The Gleeful Gourmand: 2010

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Winner Winner Christmas Dinner!

This Christmas, my husband once again graciously offered to make the main entrée of our family’s Christmas dinner. After trying out a couple of different recipes, he hit on the perfect one from Bon Appétit’s December issue:

Mustard-Seed-Crusted Prime Rib Roast with Dijon Crème Fraiche and Roasted Balsamic Onions.

I knew we had a winner when I came home from running errands. The smell in the house was truly amazing and tantalizing. What really sold me on it was the crème fraiche I helped make to go along with it. Reading the recipe I worried that this accoutrement would be too heavy, but it was perfect. Light, fluffy, with just the perfect hint of mustard and horseradish, it melts delectably on the tongue.

The only thing we’re not sure about is the jus that you pour over the meat right at the end. It certainly smelled delicious enough when we made it, but after straining it, we started cleaning up the kitchen while we waited for the meat to be done, got to talking, and before we knew it, Buck had accidentally thrown the whole thing out. We had a good laugh, but even as we ate later, we didn’t think it missed the jus terribly.

My sister-in-law and brother are supplying the sides: some sort of potato dish, and a nice, light spinach salad, maybe with some citrus to lighten the whole thing up. I’ll be making my Sugar-and-Spice Cake – a Southern Living classic (not the one pictured on the magazine cover here - which looked way too complicated even for me).

I’ll be taking pictures of our work Christmas Day, and I’ll report back with how it went. In the meantime, check out the recipe here.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Toddler Table Manners

Yesterday I was reading Eatocracy’s latest blog post on CNN, and it was all about bad behavior of large groups while eating out, especially during the holidays. What surprised me wasn’t the number of people who agreed in the comments that table manners in general have gone downhill, but rather the sheer outrage of some comments over having to dine with children in the same establishment. Some even went so far to say that children shouldn’t dine out at all. That, of course, got me thinking about my 3-year-old son, and how we like to eat out during the weekends.

First of all, I agree that table manners in general have really hit a low point, but I come from an old-school mentality that how you behave at the dinner table, either in a restaurant or at home, really matters. My parents raised us to have impeccable manners at the table, and it started at home with some simple rules. Chew with your mouth closed. Your left hand belongs in your lap. When you’re finished, your fork and your knife are placed together on the plate, parallel to the bottom. And when we went out to eat, we knew what to expect. We were expected to sit there for the whole meal, and be quiet with our conversations, or else. My parents never would have allowed us to run all over any restaurant – it simply wasn’t done.

I’ve taken a similar approach with my son, and while it hasn’t been an easy road, it’s been a very rewarding one. Liam was dining out with us as early as 4 weeks old – when we just couldn’t stand being housebound one more moment. He slept through the whole meal. As he’s gotten older, we’ve put some pretty firm rules in place, again starting as early as possible. He sits with us at the dinner table, and he is not allowed to throw his food (and if he does he gets a timeout). He doesn’t have to eat everything on his plate, but he does have to at least try everything on it. Dinner is over when we say it’s over (but usually he knows it’s over when we deny his request for that third handful of animal crackers). When we go out, the same is expected of him there.

I firmly believe that there is a place for children in restaurants, but there is a time for everything (which I’ll get to in a moment). And here’s something even more shocking: You can have well-behaved children at your table at home and out to eat. You just have to be willing to work at it. It occurred to my husband and I that not only as our children get older will they be joining us more and more out to eat, but they will be eating at finer establishments eventually. What we teach them now sets them up for success later. It can be done. Here’s how we’ve done it:

1) Knowing that as toddlers, you have to set boundaries for what you want and expect to get out of it. Only you can decide the ultimate outcome, whether it’s simply fun family dinnertime at home, or well-behaved kids in a restaurant. Know that as you set up these boundaries, your toddler will cross them again, and again, and again. It’s going to be hard. Know what you’re willing to live with, and what deserves discipline. Have patience.
2) Decide before you get started what rules you want to set up, and which ones you’re willing to let slide. If you know the rules, it makes things so much easier.
3) The more you practice at home during meals, the easier it will be to take your children out in public.
4) Be willing to discipline your children in public spaces. What I mean by that is this: My son, at 3, now knows what to expect when we go out to eat. And when he starts misbehaving, we give him a warning: Stop what you’re doing, or we go out to the car for a timeout. And yes, I have taken him out to the car for a timeout, and yes, it did work.
5) In the early toddler years, get your practice out to eat at places that you know are family-friendly. Don’t set yourself up for failure in the beginning! When we started with Liam around 1, we tried to hit mealtime out as close to 5 p.m. as possible. That way, he wasn’t too hungry and impatient, and there weren’t too many other diners to bother if he did get unruly. We still try to dine between 5-6 p.m. as a rule, and now that he’s older we get to go to better restaurants as a result.
6) It’s usually a good idea to bring things for your toddler to do: crayons, activity books, etc. When they’re this young, it’s almost a necessity. However, just as I don’t condone children running around a restaurant I also don’t condone children who are older than, say, 6 sitting at a table and reading or playing video games. This is a great time for you and your children to interact, and for your children to learn good social and communication skills. They can’t do that if they’re glued to their handheld device. That goes for you, too, parents. Not only are your kids watching how you treat your waiters, but they’re also watching as you fiddle on your Blackberry.
7) If you know that you don’t have the patience for the above on a certain day, throw in the towel! Get a babysitter, and go out. Because there’s no way you’re going to be able to handle your toddler when you’re already at the end of your rope. Give yourself a break, and try again another time.

And to all those out there who cannot stand to have a child in their midst when they dine out: Lighten up! Realize that most parents are doing the very best they can, but sometimes kids will be kids. If the parent disciplines, and takes care of the problem, commend that parent for their skills. If they don’t – well, I don’t have any advice for that because I’m typically a non-confrontational person.

Here’s the plain and simple of it: The ultimate goal is for those kids to one day grow up and sit in your seat, and dine respectably. And they cannot do that if we put them in a bubble and never let them out.

P.S. - I know the photo of Liam isn't really him eating at a restaurant, but it sure is cute, huh?

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Lewis Ginter's GardenFest of Lights

If you live in the Richmond, VA area, and have never been to Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden's "GardenFest of Lights", I highly recommend it. They truly go all out, covering nearly every inch of the extensive gardens with lights, making fanciful flowers, butterflies, spiders, fairies, and even a gigantic peacock that spans the better part of the enormous lawn. In the children's section you'll find a bonfire, refreshments for sale, and a light maze. Inside the conservatory you'll find enormous Christmas trees, orchids, a train set and poinsettias.

We took Liam last night as we do every year, and he had a blast - running all over and looking at all the beautiful lights. It was freezing cold, but well worth it. Even if you don't have children, it makes the perfect date night!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Smell of Fall is...Onions?

Well, not just onions, but more specifically, onions sautéing in melted, bubbling butter. I know that sounds strange, but as fall officially winds down here in Virginia (it went down to 19 degrees last night!), it got me thinking about my favorite smells of the fall season: that peculiar delicious smokiness, apples, and of course onions in butter.

Let me explain. When I was a kid, we were sent outside to play most of the time, unless it was raining or bitterly cold. We were very fortunate to have a great yard with lots of room to play and explore, and also other kids in the neighborhood willing to play as well. One of my strongest memories associated with smell is coming home just before dinnertime in the fall after an afternoon of play, and coming up to our backdoor. Without the door being opened I could smell my mother’s cooking – the heavenly aroma of onions sweating it out in a pool of butter. Maybe she was making her own spaghetti sauce, or Johnny Marzetti, one of my favorite dishes. My stomach would tighten in hunger, and the anticipation of a great dinner would build.

So when I think of fall and its smells, I think of onions in butter. Besides the ocean, and maybe a freshly baked apple pie, it is one of my favorite smells. When I sauté onions in butter, I frequently stick my nose down close to the pan and simply inhale. It smells like home, and warmth, and childhood.

What about you? Do you have any favorite cooking smells, or smells that take you back to your childhood kitchen? Leave them in the comments!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Parting Ways

I had to have a serious conversation the other day with an old friend about the fact that we needed to part ways. Have you ever had a friend who, in the grand scheme of things, just brings you down? Hurts you again and again though you’ve done no wrong to them? This friend of mine is like that. They bring good, even great things to the table, but in the end, they simply hurt me. A lot. I’ve felt for a long time that she and I were simply coasting, with brief spurts of pain interjected along the way. Meaning that I have allowed myself to put up with her, and complain about her to other friends, but I never do anything about the situation.

So it was in my kitchen that I had the talk with this friend about needing to end our friendship. This is never an easy thing to do, especially when it’s a one-sided conversation. I talked and talked, and she just sat there and took it, never saying one word back to me. I don’t know what I expected – I didn’t expect her to apologize to me – I just wanted her to know that it was over. And all she did was sit there coldly, silently, unforgiving.

I don’t think it helped matters that I told her I was replacing her with another friend. A new friend, who probably won’t hurt me. I also explained how I had tried again and again to fix our friendship – even going so far as to fix her – with no real results. Still, nothing. Unfortunately, she and I will have to live with each other for another couple of months, and that’s going to get awkward. Relying on her, depending on her, all the while trying to suppress my glee at the thought of my new, better friend’s arrival.

What’s that? You think I’m being callous? Oh, I guess I forgot to mention that this friend is my stove.

Why are you laughing? This isn’t funny! This stove has slowly become the bane of my existence. It came with our house when we purchased it 5 ½ years ago. Back then I was only just starting to flex my muscles when it came to preparing meals. Nothing fancy. Just the meal equivalent of taking a stroll through a park. But over these past years, I’ve grown a lot. It started with the baking: I’ve enjoyed getting more elaborate with what I created, and that spilled over into mealtimes. At first there wasn’t much wrong with our relationship. We worked fine together, though I hated the gray grates on top of the gas burners because no matter what chemical I used, or how much elbow grease I put into it, I could never get them clean. But, who cares, right? If someone is staring at the grates on your stove hard enough to criticize then they’re probably not someone you want to share a meal with anyway.

But then, last year, right around this time, something horrible happened. I was lowering the oven door to slip something in when one of the hinges snapped off and disappeared into the oven. I know, that sounds crazy. How could I not know where the long, awkward hinge had gone? There were only so many places. But gone it was. Mr. Handyman informed me that I’d have to order a new hinge from GE, which I gladly did, for $90. Mr. Handyman installed said hinge, but because it’s such an old oven, the new hinge still makes the door hang too low. I’m constantly balancing it on my knee.

And then I noticed something else: The door was shutting, but apparently not all the way, because if I was cooking something in the oven, and also using the range on top, the dials in between the two were suddenly getting piping hot. So, if you can imagine, every time I use the two simultaneously, multiple times a week, I’m burning my fingers. Sounds delightful, doesn’t it? See what I mean about this friend hurting me over and over again?

Yet, through all of this pain and frustration, I know in my heart of hearts that my oven is doing its best. It’s still turning out flawless meals and baked goods. And if they are flawed, I know it’s the cook’s error, and not the oven’s. But even this fact is not enough to keep me from hating it. Anytime I talk about it, my tone is filled with scorn and distaste. It’s got to go…but not for another couple of months, because that’s when we’re going to be able to afford a new one. Until then, I just wanted to let my old friend know that it’s over. Really, truly over.

However, if she decides to stop working for me in the meantime, there will be no more talks. Things are going to get ugly. As ugly as her grease-stained grates.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Thanksgiving Memories

When I was a kid growing up, my family would make the trek every Thanksgiving to my father’s childhood home in Moundsville, West Virginia. It’s almost impossible for me not to think of West Virginia when I think of Thanksgiving. Though the 8-hour car ride was tough, it was well worth it, especially as we wound our way through the mountains soaring and painted in their fall hues. Deer carcasses littered the sides of the roads, but that was just ordinary.

We would pull up to the front of my Grandma Hazel’s house, light blue with its slate stone steps leading up to a great front porch. She always had a pot of vegetable soup bubbling on the stove for us, and slices of white bread for making sandwiches. It was a big deal for us to have white bread since wheat was always the order of things at our home. Another thing my mother allowed us to have that first night as a treat: Diet Coke.

Grandma Hazel was the epitome of unconditional love and grace. I never once heard her raise her voice to anyone. In a multitude of cousins, I was the only girl, and I shared a special bond with her. She was also an excellent home cook – the type who never used a recipe, but made everything by sight, smell, touch, and taste. She would rise on Thanksgiving morning around 4 a.m. to put the turkey in her oven down in the basement, its door held closed by a chair wedged under its handle. When we finally came downstairs for breakfast, she would already be cooking for the crush of family about to descend on her house. My mother would jump into action helping her, and one by one, our favorite dishes would be created. I wish I could list all of those great dishes, but I know for sure there was mashed potatoes, both pumpkin and apple pies, and our family’s favorite: noodles.

These are not the kind of noodles one might think of when they think of pasta. Though the dough shares the same properties, these noodles (simply called “noodles”) are as wide and thick as a finger, and thrown into a huge pot of boiling chicken broth, seasoned heavily with salt and pepper. This simple, easy dish doesn't look like much, but oh – the taste! Like creamy dumplings, but better. Slightly firm to the first bite but completely tender on the finish. This dish is legendary in my family.

In those days, the family would descend, and my brother and I would play with our younger cousins until we sat down to eat around noon. We would feast as though we’d never seen food in our lives, and then we’d all help with the dishes, finally retreating into the family room where my Uncle’s pipe would fill the room with its spicy aroma. The cousins would play out on the front porch, taking turns on the swing until about 5 p.m. Then we’d all troupe back into the kitchen, and out would come the entire meal again. And we’d all tuck in as if we hadn’t just gorged ourselves a few hours earlier. Dishes would be done again, and family members would stagger out into the crisp fall night, bellies distended.

When my Grandma Hazel passed away when I was in the 8th grade, it was a blow to all of us. Thanksgivings from then on were spent with my other grandparents in New Jersey. But there was one similar thing on their table: the noodles. My mother had secured, all those years working side by side with my Grandma Hazel, the recipe for the noodles. And suddenly the noodles took on a whole new life. Suddenly we were not the only ones who dreamt lustily of them when the air grew cold.

My father passed away a month after I graduated high school, and that was the year that my mother passed the torch to me. I was now the keeper of the noodles and all their grandeur. That first Thanksgiving without my father was so difficult – Thanksgiving was his favorite holiday. But having those noodles on the table was a comfort. Everything changes, but that dish has remained constant.

I still make the noodles for my family. No matter where we are: Here in Virginia, or even in Hawaii with my husband’s family. My brother even made them in Baton Rouge when he and my sister-in-law couldn’t make it home for the holiday. The noodles are always on the table wherever we are.

As I make the dough, knead it in my hands, and send flour flying all over the kitchen and myself, I feel honored to be a part of something so simple, yet so binding.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Books to Make Your Taste Buds Come Alive!

I’ve mentioned before that some of my favorite books revolve around food. I firmly believe any book can be made better by delectable descriptions of what the characters are eating. Food in a book changes everything: the mood, the dialogue, and the sense of scene. Maybe you’ve seen the sidebar at the right – “Tasty Readings”. These are my all-time favorite books (so far) that accomplish this well.

My recent addition is Richard C. Morais’ “The Hundred-Foot Journey.” It tells the tale of Hassan Haji, an unlikely gourmand who goes on an epic food journey through his homeland of India to a small provencal town in France, to Paris. Born into a family whose lives already revolve around food (they own a small restaurant and run a lunch-delivery service), he finds himself seduced by French cooking, and thus follows his rise to culinary fame.

What I found so intriguing about this book was that it not only talked about French food, which is my favorite, but it also went into great depths about Indian food – something I know very little about. As a direct result, I am now dying to go out and try some authentic Indian cuisine. Morais is an excellent writer and does a superb job of educating and enticing with his story. His dedication to infusing the novel with both true-to-life Indian and French cultures is seamless. It is the type of book that I had a very difficult time putting down.

Here’s an excerpt to whet your appetite:

“I do remember that after I butchered the hares, I marinated the pieces in white wine, bay leaf, crushed garlic, malted vinegar, sweet German mustard, and a few crushed and dried juniper berries, for that slightly pungent and piney aftertaste. Suitably softened, the hare then spent several hours cooking slowly in a cast-iron pot. It was nothing grand. It was simply my take on an old-fashioned country recipe, fleetingly glanced at during a study session up in Madame Mallory’s attic library, but it just seemed right for a chilly and windy autumn night. The side dishes I prepared were a mint-infused couscous, rather than the traditional butter noodles, and a cucumber-and-sour-cream salad dashed with a handful of lingonberries.”
Morais, Richard C. The Hundred-Foot Journey. New York: Scribner, 2008.

I think my only complaint is that Morais ended his novel a bit too hastily. It felt like a very abrupt ending, with some loose strings that I would have enjoyed seeing tied up. Maybe not in a nice, neat package, but at least with some finality. Regardless, it is an excellent book, and I highly recommend it to anyone who loves reading about food, and a good story.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Culinary Nightmares

Culinary nightmares: I had one last night, and I'm not talking about in the actual kitchen. Nope, this one was literally in my dreams.

Let me paint you a picture: It starts with me in my kitchen, examining an angel food cake that has completely deflated on one side. I'm so perplexed, and I'm a little panicked because it suddenly occurs to me that I'm cooking for 8 business associates of my husband's; apparently big muckity-mucks. Or something. And I've prepared this incredible dinner. The table is set and looking gorgeous. But what's going on with this cake? It's okay, I will figure out something else to do with it. That's when someone (a friend helping me in the kitchen?) informs me that I've been mistaken this whole time. I wasn't supposed to cook for 8 very important people (again, who are these people??), I'm supposed to be cooking for 25. 25! They're supposed to arrive in exactly one hour, and they're expecting a gourmet dinner.

Now I'm completely freaking out. Not only can my dining room not accommodate anywhere near 25 people, but I don't have enough food. First I try to stretch what I've got, but when I see that failing, Buck and I find ourselves in the grocery store, shopping for stuff to serve. What we end up buying is the leftovers from my son's birthday party last weekend. Because nothing says fine cuisine like baby carrots, cherry tomatoes, ranch dressing and grapes. I decide to set it all up buffet-style, and if they don't like it, screw 'em. They can use trays and eat wherever they want. At least they will be eating something! Anything! And, of course, there's always the deflated angel food cake to serve. Just when I was reaching my peak of freaking out, I woke up. Phew.

In reality, I've never really had a culinary disaster like that. Sure, I've burned stuff before, but not to the point that it has to be thrown out. I've also burned myself multiple times, and cut myself frequently, but nothing major. No stitches needed. In fact, I think the only time I really ever truly screwed something up was when I was baking pumpkin bread for my youth group's bake sale many years ago. They failed to rise, and I had nothing left to offer. So I wrapped them up and labeled them "Pumpkin Flat Cakes".

And you know what? They sold.

Have any culinary nightmares, real or imagined? Leave them in the comments!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Happy 3rd Birthday, Buddy!

The other day I went out just before dinner to get the mail, which is kind of a hike since we live on a driveway with two other people. On the way back I was suddenly remembering my very first "walk" with my son. This must have been during his first week of life because I remember that Buck was home, and my Mom was still there. Buck and I wrapped him in a couple of blankets because the chill of Fall had finally started to set in that week, and we walked to get the mail. It was unbelievably slow-going because I was recovering from my C-section, and I also wasn't used to walking any distance with an infant in my arms. The sun was just starting to set, and I remember the colors in the sky were spectacular. I started talking to Liam, who was awake, about all the things outside there were to see: the trees, the different colored leaves, the sky, the animals. It was a magical moment, and one that I will never forget, because at that moment I remember thinking how impossible it seemed that he would ever be big enough to walk beside me and chat with me about those things I was talking about.

After remembering this I heard our front door open and looked up in time to see this little face peek out. Coming out onto the porch, Liam stood on the doormat and screamed "Hi, Mommy!" about a dozen times before finally screaming "I love you Mommy!" It melted my heart. We walk to the mailbox together these days quite often. Liam runs, jumps, throws acorns into the birdbath (a favorite game of ours), and examines every speck along the driveway. He is articulate, bright, beautiful, funny, and affectionate. He has never met a stranger in his life.

This past year of experiencing 2 has had its fair share of ups and downs. There have been times when I feel like we're seeing the light at the end of the tunnel on a certain issue, only to have him dash back in. He's out of diapers for good, but can't seem to make it to the toilet for #2. He's in preschool two days a week and having a blast, but also having some challenges as well, especially in areas that I thought we had already covered. His tantrums, thankfully, are still short-lived and far and few between, but they seem to have gotten more theatrical.

Despite all that, I know that I have learned a tremendous amount about him, but even more about myself. And if I am honest, my son, unknowingly, holds a mirror up to my face every day. There are days that I don't like what I see, and I'm not talking about wonky makeup or wrinkles. But I hold on to the moments that are sweet and remind myself that he's trying his best to get through this life too, and I have to try my best to help him do that. Because I know there will come a time when he won't be excited anymore to walk down a driveway with me to get the mail.

In the meantime, Happy Birthday, Buddy. Daddy and I are so incredibly blessed to have you in our lives. There isn't a day that goes by that you don't put a smile on our faces in some capacity. We love you so very much.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Would Madame Care For a Glass of Crushed Rock to go With That?

One of my husband’s favorite magazines to pick up on his way through airports is the Robb Report. It’s the kind of high-end luxury magazine that advertises private jets and yachts. It’s fun for a laugh to flip through and marvel at some of the homes, or in my husband’s case (and the real reason he buys it) to drool over the newest sports cars on the market.

Every year they put out a Host’s Guide for the holiday season that’s primarily made up of wine and liquor recommendations. It was flipping through this particular magazine a couple of weeks ago that we both just had to stop, laugh, and gape at what seems to be wine descriptions run completely amuck. We enjoy wine as much as the next person (Buck is really the one who’s read the sommelier books, and knows his stuff), but neither of us are snobs about it – we don’t even really let the wine “breathe”, unless by “breathe” it means the time it takes it to be uncorked and poured into a glass.

Last year, we saw several mentions in the descriptions of wine of having hints of tar and leather. That in and of itself was pretty funny, and well, just weird. Tar? Leather? Okay, to each his own, I guess. But then this year we stumbled across this description, and it seems that the weird has definitely been ratcheted up:

“Kapcsándy 2007 Estate Cuvée Red Napa Valley: The 2007 vintage captures the essence of the vineyard with its notes of crushed rock, damp cigar tobacco, graphite, and crème de cassis. ($135)”
Holiday Wine 101. Robb Report. 2010: 9.

Really? Crushed rock? Damp cigar tobacco?? All I could think of was some drunk guy flicking his finished cigar into a half-emptied glass of wine. I’m sorry, that doesn’t sound appealing in the slightest. And you want me to pay $135 for it? To drink gravel, wet tobacco and a rock slab? We thought it might be a fluke but from there on out the weird continued. More mentions of asphalt, granite, limestone, slate, and wild game. The descriptions are baffling. Are these wines being made by toddlers or pregnant women suffering from pica? Because honestly, those are the only people I know of who would know exactly what crushed rock tastes like.

Here’s one I can get behind, though the price is jaw-dropping: “Chateau d’Yquem 2007 Sauternes: With the potential to age up to a century, the 2007 vintage has glorious flavors of hazelnut and crème brulée enhanced by a wisp of nutmeg. Drinking this Sauternes can only be compared to sipping pure sunlight. ($600)” Holiday Wine 101. Robb Report. 2010: 18.

Now I’m really curious to know: Is this really what wine lovers want today? Am I missing something? I’m dying to have it explained to me. If you know, leave it in the comments!

P.S. – The next post will be a selection of Buck’s favorite wines right now, and what to eat with it. He didn't know I was going to recruit him to do that. He does now!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Merry Halloween!

I adore Halloween. It’s one of my favorite holidays, especially since my birthday falls near it. Before I had my son, the memories that would surface when I thought about Halloween centered around homemade costumes and the meal we would eat every Halloween night – my mom’s homemade vegetable soup and ham biscuits. It was a quick, easy, eat-on-the-run type of meal. It wasn’t my favorite meal she made (and she is an excellent cook), but if it was Halloween, you knew what you were in for as far as dinner. A lot of my not liking it stemmed from the fact that she would slather both butter and mustard on the rolls, and back then I had a very strong aversion to butter if it wasn’t melted. Of course, that isn’t the case now. Now I am truly my mother’s daughter and will take butter any way I can get it.

When I got married, I decided to make a new traditional Halloween dinner of turkey chili, cornbread, and pumpkin pie – the first of the season. But the food isn’t what pops into my mind, however, when I think of Halloween these days. Neither is my son’s adorableness as he figured out that if he said "trick or treat" he would actually get candy in his bucket. Not that we let him have much of it. Because we were pilfering most of it.

Let me take you back to when I was pregnant with my son: 9 months pregnant to be exact, and due any day. It’s Halloween afternoon, and I’m in the throes of chili-making. I’m hot, way too hormonal to be rational and listening to Christmas music on my iPod. Yes, you read that right. The week before I had decided (since this was my first child and had no idea what I was in for) that I needed to make a Christmas mix (about 20 hours worth) since I would be way too busy, or foggy, or whatever to make one during the actual holiday season.

So I’m making chili, finishing Halloween decorations, listening to Christmas music, and crying my eyes out because the music is making me so emotional. I remember standing in the kitchen thinking how utterly ridiculous and absurd it all was as I sobbed, sang, and stirred. That is the Halloween memory that has stuck with me the most. And you know what? That memory always puts a smile on my face.

Do you have a favorite Halloween memory? Leave it in the comments!
P.S. - The picture is of this year's jack-o-lanterns. Try not to be jealous.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A Little Less Conversation, A Little More Eating

According to the September issue of Bon Appétit magazine, Las Vegas is now second only to Paris for the number of celebrity chefs boasted:

When France’s Pierre Gagnaire opened Twist restaurant at the Mandarin Oriental this year, he joined fellow countrymen Alain Ducasse, Guy Savoy, and Joel Robuchon in transforming Las Vegas into a world capital of French dining. With a combined 58 Michelin stars among them, they have secured Vegas’s place as second only to Paris for pure star power. You could travel to the City of Light, where each of these chefs has a restaurant, but in Vegas an intrepid foodie could conceivably enjoy Ducasse’s pressed chicken and foie gras, Savoy’s artichoke and black truffle soup, Gagnaire’s langoustine five ways, and Robuchon’s decadent pommes purée in a single night. Although making it a four-day feast is more advisable.
“Top Trend: Vive Las Vegas.” Bon Appétit. September 2010: 31

Both my husband and I thought this note was incredible. As my husband put it, who would have ever thought that Las Vegas would suddenly be a contender for the culinary epicenter of the world? My husband has been going to Vegas long enough to remember a time when your fine dining choices were a buffet and a buffet. Back then the major draw was simply the casino itself. These days the casino does well, but it’s taken a major backseat to the pool parties, clubs, shows, and of course, fine dining.

When I read the above statement I immediately recognized how very true it was. I feel incredibly blessed to have been able to partake in some truly spectacular meals over the course of my life, and I can, without a doubt, rate the most spectacular as having taken place in Las Vegas.

Las Vegas never used to be on my radar. As a Christian, I often looked at it with disdain and even a little bit of fear. There is no denying that it is a modern-day Sodom and Gomorrah, but when I started traveling with my husband, we found ourselves there quite often. For instance, every year the ERA (Electronic Retailing Association) trade show is held there. This is a major event for my husband and his business. It’s almost like the Golden Globes – it’s where a grand majority of deals are put into motion – and they even have awards! I’ve been very fortunate to be able to occasionally tag along with him. Also, other times we’ve coincided the trade show with our annual jaunt to see Buck’s family in Hawaii. Las Vegas is a great place to stop when you’re traveling halfway around the world with a toddler (I know that sounds strange, but I’ll get into that in another post).

Anyway, this particular dinner came about at the ERA trade show, and we were invited to dine at Le Cirque at Bellagio by a business associate and her husband. It just so happened that her husband, who is French, also owned somewhere around 30 fine dining restaurants and clubs worldwide. He also knew the chef at Le Cirque, and demanded to choose the wine for the table. Nobody objected. What followed was the most incredible meal of my life. From the impeccable service, to the mouth-watering wines, to my dinner (this was a few years ago, so what I remember was a melt-in-your mouth duck breast and a tiny, personal sweet potato soufflé), it was truly a meal to remember.

But that was nothing compared to the dessert. The chef sent out, on the house, several of their best desserts that we all shared. Among them was crème brulée, two different soufflés, and an ice cream bombe that when broken through the hard chocolate coating, revealed its creamy goodness inside. And also some sort of chocolate-within-chocolate ball that was painted with edible gold. It was dessert heaven, and I know if I have the fortune of partaking in such a meal in the future, it will be nothing short of a miracle.

Of course, I’ve had lots of other wonderful meals in Vegas as well: coffee-rubbed steak at Bobby Flay’s Mesa Grill (Caesar’s Palace), steak that would make a grown man weep at SW Steakhouse (The Wynn), late-night mac-and-cheese at FIX (Bellagio), and sumptuous breakfasts at Society Café (Encore at The Wynn). I could really care less about gambling, going to clubs, and crazy pool parties. But all you have to do is mention that fine dining will be a priority and I will find a way to get to Las Vegas.

P.S. - Have a favorite dining establishment in Vegas? Leave it in the comments!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Focus! (Or Lack Thereof)

One of the things holding me back from starting this blog was the fact that I don’t really have a “true” focus. While I’m saying the focus is food, and more specifically our emotional connection to food, I’m not always going to write about food. I expect to go on tangents sometimes that may have nothing at all to do with food, except maybe that I’m eating food while writing it. And I hope that’s okay. I mean, of course it’s okay, but I hope it doesn’t make anyone roll their eyes and say, “Oh geez, another rambler. Isn’t this blog supposed to be about FOOD?!”

Of course if that person is typing in caps, or really yelling that, then maybe that person has some anger issues they need to work out, and should be focusing on that rather than my blog. See what I did there? I digressed.

What you need to know about me, and this blog, is: I love food. It’s really simply. One of the things I love most besides eating food is reading about food. My favorite part in books, even as a youngster, was reading people’s descriptions of food. When an author can describe a scene revolving around food so well that it makes your mouth water, and your stomach grumble, that’s a great success. I also really enjoy reading not only cookbooks, but also books by chefs like Anthony Bourdain’s “Kitchen Confidential”, or Dalia Jurgensen’s “Spiced”. And don’t even get me started on what I consider to be one of my favorite books of all time, Judith Jones’s “The Tenth Muse: My Life in Food”. Check out the sidebar for some of my favorite books about food to the left.

I also love watching food being prepared, which is why my default channel is always Food Network. I can’t even begin to express how enticing it is for me to see a cook or chef prepare something and hear the passion in their voice, and the gleam of excitement in their eyes as it all comes together. I’ve also learned a tremendous amount about cooking and tricks from watching Food Network.

And, of course, I love to eat food. Someone once referred to me as a “foodie," and I was honestly shocked to be labeled that. Mostly because I have no clue what a “foodie” really is. It sounds slightly sinister, and let’s be honest, kind of snobby. The person who called me the name meant it as a compliment (I think). But I want to make one thing clear: I am not a snob when it comes to food. Yes, I know a fair amount about food, mostly because I read a lot about food, but I’m still learning every day. I can create an elaborate meal, but that doesn’t mean it’s my favorite meal to create. I have absolutely zero desire to become a chef or work in a kitchen restaurant. As I mentioned, I read “Kitchen Confidential” and that pretty much squashed that romantic notion. I love eating at foodie-type restaurants, but I’m not above admitting that every time I think about going to Chick-Fil-A I get really, really excited. And luckily, since I have a toddler, I eat there once a week.

So, all that being said, I didn’t want to give the wrong impression about this blog – that I’m only going to be talking about cutting-edge trends and the best restaurants, or what have you. On the contrary, what I’ll mostly be doing is writing about food and our emotional response to it. And hopefully we’ll all have a lot of fun along the way.

Monday, October 25, 2010


Welcome to The Gleeful Gourmand! My name is Jenna and as my profile shows, I'm a lover of food and drink, a writer, and a stay-at-home Mom to one toddler. After much consideration and thought, I decided to start this blog after the roommate of one of my dear friends planted the idea. I'll set the stage for you: Four women, out for a fun night in Charleston, South Carolina. The restaurant: McCrady's, headed by Sean Brock, winner of the James Beard 2010 Best Chef Southeast award. The wine is flowing, and we are all just having the time of our lives, even though we're technically sitting in the bar. The food is so sumptuous that my friend, who was previously a vegetarian, throws her lifestyle promptly out the window and orders the Gallantine of Chicken (I was having the Beef Tenderloin). We're talking about food and writing, and that's when my friend's roommate tells me that what I should be doing is writing a blog about food.

At first I balked at the idea. I'm not an expert on food. I like food. I enjoy cooking and baking, and I love to read about food. But do I really know enough about food to start a blog? My friends all agreed - yes. I should give it a go, if for nothing else than to actually be writing and to do something creative and fun. And so, here I am, giving it a go. So, what's this blog all about, really? Well, besides just food, it's hopefully going to be about food and our emotional connection to it. I'll be writing a lot about my food experiences, but I'll also be talking about literature and life, and how it all ties together. There may be the occasional recipe as well, and maybe some restaurant reviews.

I hope you all enjoy it. Please bear with me as I figure out all the new blogger stuff. I'm trying to make the design more fun and approachable, but it's going to take some time. Thank you so much for stopping by and reading!