Sunday, July 31, 2011

Stay Tuned

Eggy Central experienced some technical difficulties today. But I hope to have Team Eggplant's Smackdown entry recreated (argghhh) and posted tomorrow night. Thanks to all for playing!

Friday, July 29, 2011

Welcome to This Weekend's Culinary Smackdown!

As we revive the “original” Culinary Smackdown, there is plenty of room for all to join in the festivities. I’m looking forward to some great dishes featuring eggplant (this month's theme ingredient) from the cooking competitors. But as you can see, our virtual table could also use a bit of color and d├ęcor. Perhaps some entertainment? Side dishes, cold beverages, and flights of fancy are most welcome. And don’t forget that any good dinner par-tay thrives on a great mix of guests and lively conversation!

Here’s how it works: Post your contribution – culinary or otherwise – on your own blog, then come back here and add a comment letting everyone know you’re “up” and where to find you. Deadline is Sunday, July 31. As this month’s host/judge, I’ll check out all the entries, then post a recap next week announcing the winner, who will become the host, judge, and “theme picker” for the August Culinary Challenge. The “prize” is bragging rights - and the opportunity to claim the Smackdown badge, which I’m hoping one of my “fairy blog mothers” will update for 2011 :)

I’m looking forward to lots of inspiration from my bloggy friends, even though my own food prep plans have gone awry at several junctures. First I got confused about what weekend it was. Then Cindie had to cancel our cooking plans last weekend, leaving me with 2½ pounds of shrimp I’d planned to use to round out our dinner. She informed me the eggplant pickles we started the previous weekend are an epic fail, then sent an email with this daunting subject line: “You’re going to kill me.” I won’t, of course, but am sorry she forgot about the sausages and tasso she was thawing for me until they were downright rotten.

Trying to make the best of a disappointing situation, I found an intriguing assortment of eggplants at Hyde Park Farmers Market last weekend. So far I've got photos to show for my efforts, and time will tell how well the produce holds up until it finally gets cooked.

We already have some fine entries! Grumpy Granny, who encouraged me to revive the Smackdown, has two, here and here.

My blogger friend Alessandra from New Zealand was kind enough to post this dish before she went on holiday. (For some truly spectacular arm-chair traveling, check out her amazing vacation photos from the isle of Niue here and here.) Another Aucklander, Sue from Couscous and Consciousness, offers up this dish.

I'm also "tickled purple" that at least two bloggers from my city are joining in! Stephie from Small Girl Adventures took time out from her busy schedule (and the monumental task of preparing his sister's wedding cake) to contribute this entry. And determined cook/gardener Jen from Our Good Food Life has her dish and photos ready to roll this weekend.

As I sign off tonight, I see that Aunty Belle has posted recipes for moussaka and mint vinaigrette here as she darts off the Front Porch unexpectedly to visit cajun cousins. Too bad she didn't have a chance to cook, but, as always, she has a mighty fine tale to tell.

Fingers crossed, I’ll be off to the river to cook this weekend with Cindie and her husband Odie and back Sunday night to post what Team Eggplant came up with (we are contributing, but not competing, this month). Odie is such a good sport when Cindie and I mess around in the kitchen for things like this. He donned my lobster apron last year for Battle Lobsta.
For this one, he offered to dress up as an eggplant. Too bad I didn’t find this costume until it was too late to order.

What-evs, this is a come-as-you-are – or come-as-you-wish-you-were event :) Have fun, check out everyone’s contributions, and thanks for joining in!

xoxo, eggy

Monday, July 25, 2011

Haiku Monday

Sunday Morning Farmers Market

Daunted, drenched by nine.
Then rare orange veg espied.
Others' sweat, I'll prize.

As last week's winner, blogger friend Buzz is hosting this week's haiku meme, and the theme he chose is "sweat." I am so not a short-form writer that I rarely try my hand at these things. But sweat 'round these parts has become so unavoidable that I came up with this little 5-7-5. Check out the other entries at Buzzy's place. And stay cool, all.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

D’oh – Culinary Smackdown Deadline Update

I must have lost my mind, or my calendar, or become confuzzled by this July having 5, count ‘em, 5 full weekends. The deadline for Smackdown entries remains Sunday 31, as I originally posted. It is NOT this Sunday, which is actually July 24th.

Good news: I feel like I just gained a whole ‘nother week of summer! Bad news: I feel like the Idiotic Eggplant.

Here’s hoping Buzz’s lone eggplant on the farm is ready by then. And one of my busy fairy blog mothers has an extra week to update our Smackdown badge. Cindie and I will still be cooking up our contributions this weekend as planned.

Stay cool and get creative, all. Because if the weather in your part of the world is anything like what it’s been here, you just might wish this July were shorter.

xoxo, eggy

Monday, July 18, 2011

Let the Smackdown Preparations Begin!

I don’t think I’ve ever written about how I adopted my online name. It hearkens back to making eggplant parmesan for friends one Sunday night in college. It’s a dish I learned to make in Colorado at the elbow of my buddy Derf, who had learned it at the elbows of Italian grandmas in his native Bronx, although he was Jewish.

My college friends were curious as I set about prep for our feast. I explained there was no set recipe, that I had picked up Derf’s techniques and preferred ingredients for making Italian red sauce by watching him make lasagna, eggplant parm, and other variations on the theme many times.

So you’re making “intuitive eggplant,” observed Laura, one of the friends I’d invited that evening.

Making sauce the way Derf taught me takes a good while, and Laura had to leave to host her show on our low-powered college radio station before dinner was ready to eat. As the rest of us finally sat down to the table, listening to her show, this Michael Franks song came across the airwaves. That evening remains a fond memory. And the song describes how I cook now even more than it did then.

When I settled on eggplant as the theme for this month’s revival of the Culinary Smackdown, it was intended partly tongue-in-cheek, but also invoked for me the idea of welcoming you to a contest that would be a something of a virtual dinner party. To those of you who are allergic to aubergine, or just plain don’t like it, I apologize. But you are welcome to participate in any way you choose, and I know there is plenty of creativity in this crowd.

After a rainy spring that has slowed the local growing season, I’ve had second thoughts about this ingredient too. Cindie and I went to three farmers markets Saturday. While the first (Lunken) actually had local corn (and a line for it - at $6/dozen!), I managed to find only these two small eggplants.

At our second stop (the Bellevue farmers market in the Party Source parking lot), I found only one.
Fortunately, I was able to pick up six from a local grower at Findlay Market. Squash were much more in abundance.
Which was just fine with Cindie, who wanted to make her squash casserole. And a satisfying dish it was!

Our plans are in place and I'll be back next weekend with Team Eggplant's entries. Meanwhile, Grumpy Granny - who helped kick-start this revival of the Culinary Smackdown - already has her first entry up, and she is sounding ready to throw down!

xoxo, eggy - and thanks to all of you who have given me this second nickname (because "Intuitive Eggplant" sounds a might pretentious, don't it?)

Sunday, July 10, 2011

4th of July Recap and the Culinary Smackdown Is Back!

Fourth of July weekend at the river was a mellow time, in part because it was just too hot and humid out to do much.
Cindie’s menu planning also wisely stuck to the KISS (keep it simple, stupid) philosophy, with dishes like the fruit salad of watermelon, blueberries, peaches, and strawberries at the top of this post. Between the two of us, we also put together grilled sausages and green beans with blue cheese and bacon Saturday night, ribs, mac and cheese, and cole slaw Sunday night, and cottage ham, green beans, and potatoes for Sunday night, all of which went unphotographed. Per the usual request of Cindie’s husband, I made breakfast burritos Sunday morning.
Cindie pronounced these in the top 10 of the breakfast burritos I’ve made at her house (yes, I’ve made a lot of them). But one of the highlights for me was Cindie’s peach and blueberry pie with streusel topping, even if her new stove proved a bit tricky in the baking arena (she’s exchanging it for an upgraded model).
Another highlight of the weekend for me was seeing the Moscow, Ohio fireworks, which, surprisingly, I’d never seen in the 20+ years Cindie has lived there. Quite impressive for such a small town, and they drew so many spectators from the surrounding area, we were happy that rather than fighting the car traffic, we could toddle over to an excellent viewing spot in the golf cart Cindie usually uses to take Oscar to the park or for a swim in the river.
Monday afternoon’s weather was actually pleasant enough we could enjoy some time on the deck overlooking the river, although we did most of our hanging out indoors in the air-conditioning.
And fine hanging out time it was. For a while, we played on the computer exploring the possibility of going to South Dakota together this September (alas, that’s not going to happen). And of course we talked about food, and dishes we’d like to make this summer. We had such a rainy spring that crops are way behind – not much local corn or tomatoes available, as would normally be the case by the 4th of July. We also talked about how much fun we had last year cooking together for the Culinary Smackdowns. As luck would have it, I got a message from Grumpy Granny this week also asking about them. So on the theory that three is a trend, let’s revive the “original” Culinary Smackdown!
Despite the fierceness of the CS badge, this is actually a friendly (ahem) online cooking competition with a different theme each month. I’ve always thought of it as a good kick in the pants to research new recipes, get creative with old favorites, and gain culinary inspiration from others. As La Diva would say, this is a great opportunity to stretch yourself.

The Culinary Smackdown is a round-robin affair, where each month’s winner becomes the following month’s host, judge, and “theme picker.” I actually won in June 2010, with able assistance from Cindie. (If you click through the Smackdown badge on my sidebar and the photos beneath, you’ll find my entries from last year.) A few months later the Smackdown passed into the hands of bloggers I didn’t know, and our day jobs and other pressing realities caused Cindie and me to plum lose track of it.

Thankfully, some of those ding-dang realities have calmed down. So I’m hosting a July 2011 Culinary Smackdown and donating my blog namesake as the theme ingredient:)
Battle Eggplant!

Here’s how it works:

1. Prepare a dish that includes eggplant and as many other ingredients and fresh veggies as you choose. If you’re inspired to make more than three dishes, please self-select which you wish to enter.

2. Post at least one photo and as much description as care to on your blog, then come back and leave a comment here letting everyone know you’re “up.” If you don’t have a blog, email me, post on facebook, or something – I’ll do my best to include you.

3. Recipes are helpful but not required. If you base your dish on a recipe you found elsewhere, please do the right thing and credit/link to the source. If you wing it (as the “Intuitive Eggplant” often does), that’s fine too. But it would be swell if you gave us a clue as to your ingredients/methods even without measurements.

4. Deadline is July 31. Cindie and I will concoct our own dish(es), but will not be contenders. She and I will no doubt consult, but I will have the final say as to the winner to whom the Culinary Smackdown torch will be passed, and I will post the results the following week.

Also, please let me know if anyone is game to create a new Culinary Smackdown badge for 2011.

And if you’re not inclined to cook but would like to participate in some other way, let your creativity run wild. Garlands, a vodka fountain, and anything else you wish to contribute to the mix are welcome.

Let the games – and par-tay planning – begin!

P.S. After an oops yesterday, more photos from the Badlands and Devil's Tower are actually up now on my eggy facebook page to accompany my last post. They should be viewable via that link even if you don't do facebook.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Blue Skies and Red Rock: South Dakota Trip, Part 4

I’ll get to some red meat from an old-school steakhouse at the end of this, my final South Dakota vacation post. Meanwhile, this post is dedicated to "Moi and the Blogettes," who I hope are enjoying a fine blog summit in magnificent red rock country farther south than where I vacationed last month.
This was my day to explore the northern part of the Black Hills, and after studying my maps, I felt a strong tug to head across the border into Wyoming. From my Rapid City motel, I took Hwy. 44, then 385 toward the Deadwood and Lead, then followed 14A up Spearfish Canyon. There’s a series of falls along 14A (also known as Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway). Saw two of the falls, and somehow missed two. Oh, well, that’s what happens when you don’t plan your trip to a T, just follow the road and look for signs.
Near Savoy, a short dirt road and an easy walk take you to Roughlock falls.

A little farther north I pulled off to snap a photo of Bridal Veil Falls, no easy feat without a tripod, given the crazy wind that morning that had the aspen blowing sideways, not to mention dirt roads whipping up a frenzy of dust.

I arrived in the town of Spearfish before noon, and by that time I was a woman on a mission. I wanted to see Devil’s Tower, in eastern Wyoming, up close and personal. During my family’s cross-country trip in 1970 along this route, we stopped there early one morning. We could see this natural wonder jutting up into clear blue sky from miles away, and the surrounding red rock gleamed in the morning light. Having gotten my first taste of red rock in the Badlands just a day or two before, I was a sulky 13-year-old when Dad said we didn’t have time to hike around the base of Devil’s Tower – also known as Bear Lodge. We had a long travel day ahead of us in 1970 that would take us across the entire state of Wyoming to Yellowstone, which would reveal yet more wonders to my young eyes. This time, however, I was in charge of my own itinerary, and I had until nightfall to get back to my cabin near the Badlands. I was going to take that hike around Devil’s Tower!

When I talked to my dad after this trip, he asked how long the trail around the Devil’s Tower took me. About an hour – just as he had estimated. We didn’t have that extra hour to spare on our family trip, but it was a memorable hour I’m glad I got back 41 years later.

“Big Wyoming” is very big indeed, and I was reminded of the state’s motto as I wound my way back to I-90, detouring west to avoid a road closure, on sparsely traveled roads across the prairie. Some 100 miles east, I returned to a comfy cabin in Wall, and watched a big South Dakota sky as the sun set and a thunderstorm rolled across the prairie.
The following day was my chance to see the Badlands in sunshine. This time I did manage to spot a back road recommended on Tripadvisor, Sage Creek Road (between Frontier Cabins and the “official” entrance to Badlands National Park). At first it looked like just a paved rural road. Then a sign suggested I should follow it left, where it eventually led me to this dirt road.

More prairie, with glimpses of both free-ranging buffalo and the Badlands in the distance.

I reached the western edge of the park on that road, then doubled back east toward the more traveled, and paved, parts of the Badlands. I had dutifully paid for my 7-day pass the Monday before, and had it at the ready, expecting to go through an “official” entrance for the Badlands. But somehow I did not encounter one on my route. I did, however, encounter sights like these, which still leave me awestruck, even if my mid-day photos don’t do justice to the light, the rock, the magnificence of this place.
The Badlands remind me of the Grand Canyon not only for the geological formations but also because photographs simply cannot capture this place. My limited photog skills notwithstanding, if you don’t see this place with your own eyes, it’s hard to understand the power and beauty of this place. But that didn't stop me from taking more photos, which you can find on my facebook page.

Near the Ben Reifel Visitor Center, I attempted a bit of hiking, on the Notch, Window, and Door Trails. I'm guessing this is explains how Notch Trail got its name.

Despite this sign near the trail entrance, fortunately the only rattlesnake I encountered in the Badlands was this dead one on Sage Creek Road.
Snakes didn't deter me, but when I came upon this steep set of stairs, I decided to turn back. If there'd been a handrail, I might have persevered to see the views from above. But without something to hold on to, I could easily imagine my klutzy self losing my balance, landing in a pile of hurt, and proving true my friend Cindie's worries about me taking this trip alone.

Alas, I was near the end of the Badlands loop road, and it was time to get back on I-90 and begin my trip home. Fortunately, I eased into my return trip with a stop in Mitchell, SD (home to the Corn Palace) and a fine dinner at Chef Louie's.
Chef Louie's Steak House is so old school it doesn't have a website. I wouldn't have known about it if my sister hadn't recommended it as having the best steak she ever ate after her trip to South Dakota last summer. That's high praise when you come from Nebraska and Iowa! It's less than a mile from I-90, and that "Welcome as Your Are" part of their vintage neon sign is no lie.

I brought my appetite with me that night, and was glad I did. First up, great bread and butter.
Next, from the appetizer page of the menu, I couldn't help myself and chose escargot with melted gouda and some fine crispy bread.

Entrees come with soup or salad and a side, so I settled in for the house salad with blue cheese.

And because I'm always a sucker for Bearnaise and asparagus, I opted for the Filet Oscar.

Chef Louie's is actually a very unpretentious place, and in addition to having a delicious meal after a long day, one of the things I most appreciated was the service, which was both welcoming and efficient. I chatted with the manager, who was kind enough to give me a copy of the menu to pass along to a co-worker who is organizing a trip to South Dakota in September. One of the things he said to me was: "We just try to offer good old Midwestern hospitality." When I told him I was born in Nebraska, he nodded and said, "OK, then you get it."

Because one can never get too much of a good thing, I of course had to indulge in dessert, this lovely creme brulee.

Hope you're enjoying your summer, wherever you are! And please stop back for an announcement in the next few days . . .