Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Palm Leaf Plate Bonanza: Shrimp with Corn and Basil, Zucchini Parm Crisps, & Interesting Moments at the DMV

August is proving to be an odd month, full of various forms of travel, my husband's impromptu decision to buy a used pickup, and just plain randomness around the city.

Case in point: The DMV really, really, really messed up the spelling of my name and the VIN number on my car title, which in turn really, really messed up my loan with my bank. It was an easy enough fix, but it required a 2hr stint at the Baltimore City DMV to complete (and by complete, I mean wait in line for) my amended paperwork.

I remember remarking to a friend once - after watching a small child lick the entire front side of the glass door to the waiting area - that it seemed like the most random (see?!?) mix of individuals were always sitting at the DMV. To which my friend noted that it wasn't so much that the crowd was random as much as it lacked anyone who might be considered "normal."

I wonder if that includes me?

Anyway, the DMV in B'more, in an effort to make the glacial-speed passage of time more tolerable, has introduced the MVN: The Motor Vehicle Network. The red and black digital notice board has the techno-savvy of a game of Frogger, but the flashing news alerts do provide at least a temporary distraction. In addition to news and current events, it also flashes random bits of trivia and miscellany:

Here's a close-up shot.
That's right. The MVN did a bit on the RPS Society. Of which my hubby is a card-carrying member. (No joke.)

But life can't be all about long queues and road trips. Sometimes, life throws you a little break every now and then. This time, said break came in the form of a product review and free sample.

Ah, the life of a blogger. It rocks (at times). Case in point: the good folks over at Marx Foods, who specialize in fine foods in bulk, sent over a sample of their new Palm Leaf Plates to try out. Palm Leaf Plates are earth-friendly (read: biodegradable and compostable) disposable dinner ware for the trendy and/or eco-conscious set. As a person with pseudo-hippie leanings (as Tony likes to say), I was intrigued.

I received a large set of square salad plates and round dip bowls and soon put them to use. First up: a picnic in the park. Now, green space may not be the first thing to come to mind when one thinks of Baltimore, but the area known as Patterson Park is really very charming. There are tennis courts and softball fields, plenty of spaces to walk a dog or two, and even an ice skating rink in the winter. Tony was having a bit of a week, so I decided to pack up some fried chicken and bubbles, and then we hopped in the truck and set off for a picnic date.

I gotta say, the plates held up very well. Though the palm leaves look...grainy(?), the plates and bowls never splintered or split. And none of the grease from the chicken soaked through the plate, sparing our clothes. We just sat back and enjoyed the fried food and people & dog watching for the afternoon.

Test run No. 1: Success!

We still had some samples left over, so I decided to try a hot plate this time instead. A weekend trip to the farmer's market left us with several pounds of zucchini in need of eating. So, I decided to try out a recipe posted by a college chum (Thanks, Tracie!): Zucchini Parmesan Crisps.

The dish is more a less a healthier version of fried zucchini, but with less prep work and cleanup.

To pair with the veggies, Mary's take on Shrimp and Corn with Fresh Basil from One Perfect Bite. I find that shrimp-based recipes usually don't provide enough shrimp (what's up with that?), so I simply doubled the shrimp to 2 lbs and upped the butter from 1/4 cup to 1/3 cup. Paula Deen would have been proud.

You can check out Mary's shrimp recipe here. For the zucchini, head over here. The only adjustment I made to that recipe was to bake the zucchini slices on a cooling rack that I set inside of a sheet pan. That way, both sides were able to crisp up nicely!

Once again, the Palm Leaf Plates held their own. The shrimp dish produced quite a bit of liquid, but none of it soaked through. And the plates were cool enough on the bottom to rest on my lap, despite serving the meal straight from the stove top. Also, while I could tell that the plate was softening up a little from the combined heat and liquid, my fork never pierced it or pulled up bits of food-soaked pulp. No need to double layer paper dishes for once!

I decided to put the last of the bowls to good use and served up dessert. Fresh Peaches & Berries with Drunken Crème Fraiche. HO-LY CRAP was this dessert good. Tony fell asleep in between courses, and I honestly came thisclose to eating it all myself. The bowl proved more than able to handle two quickly digging spoons attacking its contents. And some subsequent bowl-licking afterward.

All in all? The Palm Leaf Plates are definitely worth an investment. They're durable, practical, elegant, and (bonus) eco-friendly. And unlike, say, those compostable Sun Chips bags, you can use them without waking the neighbors. (If you've had an encounter with the Sun Chips bag, you'll know what I mean.)

Think of it as giving Mother Earth a really fashionable, culinary hug. You can order a set for yourself, including flatware and utensils, or just find out how the hell they make these things at the Marx Foods site here. While I think the price could be a tad more budget friendly, the product definitely holds up to some hefty standards of form and function.

Palm Leaf Plates: 4 1/2 out of 5 spatulas

Great Gift For: Outdoor entertainers, BBQ enthusiasts, Hungry tree huggers, Trendy environmentalists, & Picnic lovers.

Fresh Peaches & Berries with Drunken Crème Fraiche

2 large peaches, sliced
1/2 cup blackberries, raspberries, or blueberries
1 1/2 tbsp brown sugar
2 tbsp vanilla extract
1/3 - 1/2 cup crème fraiche
1/8 cup (approx 5 tbsp) brandy or Bailey's Irish Cream

1. Toss the peaches and berries with the brown sugar and vanilla in a large bowl. Set aside and let the bowl sit for roughly 30 minutes.
2. Mix together the crème fraiche and the brandy or Irish Cream.
3. Layer the fruit with the crème fraiche. Drizzle the rendered fruit juice over the top.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


Should you feel the need to purchase your own night terrors online, you can pick up this little darling here. I've included a description from the page below the image.

"Long before Chucky, there was Talky Tina, star of one of the most spine-chilling episodes of The Twilight Zone ever aired. In the show titled "Living Doll" that also starred Telly Savalas, Tina kept coming back and coming back, no matter what he did to try to destroy her. If you remember that frightening episode, you may think twice before ordering this item. But don't worry. After all, she's only an innocent, 6 1/2-inch tall, talking resin bobble head… or is she?"

Talky Tina speaks the following phrases:
"My name is Talky Tina, and I love you very much."
"My name is Talky Tina, and I don't think I like you."
"My name is Talky Tina, and you'd better be nice to me."
"My name is Talky Tina, and you'll be sorry."
"My name is Talky Tina, and I'm going to kill you."

Monday, August 9, 2010

My Friend, The Artist

My good buddy Joe, teacher/artist/new dad, has just put out his first album for purchase on iTunes and Amazon.com.

Check out the Threshold Circuit and you, too, can say, "I knew Joe back when..."

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Post Birthday Round-up: Kick-butt Chili, The Windy City, and that Sandwich with Fries on It

So the only downside to a birthday week? Birthday week recovery. I plan to remain in recovery mode for a few more days, right up until my end-of-summer travel season kicks in. Said travel includes at least one more trip to Pittsburgh, a trip to Philly, a trip to London/Newcastle, a trip to New Jersey, and a trip to Rochester, NY.

I'm a little exhausted just thinking of it.

When faced with such a high-impact schedule, I find it's best to prepare big batches of food that can stay in the fridge or in little serving-sized portions in the freezer. Accessible leftovers are the key to easy living. Kind of.

Anyway, for this round of freezer-friendly goods, I decided to make use of some chuck roast that was getting too cozy in our fridge. The result: some extremely decent chili and equally tasty lentil soup. The chili - a recipe I snagged from the Neely's (whom I really recommend if you're ever in need of any sort of BBQ or grill related dish) -
tasted even better the next day, which prompted me to place some in a pie pan (or a cast iron skillet if you have enough batter), cover it with corn bread batter, and then bake it in a 350 degree oven for roughly 15 minutes. It's a little slice of heaven.

The following day I turned to Giada De Laurentis (she of the ample cleavage and comparably-sized forehead) for some guidance on lentil soup prep. I've only ever made red lentils at home before, and they're a decidedly different creature than their green cousins, so I wasn't sure what all would be involved in the preparation and recipe execution.

Overall, it was a pretty decent dish, but it's definitely not my favorite. I'll keep the recipe on hand in case we're ever snowed in again this winter, but otherwise I'll attempt other soup-based challenges first. Like, Pho...

Anyway, my birthday celebrating went splendidly. I received a lovely new mountain bike from Tony, so now I can start tackling my next endurance event: a triathlon. I also basked in some friendly adoration at The Brewer's Art, where my very excellent friends joined me for some brews and several, several plates of the BA's AMAZING garlic-rosemary french fries. I would have taken a photo, but most of the plates were emptied of their contents within mere moments of reaching our table.

A few days later and I found myself in Pittsburgh to attend a Pirate's game, where our nephew's Cub Scout troop presented the flags during the national anthem. Too cute!

But before that, there was beer. If you ever find yourself in the Steel City, I highly recommend visiting the Church Brew Works in Lawrenceville. Talk about re-purposing a building: The former home of St. John the Baptist Church now serves a wide selection of local and specialty brews, as well as some kick ass pizza and desserts. While meeting up with some 'burgh-based peeps, I enjoyed a Coconut Stout followed by a Lavender Summer Ale, with a creme brulee chaser. (You read that right the first time.)

Sunday's game turned out to be enjoyable. The team lost, of course, but that's still no reason not to enjoy PNC Park, which is by far one of the best ball stadiums in the country. The view alone is worth the price of admission.

But I'm not here to wax poetic about the Pirate's losing franchise. (At least not when I live 15minutes away from the Oriole's home turf.) I'm all about the food, which PNC has in friggin' spades. I had my choice of Quaker Steak wings and Manny Sanguillen's BBQ, but for my money, you can't go wrong with Primanti Bros.

Yes, it's the sandwich with the fries in it (add a fried egg for an extra $1). And the coleslaw. And the tomatoes and meat. People ask me about them all the time. Why? Because they're awesome, that's why. A ball park staple and a deli-slice of heaven when you've had one too many, you just can't go wrong with one of these with a pickle on the side.

Oh! It makes my mouth water just looking at it!

Pittsburgh was followed by a trip to Chicago, where I had a chance to help my best friend clean her for her house warming party. - I mean, hang out.

Just kidding! Well, not about the cleaning - that part was true, but I did get to spend some QT with Kristin, her other half Colin, her sister Kayce, and several hundred of their friends and family (most of whom I know and also love). We ate unhealthy amounts of pulled pork sandwiches, macaroni and cheese, queso & chips, and drunken sausage. Colin bought a keg. I made my hallmark Redneck Margaritas. I think there might have been some crudites in the mix.

I either case I was so full after the 10 hour food fest that I lacked room to dig into my latest birthday treat...

Kristin's mom picked it up, which was so touching that I really didn't care that my name was misspelled. I never did snag a piece of the cake, but I heard it was delicious.

On Sunday, we decided to recharge our batteries with a late brunch and movie. (Dinner for Schmucks. I'd suggest waiting for it to come out on DVD or to go ahead and watch the original French version instead.) In between, we indulged in some Shark Week and Oberwies Dairy treats. Total. Ice cream. Heaven. Apparently, Oberwies specializes in milk, as well as cakes, malts, and burgers. You can even have ice cream or milk delivered. Plus, there are chess tables in the shop for your entertainment. I suck at chess, and even I enjoyed a game.

I had a chocolate peanut butter waffle bowl, and promptly spoiled my dinner. We ended up snacking instead of eating for the rest of the night while my hosts taught me how to play Texas Hold 'em. Turns out, I'm not a bad player. Vegas, here I come.

On my last day we made it into the actual city of Chicago for a few hours. Even though I was born just outside the city, I've never really explored it as an adult. Kristin and Colin took me to Millennium Park, where we splashed around the Crown Fountain probably more than any rational adults should, and then I was dutifully taken to Cloud Gate (aka, "The Bean") where we stood underneath and next to one of the oddest but most original pieces of work I've seen in a long time. The view of the skyline in the reflection is crazy.

We had lunch at the nearby Gage on Michigan Street. We had lots o' beer and a giant bowl of muscles. Then I stupidly ordered my own sandwich, a crisp pork belly concoction that was too big to photograph. Well, not really, but it really was huge. I ate well too much of it and felt a little ill after.

We decided to walk it off by heading to the Sear's Tower, where you can take an elevator to the new Sky Deck and take in a view of not only the city, but of the three surrounding states bordering Illinois. At least, we thought you only had to take an elevator. It turns out that you have to wait in line to get to the top of the Sears Tower. A lot of line. There's the line to the elevator, which leads to the line for security, which leads to another line to the actual ticket office. When we finally got to a window with a real live person behind it, I asked how long it would be before we actually got to the tower and was crushed to find out that it was at least another 30minutes.

Nuts to that!

We were short on time anyway (I was flying out that evening and we needed to get back to O'Hare) so we simply turned around and left. Colin was a tad cranky about the experience. That said, the Sears Tower has a very lovely basement.

So now I'm back in B'more, re-adjusting to office life and preparing for a second sojourn to Pittsburgh for Tony's family reunion/picnic. Lots of Italians. Lots of food. Good times to be had, I'm sure. There's rumor that those of us of age may hit the newly built casino for a few giggles.

Time to put those poker skills of mine to good use...

Redneck Margaritas
(Courtesy of the The Sweet Potato Queens)

12 oz frozen limeade
12 oz tequila
1 12oz bottle of Corona
12 oz of 7-Up

1. Just mix the whole mess together and serve over ice. If you want a frozen version, blend the ice with the limeade and tequila first and then add the remaining ingredients. Otherwise you'll find yourself a sticky, soda and beer-covered mess.

2. Hand over your car keys to a designated driver and then sit down and relax. These libations are deceptively easy to throw back and you will find yourself wondering where you are and just how the hell you got there if you're not careful.