’s article will be professional and politically correct and studded with beautiful photography and the epitome of ethical journalism.  I thought about trying to emulate that style myself, or writing another seemingly endless blow-by-blow like I did last year.  Frankly, I am not happy with either of those approaches.  So I’m just going to do what I want here and tell you about the food.  I am all about the food, my neighbors, and all things North Carolina.

I want to tell you about some exciting NC products and innovations being featured at the Competition Dining events (like the brand new Sriracha Cha! sauce from the makers of Texas Pete and some of the wines), but it will have to wait for another post as it is now past 1:00am and I have my own cooking to do in the morning.  I need sleep and you need to know about the well-deserved win experienced by the team from 1900 Restaurant & Lounge tonight.

This was the 7th event I have attended in three years, and the 2nd at which I have foregone voting in favor of full access behind the scenes.  For sheer fun, nothing can compare to being in the kitchen with Gerry Fong of Persimmons in New Bern – last year’s winner of Fire on the Dock.  Gerry is a perpetually happy guy whose glass is always full and his joie de vivre is contagious.  Today’s kitchen was subdued by comparison, but the food was anything but muted.  Today was all about watching a hard-working woman have a well-deserved moment of success and recognition.

For third-generation-chef Kirsten Mitchell, it all came together on the plate today.  Kirsten didn’t just do well tonight, she rocked it.  I had a good feeling about the outcome from the first 20 minutes after learning the secret ingredient, when I sat and listened as she and her team developed their menu.  Like a good leader, she listened to her crew and considered their ideas.  Then she got out her pen and wrote the menu without hesitation.  She had some ideas in reserve in the event that certain ingredients weren’t available, but she went with her gut and was decisive.  Indecision is a leading cause of flops in these battles, so I was relieved to see her charge ahead.  Cut throat.  You go, girl!

Like most all of these events, this one was not without its ups and downs.  New equipment was available tonight that was not offered at prior competitions, courtesy of Denver Restaurant Equipment Company.  Kirsten homed in on the immersion circulator immediately, creating the first sous vide dish in Fire on the Dock History with huge success (Cha! Marinated Lamb Loin).  Her introduction to the awesome power of the Vitamix machine made for a colorful swath of green curry sauce on the wall a la Jackson Pollock.  Old equipment failed to function properly, including an oven that was, oh, about 100 degrees too hot for pound cake – fortunately, there was time to bake again.

At one point, Team 1900 broke out in song, which I learned is a regular occurrence in their restaurant kitchen.  I am going to have to walk across the parking lot more often so I have someone to sing with, and also to use their fryer to make some of the awesome skin-on plantain chips that I learned from Kirsten tonight.  I have had lots of tostones, and made them a few times myself.  I’ve even had them in Puerto Rico and Jamaica where plantains grow.  But I have never had a deep fried plantain chip with the skin on like Kirsten made tonight – sliced lengthwise on a mandolin and fried immediately, adorned only with a touch of salt.  I love it when Kirsten’s Bahamian upbringing influences her cooking – that’s when her food is at its best.

Cha Lamb Despite the North Carolina ingredients, her entrée tonight had the Caribbean written all over it with this show-stealing, vote-catching, competition-crushing, runaway hit:  Texas Pete Sriracha Cha! Marinated Lamb Loin Sous Vide served with Green Curry “Mofongo” (roasted sweet potato & parsnip mash), and garnished with a Plantain Chip and Sautéed Brunoise of Peppers.  That’s what I’m talking about, Kirsten.  Mm. Mm. Mm.

The Collard Soup was genius; it never occurred to me to make a pureed soup from collard greens.  I thought eating them raw in a salad was stepping out of the box.  Ha!  The tasso ham bits and all that jazz was nice, but the soup was awesome by itself. Let me know when you have a pot of that on the stove and I will definitely Cha Collard Soupmake the 100 yard trek across the parking lot.  I’ll even bring the bacon.

I have mixed feelings about the dessert.  Dessert is tough for a lot of chefs; that’s why there is a specialty called ‘pastry chef.’  It’s almost not fair to judge these chefs by dessert if they don’t have a Rebeca Alvarado Paredes on their team.  To make it and possibly not do it well is a risk; to skip it and go with three savory dishes is also a risk.  So most teams go sweet and take their chances.  Kirsten has had her butt handed to her over dessert in this competition in battles past.  But she persevered tonight and had a pretty solid showing with her homage to Gerry Fong’s winning penchant for things in sets of three.  The screen might have said Chocolate Cha! Torte, Almond Cha! Pound Cake, Blackberry Mousse, Chai Cha! Caramel Sauce, but we called it “The Fong Trifecta.”  And it worked.

Cha DessertSo here’s to Chef Kirsten Mitchell, who I am proud to call my friend.  Congratulations!

If you would like to get to know Kirsten up close and personal, join the Club and attend one of her cooking classes with the Cape Fear Food & Wine Club hosted by The Seasoned Gourmet.  She’s not just a great chef, but a natural instructor who loves sharing her passion for food with others.

Heard in the kitchen today:

Chef Mitchell, upon realizing that the home-sized immersion blenders provided were just a wee tad small for her commercial stock pot full of soup, “These things suck.”

Scott Padrick, sous chef:  “Chef – is that enough brunoise?” Chef Mitchell:  “Just keep going.”

Zack Zaytoun, cook:  “Where is that big mixer?”  The Kitchen Chorus: “Downstairs.”

“Hot sauce is my favorite thing in the whole world.” – Chef Kirsten Mitchell

Kirsten Team

Research: Pho & Geneology – Can You Help Find Thu Thi Vo?

24 01 2014

As I was preparing for my Vietnamese Pho Cooking Class tomorrow, I have read a lot of recipes, blog posts, historical accountings, and other articles.  It was certainly a reminder that not all of the recipes you find on the internet are tested or tasty; I’ve been cooking long enough that I can look at some of them and just know it isn’t going to work.  After consuming a well-cited article on Wikipedia for the historical background, I settled in for an educated comparison of recipes.  The fat rose to the top of the stock pot pretty quick when I read Andrea Nguyen’s recipe.  I will follow her method, as I have found that in simple dishes such as this the method and ingredients make all the difference.

I have, of course, heard of this accomplished cook and author before.  I decided to explore her blog while I was there, and among the recent posts I found this one.  It’s the story of Thu Thi Vo, or rather the story of her brother, Minh Hung Vo, who has been looking for her with extremely limited resources for over 2 decades.  You can read the post for yourself, and I hope you will, to garner more details.  Long story short, Thu Thi married an American GI and immigrated to the States.  Brother and sister corresponded for some time, then Minh moved and never heard from his sister again.  The Vietnamese postal system not being quiet as modern and efficient as ours, his sister may have continued writing but nothing more was received by Minh.

Thu Thi Vo

Thu Thi Vo

There is a lot we don’t know for certain – birth dates, married names, children’s names, etc.  But there is certainly enough to narrow this search with all of the electronic records now at our disposal.  Being an armchair geneology researcher for my own family, I feel certain there are at least Census records that would point toward other family members.  I think of this as an old man’s final wish; Minh just wants to know what happened to his beloved sister.

Andrea is a genuinely kind person for taking time to listen to this man’s story and to try to help him.  Some of her readers have already started digging and uncovered possible leads from the comfort of their living rooms.  Perhaps you, too, can join this effort; a simple re-posting of this information with reference back to Andrea’s article would be a big help.  Word of mouth is still the best way to find anything, or anyone.

Meanwhile, I am off to pick up my grass fed beef shanks and get busy following Andrea’s method for my Pho broth.  I will follow up with the results.  Thank you for reading, and for helping a global neighbor.

The Chef, The Farmer, and You

7 01 2014

As I was driving to work today, I felt all warm inside despite the frigid temperature outside.  I love this time of year, when Wilmington is her most authentic self.  In these months of cold air and short daylight hours, my beloved city is a true Southern town.  The summer people are gone, the holidays are over, I have tied my last Christmas bow and counted the widgits in the store for the tax man who, like death, inevitably comes.  The cooking class schedule for the next season is set, my menus are prepared, my recipes are being slowly tested in my spare time, and I actually have spare time.  I can carefully write a blog post that is something other than a rant.  This is the life!

BeachIt’s slower here in the winter, more like a Southern town is supposed to be.  I can get to work in five minutes or less.  I can get over the drawbridge to Wrightsville Beach without slamming on my brakes, despite the construction.  I can make the right turn onto Keel Street in front of Redix without fear that someone will ignore the opposing stop signs and T-bone my car.  I can leave my car running while I dash into the post office to check my mail – no one will steal it today.  My mail will actually be in the box by 9:30 am, something that only happens this time of year.  I can go to the beach without fighting for or paying for parking.  I can take my dog to the beach, though perhaps not today (brrr).  It’s just so Southern here this time of year, slow like molasses pouring from a jug and comfortable like a favorite pair of flip flops.

As a devout foodie, I have another reason to love this time of year.  I can get a table for dinner at most any restaurant on any day of any week without reservations.  If your life looks anything like mine, it is a rare day when you can plan ahead enough to make reservations.  There are just too many variables in a typical day for me to plan dinner more than an hour or two in advance, so now that the best restaurants are not jammed with visitors and things are slower in general, I can dine out again.

There is one place that reservations are always required, and it might just be the hottest ticket in this chilly seaside town.  I am so excited to attend at least one or two of these events again this year and really wish I could go to each and every one of them.  But I would need a much better paying job for that!  I love being able to sample the on-the-fly creations of a variety of chefs from an assortment of restaurants around the coastal area.  I love the friendly competitive spirit that I have witnessed behind the scenes.  I so love that nearly all the ingredients used to create these meals is created, grown, or raised here in North Carolina.

What place am I talking about?  Fire on the Dock, of course!  This local arm of a statewide Competition Dining series has been firing up the coastal area for three years now, and I truly look forward to it every year.  I enjoy these events so much that I’m a teensy bit jealous that I didn’t think of it myself.  But if I had, I doubt I could have actually breathed life into quite as successfully as Jimmy Crippen has done.  I can only imagine how tired his arms got swimming up that stream of transforming his local cooking event in Blowing Rock into a series of events across North Carolina, culminating in a finale each year in, where else, the state capital of Raleigh.

BluewaterI am headed over to Bluewater, the hosts of these fantastic events, for the Media Day event for the kick off of Fire on the Dock 2014 this afternoon.  I will be tweeting the competitor’s names as they are announced, and I will update you tomorrow with a little who’s who post.  Stay tuned!

Get ready to experience great local food cooked by energetic local chefs in an Iron Chef-style competition where you are the judge.  If you are a foodie like me, you are guaranteed to have a blast.  It’s all about The Chef, The Farmer, and You!


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