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Almond Grit Cakes with Clementines & Honey

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One of the very best things about the internet is the community. It has it’s ups and downs, definitely, and sometimes having a public blog that is open to criticism leads to reading, well, criticism of my person and my recipes and my life which sucks but the trade off for the positive is huge. I’ve met people and made connections and friendships that I wouldn’t trade for the world. Not to mention of course that this blog and everything that it is and has become wouldn’t be possible without a supportive community. The readers, the commenters, the people who email to tell me that the like/love/adore the blog make it all worth it. So, thanks friends.

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Through some chain of mutual friends (real and internet) I met the lovely Carrie from Plums in the Icebox on twitter. She’s a Baltimore native and we became friends on the internet and in real life.  She’s great- sweet, intelligent, witty, talented, and a Jill of all trades. Professionally she writes for Bliss Tree and recently she reached out to me about contributing to a “Brunch Off” series she has in the works. The concept is simple- two food bloggers create a brunch menu using the same seasonal ingredient and readers vote on which one they prefer. The ingredient was clementines (something I’ve been buying in bulk for a few months) and I love a good challenge, so count me in!

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My goals with this challenge were to create something fun, tasty, and unique to my niche, Southern food. Surprise to no one I chose grits as a foundation ingredients (are you getting sick of grits?). Sweet grits made with cinnamon, ginger, and almond milk formed into cakes and lightly fried. Topped with fresh clementines that had been tossed in local raw honey. Something light, full of flavor, and designed for brunch. That is to say, complimentary to mimosas and bacon.

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Dan and I tried some this morning and I’m happy with how they turned out. The grits were the perfect base- not overwhelmingly sweet with a good crunch thanks to the slivered almonds and a richness thanks to the almond milk. The clementines in honey were so simple and amazingly delicious, the perfect tribute to two of nature’s most wonderful ingredients. I like that it isn’t anything audacious (like fried chicken eggs benedict) or overdone (like french toast), just an unassuming combination of complimentary flavors and textures. Head over to Bliss Tree to see the Brunch Off, make both recipes, and tell me what you think!

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Almond Grits Cakes with Clementines & Honey

Serves 4-6

grits:

2 cups almond milk

1/2 cup stone ground grits

1 tbsp honey

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp powdered ginger

1/2 cup corn flour

1/4 cup slivered almonds

Dash of cinnamon/ginger

topping:

3-4 clementines

2 tbsp honey

Pinch of salt (optional)

The grits cakes need to be formed at least an hour before being fried, though the night before is ideal.

In a medium saucepan combine grits, almond milk, honey, and spices. Cook over medium heat unti the grits are thick but still creamy. Pour into cupcake pans and chill for 1 hour or overnight.

Chop clementines in half or thirds and toss in honey. Let sit.

Combine corn flour, almonds, and spices and heat 1/4″ of oil in a heavy pan. Carefully (I used a fork so my hands didn’t warm the grits) coat the grits cakes in the flour mixture and fry for 2-3 minutes on each side, or until crispy. Top with clementine mixture and a sprinkle of salt.

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Winter Chili

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I’m the first one to admit that over the course of the past year or so I’ve gotten obsessed with running. I really love the act of running (most of the time) but I also have found myself voraciously hungry for running related reading. I’ve subscribed to Runner’s World and Running Times, I’ve read Born to Run twice in recent memory, along with Running on Empty and most recently Scott Jurek’s Eat and Run. This morning I downloaded Ultramarathon Man, which I’m excited to jump into. Something about these books and magazines motivate me and make me more interested in the sport. Which is helpful when it’s freezing and you’ve got a cold (that you’ve had for a month) but you have to run because you’re training for a marathon and you think you might be crazy because 26.2 is a lot of miles but also you’re considering your next step which could be 30, 40, or 50 miles. Or more! The world is you oyster as long as you religiously stretch your IT band and stop falling all the damn time!

IMG_6205 me finishing the neusiok trail race. my sister gen ran the last 1/4 mile with me.

Despite all my enthusiasm for running-related reads and how intrigued I was by his role in Born to Run, I was hesitant to read Eat and Run. The book chronicles Jurek’s career and trajectory from rural Minnesotan to world famous ultramarathoner and vegan. I think it’s great and as a former vegetarian of many years and an advocate of eating whole, complex foods, I understand. What put me off was the tone of the snippet I read in Runner’s World. And that tone was “eat clean or you’re doing it wrong.” Now, I have a MAJOR problem with the phrase “clean eating” in reference to plant-based diets. Bully for you that you don’t eat animal products but the implication that those of us who do are eating DIRTY is incredibly condescending. So anytime someone calls it clean eating I immediately want to walk away. And I’ve considered veganism (a lot, especially lately) so it’s not as though I’m all don’t-understand-damned-sissy-vegans-in-‘Merica-we-eat-fried-chicken. Because of this I was not interested in the book, assuming it would just rile me up. Then my sister in law Megan, someone whose opinion I value highly, recommended it and I thought well hell, I have a plane ride to kill let’s read a book.

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I really enjoyed a lot of the book. The story of his running career and putting himself and everything he had into a passion for pushing himself was amazing and inspiring. Nobody can argue that he’s had an astonishing career. And I found the story of how he became vegan, how he evolved from a four-times-a-week McDonalds eater to someone who makes his own rice milk to be very interesting. I also empathized with his desire to run to find clarity, to push your body beyond what you think your body can do, and to see what is on the other side. I’m not a very fast runner so what intrigues me about the sport is the idea of finding my limits, physical and mental, and pushing them. What I did not like about the book was that he paints a very black and white picture. In his eyes (or at least in the way it is portrayed in the book) it’s either “clean” eating or “dirty eating”- 100% vegan or fast food junkie. I take major issue with that. Dan and I eat very well. We make as much as possible from scratch, we don’t buy much processed food, we aim to eat locally and organically with a focus on whole foods. But we also eat meat. Only a few times a week but we eat it. And dairy. Not much milk but plenty of cheese and yogurt. And whipped cream. I love me some whipped cream. And butter. And cheese, can we talk about how delicious CHEESE is? We focus on eating responsibly- both for our health and for the environment. And I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. But Scott Jurek does. Maybe he would say that he doesn’t, but the impression that I got from Eat and Run is that he would have contempt for the way that we eat. Which frustrated me and made the book inaccessible.

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On a more book-club side of things I thought the writing was at times difficult to read, too casual, a little forced. And there were moments when he included offensive or off-putting stories that weren’t essential to the plot line, like his friend Dusty (to whom this book is an homage) coining the phrase “getting chicked” (getting passed by a girl. The fear of getting “chicked” was apparently a great motivator for Jurek to run faster) at one of his races. That line alone almost ruined the whole book for me. But the overall message was interesting and some of the recipes look great. I’m excited to try his chocolate and bean brownies and I love the idea of taking simple refried bean burritos on long runs. I also really enjoyed this recipe, his Minnesota Winter Chili. Since I’m not a big fan of meaty chilis the omission of meat was fine with me, but Dan loves traditional chili and still enjoyed this. I made a few adaptations but the core recipe is a strong one, something I’ll definitely repeat in winter months. In summary (tl;dr), I had a lot of issues with Eat and Run, both as a book and Jurek’s point of view and opinion on plant-based eating. But it was a compelling story and a lot of the recipes have value, so came out pretty even. Can’t say I’d recommend it, but I wouldn’t slap it out of your hand if you were interested.

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Scott Jurek’s Winter Chili
Adapted from Eat and Run

2 tbsp olive oil

4 garlic cloves

1 yellow onion

15-20 cremini mushrooms

1 green bell pepper

1 red bell pepper

4 carrots

1 jalapeno

1 cup frozen corn kernels

1 tsp cumin

1 tsp cayenne pepper

1 tsp chipotle

1 tsp red pepper flakes

2 tbsp chili powder

2 tsp sea salt

1 28 oz can diced tomatoes

1 can adzuki beans

1 can black eyed peas

1 can red beans

1/2 cup dry bulgar wheat

1 cup water

Roughly chop onions, mushrooms, bell peppers, and carrots. Mince garlic and jalapenos. Heat oil in a large pot. Add garlic first, followed by onions. Once the onions have softened add remaining vegetables and spices. Simmer 20 minutes. Stir in bulgar wheat and water and simmer and additional 30-45 minutes.

Serve topped with cilantro and Greek yogurt or sour cream.

 

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1/100 Onslow Oysters

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It was incredibly hard for me to decide what county, what recipe, what food group I was going to choose to launch Tasting North Carolina. I grew up in Durham County, have spent countless summers and made incredible memories (including my wedding) in Carteret County, and now find myself living in New Hanover County. But the task of picking a food that defined Durham was more than I could tackle at the beginning of the project, so I decided to focus on something coastal. I figured that if I put my ear to the ground, it would come to me. Thankfully, this weekend, it did.

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One of my favorite family traditions is eating grilled oysters over the holidays. Best practices has, in the past, said that the best time to eat oysters was any month ending in “-er” so as soon as November rolled around we’d load up and fill ourselves. We always stopped on the way home from the Ballenger family Christmas party in Richmond to get a bushel of oysters and then devoured them straight from the grill. It is heaven and easily my favorite way to spend the afternoon with my father, brothers, uncles, and cousins.

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Our family home in Morehead, the Swamp House, has massive oyster beds behind it in the low saltwater marsh, like much of the creeks and sounds of North Carolina. I’ve spent countless days in pockmarked rain boots mucking through the oysters and swimming in Calico Creek but it never once occurred to me that we could eat those oysters. In fact, I don’t think I’d ever had a Crystal Coast oyster. Recently, however, my dad and I had a conversation about how he’d discovered two things. 1) That he prefers oysters that come from the colder season months when the water is much colder and their taste gets salty and 2) that he’s discovered he’s not only a fan of Crystal Coast oysters but that he prefers them to oysters from other areas. I took this as a sign that I should find myself some local oysters.

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onslow oysters 6 This past weekend our two dear friends Brit and Aaron visited us in Wilmington. We love being with them because above all else we have so much in common. We share a passion for food and drink, Dan and Aaron obsess over the same music, and being with them is easy and comfortable. We made our goal for their visit to show them the very best that Wilmington (as far as we’ve discovered) has to offer. On Sunday morning we headed down to Kure Beach to hunt for fossils with our friend Dave, a PhD candidate in Marine Biology. On the way back to the car I asked him if he knew where we could get some fresh local oysters. His response? That his favorite place to buy invertebrate was Seaview Crab Shack. Spoken like a true marine biologist.

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On the way home from Kure we stopped into Seaview and sure enough there were big, beautiful, local oysters. We picked up a 1/2 bushel of oysters from Topsail Island, along with firewood and two oyster shuckers, and headed on our way. Topsail Island is located in two counties- Onslow in the north and Pender in the south. These oysters came from Stump Sound in the northern part of the island. Onslow County  is situated between Jones County to the north, Pender and Duplin to the south, and Carteret to the east. The seat of Onslow county is Jacksonville, and much of the county sits on water- either the Atlantic or one of the number of bays. Jacksonville is the home of Camp Lejune, a large U.S. Marine base. It is also a good portion of the drive from Morehead City to Wilmington, a drive we’ve done frequently in recent months and a drive that I genuinely enjoy because of the scenery.

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Oysters are an important part of any marine ecosystem as they filter the water and their shells help define marsh areas and prevent erosion. North Carolina has worked hard to encourage a depleting oyster population through initatives such as the NC Oyster Shell Recycling program (something I’ll be doing with our shells once we’re done eating them!). It’s no surprise that, like all the seafood you can find here in North Carolina, the oysters are delicious.

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onslow oysters 10 The oysters we picked up were fat, juicy, and salty. When I first started eating oysters the texture weirded me out so I’d cover them in horesradish and tobasco, plop them on a saltine, and swallow the the thing as fast as I could. These days I’ve grown to appreciate foods of different textures, and yesterday when I popped a raw oyster, undressed, in my mouth I was in heaven. Sure there’s a visual barrier but the flavor is so worth it. Sometimes you just need a little mental disconnect. We ate a dozen or so oysters raw and the started to roast them over hot coals. Dressed with tobasco, horseradish, and a sauce Aaron made (white wine, white wine vinegar, minced shallots, and cracked black pepper) they were smokey and delicious. Some came off the fire hot and cooked through, others came off perfectly warmed. It was an awesome afternoon with friends and I’m so glad that we could enjoy this meal together. Thanks Onslow County!

 

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onslow oysters 3 Oysters are a mussel so strong and so well designed that no human can open a live oyster with their bare hands. This is why the shucking knife is genius. Simply insert a shucking knife (or a screwdriver, we’ve learned) into a crack or opening or into the lip, and pry open. If the shell opens easily (when raw) the oyster is dead and should not be consumed. After roasting (which essentially steams them in their juices and saltwater) for a few minutes the shells will open as the mussel dies, and then they can be eaten.

This post is part of the ongoing series, Tasting North Carolina. See more about the project here.

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