Friday, September 30, 2011

Calling all Opinions: Sodastream

Yesterday, I read a post on CNN's Eatocracy Blog on how one person kicked their Diet Coke addiction by replacing diet Coke with home-made seltzer made with the SodaStream machine.  The last time I was at my local kitchen goods store, the sales clerk there hit me with such a whopping sales pitch for the SodaStream that I assumed she was getting some sort of kickback.  Seriously, she was foaming at the mouth, with apparent love for the SodaStream machine.

Do you have a SodaStream machine?  Is it worth the hype?  I am calling for all knowledgable opinions - post or email me at


Shop Here Now: Cleanse Apothecary - Seminole Heights, Florida

Update:  Make sure to check out my blog post about a Cleanse Apothecary product here.

It is very important to me to support local businesses.  I appreciate the diversity in culture, attitude (expertise and awesome customer service!) and range of products that come from small, local businesses.  And I feel less like I am feeding the faceless industrial chain-store machines that are suburbanizing the landscape of all major and minor U.S.-cities.

In this vein, I'd like to share some of my favorite local businesses under the "Shop Here Now!" banner.  If you read my love letter post to Kalamazoo Olive Company, you already know how much I adore quality local businesses. 

My first official post under the "you really should be shopping here NOW!" banner is Cleanse Apothecary in Seminole Heights, Florida.  First, I adore anything called "Apothecary."  Do you recall the episode of "Friends" with the Pottery Barn apothecary table (the episode is actually entitled "The One with the Apothecary Table")?  That episode might as well have been called "A page from Lily's journal."  I loves me some old-timey names and references.

Second, not only do I love anything called "apothecary" but I am also a fan of good hygiene.  Yep, you read it here first!  I love being clean - so "Cleanse Apothecary" combines two likes.  (Insert mad giggle here!)

Cleanse Apothecary is like a candy store for people who like great smells and to smell good!  I love the store's layout - clean, crisp, modern lines with walls of products!  Candles, soaps, lotions, oils ... I love to go to Cleanse and just sniff everything!  I am originally from Minnesota and Cleanse Apothecary sells two very great product lines from Minnesota:  Caldrea and Thymes.  So not only do I feel great about supporting local businesses but I also support my home state by shopping at Cleanse Apothecary - win, win!

Cleanse Apothecary plans to expand their candle line and I heard a rumor that they will be expanding into selling cosmetic lines by the end of the year.  My wallet groaned when I heard this-- more money flying out of my pocket and into Cleanse Apothecary's pocket instead.  Ahhh well! 

On my last visit to Cleanse, I picked up a candle and two soaps.  Keep your eyes peeled for New Product Wednesdays posts - eventually my purchases will be reviewed there.

If you want to smell great and support small businesses, check out Cleanse Apothecary in Seminole Heights, Florida!  And if you want to make a day of it - grab a great meal at The Refinery restaurant next door, buy a loaf of fresh made Cuban bread at Mauricio Faedo's Bakery across the street and then get a local brew at The Independent Bar and Cafe diagonally down the street from Cleanse Apothecary.

Support small, local businesses!  You'll be glad you did!   

Update:  Make sure to check out my blog post about a Cleanse Apothecary product here.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

World's Best Bartender Guest Bartending at Ciro's Tonight and Tomorrow - get thee to Ciro's!

If you read my post on Ciro's Speakeasy, you know about one of the world's best guest bartenders Andres Aleman and his Shake and Strain BlogAndres is guest bartending at Ciro's Speakeasy tonight (Sept 29, 2011) and tomorrow (yep that's Sept 30, 2011).  I highly encourage you to check out his ultra-fantastic libations!  And have some French fries cooked in duck fat for me!

Gluttony Ahoy! The French Fry Sandwich. Happy Birthday, RJ!

In my quest for non-stop branding, I have been trying out some new potentially reoccuring "mini columns" on my blog, such as: New Product Wednesdays.  In the same vein, I am launching "Gluttony Ahoy!" - mini columns on insane portion sizes or insane foodstuffs ... or insanely large insane foodstuffs.  You get the concept ...

Today, September 29th, is my pal, RJ's birthday.  RJ leads a life focused on non-stop hedonism.  Work is a 4 letter word to RJ.  I can think of no better date to launch "Gluttony Ahoy!" than on RJ's birthday and the first mini-column should be focused on an insane foodstuff that I shared with the aforementioned RJ. 

What gluttonous pleasure could be worthy of the King of Hedonism?  Seminole Heights, Florida's The Refinery Restaurant's very own carniverous treat, the Myakka Gold ($8).  Now The Refinery has a new menu every week, so I suggest you get yourself over to The Refinery ASAP or begin a letter-writing campaign to get the Myakka Gold on the regular menu.  What is the Myakka Gold, you ask?  Other than the subject of your new letter-writing campaign?  Other than your serious new addiction?  Other than the reason your arteries may harden? 

The Myakka Gold is two pieces of white bread (no multi-grain insanity here!), Duke's Mayonnaise, house made garlic-tarragon sausage gravy, herbed mushroom salt and Yukon Gold French Fries.  Yes, French Fries in the sandwich.  With sausage gravy.  This is some serious stuff here. 

I will admit I was seriously curious and equally seriously scared when I read the description of the Myakka Gold.  In addition to being the King of Hedonism, RJ can also read minds.  He ordered the Myakka Gold - taking an artery-clogging hit for the team, just so I could try the French Fry and Sausage Gravy sandwich!  That King of Hedonism is a good man!  

I would like to say that the Myakka Gold was disgusting and that I quickly ran out for some vegan parfaits.  I would like to say that ... But let me tell you the sound that both the King of Hedonism and I made upon first bite: "ohhhhhhhhh myyyyyyyyyy Goddddddddddd .... my heart is about to explode and I don't care ... ohhhhhhhh myyyyyyyy Godddddddd.... nummmm, nummmmm, nummmmmm."  It was that good.  Myakka Gold - Myakka Good!

The Refinery is a lovely restaurant in Seminole Heights with a rockin' rooftop patio.  It's a great spot to have a beer and watch the sun set - which was RJ's and my goal for that evening.  Little did we know that we were about to enter the pathway to Gluttonous heaven.  I actually think the password to get into Gluttonous heaven is "sausage gravy."  Ohhh what an amazing, intense, glutton-worthy treat.

But I'm an American girl, so with compliments come criticisms as well.  My criticisms for the Myakka Gold - seriously, only one half of the sandwich is needed.  Portion control, baby!  I ate three bites and seriously wanted to take a fatty carb-induced nap.  RJ was begging me to eat more.  He started bargaining like one of the 5 stages of dealing with death-- I've never heard him say "please" so much in my life!  I think I could have won his potential first-born had I eaten two more bites.  The Myakka Gold may be the stakes for an intense dare ... consider it, kids!

The Myakka Gold is one serious sandwich and I want to meet the person who created this recipe.  I want to bitch-slap him or her and then give them a huge hug!  It is crazy rich-tasting and you feel a bit Henry VIII just for having it on a plate in front of you.  The Yukon Gold French Fries are butter-tastic.  The sausage gravy is intense without being greasy.  The sausage is hard-core, great.  You can tell it is a quality meat product and not some sad odds and ends.  It's just plain old major flavorful. 

Believe it or not, I could taste the mayonnaise despite the fries and the gravy.  Which did make me wonder how much Duke's Mayonnaise was slathered on this sandwich that I could clearly and discernibly taste it amidst the other strong flavors.  The white bread was solid, dense and tasty good-- no Wonder Bread here.  Duke's Mayonnaise is hailed as an intense Southern mayo.  I thought all mayo was the same until I tasted this delightful spread on this incredible sandwich.

RJ and I determined that the Myakka Gold was the ultimate stoner food.  This sandwich would be the most amazing at 3 a.m. after many rounds of cocktails.  RJ and I quickly mapped out a food truck empire based solely around the Myakka Gold before we realized that we lack the operating capital, 24 hours per day drive and work ethic to launch such an empire.  Hopefully The Refinery will team with an awesome food truck like Tampa's Own Wicked 'Wiches so that drunks around the land can have the Myakka Gold fantabulousness to top off a crazed night out.  I'd like 10% as a finder's fee/royalty/"You're super awesome and an inspiration" fee.  Or just change the name to "Lily on the Lam's Fantabulously Awesomely Approved Myakka Gold."  I'm really open to several options here, people. 

RJ and I also decided between gulps of Cigar City Brewing beers that we are 99.2% sure that The Refinery created the Myakka Gold on either a dare or after an ultra-fantastic hedonistic evening full of drinks or illegal plants.  Either way, this is a sandwich that must be honored, revered and be tasted to be believed.  You've never had a French Fry sandwich you say?  Well what are you waiting for, Wuss?  Gluttony Ahoy!  Let the letter-writing campaign start now!         
The Refinery on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

New Product Wednesday: Dalmatia Fig Spread

Welcome to the first installment of New Product Wednesdays!  Every Wednesday, I am going to review something that is new to me.  Yes, new to me -- so don't send me hate mail if I review something that has been around for years.  :-)  Thanks in advance!  I have not received these products for free and am receiving no compensation for these reviews, but I would love to be bribed with products - so attention Corporate America - I can be bought! 

Now a little fact about me ... I went to college in Wisconsin and as part of my educational experience there, I evidently had some sort of Dairy Lovers chip installed in my cerebral cortex.  I always have, at bare minimum, three kinds of cheese in my refrigerator.  How else can I explain this lust o' cheese?  Obviously University of Wisconsin has altered my brain.

So the other day Dairy Lovers chip was working in fine form, I found myself at the cheese section at the local Publix Greenwise Grocery Store.  Cheese, cheese, glorious cheese!  And as any good grocer has, above the cheese section was a variety of cheese accoutrements ... crackers, fruit spreads, nut mixes ... ahhhh delicious snacking wonderfulness! 

I have been a big fan of Manchego cheese with quince paste for years.  The combination of sweet and fruity with the milky aged delicious cheese is an excellent snack that makes me feel both happy and cultured.  As I perused Publix's cheese accompaniments, I saw a squat jar of Dalmatia Fig Spread.  Lightning struck and I wondered how the thick, rich figgy spread would taste with a fine aged cheese.  (By the way, today's word of the day is Figgy.  I love how it rolls off the tongue: figgy, figgy, figgy!)

The following picture is my lame attempt at food styling --
hello lovely jar of fig spread amidst organic vegetables...

Publix sells Dalmatia Fig Spread for $5.99 a jar.  If you're not a cheese and fruit spread fan, check out the Dalmatia Imports website for a bunch of amazing sounding recipes.   

I must admit that I bought the Dalmatia Fig Spread and then basically forgot about it.  The jar sat in my refrigerator, sad and alone, for months.  The mustards and salad dressing neighbors could not console this lovely jar.  But then yesterday I was looking for a quick and easy snack.  The Dalmatia Fig Spread called out to me.  Step on up, Figgy - this is your day! 

I took whole grain Wasa crackers and slathered the figgy goodness on the crackers.  I then topped one cracker with 5 year aged Gouda cheese and the other with a delicious aged Manchego cheese.  I love a good 5 year aged Gouda-- these delicious flavor crystals form within the cheese.  One server once described it as "salty pop rocks" which is a pretty accurate, if not albeit appetizing way to describe the crystallized yumminess.

Hello Cheese and Figgy Goodness!

Let me tell you, I was feeling like a classy lady with my little cheese and figgy goodness snack!  The fig spread was sweet without being overly so.  The manchego-fig-whole grain cracker combination was absolutely divine.  The Gouda-fig-cracker combination was OK ... I felt the fig and "salty pop rock" gouda were competing a little too much versus complimenting each other.  My recommendation is stick with traditional and get yourself some manchego.

My rating on Dalmatia Fig Spread - a rousing "YES!" - I recommend this delicious concoction.  My rating on Dalmatia Fig Spread with Manchego cheese on a Wasa Cracker - a triple "YES!"  Get yourself to the store and try this today!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Sauce to McNugget Ratio is Slightly Off

Twenty-something athletic men are great for so many reasons.  I had the great pleasure of spending two weeks partying with two gorgeous English men.  It really is the top early Christmas gift for 2011! 

Not only is it fantastic to spend time around beautiful men, but it also makes for good stories.  One of my adorable friends, JT, told me a story that has emotionally scarred me in a gastronomical sense.  Boys being boys ... one of JT's friend bragged that he routinely eats forty to fifty McDonald's Chicken McNuggets at a time. 

Yes, you read that correctly - forty to fifty Chicken McNuggets.  Well as men tend to do, when an eating boast presents itself; the best way to deal with it is to up the ante.  JT dared the Chicken McNugget Lover to eat TWO HUNDRED Chicken McNuggets. 

A challenge was offered.  And perhaps routinely eating 40-50 Chicken McNuggets, scarred the Food Boasting Braggart's mind because he did not hesitate for even one second.  He ACCEPTED the 200 McNugget Challenge! 

A gaggle of eager men headed to the nearest McDonald's and ordered two hundred Chicken McNuggets.  Now I don't know how often the crew at McDonald's receives an order like this, but JT said that the staff cooked and delivered two hundred Chicken McNuggets in ... get this ... NINE MINUTES.  That's some seriously fast food, people.  I wonder if my local McDonald's would be as efficient.

With two hundred Chicken McNuggets before him, "Food Boasting Braggart" began eating.  He ate and he ate and he ate.  I didn't ask JT what flavor sauce, if any, FBB used with his Chicken McNuggets.  Maybe he didn't want to load up on sauce.  I wonder what adorable cutie Man Vs. Food's Adam Richman would recommend on how best to devour two hundred Chicken McNuggets! 

FBB continued to eat - plowing through the first 30 without stopping at all.  The eager fans watched as Chicken McNugget after Chicken McNugget disappeared.  The stakes for the bet was a mere $50, but it was $50 the zealous crowd of young men didn't want to lose.  It looked like nothing could stop FBB.  He was a McNugget-inhaling machine!

FBB kept eating but perhaps his colon was starting to cause angst, because he began to slow down.  Each McNugget was taking a little longer to make it completely into his gullet.  Finally FBB tapped out.  He was unsuccessful.  As much as he bragged, he could NOT eat an entire two hundred Chicken McNuggets. 

I grabbed JT and shook him when he got to this part of the story.  HOW MANY DID HE EAT?  HOW MANY DID HE EAT?  I think I may have given JT shaken baby syndrome.  After I stopped shaking him, JT told me how many Chicken McNuggets FBB actually ate on that fateful day.

FBB made it through ... wait for it ... ninety-six Chicken McNuggets before he tapped out.

Ninety-six Chicken McNuggets.

Ninety-six Chicken McNuggets!!

Just for perspective - that's 4,560 calories of Chicken McNuggets and 288 grams of fat.  Mmmmm delicious.  Someone get Morgan Spurlock on the phone.  I smell a sequel to "Supersize Me"!

FBB consumed ninety-six Chicken McNuggets in one sitting.  The next day he said he felt fine and would definitely continue to eat 40-50 Chicken McNuggets at a time as his routine snack.  Someone please check FBB's mental status!

This story should inspire vomiting, stomach clenching, veganism ... I mean seriously, ninety-six Chicken McNuggets?  Who does that?  But here's where the shameful part comes in.  Ever since JT told me this ridiculous eating challenge story, I have been craving Chicken McNuggets. 

Yes, a story of chowing down on ninety-six Chicken McNuggets in one sitting made me want to actually eat those formed, pressed, potentially maybe some chicken lips patty things ...  THE SHAME OF IT ALL!  Yet despite my shame, I wanted some McNuggets!

Picture it - there I was - hiding behind Jackie O large sunglasses, hoping no one recognizes me in the McDonald's drive thru, slowly inching down the drive thru lane.  I look around me in complete paranoia before I whisper into the drive thru speaker .... "ummm a ... ummmm ... aaaa..... four pack of Chicken McNuggets please."  Yes, a four pack.  I'm not a nut job!  I don't need ninety-six Chicken McNuggets!  I just need a taste of the sweet, sweet McNugget!

My local McDonald's drive thru staff is incredibly polite - better customer service than most joints in Tampa Bay.  I got a steaming hot bag of pressed chicken in no time!  As I drove away, I realized no one had bothered to ask me what kind of dipping sauce I wanted!  Maybe dipping sauce was only for lame people and obviously I, incognito in the McDonald's drive thru, am anything but lame. 

I opened up the McDonald's bag and this is what I saw ...

Three ... THREE tubs of tangy barbecue sauce to accompany my FOUR PACK of Chicken McNuggets.  Is this the recommended serving size?  Really?  Is it a 3 sauce to 4 McNuggets ratio?  Have I been shorted sauce?  Should it be one tub per McNugget?  Or did the vision of me, scrunched down in my car seat, hiding behind big sunglasses, whispering my pressed chicken order cause the McDonald's server to take pity on me?  "She looks like a girl who could use some extra tubs of tangy barbecue." 

Maybe I shouldn't question why I got the three tubs of sauce for my four little Chix McN's ... maybe I should just be grateful.  Is this like the lottery?  Instead of $300 million, my gift from the universe is three tubs of barbecue sauce? 

Why ask why?  I have a four pack of Chicken McNuggets here, people. 

Life is short ... I need to shut up and eat my barbecue sauce.  :-)

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

To Glee or Not To Glee ... That is the Question!

Last night was the season premiere of "Glee" on Fox.  If you read my Jesus' message through Diet Coke post, you'll know that I loves me some "Glee."  And luckily I have some brilliant friends who also love "Glee" and like to plan entertainment around such fabulous events.  For the season premiere, friend LM threw a fan-tab-ulous dinner, but the highlight of the dinner was dessert.  LM made cupcakes ... but not just any cupcakes ... cupcakes that looked like slushees!  Talk about working in the best theme ever to go with a "Glee" premiere party!

And they were absolutely delicious.  I ate two of them and I am not ashamed to admit it!

The only thing that could have made the night better is if Glee's very own Noah "Puck" Puckerman Mark Salling came over and gave me a lap dance while I was watching one of "The Glee Project" runner-ups Lindsay sing "Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better." 

Mark, the ball's in your court ... I'll bring the slushee cupcakes ...

Thursday, September 15, 2011

A Frenzy in Tasmania - Fish Frenzy - Hobart, Tasmania

I have a confession to make.  I am obsessed with good fish and chips.  What?  No!  YES!  Is there anything better than firm, flaky, hot white fish in a crispy batter with a side of fluffy yet crispy potatoes sprinkled with malt vinegar?  And if you serve it in a newspaper-like cone, I'm over the moon!

On a trip to Australia, I was so obsessed with fish and chips that I tried them in almost ever city we visited and pictures of fish and chips stands appeared on my digital memory card.

Even pictures for stores with "fish" in their name found their way into my photo album!

Fish and chips!  Fish and Chips!  Wait ... Legs and Breasts?  That's chicken!  Enough of that - let's talk fish and chips!

When my travels found me in Hobart, Tasmania - I knew I needed to check out some Tasmanian fish and chips!  My search was successfully rewarded at Fish Frenzy at the Elizabeth Street Pier at Sullivans Cove in Hobart.  First, you cannot have a better location and view - it's right on the pier amidst the fishing boats, fish stands and tourism charters.  This may sound trite, but in a word Tasmania is "charming."  It is like stepping back in time but everything is shiny and new.  I had heard Fish Frenzy was one of the best places to get fish and chips in Hobart.  I am happy to report that the rumors are true. 

My adorable sister and I flew into Hobart, checked into our hotel and headed straight for Fish Frenzy.  It was a cooler, rainy day and you could smell the salt in the air as you approached the pier. 

We settled up to a table near the window at Fish Frenzy, amusedly watching sea gulls begging for food outside.  Evidently the sea gulls hadn't seen the "Please dona feeda da boids" sign.  "Da Boids" wouldn't be amused!

I ordered a cone of crispy fish and chips.  Given the cooler weather and rain, my sister opted for a bowl of seafood chowder.

Mmmm.... fish and chips!

The fish and chips were a marvel.  Light crispy batter studded with fresh parsley.  Hot and flaky, crispy and crunchy and not a tad bit greasy.  My sister's seafood chowder arrived in a bowl large enough to swim in.  Delicious bits of clams, mussels, chunks of fish, potatoes in a rich cream-based broth that accentuated not overpowered the seafood.  My sister ate and ate and ate.  I helped her out with several spoonfuls.  However we did not realize my sister had ordered a magic refilling bowl - after steadily eating for 30 minutes, the bowl still appeared almost full!

That bowl of chowder is definitely meant for sharing! 

If you find yourself in Hobart, Tasmania - get yourself over to the Elizabeth Street Pier and enjoy the wonderful food, the great view and say hello to "da boids" for me!  And if you're looking for great chowder in the United States, check out my blog post on chowder in San Francisco, California.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Speakeasy, Drinkeasy, Eateasy - Ciro's Speakeasy and Supper Club - Tampa, Florida

Oct. 2012 Update:  Read about Ciro's Speakeasy's new menu items by clicking here!

Update: Check out my October 2011 blog post for more information on Ciro's Speakeasy and Supper Club!

One of my friends ("NL") is leaving sunny Florida to move to the rolling green mountainside of Lynchburg, Virginia for a new job.  As someone who spent four months working in Roanoke, Virginia; I can appreciate the beauty and the good restaurants of Virginia - but beyond that I have to ask my friend "REALLY?  Lynchburg?"  (Which please prove me wrong and send me Lynchburg recommendations - my friend would appreciate it!)

NL was heading up to Lynchburg for a few weeks before coming back to Florida to pack up her house and move.  We decided that we needed to celebrate her new job and also have a belated birthday celebration for me.  (All about me!)  NL is a classy lady, so we needed a classy joint for her congratulations dinner.  We decided to check out Ciro's Speakeasy and Supper Club off of Bayshore Blvd in Tampa, FL. 

When Ciro's opened in 2010, it was the talk of the town.  There was a secret door, no sign and you had to give a password to get in.  Now in 2011, the novelty and the kitsch has been put aside - but it's still a unique evening out.  Ciro's Speakeasy is in the former home of the original Ceviche Tapas restaurant, so the "hidden door" was not hidden to me as it's in the same place as Ceviche's front door.  It's around the corner from the pool by the valet.  Ciro's Speakeasy is located on the first floor of a condo building.  Once you figure out where the door is, everything is easy from there.  However it can be off-putting at first to some people.  Try something new, people!

We knocked on the door and the host opened a small window in the door to peer out at us.  He let us in.  Ciro's is incredibly dark inside - the menus have flashlights in them!  NL and I entered in like angels, shrouded in bright white light.  It took our eyes a few minutes to adjust to the darkness.  The host told us he had a private booth waiting for us and led us to a lovely little alcove room with an L-shaped couch.  The alcove was draped off with curtains and there was a buzzer you could use to signal the waiter.  It was the perfect setting for a date where you wanted to have a hot and heavy make-out session without being stared at (always a plus, right?).  However I was at Ciro's Speakeasy with my female friend NL and I am not a lesbian, so there wasn't going to be any making out for the two of us! 

The awkwardness of the not-so-romantic moment subsided as we dove into the cocktail menu.  Ciro's Speakeasy is supposed to be reminiscent of the Prohibition-era - a secret club where you and your Flapper Girl could sip bathtub gin without worrying about the Keystone Cops crashing your night.  Elliott Ness does not have this place on his radar!  Cocktails are first and foremost on the menu for Ciro's.  NL and I had decided to go to Ciro's because Bartender Extraordinaire Andres Aleman (read more about him at: was guest bartending. 

NL ordered off the menu for her first cocktail.  The Lychee Love Hotel.  An awesome drink name if I have ever heard one!  It was sweet and sassy (pictured to the right below).  I selected one of Andres Aleman's specials for the evening- I cannot recall the name of the drink but it had rhubarb syrup in it.  I have never had any cocktails with rhubarb syrup, so I could not resist.  This was my 2nd favorite drink of the evening.  It was tart but smooth.  (First favorite is the sangrita described later below.)  With any good cocktail, you need to have some great snacks.  (Or at least that's the rule of my life.)  We started our evening at Ciro's Speakeasy with French fries cooked in duck fat.  The French fries were accompanied with three delicious dipping sauces. Insanely good!  I cannot even begin to tell you how amazing these hot little fries of love were.  And the sauces - tangy, amazing and fantastic!

We moved on to sample Andres Aleman's three other specialty cocktails that night - pictured below.  I talked about the first one- my sangrita in a previous blog post, accompanied with a shot of tequila.  The other drinks include an incredibly potent apple cocktail and a julep-style drink that made me see stars, but in a very good way!

The cocktails were absolutely delicious, but also incredibly strong.  A proper excuse to order more delicious lovelies from the bar menu to sop up the alcohol.  Around this time, a sultry jazz singer started purring out tunes from the cozy lounge next to the private booths.  Even more romantic with the fantastic band, but once again I am here with female friend NL!  I need to go here on a date!

In addition to the lovely French Fries cooked in duck fat, we also had some lovely cheese fondue with mushrooms.  Nothing like hot cheese to get the night rolling!  Our server was a gorgeous man named Ryan.  We never once had to push the call button, he always magically knew when we needed something.  His assistant would refill our waters just by pushing his hand through the curtain.  It was like having our thirst satiated by "The Thing" from the Addams Family.

I think Granny Smith apples are mandatory for any cheese fondue, so I was very happy to see lovely perfect Granny Smith apples in addition to the French bread accompanying the fondue.

And to add some extra "oomph" to the evening, we split the chicken and waffles with chipotle maple gravy.  The waffle was so savory, it had both the right texture and taste to fully compliment the chicken.

This night of decadence was fantastic, but it's a congratulations dinner for NL - so we had to go over the top.  We ordered Ciro's special dessert - a waffle with chocolate covered bacon, orange bits and topped with a scoop of Newcastle Ale ice cream.  Hold on to your hats, ladies and gents - your taste buds are going somewhere they have never been!  And you will love every minute every of it!

I know some of you might be scared of chocolate-covered bacon, orange, beer ice cream and sweet waffle - but let your guard down and check it out, baby!  Live large and live well - try everything!

The Chef stopped by our private booth to say hello and see how we liked our food.  Luckily he came by about two seconds before I was planning on licking the plate clean!  Delicious!

Ciro's Speakeasy had a wonderful array of cocktails (absinthe too!) and the appetizers are amazing.  NL and I very much enjoyed our time at the Speakeasy.  But next time I am absolutely bringing a date.  Cocktails and Newcastle beer ice cream are wonderful.  Cocktails, Newcastle beer ice cream and kisses behind a curtain are even better!

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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Holiest of Messages are Always Delivered Via Diet Coke

Back in the day, God might send a message through a burning bush.  But it’s 2011, baby!  These days, God seems to be sending us messages through burned Jesus faces in grilled cheese sandwiches or more recently – on a Walmart store receipt  Check out for more sightings.  God’s new way of contacting us has become so mainstream, Fox TV show Glee even had an episode named “Grilled Cheesus.”  (Can’t wait until the Glee premiere on September 20 – I love you, Ian Brennan!) 
I recently received a message that I believe is divine.  I didn’t have the Roman Catholic church come in to verify it, but I definitely feel a holy aura around this message.   And frankly I’ll take a message from my gut versus a message from the Pope any day.  (What’s that sound?  My Polish Grandmother rolling over in her grave.  Sorry Grandma!!)  Since I rarely make grilled cheese at home (I’m trying to pretend I am starch-phobic), I think God had to find another outlet to send me a message.  One more suited to my lifestyle and the ingredients in my refrigerator.
Oprah Winfrey is known for her “Aha! Moments” – a moment in life when clarity breaks through the hazy fog around our “best selves.”  At that moment when we realize something that makes us go “Aha!”, we invariably change the course of our lives due to this moment of clarity.  Personally, I wondered why Oprah didn’t continue with her branding and call it an “Ohhhh! Moment.”  I can only surmise that somewhere out there is a greedy person who trademarked “Ohhhh! Moment” thinking he/she could retire off the exorbitant licensing fees extorted from Miss Oprah Winfrey.  And that Oprah wrote them a check made out to “Greedy Bastard” and the amount line was “Zilch for you, cause I’m Oprah bitch!”  Then the Greedy Bastard looked at the check and said “Aha! Ohhhhh…..”  And the “Aha Moment” was born.   
I like to envision Oprah out there kicking ass.  Like a superhero … in cashmere.  Kicking ass.  And recommending French macaroons.  Ohhhh Oprah …
(By the way Oprah, the OWN TV Network isn’t bringing in the raves.  If you’d like a good TV show idea, call me.  Or rather have your assistant to the assistant to the assistant to the sandwich guy who brings your consulting producer’s assistant’s assistant’s assistant lunch on alternating Tuesdays call me.  And how’s the corned beef today, anyway?)
But back to the star of this blog post … Jesus.  Wait, did I just give top billing to Oprah over Jesus? Yikes.  Guilty as charged.  That’s not going to look good for me on Judgment Day.  Aha!  Ohhhh…..
It was on a Sunday when God decided to visit and smack me in the face.  I was laying on my monster huge (“Suburban Nightmare”) couch.  I remember when I was a young child and would visit my friend KP.  KP’s dad would drink 12 bottles of Old Milwaukee beer and then take a nap on the couch.  Coming from a non-drinking home, it would be many years before I realized KP’s dad was passed out, not just “napping.”  On this particular day, I had not imbibed any Old Milwaukee beer but I was nursing the mother of all hangovers from a two week bender partying with house guests.  (“Welcome to Florida, let’s get smashed!”) 
I lay on the couch, falling in and out of sleep, sprawled out with the same level of gracefulness as a turtle on its back.  I was slightly sweaty because I could not be bothered to get up and turn on the air conditioning.  Evidently laziness beats sweatiness.  I was not in good spirits.  In addition to my hangover, I was feeling down in the dumps.  Part of it was going from having a house full of guests for two weeks and then being alone in the house.   Though the larger portion was residual spiritual angst from a recent bad experience.   I try to approach the world with an open heart and generous soul.  This is particularly hard for me because I was raised in a “Don’t trust.  Don’t share.  Keep people at arm’s length” home.  As the child of a single mother (father died when I was three years old due to Agent Orange exposure serving in the US Army in Viet Nam) living in transient-style inexpensive apartments where drugs, alcohol, domestic abuse and sexual assaults abounded in the apartment units, I could understand why my non-alcohol/drug taking, full-time worker, full-time student, 100% hard working Mother deeply ingrained the “Trust No One” philosophy in me.  She barely had time for me since she was working all day and going to school at night, so I needed to depend on myself and no one else.  In many ways this attitude has served me well in my life, but understandably it has crippled me in some respects too.
On this day, I was angry with myself.  I tend to have good instincts and tend to be a good judge of character.  However, I had the let the wrong person in and they took advantage.  My open heart and generous soul was bamboozled by someone who took my generous nature for granted and expected/felt entitled to all that plus more.  I felt stupid.  I couldn’t believe I tried to help out someone I considered a friend and they took complete financial advantage.  My Mother’s “Trust No One” mantra was roaring in my ears.  I have a healthy dose of ego, so the thought that someone could think I was such a patsy/doormat/gulliable fool was too much to bear.  The former friend tried to justify his actions to me “I didn’t need to ask your permission, because I knew you’d say yes.”  Completely ridiculous.    
There I was on my couch – nursing my hangover, nursing my bruised ego.  The more I tried not to think about being a sucker; the more the thought of it raged in my ears.  I would pass in and out of sweaty sleep.  In some sort of karmic kick in the teeth, my new neighbors next door were remodeling with a vengeance.  Or perhaps staging a world war given the extreme levels of noise.  Sledgehammers pounding … pounding … POUNDING!  Thoughts of kidnapping my new neighbors’ Yorkie Poo in retaliation slowly slithered into my foggy mind.
While wallowing and plotting dog-napping, I heard a loud “BOOM!”  I muttered an angry, exasperated curse to my new neighbors.  Then a little voice whispered “I think that noise came from inside the house.”   Inside the house – the worst line from any horror movie.  I slowly sat up and looked around.  Had my wallowing sorrow come to life?  I stood up and slowly looked around.  If there was an angry ghost in the house, I didn’t want to run straight into it! 
Everything looked normal.    I looked in each room.  Then like a cheesy horror movie, the little voice inside my head said “Check the refrigerator.”  I’ve read enough cannibal true crime stories that I should have been more scared to open the refrigerator door.  But like every stupid cast member in horror movies, I threw caution to the wind.  I flung the refrigerator door open.  The sight inside was shocking. I stared into the refrigerator absolutely dumbfounded, imitating a fish out of water.  WHAT.  THE.  HELL?
A bomb had gone off in my refrigerator.  A terrorist attack?  In my refrigerator?  WHAT.  THE.  HELL?  The casualties?  Everything in my refrigerator.  A Diet Coke can had apparently frozen in the back of my refrigerator and exploded.  It bathed everything in chunks of melting brown liquid.  My refrigerator had been completely packed with drinks and leftovers from house guests and a large party.  Now everything was coated.   I was amazed at how every single surface of my refrigerator had managed to get hit with the frozen Diet Coke. 
To add insult to injury, I don’t drink Diet Coke at home.  I drink Coke Zero (nectar of the Gods) when I do drink soda.  The former friend who had bruised my ego drank Diet Coke.  He drinks so much Diet Coke, he should be the poster child for it.  Is it possible he jerry-rigged a Diet Coke can to explode in my refrigerator?  Would the fall-out from his actions ever end?
I considered closing the door and just never using my refrigerator again.  My suburban nightmare couch of bruised ego and misery was calling me.  Go back to the couch!  Forget about the fridge! 
Perhaps Oprah is haunting my kitchen, because I had my “Aha! Moment” standing there with brown puddles falling on my feet.  I could go back to my couch and feel sorry for myself or I could get on my hands and knees and start cleaning the refrigerator.  Inaction versus action.  You’re at the crossroads, baby.  Choose feeling sorry for yourself or choose to make your home a better place.  What’s it going to be?
Even though it was the absolute last thing I wanted to be doing, I chose to be active.  I grabbed paper towels and started removing the 3001 items in my refrigerator.  I rinsed off each and every condiment, soda can and beer bottle in the refrigerator.  Who knew I had so many bottles of hot sauce?  And when was the last time I checked the expiration dates on my plethora of salad dressing bottles anyway? 
As I took apart the drawers and shelves of my refrigerator, I cursed my maid service.  I had paid extra to have my refrigerator cleaned several times in the past few months and yet as I took apart the drawers and glass topped shelves I could see up close what a crap job my maid service had been doing.  And what the hell is all this lint from the bottom vent?  GROSS!  Grimy dirty bits underneath the glass.  And enough dirty lint from the bottom vent grill to make a model of a large kitten.  GROSS.  GROSS.  GROSS.
I am not someone who loves to clean; hence the aforementioned maid service.  If I was going to take apart my entire refrigerator, I was going to take the time and effort to clean it right.  I used bleach spray and cotton swabs and got into all the nooks and crannies.  I tried not to inhale the bleach spray directly.  Being found dead with my head in the refrigerator is not how I want to go out of this world. 
I saw the Diet Coke “bomb” and the refrigerator cleaning as a metaphor for my current life.  An emotional bomb went off- which sucks, but I needed to do some hard work, some spiritual cleaning, get into all the nasty grooves and rebuild myself.  God wanted me off the couch.  God wanted me to stop feeling sorry for myself and understand how lucky I am. 
After scrubbing all the internal surfaces, I went to stand up and banged my head hard against the inside of the refrigerator.  I screamed out in pain.  My head was throbbing.  I yelled out: “I GOT THE MESSAGE ALREADY!  YOU DON’T NEED TO POUND IT INTO MY HEAD!” I screamed so loud that I was sure my sledge-hammering new neighbors could hear me.
I spent a freaking ninety minutes cleaning the refrigerator.  Who knew one 12 ounce can of Diet Coke could cause so much damage?  Every time I thought I had finished, I found another brown puddle of liquid.  Scrub, wipe, scrub, wipe.  Finally, it appeared that I had cleaned all traces of the Diet Coke from the refrigerator.  Time to reassemble. 
While I was trying to put a tempered glass shelf back into the refrigerator, I somehow managed to flip it up and smack myself square in the face with it!  With face still burning (thank God it was tempered glass!), I screamed again “YES, YES – MESSAGE RECEIVED – FREAKING STOP IT ALREADY!!” 
Slowly, piece by piece, I restored my refrigerator.  I also took the opportunity to throw out stale leftovers and long past expired condiments.  By the time I finished, everything sparkled and looked properly organized.  A fresh start.  Hard work pays off. 
I turned around and knocked a bottle of Magners Pear Cider off the counter and onto the hard tile floor.  I inhaled sharply and anticipated a gigantic foamy, glass shard mess around my bare feet.  Miraculously, the bottle did not break!  The worst of it was that a small amount of liquid came out from under the bottle cap.  I thanked God that all I had to do was wipe up a little puddle of cider off the floor instead of pick up 8 million shards of broken glass.  See, God was back on my side.  After the Diet Coke explosion, slammed head and smacked face; God was pleased with my ninety minutes of intense refrigerator cleaning and had kept the Magners Pear Cider bottle from breaking.  This was my reward. 
I grabbed the bottle opener so I could open the bottle and dump out the rest of the cider.  I popped the cap off and a giant torrential rush of cider exploded, completely coating my face and chest.   I’m not sure how such a small bottle could manage to thoroughly drench the entire upper half of my body.  Evidently this was not my reward from Jesus. 
I didn’t scream this time though.  I just silently shook my head as my saturated shirt dripped cider on my kitchen floor.  I decided it was better that I not try to interpret God’s messages anymore.  Quite evidently, my Jesus Divine Messages translator is on the fritz. 
Next time, let's just stick with grilled cheese sandwiches, Jesus.  Please.  At least my refrigerator's clean!

Monday, September 12, 2011

A Tale of Four Pot Pies

A Tale of Four Pot Pies- a culinary 4 way duel comparing offerings from the following establishments:

- Chicken Pot Pie - St. Paul Grill, St. Paul, Minnesota
- Turkey Pot Pie - Ike's at the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport
- Chicken Pot Pie - Bailey's Restaurant, Davis Islands/Tampa, Florida
- Chicken Pot Pie - The Moon Under Water, St. Petersburg, Florida

I love comfort food.  Blame decades of advertising that equate food with love, but the combination of fats, carbs and childhood memories really does provide a wave of calm over me during the most stressful times.  And at the top of my list of comfort food is a good pot pie.  Flaky buttery crust, rich gravy, large pieces of chicken and a variety of vegetables.  It's like a hug from the inside!

I must be craving hugs because over the course of the past several months, I have been sampling a variety of pot pies and I thought I would share my pot pie findings with my blog readers. 

Pot Pie #1:  One of my favorite restaurants in St. Paul, Minnesota is the St. Paul Grill in the charming St. Paul Hotel.  Their food is rich, comfort-food based but also gourmet.  Their cream of wild rice soup is so good, I literally purr when eating it. 

But this is not "A Tale of Four Cream of Wild Rice Soups" - so let's get to the POT PIE.  Here is a picture of the St. Paul Grill's chicken pot pie:

St. Paul Grill's Chicken Pot Pie has a doughy crust versus a flaky pie crust.  It is chewy and dense.  If you're a dough-style crust lover, you will like this chicken pot pie as the crust to pie filling ratio is pretty much 50-50.  The crust covers a shallow bowl with an incredibly creamy gravy, very fresh tasting chicken and a mix of a few vegetables.  The presentation is lovely, but be warned this dish is incredibly rich.  Even though there's not a ton of chicken, vegetables and gravy - the extremely rich gravy challenges the heartiest of appetites!

If you are feeling regal and want to go overboard on the decadence, then order the St. Paul Grill's signature hash browns as well.  A giant disc of grated potatoes with an incredibly crispy outside, a warm fluffy inside and chock full of onions and bacon.  It is a sinfully delicious dish and goes well with many of the St. Paul Grill's entrees.

Pot Pie #2:  If after sampling the St. Paul Grill's pot pie, you're in the mood for more pot pie.  Head over to the Minneapolis - St. Paul airport, but you better buy a plane ticket as well because Ike's Restaurant at the MSP airport is behind the TSA security lines.  Ike's specializes in gargantuan portions.  The best I have been able to accomplish on their Turkey Pot Pie is eating about half of it and that was when I was ravenously hungry.  The crust is more flaky pie like than the St. Paul Grill, but there's at least 4 times as much meat, vegetables and gravy.  If you're in the mood for turkey pot pie, bring some friends to help you eat it.  Unfortunately, I do not have a picture of Ike's Turkey Pot Pie- so instead I am including a picture of my favorite drink from Ike's: the Weekender Bloody Mary.  If you like a heavily garnished Bloody Mary, check out this one from Ike's.  There are so many garnishes, it feels like you're eating a heavy snack.  And in proper Midwestern tradition, it comes with a beer chaser.  When I ask for a beer chaser in Florida, I get a confused look back.

And yes - that is a cheese cube that is large enough to keep a family of country mice happy for a month!  Beef jerky stick, shrimp, pickled onion, pickle, celery, pepperoncini, 2 types of olives, a lime wedge -- and a horseradish studded spicy Bloody Mary.  It is my ritual that whenever I leave Minneapolis, I go to Ike's and have the Weekender Bloody Mary.  It has never steered me wrong!

Pot Pie #3:  When a new gourmet-style comfort food restaurant opened up in my neighborhood, I was a-feared.  Scared.  Frightened.  Being a comfort food lover, if the new restaurant was good I would have to fight off desires for comfort food nightly!  And even worse the restaurant has curbside take out service.  I'm talking about Bailey's Restaurant on Davis Islands in Tampa, Florida.  The only restaurant on the island that offers curbside service.  Bailey's has a new menu every week, so when I saw that chicken pot pie was on the menu one week I could not resist.

Of the four pot pies I am reviewing in this blog post, Bailey's by far had the best tasting meat and had the largest chunks.  It tasted like large wedges of slow-roasted chicken straight from Grandma's oven.  And Bailey's pot pie went beyond the typical - carrots, onions, celery, potatoes vegetable medley.  There were huge butter beans peeking out from the very buttery crust.  The gravy was thin, which I prefer.  It highlighted the meat and vegetables without overpowering them.  The crust was decent - but almost something I'd find on a cobbler.  I prefer a bit of a lighter crust when it's pie crust-style. 

When I ordered my meal, I was given a free starter of homemade pita and black bean dip.  Who doesn't love a freebie?  The pita was a bit too greasy for my tastes, but the black bean dip was heavenly.  A tip for Bailey's Restaurant: you need to offer a small refrigerator case of dips and sauces next to your host stand.  I'd definitely buy your black bean dip to take home.  My chicken pot pie came with a choice of two sides, which I appreciate since most restaurants do not offer sides with their pot pies.  I ordered the mashed potatoes and the green beans.  The mashed potatoes were incredibly heavy on the cream and butter.  I prefer a bit more texture and body to my mashed potatoes.  The green beans were amazing.  Reminded me of the fresh canned beans by Grandmother would serve us.  In terms of rustic homestyle goodness, Bailey's definitely wins the Pot Pie challenge. 

Pot Pie #4:  You know the saying - save the best for last?  Well in this case, I saved the worst for last.  This chicken pot pie was my biggest disappointment.  The Moon Under Water in St. Petersburg, Florida is one of my favorite British pubs in the Tampa Bay area.  It has a great location - near North Straub Park and the Gulf of Mexico.  It is a great place to watch sports or to people watch.  And it has amazing Indian food.  However the British food definitely leaves something to be desired!  I was so excited when the chicken pot pie arrived.  My server came with a giant pillow of puff pastry, cracked it open tableside and poured a steamy filling of chicken and vegetables in front of me.  I love anything done tableside.  It is that extra bit of flair that seems to be missing from most of our day-to-day dining experiences.

And check out the picture below- doesn't it look lovely?  Who can say "no" to a big pillow of puff pastry?  I want to lay my head on it and take a nap!  But sadly, sadly, sadly - The Moon Under Water pot pie proves that looks can be deceiving.  The puff pastry was tasteless - angry, crunchy stale air, but not as tasteless as the chicken pot pie filling.  The gravy tasted like glue.  No flavor whatsoever.  The chicken tasted canned.  I had to check my taste buds, because there was no flavor at all to this meal.  It tasted like I was eating an old bucket of wallpaper paste.  Do yourself a favor and order the Indian food offerings instead.  You'll be much happier.

Sadly, my favorite pot pie cannot be narrowed down to just one pot pie.  I prefer the crust on Ike's Turkey Pot Pie or the St. Paul Grill's Chicken Pot Pie.  I prefer the portion size of the St. Paul Grill's when it comes to the pot pie filling.  I prefer the great tasting chicken, thin gravy and wide range of vegetables in Bailey's chicken pot pie.  So my search for the perfect pot pie continues.  Do you have any suggestions for me to try?

9/28/2011 UPDATE:  Blog readers, I am all about enriching your experience - so when I recently flew to Minnesota, I went back to Ike's Restaurant at the airport just to get a picture of the ridiculously huge Turkey Pot Pie for your viewing pleasure ... here it is:

St. Paul Grill on Urbanspoon Ike's Food and Cocktails on Urbanspoon The Moon Under Water on Urbanspoon

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Pretzel or Cat ... the age old conundrum. A tale of three tunas.

I was testing my iPhone picture texting with a friend the other day.  I asked her if I should text her a picture of a pretzel or a cat.  My friend, a great devotee of the bread product, replied "Pretzel."  She answered very quickly - either so certain in her love of bread products or so certain in her hate of cats that no additional time was necessary to muse over the "Pretzel or cat?" question.

So I put it to you dear blog reader ... Pretzel or cat?

or ...

I trust, dear blog reader, that you will make the right decision.


That gorgeous pretzel with an incredible stone ground mustard dipping sauce is from Taps Beer and Wine Merchants in Tampa, Florida.  Not only does Taps look out on the beautiful Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park (well done, City of Tampa!), but it has a wide array of delicious nibbles.

True story - about 7 years ago I came down with a nasty case of food poisoning which I attributed to a piece of salmon from an Irish pub in New York City.  What on earth I was doing ordering salmon steak in an Irish pub is beyond me and I only have several rounds of Guinness to blame.  Ever since then I cannot eat salmon as just the smell would make me queasy, which was a tremendous loss because I used to eat salmon quite frequently.  And in the battle of the bulge, losing a low fat, lower calorie entree option was just plain wrong!  But I am happy to report that during an outing with a dining companion- we decided to split appetizers.  She chose the smoked salmon shown below.  Instead of making wretching noises and protesting against it, I did something revolutionary.  I tried the smoked salmon.  It was delicious.  My great salmon embargo was over.  Viva la salmon!  And honestly, can one truly ever say no to smoked salmon when it is garnished with caperberries?  I think not!  Well done Taps Beer and Wine Merchants!  You have cured me of my salmon queasiness!

Another appetizer you must try if you go to Taps Beer and Wine Merchants is their tuna tartar.  Now call it tuna tartar, call it tuna crudo - just call it delicious.  I have three favorite tuna appetizers in the Tampa Bay area.  My absolute favorite is the ahi tuna tartar from Ocean Prime restaurant.  I especially love getting it for a lower price during Happy Hour.  Low cost plus gourmet deliciousness?  I'm sold!  It is absolutely the best tuna tartar appetizer around.  If you're an ahi fan, get over to Ocean Prime right away!  My second favorite is the tuna tartar (pictured below) from Taps Beer and Wine.  The chili oil, the crunchy wonton -- your taste buds will thank you! 

My third favorite tuna appetizer is the crunchy tuna bites (pictured below) on the happy hour bar menu from Mitchell's Fish Market.  Delicious sauce, a great bite and a firm chip for just the right amount of crunch.  This will definitely entice even non-tuna fans.  I savored these delicious bites with a glass of house made pineapple-infused vodka on the rocks.  If you happen to be in the Tampa area and decide to check out the bar at Mitchell's Fish Market, tip your bartender generously.  If the bartender working that evening happens to be my friend, he makes the most out of the world cocktails.  Just whisper "Are you a friend of Lily's?"  Even if the bartender is not a friend of mine, it will add a little bit of cloak and dagger spy talk to your evening.  And who doesn't want to be a secret agent for a day?  (Well maybe not me if you read my spy adventures at Chef Floyd Cardoz's cooking demo.)

And if tuna is not your thing - check out Mitchell's Fish Market's incredible Kung Pao Calamari.  Unless you're like my British cousin Anthony who has a peanut allergy and I forgot to tell him there are chopped peanuts in the dipping sauce.  Sorry Anthony!

So whether you prefer pretzel or cat (particularly my cats: Oshi and Diva pictured above), salmon or tuna or a big plate of deep fried calamari - the Tampa Bay area has a wide range of restaurants to suit your needs!

But maybe not your cat needs ....

Mitchell's Fish Market on Urbanspoon Taps Restaurant Bar & Lounge on Urbanspoon Ocean Prime on Urbanspoon