Thursday, January 31, 2013

This Month's Gorilla: Divine Dining

I've mentioned before that I write for The Gorilla. It's a fun writing gig and I get to seek out cool and unusual people and food-tastic events here in Frederick County.

It's more than just finding someone who bakes great cookies or makes a mean milkshake (though if you know someone who can whip up the perfect coffee shake, please let me know asap--Frederick seems to have a serious lack of ice cream right now and I am just about freaking out). I get to find the cool and the fun, and this month's Epicuriosity column is all about that.

My buddy Josh clued me in on monthly gourmet dinners being held at All Saint's Episcopal Church on Church St., right across from city hall. The talented leader of the group, the charming and jovial Harry Lawrence and his sweet sweet sweetie of a wife Jeanne work with a dedicated and hard-working crew to pull off fancy-pants church dinners, minus the mac and cheese..

I'm certain that in another life, Harry would certainly be running his own four-star fine dining joint, sous-viding his way to culinary super-stardom with his sturdy and faithful crew by his side. But in this life, Harry works his day job and once a month tangoes his way through the kitchen fantastic to pull off dinners like absolutely perfectly-cooked red snapper with key lime sauce or lamb tagine with Israeli couscous, a far cry from the fried chicken & ham loaf dinners I've attended.

The dinners are held on the second Wednesday of each month in the church's fellowship hall. It's not a super religious gathering, but more an evening of camaraderie and fun, with a great dinner, all for just $15. Can you imagine?

Take a look at the full article HERE and you can find a few pics of Harry & Co. Here's one I totally lifted from the Gorilla site that the talented Casey Martin took at the December dinner:

Aren't they cutie-patooties? And talented too!

Check out the dinners and be sure to put one on your schedule. A word of warning though. February's dinner falls on the first day of Lent, so don't expect the usual fanfare and gourmet delights that are typically dished out. This will more be a recognition of the season and a relaxed soup affair, though I'm certain they'll be delightful, and hey--this one is just 10 bucks! Not your cup of tea? No worries. Join me in March and we'll have a heckuva good time. Register right here.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

I'm going to ITALY!!!

I know...right? 48 hours ago, a trip to Italy wasn't even on my radar, and now...BOOM! I'm headed to Italy in April for a culinary extravaganza in the Abruzzo region. Thanks to the good folks at Epitourean and the even discountier folks at Groupon, I'll be drinking wine, making pasta, truffle hunting, and drinking wine (ooops, did I already mention that?) in just a few short months. Guess I better get moving on that passport thing...

Lately, I've been feeling a wee bit stagnant. Work is good, home is good, Munchie the Wonder Puggle is good, but I've felt the need to get my creative juices flowing. And nothing has been cutting the mustard around here.

Lo and behold, this trip falls into my lap (or more so my email) thanks to a most excellent friend, a willing and way more than capable savvy traveler decides to join me and I'm off! A huge thank you to John for not saying "How are you paying for this?" or "Who will take care of the kids?" Nope. He said, "You should totally do this. It's a great idea! Just what you need." Thanks honey. :)

Want a taste of what I'm doing? Check this out:

Cooking classes: During a pasta-making class, you’ll learn to craft your own gnocchi, cavatelli, and chitarra. Later on, the Palazzo's sommelier will conduct a lesson on the art of pairing food and wine. Chefs will also demonstrate preparations for classic Italian sauces, and during a dessert-making class, you’ll enjoy sweet bites alongside regional liquors. Last but not least, you will also make authentic Abruzzo-style pizza and appetizers. In the peasant food and biscotti class students learn old-world recipes. In addition to a vegetarian dish you'll create an almond biscotti. 

Truffle hunting and salami-plant tour: The group will learn how salami is made on a tour of the plant. Truffle-sniffing dogs assist in a morning truffle hunt.

Excursion to Vasto: On a day trip to Vasto, an ancient settlement on the Adriatic coast, the tour swings through the historical center of Vasto, stops at Piazza Rossetti for shopping, visits a unique Trabocco fishing house, and is topped off with a “Taste of the Adriatic” seafood lunch.

Cheese-making tour: During an afternoon excursion to the inland town of Agnone, you’ll observe the artisanal techniques used to make mozzarella, ricotta, and caciocavallo cheeses.

For a novice traveler, this looks to be the perfect way to dip my toe in the water of European travel, and man oh man, I cannot wait! This is not my usual M.O. I'm careful and thoughtful about where I go and what I do, but this, I don't think it's even real yet.

Want me to bring you back a treat?


Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Coconut Cake

When we moved from the Upper West Side of Manhattan to Frederick, I was thrown for a bit of a loop. I adored NYC, but had a middle-management job in one of the un-sexy departments at a mid-size ad agency (drone alert!) and my husband John was a high school teacher in the Bronx, thus, ample funds were not part of our life.

We had a super cute, but small duplex apartment near the Museum of Natural History that became infinitely smaller with the arrival of our son, the worst baby in the history of babies. Months of sleepless nights made me a little wackier than usual and I pleaded, begged even, to get the hell out of New York. I didn't see a future for us in the city, raising a kid (or kids) on our meager budget.

Knowing that our folks were getting older (and me at the ripe old age of 28), we debated where to move, with my thinking leading to midway between the two, putting us somewhere in Jersey or Philly. My brother-in-law Paul lived in Columbia, MD, and gave John an assist getting in touch with the county education departments across the state. Lo and behold, John received a letter from Frederick County Public Schools that seemed like they really liked teachers (though that fact is debatable now). A push for an interview, sitting and looking at so, so many cows, and before we knew it, John had relocated to Frederick and I was packing up the apartment and the baby, on my way to Maryland.

Frederick 16 years ago was very different from Frederick now, and I was bored. We quickly purchased a car, and some mornings, I would drive John to work so that I could have some wheels during the day. Most days though, I just stayed in our apartment, which seemed so very spacious and had a washer and dryer...score! It also had a miserable infant and a new mom struggling with the parameters of motherhood (not a big fan at that point).

Having finished culinary school just a year before our big move, I fell to cooking as stress relief. Cooking whatever we could afford and making much more food than the two of us could ever possibly eat. I shared easily with grateful neighbors and always looked for the approval that yes, I had indeed accomplished something other than keeping the baby alive that day.

One thing I love is coconut cake. I'm not iffy on the matter. I adore coconut in almost every form, from coconut curries to Almond Joys. But on this day of failed motherhood and doubt with the move I had forced, I decided to bake a coconut cake. No ordinary coconut cake, this masterpiece took hours upon hours to create. Six layers of perfect cake, with a tender crumb and a moistness lent to it by just a touch of coconut milk in the batter.  The ethereal frosting was so ample, it took two rounds in the KitchenAid to make it all. Six layers. Three cakes perfectly, methodically sliced in half, then layer upon layer upon layer. The entire cake then coated with perfectly flaky coconut shreds. A true masterpiece. I set it on the counter and waited.

John came home, exhausted from teaching a long day at a middle school as far opposite to where he had been, dreading, I'm sure, the needy wife and the hysterical baby. I waited.

The coat came off, the papers laid down. I'm certain there was no supper -- all my energy had gone into the cake. The cake that represented my skill in the kitchen, my adoration of him, my failure as the mother of an infant, because I'd so much rather bake a cake than care for a screaming baby, sat there, like a beacon, waiting to be recognized, admired. 

"That's a pretty big cake." Why yes. Yes it is. "Would you like a piece?" "What about dinner?" "Oh, let's just have a piece of cake instead." So he did. Because if you know nothing else, know that this man loves me. He forgot about his own struggles with a new school, and new kids, and a move, and an unhappy, bored wife, and a screaming baby (did I mention that he was the worst baby ever? He has since greatly improved).

But that coconut cake was huge. Easily enough to feed 16. So he had a piece, and I had a piece. And that was it. The rest of the cake sat for days until I admitted defeat and tossed it in the trash. I haven't made a coconut cake since. Frederick has changed, and so have I, no longer baking enormous cakes instead of just sitting there, waiting for something to happen.

Maybe it's time to make another. Four layers this time, and less self doubt. Until then, I'll hit up Angel Cakes on Church Street for one of their perfect coconut cupcakes. Because it's less stress and meaning and there, a coconut cake, or cupcake even, is just that.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

It's Been A While this thing on?

I've slacked on the blog, no doubt. But that's because there's so much going on down at The Kitchen Studio...and beyond!

I'm a blogger. Ok, blogger-ish. I write every week for and write a monthly column for their print magazine that's distributed around Annapolis. That's where a bunch of my writing energy has been going. Take a look and check that out when you have a minute if you're dying to see what I'm writing.

I'm also writing for The Gorilla, a funky local magazine here in Fredrock. I've got an article in next month's issue on a really interesting dinner series I found here in town, but with a twist. You'll have to stay tuned for that one, but once it's out, I'll be sure to let you know.

We've also got what seems like a million new classes running at The Kitchen Studio. Last night we had a class that was all about the bacon. So much fun, and instructor Carla Lemons nailed it! Today it's birthday parties and a private Mystery Basket session for a group of 20 coming up from Potomac. It's going to be a crazy night, but we're ready.

We're also launching a brand new health initiative, Hearth to Health with RD Amanda Archibald. The kick-off is this Monday, 1/14, and here's what we're talking about:

Tired of daily sound bytes telling you what to eat? Fed up with one more “superfood” claim, or the daily “top ten” food list? One day something’s good for you and the next day it’s not. Perhaps we should all take some dining cues from our ancestors? Maybe glean a little knowledge from folks who live to be 100 or more?  In this class, we’ll explore which foods, cooking practices and lifestyles are consistent with the living well around the world.  Then we’ll link the underlying science to your health.  1.5 hours

Leave with:
  • 7 strategies for organizing your food lifestyle in easy ways
  • What to put on your plate without reading labels or doing arithmetic
  • High octane strategies for getting the most nourishment per bite
  • A nutrition road-map for the rest of your life
  • Resources for reading and cooking
  • Membership in Private Facebook Group
We even make it a snap to take this class for FREE. Just register for the 4-class series (1/28, 2/4, 2/11, & 2/25) and use the code H2H at checkout to receive your discount. 

You can also join us in class on Monday if you like and register from there if the program feels like the right fit to you. I'm super-excited about changing things up diet-wise so that it doesn't feel like some weird deprivation thing that you go on and off of.

That's the update here, and thanks for sticking around. Happy New Year!