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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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Jessamyn Makes a LightBox!

We all have secrets. Sometimes the secrets aren’t particularly scandalous or intriguing. In fact, a lot of the time they’re not even meant to be secrets. Maybe they should be called ‘little known facts’. Well here’s a little known fact about Jessamyn: I spent three years of my life working in an arts and crafts store. Basically, this means three things:

1. I’m a master multi-tasker, and can fix a broken cash register while reorganizing an arsenal of same size paint brushes.

2. I am an unlikely resource when it comes to framing jigsaw puzzles.

3. I’ve been known to talk about the most mundane scrapbooking techniques for hours without realizing the passage of time.

In my post-arts and crafts store world, I try to keep my crafting to a bare minimum. In fact, the craftiest thing in my everyday life is the inevitable winter knitting itch which hits me in mid-October and (always) fizzles out by late January. Therefore, I’ve been knitting the same black and white striped cowl for over two years (but for the record, when I finally finish it, y’all are going to be so jealous.)

Anyway, while I rarely feel the crafting itch, I was very intrigued by Ashley and Stephen’s (of the fabulous neverhomemaker) light box project. Because I don’t take my photography seriously, I didn’t think making a light box was a reasonable use of my funds. However, with a new camera in the mail and armed with a new outlook on my potential photography skills, I decided it might be worth it to give myself a space for creative education. Therefore, this morning I decided to build a light box from scratch.

For those of you who are not photographers, familiar with photography, or don’t spend hours of your day on the internet, a Light Box is an excellent way to diffuse soft light in a contained space, creating a malleable space where light and shadows can be manipulated. Basically, for someone who wants to become a better food photographer but lives in a lighting dungeon, a Light Box is a fairly good investment. Obviously, like any other item in the world, you don’t need to make one- you can buy a Light Box. However, if you’re not a professional photographer and don’t mind spending a couple of hours hanging out in a giant cardboard box, making a Light Box with household items might be right up your alley.

So, armed with a fresh cardboard box, tissue paper, velcro, and a hell of a lot of packing tape, I got to work.

(Of course, since the camera isn’t actually here yet, I only have a rather crude camera phone photo. Thank you, verizon.)

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Isn’t it lovely? It looks way more complicated than it actually is- it’s really just a cardboard box covered with tissue paper. The process took a little longer than it probably should have- I managed to watch two episodes of Grey’s Anatomy (my new, ever-so-slightly embarrassing obsession) before taking this photo. All in all, it was not a very expensive project, though I did have to buy three utility lamps at ~$7.00/each. Also, I bought three different swatches of fabric for backdrop- two patterns and one solid black. I haven’t found a permanent home for my new box. At the moment, it’s housed under my kitchen table (which also doubles as my desk and lives in my living room- yes, I try to be as unorthodox as possible.)

Since I didn’t have the patience to take a thousand process shots of this project, I must insist you check out the neverhomemaker instructions in order to actually learn how to make one of these babies. I followed their instructions to a Tee, but I definitely didn’t do any of the steps they deemed unnecessary. That probably sounds a little silly, but trust me- you’ll understand after you check it out for yourself.

What random crafts/activities have you attempted lately?

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