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Sunday, March 30, 2014

Read This Book

It's not a newly released book. It was published in 2009. I've been anxiously awaiting the sequel ever since.

I keep a running list of my top five favorite books in my head at all times. You know, just in case I randomly get invited to the White House and need to make interesting dinner conversation.

  1. To Kill a Mockingbird-Harper Lee
  2. Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy-Douglas Adams
  3. Shades of Grey-Jasper Fforde
  4. Catch 22-Joseph Heller
  5. Special Topics in Calamity Physics-Marisha Pessl
Jasper Fforde is probably best known for writing about the adventures of his book detective creation, Thursday Next. Which started off as a pretty fair series of books in their own right, but has faltered since the first three books.

Fforde is British with that wonderful Brit sense of humor that can make a good book a great book. He deserves far more attention for his canon of work than he receives. 

A brief synopsis of the book: In a dystopian future (just stay with me) "something happened" and generations are born color blind. Everyone's place in society is dictated by the amount of any given color they can see. 

That's it, that's all I'm willing to tell you. If it sounds boring, I assure you that you're mistaken.

Misery loves company. If I have to suffer through the wait of the sequel, then I need someone to do it with. Read this book, tell me what you think about it. Even if you end up hating it, I want to talk to you about it. Just read it.

Slow Cooker Apple Butter

There's a sense of self-satisfaction to making things yourself. Knowing that you accomplished something on your own is a real confidence builder and we could all use more of that.

When I had my first apartment I ran my own phone line into a room that was lacking one. I was so proud of what I'd done I called everyone I knew to squawk about my feat. You'd have thought I had found the Titanic, and raised it from the ocean floor using only my bare hands and a snorkel.

Making food from scratch that most people buy at the mega-mart has that same sense of ego enhancement. Around our house we make our own sauces: pasta, hot dog and stir fry. I have a friend who teases me about this practice, asking  if I'm considering the move to an Amish lifestyle, and how often my butter churn is dragged out from the barn to be used. For the record, I have made my own butter (there was no churn in site unless you count my KitchenAid stand mixer) and it was nothing special. Tastes just like the supermarket stuff.

We occasionally make our own sandwich bread and bagels. And just as the homemade butter is nothing special, the bread is so perfect that it will make your heart soar. One of the great toppers for a large slice of that bread or one of the chewy bagels (my personal preference) is our own apple butter.

If you're wondering why you should make your own when buying it is so convenient, I have, in a surprise to no one who knows me, prepared a list.

  • Preparing it in a slow cooker is almost as easy as pulling a jar of pre-made off of the supermarket shelf. Hell, you don't even have to peel the apples. Throw in the ingredients and walk away for a few hours.
  • You control the flavor. The amount of spices and sugar is all up to you. All to be customized to your palate. I don't know about you, but I'm all about anything that is tailor-made for moi.
  • I won't lie to you and tell you it's cheaper than buying it pre-made, but per ounce it's still pretty inexpensive. 
  • No artificial ingredients. Unless that's the kind of thing you enjoy.
  •  You're painfully lonely and can't eat an entire jar of apple butter before it spoils? It's freezable.
  • You know exactly what's in the jar. Even if a hair ends up in the there, at least you know its YOUR hair.



Core and chop apples (peel removal is optional). Add apples and all other ingredients to slow cooker. Cook on low setting for 6 hours. Use immersion blender to puree the cooked mixture and smooth. Jar and refrigerate for up to 30 days. Makes approximately four cups of butter.

It's worth making just so you can text all your friends and brag about how great you are. 

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

A Tale of Two Burrito Boutiques

Winter can be enjoyable, but even I have my limits. Luckily, there are plenty of burritos to keep me warm.

Getting the chance to cook a meal is something I thoroughly enjoy. The creativity, the stress relief, to say nothing of the eating, all speaks to my soul. But like most people of our generation, my love and I, also jump at the chance to hand the wooden spoons over to professionals who wish to feed us in exchange for money. We are adventurous eaters and our rotation of old and new restaurants is an eclectic one, except when it comes to Mexican eateries.

I'm going to say what so many of you have been thinking all along, but refuse to say aloud....all local Mexican restaurants taste exactly the same!! There is nothing that sets one apart from another. It's the same entrees of tacos and burritos with the same beans, lettuce and sour cream on the side. Oh sure, sometimes the whole eatery will get a little excited when someone dares to order that sizzling, smoking platter of fajitas. Oooohing and aaaahing as they're brought out to the table, but that's where the thrill ends. From the chips and salsa to the fried ice cream it's a big snore.

I usually avoid Mexican restaurants because life is too short to bore my taste buds to death. I prefer the taco salads, tacos and burritos that we make at home.

If you're thinking to yourself "It's easy for you to feel that way, but I don't cook. And my only other choice for Mexican is Taco Bell". Fear not, I have found an alternative that doesn't suck.

I give you Black Sheep Brews and Burritos. My second favorite restaurant (since they do not serve "The Cake" they will never take the top spot in stomach). This hipster, boutique burrito joint will wake up your taste receptors that were formerly addled by tasteless taquitos (try saying that three times quickly).

I've visited both locations in Charleston and Huntington. The space and decor for each is very different. Huntington's spot is cozy and intimate. Housed in the location of the former Calamity Cafe, the large bar is still the eye-grabber in the room. The space gives a hanging-out-waiting-for-the-party-to-start vibe.

The Charleston location stands at 702 Quarrier St. in the former Capitol Roasters building. The Charleston spot is much bigger allowing more seating (there's always a line to be seated), and has a warehouse/steakhouse feel to it with aluminum siding on the walls and exposed rafters. The downside to the larger space seems to be lack of sound absorption. Frankly, the hubs and I couldn't even hold a conversation over the roar of a family-filled Saturday night crowd. Yep, it made me feel old (LOWER YOUR VOICES YOU WHIPPERSNAPPERS....AND GET OFF OF MY LAWN WHILE YOU'RE AT IT!) This location also houses a microbrewery, adding to it's charm.

There are some things that can be counted on at both locations. Both seem to be a hit with small children. The menu is consistent at both (more on that in a minute). And one thing that you can be sure of, no matter which one spot you visit, you will be served by a dyed-in-the-wool hipster. Your waiter will have a full-on Grizzly Adams beard and will be wearing a toboggan while indoors, and because it is the law, your waitress will have the standard-issue nerd glasses (non-prescription), of course and she will be wearing skinny jeans with ballet slippers even though it -15 outside, (pink hair and indoor scarf optional). I'm not downing the hipsters, I'm just saying that they try so hard to be edgy and they end up looking like cookie-cutter conformists of themselves. *whispering* Maybe I am downing them just a wee bit.

But the burritos, OH THE BURRITOS YOU'LL EAT! That is why I came here is to tell you about the burritos, remember? Pictured above is the brisket burrito. I will not go into minute details on the ingredients, that's what the menu link is for at the end of the post. I will tell you that it is quite huge and ridiculously good. Wrapped in a large flour tortilla, covered with coleslaw, this Dijon glazed, burrito screams with mammoth tastiness. If you only eat one brisket burrito this year, make it a Black Sheep burrito, boys and girls.

If you don't like burritos then you should still visit Black Sheep for their large array of sandwiches, and side dishes. Most importantly the Chipotle Sweet Potato Salad. In this salad I may have found the perfect side dish. The complexity of its flavors set it apart from run-of-the-mill potato salad. In taking a bite, you are first hit with the sweetness of the potato. Then the smokiness of the chipotle comes roaring past. And last, but still important, you get just a touch of heat from the red pepper on the back end. I could take a bath in this stuff and never get sick of it.

So, you heard it here. Check this place out (the Huntington location, if you can), you won't be sorry.