Category Archives: food

Even More FonDOs: My Trip To The Melting Pot in Raleigh

Wednesday is kind of a hit or miss day, don’t you think? It’s either really awesome or really MEHHH. Today, methinks, might fall into the first category.

First of all, my new (to me) Cannon Rebel XT  camera body arrived this morning. Of course, since the lens hasn’t arrived yet, I can’t actually photograph anything. But still- lots of smiles.Smile

Second, Jessamyn Not Jasmine was the runner-up Best Blog in Yes! Weekly’s Best of The Triad awards! You may not be able to tell by my fairly serious facial expression, but I’m REALLY excited. Oh wait, this is the internet and not reality TV so you can’t actually see my face. AWK-ward. Anyway, if you scoped my name through Yes!Weekly and this is your first visit to my little piece of the internet- Hello! Be prepared for seemingly random very liberal hysterical rants and unplanned blogging sabbaticals. I also really like to talk about food.

Speaking of food…

Two weeks ago I had the opportunity to attend North Carolina Arts Day, which is a day/event where NC arts supporters converge in our state’s capital and lobby in support of government arts programming. Obviously, as an arts administrator, going to Arts Day was a pretty exciting event. It was really cool to see so many arts professionals take time off to make a statement in favor of arts funding. I met a lot of people (including lots of local politicos) and (since my hotel was across the street from my favorite grocery store) even snuck in a quick Trader Joes adventure. WIN-WIN.

 The night before Arts Day, however, I had an impromptu fancy dinner at The Melting Pot. I’ve discussed my love of fondue before, and the charm was definitely not lost on me. Not even kidding, the Melting Pot is (probably) my absolute favorite chain restaurant. However, eating there is NOT cheap and I’m only able to do it on special occasions (or during emergency eating escapades in the Carolina capital). Of course, since my camera was stolen right before my Raleigh adventure, I feared I wouldn’t be able to capture the magic of The Melting Pot in photographic form. But thanks to iPhones and friends, photographic memories were still made.

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In addition to their everyday fondue selections, The Melting Pot offers a rotating Big Night Out menu with fondue/salad offerings which fit into a specific theme. Currently, the Big Night Out theme is Latin America, and the cheese fondue special is a very fancy version of queso fundido. So…OBVIOUSLY we had to get it. This wasn’t the queso fundido you’d get at your local Mexican restaurant. I mean, I love melted queso fresco sprinkled with greasy chorizo just as much as the next cheese-aholic. But this fondue contained gruyere, fontina, AND gran queso. One of the best parts about The Melting Pot is that they make all the fondues table-side, and you’re able to see every element that goes into your meal. Our waitress was EXTREMELY knowledgeable, and she made sure that we knew about every aspect of our meal. As a restaurant patron, this is something that’s very important to me and I always appreciate when wait staff take the time to build relationships with their clientele. The queso fundido was served with the usual Melting Pot cheese dippers (an assortment of fresh veggies, bread, and apples) as well as a bowl of corn chips. Seriously, this singular fondue was enough to validate the cost of the entire meal.

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Next came the salad course. I just ordered the spinach and mushroom salad- nothing fancy. Actually, I wasn’t really a fan of this salad. It’s a certain kind of person that truly enjoys sweet flavors in a savory context and I AM NOT THAT PERSON. The dressing was a burgundy shallot vinaigrette- besides the fact that I kind of hate shallots, I thought the sweetness of the wine completely imbalanced the acidity of the vinegar, and the combination proved to be fairly unpalatable. I get the impression that this is a very popular salad at the Melting Pot, so I’m not going to completely denigrate it. It’s possible that my dislike of the dressing was based purely on my personal preferences. Basically, this is the Jessamyn version of reasonable doubt.

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As far as the entrée goes, each diner chooses a selection of dipping items and they share the actual fondue cooking liquid. My companions and I chose the court bouillon fondue (a no-nonsense veggie broth), and we each chose different entrée selections. Since I lead a functionally vegetarian lifestyle (save for the special occasions- you know, locally raised meats and barbeque festivals), I decided to get the Vegetarian selections. This particular plate includes Portobello mushrooms, asparagus, (REALLY FREAKING DELICIOUS) Thai-peanut marinated tofu, artichoke hearts, spinach-artichoke ravioli, and the Big Night Out Pasta (a fire-roasted corn salsa ravioli– stop drooling on your computer).

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It also included a bowl of semi-frozen edamame which, after they went for a swim in the court bouillon, were perfectly cooked and delicious. The Melting Pot also offers several delicious post-cooking dipping sauces for your entrée. My favorite, the gorgonzola cream cheese, is hanging out to the left of my edamame.

We also ordered the Dark and Dulce chocolate dessert fondue( a combination of dark chocolate and thick dulce de lece sprinkled with coarse sea salt) but I was too busy stuffing my face and soaking up the awesomeness of that flavor combination to remind Anna (my very patient photog companion) to take a photo. Have you ever met anyone who didn’t like chocolate and sea salt? PLUS DULCE DE LECE? Yeah, I didn’t think so.

Fondue is not just a delicious style of eating, but a study in food culture. It forces people to communicate while eating, and it can be reinvented in countless fashions. In my mind, that’s the essence of food- like music, it can bring any manner of people together in a positive way. The Melting Pot encapsulates this theory, and I will always recommend that my friends and family (that’s you, by the way) take the time to seek out one of these restaurants.

If you’re concerned about the price (a CONSTANT concern for yours truly), eating at the Melting Pot with a few friends can definitely help alleviate some of the financial pain. By splitting a cheese fondue between four people, you’re only paying about $8/each for a first course which could easily serve as a main course. Each salad is only $7. A Chocolate fondue for four is about $5-6/each. And if you decide not to get an entrée ( roughly $19-30), you can have a VERY filling cheese, salad, and chocolate fondue dinner for about $20. While it’s not the cheapest dinner for a student living on the verge of imminent bankruptcy, it’s definitely still a viable special dinner option.

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Filed under blogging, food, money honey, photography, restaurant reviews

The Trouble With Food Tracking and My Wish List

I learned a valuable lesson today. It’s a lesson I’ve been forced to learn about 187391092779 times over, and I hope this time the true meaning will stick in my mind so that I’ll quit making the same mistakes.

If you are monitoring your food intake, ALWAYS TRACK YOUR MEALS.

I know, it seems obvious. It is obvious. It’s also the cornerstone of the Weight Watchers philosophy. But I am the laziest tracker in the history of the world. I spent the month of March being really lazy about my tracking habits- partially because I was fasting, and partially because I’m just really freaking lazy. As a result, when I stepped on the scale two weeks ago, I wasn’t very surprised to be pissed off by the number it gave me. However, I was a little surprised to be even more upset by the number I saw last week. In my defense, I was on my period and I always weigh really heavy when I’m menstruating. But I also didn’t track very well last week. I always start the week strong, and then I taper off toward the middle of the week. When I stop tracking, it becomes infinitely easier to impulsively eat the foods which sabotage me and my goals.

This week, however, I really focused on my tracking- even when I didn’t feel like it. And I saw definite results on the scale this morning. I need to maintain this momentum- sometimes tracking my food is just such a F-ing hassle. But I have to remember that the long term goals are worth the extra five minutes of effort.

In other news, I’ve been accumulating a wish list of items which will improve my blogging/cooking/athletic life. While the list grows steadily every day, there are a couple of items that are really key:

canon rebel1. New Camera- I love my camera. I really do. It’s small, and I can take it everywhere. But I need to get serious about my photography, especially in regard to my blogging. I mean, I’m well aware that a fancy camera does not create great photos- there’s no substitute for good lighting and composition. But I want the quality of my photography to increase, and I don’t want to invest more money in another point and shoot when I’m pleased with the point and shoot I’m using. I need to upgrade to dslr. My ideal model is the Canon Rebel– of course, it’s really expensive. I’m looking for a used canon, and I’m actually looking primarily at older models. I spend quite a bit of time scouring ebay for viable options. At this point, it’s just a little too far out of my financial grasp. But I’m hopeful- if you know anyone who is upgrading to another model and wants to get rid of their dslr, let me know!

garmin heart rate monitor2. Heart Rate Monitor: I think I need to be monitoring my activity level more vigilantly and I think a heart rate monitor will really help with this goal. I’d like to kn0w exactly how many calories I’m burning while exercising and I’d like to get more precise heart rate calculations. This will help me determine how I should be increasing/decreasing my exercise levels, especially as I reach weight plateaus and finish couch to 5k. At this point I’m battling between a garmin and a polar– price is an obvious factor, but I’m still just trying to decide between the two brands. As always, I’m really open to any insight you guys might have.

running shoe fitting guides3. Running Shoes: I actually already talked about this, but it’s become a true necessity. I don’t know how I’ll make it through the summer running season (especially since I definitely plan to run/race when I’m in Boston) wearing the shoes I have right now. These are great sneaks for general exercise, but I need to take better care of my tootsie wootsies if I’m going to keep up this hobby. I’ve received some great running shoe store recommendations in both GSO and Winston-Salem, but I still can’t quite decide between Fleet Feet and Off’N Running. In fact, I might have to get fitted after Saturday’s race– but maybe I’m being too impulsive. Thoughts?

citrus reamer4. Citrus Reamer: Self-explanatory. I bite my nails, and citrus juice+ bitten cuticles= LAME.

All this talk about running has made me pretty pumped about my run tonight. It’s weird how I’m sort of starting to like it.

…I hope I didn’t speak too soon. Smile

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Filed under blogging, body issues, couch to 5k challenge, exercise, food, goals, money honey, races, running, shopping, weigh-in, Weight Watchers

Eating as a Non-Vegetarian- Lime and Garlic Marinated Porkchops with Cilantro-Lime Quinoa

Ok, I admit it: I like meat.

I don’t eat it very much. In fact, I eat it pretty infrequently. I rarely purchase it.

But I like it. I like the way it tastes. And there are very few photos of piglets that will make me feel guilty about enjoying a slice of bacon.

However, what I can’t come to terms with is what happened to the meat before its arrival at my dinner table. It arrives after inhumane mammalian brutality, hundreds (if not thousands) of travel miles, and undocumented harm to food workers.

All because I wanted a slice of bacon.

Yeah…that’s not ok.

I’m reaching a point in my life where I can’t bear to purchase meat that’s been produced in ways I can’t stomach. I mean, my ancestors ate meat- but the meat they ate is not the meat I buy at my local grocery store.

As regular readers of this blog know, I can pontificate on this topic for pages and pages. But all I really need to say is that in order for me to eat meat, I need to be prepared to find meat that was harvested from animals who were raised humanely.

Yes, it will be expensive. But that’s the price of being an omnivore in the 21st century first world.

ANYWAY, since yesterday was the most beautiful day ever (seriously, anyone who wasn’t in the North Carolina triad yesterday missed out on a gorgeous Southern spring day), I decided to make my girlfriend a spring-y dinner of pork chops and quinoa.

So where does an ecologically conscious Winston-Salem resident go when they want fresh meat?

Whole Foods Market, of course.

Whole Foods has a remarkable devotion to the sale of sustainably produced food items AND (probably most importantly) to crafting and maintaining solid relationships with farmers and ranchers. Since the food chain from farmer to consumer grows with every congressional bill and ‘science innovation’, it is more important than ever for us to support companies who strive to cut out the millions of middle men who get in the way of Americans eating food which doesn’t go against the evolution of our bodies.

As far as meat sales go, Whole Foods adheres to the stringent guidelines of the Animal Welfare Rating Standards, which are produced by the Global Animal Partnership. Basically, they have a 5 step standards list which details the requirements for a livestock animal’s living conditions. It looks like this:

Step 1: No crowding
Step 2: Enriched environment
Step 4: Pasture centered
Step 5: Animal centered: No physical alterations
Step 5+: Animal Centered: Entire life on same farm

As you probably noticed, there’s no step 3 for cattle. There are separate charts for poultry and pigs. And at Whole Foods, all the meat options are labeled with the number which corresponds to this chart. It’s another way of letting you know where your food came from.

Since I was making pork chops, here are the five steps I looked at:

Step 1: No crates, stalls or cages
Step 2: Enriched environment
Step 3: Enhanced outdoor access
Step 4: Pasture centered
Step 5: Animal centered: No physical alterations
Step 5+: Animal Centered: Entire life on same farm

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I ended up buying some very pretty chops from a local farm with a 4 rating. There were other options, but the fact that the meat came from a nearby farm means that the journey from farm to table was very short, and it insures the freshest ingredients possible.

It does not, however, insure the cheapest price.

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But here’s the thing- I can’t pretend to not know what I know about factory farming. And if I want to eat meat in spite of that knowledge, I need to be prepared to pay the price.

Plus, the flavor of this finished dinner was more than worth the money. I’m not a huge fan of lime and/or cilantro, but both of those flavors keep popping up in my recipes recently. I’m blaming it on Chipotle– I mean, who doesn’t love their cilantro-lime rice? But instead of making rice, I decided to try out the same flavor combo with quinoa. I’d say it was a success- Kate basically licked her plate clean.

(Ok, so she didn’t lick it clean. But she probably wanted to lick it clean.)

Both of these recipes are unbelievably simple, and can be whipped up very quickly. They can be served together, or paired with other dishes. For example, substituting cilanto-lime quinoa in a homemade Chipotle burrito bowl is a healthier option than eating mounds of fluffy white rice.

(I mean, don’t get me wrong- I LOVE fluffy white rice. But quinoa is just as delicious, and packs an unbeatable nutritional punch.)

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Lime and Garlic Marinated Pork Chops

(Adapted from Gina’s Skinny Recipes)

Yield: 2-4 servings (depending upon size of pork chops)

Ingredients:

4 (6 oz) lean boneless pork chops ( for the record, I made this recipe using 2 super thick bone-in chops, and the proportions still worked perfectly)

4 cloves garlic, crushed

1 tsp cumin

1 tsp chili powder

1 tsp paprika

1/2 lime, juice of

lime zest

salt and fresh pepper

1. Trim off extra pork fat.

Basically, go from here:

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To Here:

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2. In a large bowl season pork with garlic, cumin, chili powder, paprika, salt and pepper. Squeeze lime juice and some zest from the lime and let it marinade at least 20 minutes.

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I always recommend long marinade times, but if you need to make this in a hurry, 20 minutes should get the job done. I had to whip up this meal pretty quickly, and I think 20 minutes was long enough to get a good flavor infusion.


3. Line broiler pan with foil for easy clean up. Place pork chops on the broiler pan and broil about 4-6 minutes on each side or until nicely browned.

While that’s cooking…

Cilantro-Lime Quinoa

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients:

1 cup dry quinoa

1 1/4 cup Water

1 lime, juice of

1 tsp olive oil

1 tsp salt

1. Follow my instructions for fool-proof quinoa.

2. While quinoa is cooking, combine chopped cilantro, lime juice, and remaining oil in a medium bowl and toss until completely mixed. When quinoa is finished cooking, add it to cilantro-lime mixture and toss until coated.

Bam, dinner is served.

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Yes, your eyes are not deceiving you: Kate and I also ate French fries with our dinner. But those French fries are extra special, and will be reviewed in a separate post. However, just for the record, they were absolutely delicious. Smile

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Filed under food, grocery shopping, grocery stores, recipes, shopping

Wait, Is All of This An April Fools’ Joke?

So, yesterday was probably the best April Fools Day on record. Well, the best April Fools’ day in my personal history. And I’m pretty sure none of this was part of an April Fools’ joke.

money tree

1. Student Loan Refund Checks were distributed- Self-explanatory. I’m no longer in the proverbial poor house. I mean, I’m still broke. But at least I’m not scrounging for pennies under seat cushions. Ok, I’m still doing that. Whatever, I CAN OFFICIALLY PAY MY RENT LET’S CELEBRATE.

 

2.  Jessamyn Not Jasmine Takes On The World- Yesterday was packed with a lot of REALLY exciting blog-related developments. Some of them are so exciting that I can’t talk about them quite yet. But one thing that made me super pumped was my mention in Backyard Produce’s weekly newsletter! I wrote a review of their service earlier this week, and they were kind enough to give me a shout out in their publication. As a result, I have quite a few new readers- HELLO NEW READERS! I hope you realize that I get as much from  you as you do from me- if you ever have any suggestions, comments, complaints, requests, ideas, magic tricks, hula hooping tips, etc., feel free to blow up my comment boxes or e-mail me (jessamyneatspraysloves@gmail.com). I’m so glad to internet-meet each and every one of you.

wgbh

3. WGBH- Yesterday I found out that I am going to be a WGBH/Kenan Institute Summer Fellow. This fellowship is beyond the cat’s meow- I’m going to spend my summer working at the WGBH headquarters in Boston, as well as spending time at Seftel Productions in NYC. I’ll be working on a project about- well, actually, I don’t know if I’m allowed to reveal the details of the project. Just know that the topic is EXTREMELY interesting, and it is going to involve a lot of interaction and conversation with people from all walks of life. I don’t think there’s a way to express how stoked I am. My excitement about this opportunity extends to every aspect of my personal and professional life. Plus- did I mention I’m going to be in one of my favorite cities all summer?

Speaking of Backyard Produce, have y’all seen some of their offerings this week? Here are three I’m especially excited about:

tatsoi

Tatsoi, a green I’ve wanted to try for a long time. I’ve heard the flavor is similar to a hybrid of bok choy and mustard greens. I love both of those plants, so I’m really excited to try tatsoi. BY PRODUCE POINTS: 7

collard greens

I went off on an extended tangent about proper collard green preparation after my trip to Milner’s restaurant last week. This week, I am really excited to make some collard greens the way my grandma taught me. However, I’m crafting a  vegan friendly version of my family’s famous ham hock-soaked greens. This week I’m going to put in some time with this recipe, and Backyard Produce is going to play a huge role. BY PRODUCE POINTS: 5

purple sweet potatoes

Um, purple sweet potatoes. Need I say more? Smile BY PRODUCE POINTS: 5

If you’re still on the fence about trying Backyard Produce, try this on for size- tell them Jessamyn referred you, and we’ll both get 10 extra points. Is that a win or what?

I’d love to stay and chat, but the sun is peeking out from behind the clouds which means it is a perfect Farmer’s Market day. If you’re racing today, I’m sending you lots of positive vibrations. Actually, I’m sending everyone positive vibrations. Smile

Have a great weekend, y’all!

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Food, Inc., Corporate Farming, Online Farmer’s Markets, and Backyard Produce- An Exercise in American Consumerism

Last weekend- remember  when I went on a pilgrimage to Charlotte and lost my mind at Trader Joe’s? Remember when I mentioned that I didn’t buy very much produce, but that the reason would be explained in the future?

Well, the reason is about to be revealed- but first, let me give a little back story.

(STOP: By reading below this disclaimer, you are allowing yourself to read a stream of conscious and potentially nonsensical rant. You were warned.)

I don’t know how clearly I can state this- I am a cheapskate. I hate paying more money than is absolutely necessary. It’s not just because I hate spending money- it’s because I don’t have a lot of money to spend. There’s never been a point in my life when I haven’t been on a very restrictive budget.

One of the biggest problems with the Western food industry is that it is SIGNIFICANTLY more expensive to eat whole foods than it is to eat processed foods, from potato chips to factory farmed “Idaho Potatoes”. I’ve spent the past three years actively trying to resolve my budget issues with a healthy balance of organically produced food and cheaper options. Up until about four months ago, I thought I’d finally struck the perfect balance.

That was before I saw this:

food, inc

If you are able, rent/buy this film. It’s on netflix instant right now- when you are done reading this entry, WATCH IT*. As one of my friend’s recently said, Food, Inc. should be broadcast on CNN 24/7. EVERYONE needs to see this film.” I can’t tell you how many people I’ve told to watch Food, Inc. who’ve told me that they’ve held off on watching it because they don’t want to feel guilty about or grossed out by their eating habits (i.e.- they will feel guilty about eating meat). I understand this dilemma. But here’s the thing- the movie does not seek to shame anyone. It is not very visually graphic. It doesn’t promote vegetarianism, or any specific diet. It puts the food industry into colors so vivid that you can’t help but wonder why we’ve become so complacent in our food choices.

Here’s the truth- if you didn’t buy your food directly from a farmer, you probably have absolutely no idea where it came from and you CERTAINLY don’t know what’s in it. I’m not just talking about the center aisles of your grocery store- you know, “foods” that come in boxes, or that arrive to your store frozen. I’m talking about the “healthy” fruits and vegetables, the dairy products, and every piece of “fresh” meat and fish homogenously wrapped in plastic for your enjoyment. There is a deliberate veil between food manufacturers and food consumers, and when you start looking behind the curtain you’ll be repulsed by what you see. It’s not just about the literal ingredients of your food- this film exposes all of the unseen costs of producing the food you eat, from distorted food laws and travel costs, to the horrific exploitation of ALL food industry workers. We’re not just talking about exploitation in other countries- the things happening to our American brothers and sisters (hell, our NORTH CAROLINA brothers and sisters) will make your head spin.

And we support them. Every time we go to the grocery store or a restaurant, we support corporations which deliberately try to mislead us. Every time you buy fruits and vegetables produced in far-reaching parts of the globe (which is more than often the case), you are directly furthering deep set afflictions between farmers, workers, governments, and the international oil industry. It is important that, as consumers, we make ourselves aware of the real decisions we’re making, and change our actions in order to affect a balanced economy and work-force.

The balance I struck in my personal eating/buying habits was not where it should be. I was perfectly happy purchasing food that wasn’t produced in an ethical fashion simply because it made my wallet feel less pain. However, the source of pain I feel now has much less to do with money and more to do with the power of my individual dollar. It is much more important for me, as a tax-paying American consumer,  to buy foods which do not support unhealthy corporate farming, which are organically produced, and (whenever possible) support my local economy. In my opinion, this is the most important decision I can make as a consumer. I know how easy it is to say, “I can’t afford to do this” or “I can’t afford to do that”. And it’s true- there are millions of Americans who simply can not afford to make the necessary changes to their lifestyles. BUT I AM NOT ONE OF THEM. And I have to lead by example.

Anyway, one of last week’s groupons was $18 for delivery of one box of local and organic produce from Backyard Produce, a North Carolina online farmer’s market. I have read extensively about online farmer’s markets, and was already well aware of Backyard Produce- but, to be frank, I’ve always thought fruit  and vegetable delivery was a luxury I couldn’t afford. Though this groupon deal was a steal, the typical price of a medium box of produce is $23.49, not including the $12 annual packaging fee. However, after critically looking at my produce buying habits, I decided it would be worth it to try out Backyard Produce with this groupon.

Here’s how it works:

You choose from three different sizes- small, medium, and large. Each package size equates to a certain number of points- 20, 40, or 60. You then use the points to choose from their weekly selection of food options. The options rotate every week, and are subject to availability- while not all selections are locally produced, they are organic, fresh, and arrive to your front door the following Wednesday in refrigerated boxes to ensure freshness.

Sign-up is really simple, and you have up until Sunday night to decide which fruits and veggies you want in that week’s delivery. I made my choices, sent in my order, and waited with bated breath until Wednesday.

Yesterday, after a very stressful day, I was pleased to see this waiting on my front porch:

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I gave very specific directions on how to reach my apartment (which can be a little confusing), and I was super pleased to see that the delivery person had no trouble figuring it out.

As promised, the produce was protected by refrigeration insulation:

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Just in case you were wondering, the annual $12 packaging fee helps them reduce the amount of packaging they use. Every week, they pick up your packaging from the previous delivery and reuse it. Great system.

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Let’s see what I ordered, eh?

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Granny Smith apples, organic WA – 2 count- 4 points

Baby Carrots, organic CA – 1lb- 5 points

Navel Oranges, organic FL – 3 count- 5 points

Tommy Atkins Mango, organic Ecuador – 2 count- 3 points each  (6 points total)

Salad Mix, Cottle Farm NC organic – 1/2 pound- 4 points

Kiwifruit, organic Chile – 2 count- 3 points

Bibb Lettuce, Green Haven Farms hydroponic NC – 1 head- 7 points

TOTAL POINTS USED: 34

As you can see, I only used 34 of my 40 points, leaving 6 points for a future delivery. I was extremely pleased with the quality of my items- bruise free, chilled, and clean. The mangos are nice and large (which is not always the case with mangos), and everything smells great.

At this point I can’t decide if it will be worth it to use Backyard Produce in the future. I still think it’s a little too expensive- but is it really?

I mean, I spend a lot of money on produce every week. In fact, I’m probably spending more than $23.49, not including the gas to/from the grocery store/farmer’s market. Though I’ll keep going to these spots for the rest of my items (and any incidental vegetation I might want), it is really awesome to have fresh, local, organic produce arrive at my door and ready for the week without having to judge by sale prices. I can change up my order every week, depending upon my weekly meal plan. Hmm.

All in all, I’m very pleased with my Backyard Produce experience thus far. This particular company only services the North Carolina Triad, Triangle, and Charlotte area. However, there are online farmer’s market delivery services all over the country- I’ve heard about them in urban centers, and in other parts of America. At the very least, they are worth a try-the convenience factor is unbeatable, and the price might be in your ballpark.

*And yes, that was an inadvertent plug for netflix. I love netflix- and so should you.

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Filed under farmers market, food, grocery shopping, grocery stores, meal planning, product review, shopping

Dinner At Milner’s: A Very Critical Restaurant Review

Last Friday night, due in large part to the fact that we both had terrible, horrible, no good, very bad weeks, I decided to treat Kate to a very indulgent and decadent dinner at Milner’s, a new(ish) restaurant in the Dash.

Ok, to be fair, this wasn’t a truly random outing. I purchased last Thursday’s piedmont/triad livingsocial deal, and it was $20 for $40 worth of food and drink at Milner’s. Kate and I ate at Milner’s in the winter and absolutely loved it, so I thought this would be an excellent opportunity to pragmatically study all the aspects of a Milner’s dining experience. Or at least be very critical of the food presentation. Winking smile

Milner’s specializes in New Southern (Southeastern) cuisine. I’ve encountered a number of non-Southerners who think classy Soul food is impossible, but this is absolutely not the case. Many staple Southern foods (grits, macaroni and cheese, barbeque, even chicken cum waffles) can be served and prepared in a highly dignified fashion. That being said, I’ve eaten at a number of ‘upscale’ Southern eateries, and more than a few of them fail to recognize that the beauty of Southeastern American cookery is not in its flair or technical mastery, but in the love you can taste in every bite.

Above all else, Milner’s is a steakhouse. In fact, the first recommendation I ever received for this particular restaurant was crafted entirely around a steak. The last time my girlfriend and I dined at Milner’s I chose the pulled pork- a delicious option, but this time I prepared myself in advance to order a steak.

(STOP– Some of you might be raising your eyebrows and giving me disdainful looks because I don’t eat a lot of meat, and I rarely talk about the preparation of meat when it comes to my own personal recipes. However, I have very specific reasons for not labeling myself a vegetarian- reasons which are being gradually deepened by my internalization of The Omnivore’s Dilemma. However, if you’re curious about why I still eat meat, check out my ‘Why I’m Not  A Vegetarian’ post. Now, what I was saying? OH RIGHT…)

Anyway, Kate and I both ordered the red wine and herb marinated hanger steak, but with different sides- she chose succotash and sauteed spinach. I chose collard greens and whipped potatoes. Oh, and of course we both ordered macaroni and cheese (because, yes, we’re equally too greedy to share. Our love of food is what brings us together .Smile)

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I’m not a steak aficionado, but believe me when I say that Milner’s hanger steak is a force to be reckoned with. It is too tender for words, and literally falls apart on cue. It’s almost as though the steak quivers when it sees the knife approaching. Kate and I ordered two different sauces- she ordered the house steak sauce, and I ordered the cremini mushroom sauce. My sauce was chock full of mushroom chunks and paired with the steak herbs very nicely. However, as nice as the steaks proved to be, I found some of the sides to be lackluster.

Ok, here’s the deal- I love collard greens. If I’m ever on death row, I want my last meal to be my mom’s macaroni and cheese, saffron basmati rice, and the largest helping of day long cooked collard greens ever created. Collards have a very strong flavor (similar to mustard greens), which can be off-putting to those unfamiliar with the taste. They are especially good when infused with vinegars, or very salty pork pieces. In my opinion, the perfect collard greens have been carefully looked over (one grain of sand can ruin a bowl of collards), rinsed thoroughly, and cooked for multiple hours. I can usually tell when my collards have been cooked in an unorthodox fashion, or have been cooked for a shorter period. I believe the Milner’s collard greens are steamed heavily and then allowed to steep in their own juices for X number of hours. However, I could be wrong- it could be possible that the greens are slow cooked for a number of hours. It’s hard to tell when they are NOT CHOPPED. I’m sure the chef has a perfectly good aesthetic reason for serving whole collard leaves. I just don’t agree with this reasoning. I think the best collards are given a rough chop prior to being cooked. I think it makes every part of the green cook evenly, and it makes them significantly more tender. I am ready to accept that this could be a Jessamyn preference, and it’s possible that no one else on this planet feels the same way. But all in all, I was not a fan of these particular collard greens.

(Look, I’m very passionate about breeds of wild cabbage, ok? Smile)

Also, while I love macaroni and cheese, I hate when people get too fancy with it. First of all, I don’t like crunchy breadcrumbs on top of my pasta– I mean, I’ll eat it, but it’s certainly not my preference. Also, I’m not totally against using sharp white cheddar in mac and cheese, but it should be used in moderation. Sharp white cheddar has a much more pungent flavor than regular cheddar, and it can be a bit much to handle. Sometimes a chef will try to balance out this flavor by adding in other spices, like nutmeg or even cinnamon. Again, I’m not against this (in general), but it can be VERY off-putting and make the dish taste almost dessert-like. Milner’s appears to do all three of these things (white cheddar, nutmeg, cinnamon), with the result being that I’m not in love with their macaroni. Of course, because I’m me, this was the second time I’ve ordered it and I thought the exact same thing last time. I think the addition of more aromatics (white onion and garlic, primarily) might balance out the sweetness from the spice choices.

The mashed potatoes were ok- nothing to write home about, but not worth panning. Even I have to admit that Kate’s succotash was pretty delicious (and I’m not a fan of succotash), and the spinach was quite tasty (though, in all fairness, sauteed spinach is pretty difficult to mess up).

All in all, regardless of my criticism, I really enjoyed my meal at Milner’s. It was quite pricey (this is not a bargain restaurant and will remain a special occasion spot), but it was worth the money to spend time with the woman I love, eating food that we both enjoy.

On an unrelated note, my name (and this blog) have been thrown into the ring for Yes! Weekly’s Triad’s Best Blogger Award. Even if you’re not a triad resident, I would be absolutely thrilled to have you go to their website and vote for me. There are tons of categories, but you don’t have to vote in every category. It’s very simple to cast your vote:

1.  Click this Link.

2. Type in your name and e-mail address, then click ‘Save’

3. Click ‘Media’, scroll down to ‘Best Blogger’ and select ‘Jessamyn Not Jasmine’ from the list of options.

4. Click ‘Save’. You’re done! Smile

Of course I’ve found out about this at the very last minute, so I’m sure my last ditch effort to win probably won’t be enough to shoulder out some of the frontrunners. However, it’s really wonderful to be recognized and I hope this leads to more Triad residents checking out Jessamyn Not Jasmine.

Happy Hump Day! (Oh, get your mind out of the gutter.)

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Filed under food, restaurant reviews

SAY CHEESE- Jessamyn’s New Favorite Thing of The Week!

STOP- before we go any further, I need to ramble about a product which has slowly but surely taken over my life. It is perfect in every way, and while it’s not a food, it definitely falls into the category of great skin care (a recurring theme recently- check out my Stages of Beauty product review and my Six Tips for Jealousy Inducing Skin).

Anyway, I don’t think anyone likes having dry lips. I HATE it- my friend Whitney and I have always joked that we should buy stock in blistex– we’re both completely obsessed with having satin-smooth lips. I usually try to have at least three tubes/pots in my possession at all time- one on my night stand, one in my wallet, and one in my backpack. Because my name is Jessamyn, I manage to lose my lip balm at a rate of one/week, so I end up spending way too much money on this particular product. In fact, because of the loss equation, I tend to only buy really cheap tubes- blistex or chapstick, mostly. I mean, I don’t mind losing a $0.99 tube of blistex, but I get PISSED if I lose my $2.99 tube of Burts Bees. However, as a token of appreciation for my work on 1776, one of my new favorite people was nice enough to buy me a truly awesome gift to feed my lip fetish:

body shop mango lip butter

I don’t usually shop at the Body Shop– I tend to think it’s a bit overpriced. However, this lip butter is enough to make me a regular customer. Butter is the only proper descriptive word- it’s literally like rubbing dairy fresh beurre on your pecker. The mango odor is very realistic- none of that sticky, sweet fake mango flavor that cosmetic companies usually favor. And it’s long lasting- I can involuntarily lick my lips multiple times and my lips won’t get patchy. While it’s DEFINITELY not cheap ($8.00), if you can afford to splurge this should definitely make your short list. Personally, if anyone ever gives me a gift card (HINT HINT) this is a Body Shop product I would not hesitate to buy again.

Ok, I didn’t mean to ramble about skin care products AGAIN, but what can I say? I’m obsessed.

Anyway, there was a four-way tie for this week’s New Favorite Thing. The tie was so intense that I will need to write separate product reviews for the other three items because they were all just that tasty and handy. Major emphasis on the ‘handiness’ because since my schedule is so hectic, I need foods which can move at my pace.

Anyway, anyway, ANYWAY: What’s my new favorite thing of the week?

annies parm pasta

Ok, I love macaroni and cheese. If you were spontaneously quizzed about my food preferences, this is probably the factoid that will jump to mind immediately. However, though my love of homemade baked macaroni and cheese is well documented, I have to admit something- I freaking HATE boxed macaroni. I mean, I’ll eat it. What kind of stereotypical fat kid would I be if I turned down boxed mac and cheese?Smile Forget about stereotypical fat kid: what kind of former college student and four year dormitory resident would I be if I didn’t admit to (over)indulging in easy mac from time to time? But, as an adult, I would never buy boxed mac and cheese voluntarily.

For one thing, it’s SO bad for you- I mean, regular mac and cheese isn’t traditionally healthy either, but if you’re going to fall into a cheese coma, shouldn’t it be from freshly grated cheese and not questionable cheese ‘powder’?

Also, it…doesn’t taste good. Yeah, I loved to eat it poolside with hotdogs after an afternoon of hanging out by the pool with my childhood friends. But I’m an adult now. And as an adult, I’ve finally come to terms with the fact that I don’t like it. I’m not judging anyone who always stocks up on Kraft mac and cheese when it’s 10/$10 at your local supermarket, but I have developed a serious aversion to these products.

Therefore, I’ve been a bit skeptical of Annie’s Organic boxed pastas. I’ve heard good things, but would I be able to shift my way of thinking to accommodate Annie’s?

First of all, you should check out the Annie’s philosophies. Their list of core values is really awesome:

  • Annie’s is real, authentic, and trusted by consumers.  As a company we strive to build upon this legacy with every decision we make.
  • Annie’s only makes products that taste great; they delight our consumers.
  • Annie’s uses only simple natural and organic ingredients, no icky additives or pesky preservatives.
  • Annie’s sources only from places and people we trust, with high emphasis on quality, as well as agricultural and environmental sustainability.  We believe in transparency.
  • Annie’s is a socially responsible company, and through our actions and programs, we spread awareness and act as a positive role model for consumers and other businesses to do the same.
  • Annie’s and its valued employees treat consumers, customers, suppliers, shareholders, and each other, with the same high degree of respect, fairness, & honesty that we expect of others.

How does this fit into their food? Well, unlike other boxed pastas, you can recognize every ingredient on the ingredient list– In fact, check this out:

INGREDIENTS: ORGANIC WHEAT PEACE PASTA, ORGANIC VALLEY ® ORGANIC PARMESAN CHEESE (ORGANIC CULTURED PASTEURIZED MILK, SALT, NON-ANIMAL ENZYMES), ORGANIC WHEY, ORGANIC VALLEY ® ORGANIC CHEDDAR CHEESE (ORGANIC CULTURED PASTEURIZED MILK, SALT, NON-ANIMAL ENZYMES), SALT, ORGANIC CORN STARCH, ORGANIC CREAM, ORGANIC GARLIC, NATURAL SODIUM PHOSPHATE, ORGANIC ONION, YEAST EXTRACT, ORGANIC WHITE PEPPER.

This week Annie’s box pastas are on sale at Whole Foods, and I decided to give it a  try. I went to the grocery store after a fairly intense exercise session, so I was pretty famished by the time I lugged all my (reusable!) bags home. I ate my pasta with a Lightlife Smartdog (my fave) and a GIGANTIC serving of steamed baby bok choy and peppers. For the record, both the baby bok choy and the smart dog were DELISH. But the star of my dinner plate was the Annie’s Peace Pasta and Parmesan. Seriously, if I didn’t know it came out of a box, I would have thought it was homemade. The sauce was really delicious- it says the addition of butter is optional, but I threw in some earth balance to thicken it up and it was a great addition. Also, I’m generally a little put off by pasta with funny shapes- you know, spongebob squarepants, and the like. However, the little peace signs are absolutely adorable and they actually help the sauce stick to the noodle. Excellent idea, Annie’s.

All in all, this dinner hit the spot and Annie’s Peace Pasta and Parmesan deserves a fair share of the credit. I can’t wait for summer pool parties, where I will definitely have to introduce all my friends to the beauty of Annie’s boxed pasta. Oh, and smartdogs. We will definitely be eating smartdogs. Smile

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Filed under food, Jessamyn's New Favorite Thing of The Week, product review