July 12, 2012 § Leave a Comment
Go vote! It’s fun to contemplate your absolute favs. The results for both of these will appear in the September 2012 issue of Birmingham Magazine and the fall issue of Tuscaloosa magazine. Click here (or on the image below) for Best of B’ham and here for Best of Tuscaloosa to fill out your answers. And hey, there’s a little spot for a favorite local blogger on the Best of B’ham. Maybe consider listing yours truly??
May 23, 2012 § Leave a Comment
Back Forty Beer Company, which is based out of Gadsden, offers a Kudzu Porter. I enjoyed its tamed hoppiness with chocolate and nutty undertones. I suggest you try it! And obviously, since kudzu has a special place in my heart, I thought it was perfect to share with you all. And as a side note, their Truck Stop Honey Brown Ale is one of my absolute favorites.
February 15, 2012 § Leave a Comment
This Valentine’s Day was certainly one to remember.
James and I talked about where we’d like to go, and I suggested Nick’s in the Sticks, because after six-and-a-half years of living in Alabama, I still had never been. He thought it was a wonderful idea.
It being Valentine’s Day, we were slightly afraid that it might be a bit packed, and it was, but we only waited about 20 minutes at the most for a table, and let me tell you—it would have been well worth an hour-long wait.
This place is awesome. There’s no sign out front (rumor says it was blown away during Hurricane Ivan), but steak cravers driving down a dark road know they’ve found their oasis when they see a dimly lit cinderblock building surrounded by parked cars. When you walk in, the dollar bills tacked to the ceiling and the wood-panel walls covered with Alabama memorabilia make it quite obvious that this little spot is rich with history.
We ordered steaks of course. My ($9.95!) small filet was wrapped in bacon and came with a house salad and a side (baked potato). The salad was just your average little salad, but the blue cheese dressing was creamy with just the right amount of blue cheese crumbles.
And my steak—oh heavens—was it good. I ordered it medium, and it came probably closer to medium rare (yay!). It was perfectly tender, easy to cut, juicy and rich. Oh, I just love a good steak. The only thing I’d say about it is (and now, I don’t eat a whole lot of bacon-wrapped filets, so take this with that grain of salt), but the bacon was a bit flabby. I would have liked to see a bit more crispness to it, but it was still fabulous.
Tada! Hello, beautiful steak.
Oh—and I almost forgot another great part of this experience: The Nickademus.
This house concoction is like a grown-up shirley temple. No… more like hunch punch you’d find at a house party. It’s strong, and it’s fruity. It is definitely a must-order.
While we had a wonderful time, there were a few things I’d mention. It was Valentine’s Day, so we understand it was a busy, busy night, but we waited a very long time once we sat down to get service. And even once we ordered, our food took forever, though I wasn’t really all that sad about that after I finished because it was well worth the wait. Also, this place is tiny! So if you’re going with a large group, it might be forever and a day until you get a table. I’d say the max I saw accommodations for was about 4 or 5. Also, when you go in, walk up to the counter to put your name on the list. And don’t wait for the check once you’re finished. You need to walk back up to the counter to pay. We were such newbies. This all had to be explained to us.
I absolutely want to go back, and try this place on a not-so-busy night, but we were so happy with our experience.
And before I wrap this up, here’s an interesting read on Nick’s in the Sticks’ history and its tie to prohibition. Nick’s originally opened in Greene County when Tuscaloosa County was dry to service those looking for a little extra fun on their Friday nights, but once Tuscaloosa allowed alcohol sales, it moved over to be closer to its clientele.
Thank you, James! I love Valentine’s Day. And uh, next time we want a $10 filet, we’ll be coming here, thank you very much.
February 7, 2012 § 3 Comments
What are you doing with your sweetie?
This Valentine’s Day, James and I are heading to Nicks in the Sticks. We’ve talked about going far too many times, so I told him all I want for Valentine’s Day is to enjoy a beautiful steak in this off-the-beaten-path locale.
But, perhaps after our dinner, I might take a cue from Victoria from A Subtle Revelry, and snuggle up with a sweet and nostalgic dessert with just a twist of creativity. Maybe we’ll toast marshmallows in our fireplace, and melt our s’mores with peanut butter cups and berries. Oh how romantic!
Combine this with blankets, pillows, and love, and what a great Valentine’s Day to celebrate with my betrothed.
What are you planning for this Valentine’s Day? A romantic night out with your sweetheart? Or will you be cozying it up indoors?
December 13, 2011 § 3 Comments
James and I hosted a little get together over the weekend in Tuscaloosa. The theme? Beer and cheese (two of my favorite things, of course).
This party is quite easy to throw, especially if you’re on a budget, like we are. We asked our friends to bring their favorite craft brews of choice, and we supplied the cheese.
My tablescape was easy. I used wooden cutting boards to create a rustic feel and allow the cheese to be the stars of the show. I put out a few more items (cherry tomatoes, olives, pigs in a blanket for a hearty snack) and I designed my own little cheese labels. I purchased a small rosemary tree (which I see as an investment because I can cook with it!) to bring the holiday spirit to the table. And I was inspired by the tree to pull off sprigs and use them as skewers for mozzarella (Thank you, Celebrate, for teaching me that little trick). And finally I created and printed out a sheet that suggested beer pairings for guests to use as a guide.
I also set up a bar, and asked everyone to place their empty bottles so we could admire what each person was drinking. And I set out a bottle opener and a little bowl for caps (to add to my collection, of course).
Host your own party! It is easy and inexpensive to pull off this time of year. And you can use my printables. Click here to download them.
Also — don’t forget to participate in my first giveaway! One lucky reader will win a $15 gift card to Whole Foods. Contest ends soon, so get your entries in asap. Check out the details here.
October 27, 2011 § Leave a Comment
On April 27, 2011, I woke up after getting only a few hours of sleep. I couldn’t sleep the night before.
I blindly threw clothes on, probably didn’t shower, and planned on grabbing coffee at work. I started my morning commute on Highway 280 only to be stuck in a traffic standstill. I had heard there was a storm last night on the radio. So traffic lights must be out, I thought.
Not only were traffic lights out, but trees that rivaled the height of the skyscrapers downtown had fallen flat and completely blocked the highway. I tried taking different routes to work, only to find myself in neighborhoods with roofs torn off, trees fallen down, windows blown out. Then I heard there was no power at our work building, so I turned around and went home.
I couldn’t fall back asleep, so I went on a walk. Then I went to Saw’s for lunch as a treat to myself during my off day. An encore to the early morning storm was coming through, so I shut myself in for the afternoon and started cleaning my room. I had received Tweets on my phone all afternoon about possible tornado warnings here and there. But that was just normal for this time of year.
Then I got the Tweet from the Tuscaloosa News: TORNADO EMERGENCY IN TUSCALOOSA.
I don’t think I had even heard the expression “Tornado Emergency.” It had always been “Warning” or “Watch.”
I ran to the TV, turned it on, and I saw it: the most massive thing I have seen in my life. I couldn’t get over it. What the hell was that? How dangerous was that? And where was my sister right now? And my boyfriend? First, I called Brynn. She was hiding out on the first floor of her dorm with all her friends. Then I called James; he didn’t answer.
Then I called my mom. “Now…. don’t panic,” I said in a borderline smartass tone as I anticipated her possibly freaking out, which goes to show that I truly didn’t understand the magnitude of what I was seeing on TV. “But there’s a tornado in Tuscaloosa. Brynn is fine. She’s in her dorm. Don’t worry—I’m just informing you.”
I called James again. Still no answer. I texted his brother, who was safe in his dorm. He said James was at his house in Northport about 10 miles away. I was relieved.
The tornado was approaching Downtown Tuscaloosa, heading toward campus, they said. I was holding my breath just thinking about my sister. I thought to myself, “Man, there are going to be a lot of blown out windows and fallen trees after this. It’ll look just like what I saw this morning.”
Never, ever did I realize what would result.
I prayed and I prayed, and I watched it sidestep campus and head out of town.
I started getting more Tweets from the Tuscaloosa News. Descriptions I received were, “It smells like natural gas,” or “It looks like a bomb just went off.” Al.com wrote a story with an image and Tweets from one of my friends who had rushed to 15th Street and McFarland. Full Moon Barbecue was gone. Milo’s was gone. Chevron was gone. All had been reduced to piles of rubble.
Videos were being posted online. In one that I watched, the videographer was standing in front of McDonalds on 15th, and from where he was standing, I could see Home Depot. Before that wasn’t possible—there were too many buildings and trees blocking it. But I could see it plainly. Then I started to really get it.
Dozens of people lost their lives. And when I think about that, it’s hard to write much more.
I volunteered. I helped clean up. I helped organize warehouses of donations. I saw the devastation, and I couldn’t believe the Lord had chosen to spare my loved ones. I couldn’t believe I still had a place to sleep, clothes to wear, I still had power in my apartment, while other people had so very little. They had lost everything. They had lost their people.
To be honest, I try to avoid that intersection. Sometimes I do go by it, and, even six months later, it shocks me. I drive by and everything is just so open and desolate. Trees are gone, buildings are gone. And it pains me to think about people who were in this intersection. How many lives were lost right here? What was going through their minds? And this isn’t even the worst of the damage. Some neighborhoods in the twister’s path had been completely leveled.
I am grateful to be alive. I am grateful my sister made it and all my friends made it. I remember thinking during those first few days that followed April 27, “I just want these days to fast forward. I just want to get to a point of acceptance rather than continue to ask myself these questions over and over: ‘How can this be real? How can this have happened to this little city that I love so much?’”
The Lord does bring all things together for good, and that is what I must remember. I am grateful for his mercy. And I am grateful we are able to rebuild.
Here is what ran in today’s Tuscaloosa News: Six months later, residents try to put the pieces back together; Your stories from the April 27 tornado
October 26, 2011 § Leave a Comment
What’s your favorite kind of clam chowder?
Are you a fan of the rich, creamy New England variety? Or do you think the spicy tomato broth of its Manhattan relative is one of the most heartwarming soups you’ve ever tasted?
I really, really love Manhattan clam chowder. Whenever I eat it, I am reminded of my Grandma Arguijo. I was thinking about her while I made this, and it dawned on me that I wasn’t sure why. But I knew it had something to do with Tabasco, as strange as that may sound. So I asked my mom that evening. She jogged my memory:
The first time I tried Manhattan clam chowder was with my Grandma at the Shrimp Boat, a restaurant in Rosemead, California that I don’t think is still around. Grandma taught me a trick—add a few dashes of Tabasco to the soup for some spice. I was hooked. Soon I was adding a few dashes to anything that I felt needed a pick-me-up: eggs, burritos, tomato soup. My little 5- or 6-year-old palate was pretty hard core, if you ask me.
To this day, I still automatically think Tabasco when I think of Manhattan clam chowder. But when I made this batch, I didn’t have any Tabasco in the cupboard, so Louisiana Hot Sauce had to stand in as a substitute. It was good, but lacked that extra zap of spice you find in Tabasco. But this recipe calls for 1/4 teaspoon of chili powder, which delivers plenty of heat. So if you don’t want to push it past that, don’t feel too pressured.
Try this recipe on Sunday afternoon and let it simmer for about an hour, or you can put everything in a Crock-Pot and keep it set on low all day long. But whatever you do, make sure it gets to simmer and really absorb the flavor. Then you get that deep, zesty, comforting warmth that brings me back to spending time with my beautiful Grandma.
Serve this with a crusty French bread.
4 slices bacon, chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/2 large yellow onion, diced
3 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
1 dried bay leaf
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3 (6.5-ounce) cans minced clams
3 to 4 Russet potatoes, rinsed, dried, and chopped
1 (28-ounce) can whole tomatoes
Salt and pepper
Cook bacon in Dutch oven over low heat until fat starts to render. Increase heat to medium and cook until crispy, stirring frequently. Remove bacon from Dutch oven and remove all but 1 tablespoon of fat.
Add olive oil to Dutch oven. Add garlic and cook over medium heat until very fragrant, about 30 seconds. Then add onion, carrots, bay leaf, oregano, and cayenne pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, for about 10 minutes or until vegetables are soft. Add potatoes.
Drain clams and reserve liquid in measuring cup. Add water to clam liquid to make 2 cups clam stock. Pour stock over vegetable mixture. Add enough additional water to cover potatoes (about 1/2 cup). Partially cover Dutch oven and let simmer for about 10 minutes, until potatoes are soft.
Drain liquid from can of tomatoes into soup. Chop tomatoes and put into soup (include any liquid released from tomatoes while chopping). Add clams, salt, and pepper, stirring to combine. Simmer over medium-low heat for 30 to 35 minutes or up to an hour.
Garnish with chopped bacon and serve, discarding bay leaf.
Related: what I ordered: La Galleria 33
October 23, 2011 § 1 Comment
So let’s see: January, February, March, April, September, October, November, December. That may just be hearsay, but the thought behind this rule of thumb is that with colder waters, there’s less chance for harmful bacteria to be present in raw oysters. Summer months mean that Red Tide is present, which brings a bad algae that can be harmful when consumed. Take a look at this article for some more insight on the topic.
James and I went to Tin Top in Tuscaloosa Friday night with oysters on our mind. With a glass of wine and lovely conversation, this was a great way to end the work week.
There are three things I love about oysters.
1. The thrill of eating them raw.
I abandon the practice of being ladylike for this. I squeeze lemon, dash some hot sauce, and plop a mini-dollop of horseradish onto the little guy. I bring to my lips the gnarled mud-colored shell (with a simultaneous pearly glow on top). Then I tilt my head back as I slurp. The fresh seawater taste combined with lemon and zest rushes over my tongue and slides down my throat. Ahh… Again!
2. Our most memorable dates have involved oysters.
Oh yikes—that probably made your thoughts go straight to the folklore that comes with this particular shellfish. No, no. That’s not where I’m going with this at all. Perhaps it goes back to number 1—the thrill of sharing this experience with someone you love—combined with football season, chilly nights, warm coats, and the joy of being together at the end of a work week spent 60 miles apart—me in Birmingham, him in Tuscaloosa.
James wrote about this restaurant when it first opened for Tuscaloosa Magazine, so perhaps that is why Tin Top has become a special place for us.
3. The shells.
Can I keep them? I confess I almost took a few. I think they are beautiful. Perhaps my time at Coastal Living instilled that sentiment in me. I believe oysters make fabulous decor. I’ll share more about that later this week. Now there is something to look forward to, eh?
October 23, 2011 § Leave a Comment
But they’re too heavy, too bread-y. Part of this is the recipe and technique I used. The other part is my inability to read directions. Also I added too much flour when trying to get the dough just right. To quote one of my friends (who said this yesterday): “Common sense goes out the window when you’re reading a recipe.” Oh how true that can be at times.
Who knew doughnut holes could prove to be so challenging? But I’ve done some reading up, and my second attempt will commence shortly. Hope to have happier results to share!
October 22, 2011 § Leave a Comment
I’ve been deliberating about what would be a good cocktail for my tailgating series.
It came to me the other day. A wonderful way to represent Alabama would be, of course, a sweet tea vodka cocktail.
I thought about what else would be a great addition to that. Then it came to me—mint! I thought about the fantastic mint sweet tea that I order at Hooligans in Tuscaloosa, and it only seemed appropriate. And somehow honey sounded like the perfect way to tie both flavors together.
So I took some mint, placed in a glass with a healthy pinch or two of sugar, and muddled it.
Now, if you don’t have a muddler (I don’t), just find a rounded surface to gently crush the mint leaves. I used the end of a wooden spoon. Be careful not to shred the leaves or overly crush them. If you do, you may release the chloroform in the veins of the leaves, which creates a bitter flavor. Just gently press on the leaves until you start to smell a more minty smell than you were smelling before. Then you know you’ve successfully muddled.
Then add some honey. I added a teaspoon.
Then place some ice in the glass, and here comes the part that really depends on your taste. I added one and a half shots of sweet tea vodka (I used Firefly), and then filled the rest of the glass with water. But if you aren’t crazy about tasting the flavor of the vodka (or there’s no way you’d need that much vodka in your cocktail), go ahead and start with one shot, then add water, and see how you like the taste.
Deliberate the taste while you go visit a certain someone who is just really perplexed by your camera. Then say hi to his little friends who live next door.
Return to your cocktail, stir well, and place a straw in the glass. Garnish with a sprig of mint.
Enjoy the fresh mint flavor that highlights the comforting taste of the sweet tea. The Alabama honey brings it all together for a true Southern cocktail that’s great for your tailgate. Serve drinks individually in mason jars or create a big batch in a pitcher or beverage dispenser. Roll Tide!
Honey-Mint Sweet Tea Cocktail
Makes 1 drink
4 to 6 leaves fresh mint
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon honey
2 to 3 ice cubes
1 shot sweet tea vodka (I used Firefly)
Water to taste
Garnish: sprig fresh mint
Gently wash mint and pat dry with a paper towel. Place mint in desired serving glass. Pour sugar over mint.
With a muddler, or a rounded wooden or metal surface, gently muddle mint leaves.
Add honey, ice, and vodka. Add water to taste. Stir drink together. Garnish with a sprig of mint.