biscuitsSo my mom got my littlest son hooked on fresh, homemade biscuits in the morning when we were visiting (thanks mom!).

She let him help her make them and even choose the size of the biscuit cutter — he chose really small . . . . we had 2-inch mini biscuits.

Lucky for me, her recipe is incredibly simple and fast. So I don't mind making them when he asks. And today, he chose hearts. Love that boy.

Cream Biscuits
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Ingredients
  1. 2 cups flour
  2. 2 tsp sugar
  3. 2 tsp baking powder
  4. 1/2 tsp salt
  5. 1 1/2 cup heavy cream (try the local Feliciana’s Best Creamery)
Instructions
  1. Whisk together all ingredients except cream. Stir in cream with wooden spoon. Knead until smooth (30 seconds). Pat to 3/4 inch. Use 2 1/2 inch round cutter or cut into 8 wedges.
  2. Bake at 450 for 15 minutes (may need to adjust if making smaller or larger biscuits)
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thib_la_heartTHIBODAUX

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genealogyMy mom and I worked on genealogy when I was at home last week . . . and since then, I've gone a little berzerk. Like I've traced my husband's family back to the 1600s in Spain on one side and the 1500s in France on the other . . . who then moved to Acadia, Canada, and then here. 

So yesterday we decided to take his mom and go on a little day trip to the family homes and gravesites and take pictures to add to the family tree. We took some pictures of his South Louisiana heritage and found some South Louisiana good eats along the way.

We started in Paincourtville to find the grave site of a relative who drowned in Bayou Lafourche at age 10 and his sister who died after shooting herself in the leg . . . . hmmmm . . . Anyway, we decided to stop for lunch in Donaldsonville on our way to Brusly and randomly found The Grapevine Cafe and Gallery when I did a quick search for lunch options. And it was such a nice surprise — a creative, locally inspired menu in a gallery of Alvin Batiste art. Not a lot of vegetarian choices, but the portobello fries with garlic aioli were delicious. And across the table, my husband was raving about the blackened redfish with lemon butter . . . if you like that kind of thing . . .

We had a few more stops and ended up at two cemeteries . . . that are now in the 'hood . . . in Baton Rouge for a couple of great-great grandparents. We also stopped to see Mike the Tiger . . . because that's just what you do when you have little boys and are in Baton Rouge.

On our way back south, I was searching for a new local place to get dessert and came across some locally produced caramel apples, Le Posh Pomme, sold at Alexander's Highland Market. So we stopped. And, I can't believe I just discovered this market. Its whole focus is local food and they carry all my favorite stuff. Now, I will forgive myself a little . . . it just opened a little over a year ago. But still. Anyway, they are sooo conveniently located south of Baton Rouge just off of I-10 by the Blue Bayou Waterpark. It's closer than Whole Foods, has more local stuff and is missing the frantic, watch-out-for-the-crazy-yuppies Whole Foods' experience.

We never found the caramel apples, the bakery people said they hadn't seen them in a while, but that they're really good and sell out really quickly. Hmmm, Le Posh Pomme, be on notice, I'm hunting you down. But we did find some locally made bread from Our Daily Bread bakery and I finally got a bottle of the locally made Re:'s dressing/marinade that I've been wanting to try. I'll let you know what I think.

So it was a good day — tripping with my family, tracing their family's steps and finding new local foods.

la

SOUTH
LOUISIANA

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212I think the restaurant business is hard . . . like really hard. Hard because there's always a new, trendier place. Hard because just loving to cook is never enough and hard because people are often not very nice (just eavesdrop the next time you are out to eat and listen to how people treat servers). I know if I tried it, I'd be on Restaurant Impossible in a hot minute.

But one of my favorite restaurants in Chattanooga — where I moved from, where my parents still live and where we just got back from vacation — has somehow managed to have great food and people for more than 20 years. I think mostly because they focus on quality local foods, from local people and places. And, I kinda think that's always trendy.

212_saladAnyway, we go to 212 Market every time I'm in Chattanooga. Their menu always features seasonal, local produce. And, having been away from home for a while, I was missing my humid South Louisiana (yea, my skin was dry way up in Tennessee . . . I was shocked) and saw Cajun slaw on the fried green tomato salad. Pretty much all attempts outside of South Louisiana to do Cajun food and flavors fail, but this was really great with a little spice and lots of fresh. I followed it up with one of their daily specials (I pretty much always order stuff from a restaurant's daily specials since I think that's where the chefs get to play), the June veggie risotto with local broccoli, carrots, yellow squash, zucchini and parsnips. 

Great food is definitely not the only thing that makes a great restaurant . . . I've noticed that at the best, the owners are always around and the servers make it look easy. 212 has Sally and Shannon.

212_limeSally runs it and her mom makes all the desserts (that's her key lime tart over there . . . amazing). And every time I go, Sally is there. And Shannon. Shannon has been serving and doing a little bit of everything else ever since I started going when I was a reporter at the Chattanooga Times Free Press and my mom and I went every Friday for lunch. And we love her.

This last visit we were a little unorganized — we were out with my rascal boys at the children's museum — and decided last minute to grab lunch. And Shannon had left for the day. We hardly even knew how to order . . . Shannon just knows what we'll like. The food was still great. . . . but it's never the same without her.

So if any of my South Louisiana people travel through Chattanooga on I-75, this is an easy stop downtown, right across from the Tennessee Aquarium and a bunch of other great family activities. And while you're there, check out the tray of desserts made by Sally's mom as you walk in, and keep an eye out for Sally checking on everything and ask for Shannon's section.

chat_tn_heartCHATTANOOGA

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teaTwo of my favorite things are sweet tea and lavender . . . sweet tea from the South and lavender from when I studied in France during college.

Now I've never put them together . . . but leave it to my mom to come up with an amazing summer treat. She was inspired by her garden that was overflowing with lavender and mint.  

For whatever reason, lavender isn't used much in American cooking. But the French put it in everything from chocolate (divine) and cookies to meats. I love the soft floral flavor . . . maybe because it reminds me of the French summer sun, masses of purple flowers and running my hands through them, perfuming them for hours. Bliss.

So as I let my two wildebeests tear through Mimi's house this afternoon, I sat on the porch overlooking the Chattanooga valley and sipped lavender mint tea. . . a world away . . at least for a few minutes.

Lavender Mint Sweet Tea
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Ingredients
  1. Simple Syrup
  2. 1 cup water
  3. 1 cup sugar
  4. 1 tbsp fresh lavender buds
  5. 3/4 cup fresh mint leaves
  6. Tea
  7. 4 cups cold water
  8. 4 tea bags (I prefer a plain tea like an English Breakfast tea)
Instructions
  1. Simple Syrup: In a small saucepan, combine all ingredients, stirring until sugar melts. Simmer for 2 minutes. Strain, pressing solids through strainer. Keeps chilled for up to 3 months.
  2. Tea: Pour boiling water over tea bags and steep for about 20 minutes.
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chat_tn_heartCHATTANOOGA

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rousesThat is the directory I got from Rouses' employees the other day when I asked them where the h#^* they put EVERYTHING?!

As I walked through Rouses Epicurean in Thibodaux, my favorite nearby grocery store, I realized I couldn't find anything on my list. Now I'm a mom and I make my grocery list in the order in which I will encounter the items in the store so that I can be as efficient as possible. Moms have to prepare. Who knows if I'll have both kids. Who knows if the 3 year old will decide to stick his tongue out and offend all the old people. Who knows if the 3 year old will leap to his death from the cart, or, God forbid, make me maneuver one of those humongous car carts. I just never know . . . . so I need something to be predictable. And NOTHING was where I knew it was.

At one point, during one of my many loops around the store, I realized that I had passed the same woman several times and we both had the same expression of bemused lostness on our faces.

I asked several employees why they had done this. Why had they moved everything but the produce, meat and milk? Give me a reason not to hate you as my 3 year old yells at me that we've already been down this aisle THREE times! Most of them shrugged and said, "I don't know." And then the cashier gave me this answer: "I think it's a marketing thing. . . you know, to get you to go around the store more and buy more things . . . Do you want a directory?"

I just blinked at her, supressing my rage, and left Rouses with two directories and half the items on my list. Like I could read a directory, keep my 3 year old from scaring people AND not knock over the displays with the car cart. 

thib_la_heartTHIBODAUX

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athenosSo we're geauxing Greek (and Lebanese) in the big Thib!

I've been patiently waiting for Athenos Cafe to open, watching the progress inside and keeping an eye out for the neon open sign to light up. 

They actually opened last week, but I was in Texas . . . and my really sweet husband, who was home, waited for me to get back (it's the little things y'all).

Anyway, I've been excited about this place first because I love any kind of Mediterranean food, and second because up until now, Chinese has been exotic for Thibodaux.

I know you're supposed to give new restaurants a little while to get into a groove before trying them . . . but I just couldn't wait. So since I knew better and went anyway, I'll forgive the hostess asking my mother-in-law, who came in by herself, if she wanted a table for two (my mother-in-law asked us later if she looked that big) . . . and I'll forgive the wait staff for getting a little confused with table orders and for them being out of falafel (fried patties made out of ground chickpeas).

I ended up getting the vegetarian plate with hummus, grape leaves, spanakopita (spinach pie) and eggplant musaka. And it was good. I'm a little spoiled by Greek and Lebanese food in bigger cities, like Mr. Greek and Lebanon's Cafe in New Orleans. But this was good. And I expect they'll get even better the longer they are open.

I know I'll be back. It's fresh and a completely different flavor palette than anything else in town. So geaux for the big vegetarian menu and geaux to support a new food adventure in Thibodaux.

thib_la_heartTHIBODAUX

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jamI've decided that you have to find people in your life that celebrate and understand what you're trying to do and what brings you joy.

I know, that was a little esoteric. But I've had 8 hours of driving home from visiting my sister in Dallas to think about this . . . 8 hours listening to my 3 year old play loud games on his iPad while simultaneously listening to the song Danger Zone on eternal repeat.

Anyway, back to joy. I can get bogged down in the daily drudgery/details of anything that I actually love. There are only so many days I can take putting effort into either planning, buying or making a healthy, locally-driven meal when I'm met with 6 rolling eyeballs that clearly say, "you're going to make us eat that?" I truly love good food from local places. But my boys . . . and just a busy, hectic life . . . sometimes suck the life out of my enthusiasm.

grillinge_cakel_cake

And . . . cue sister. My little sister is one of my best allies in healthy, local food joy. She and her three beautiful girls live in Dallas (yes, God gave her all the girl people and me all the boy people — I'm still figuring out the fairness of that) and she is one of the most committed and adventurous food people I know.

Her last two girls are actually twins, and it was their second birthday this last week. So I got to hang with my girls and enjoy the camaraderie of someone who shares my food joy. I brought some local veggies and balsamic vinegar and we did a little Louisiana-meets-Texas grilling feast. We tried an amazing all-vegetarian Indian restaurant, Kalachandji’s. We cooked. We ate at her favorite local food spots. We feasted on a gorgeous split personality birthday cake by Bronwen Weber — cuz my nieces could not possibly be any more different.

And, like most foodies, she is incredibly generous and sent us off with some of her favorite local pistachio tart cherry biscotti and orange marmalade. I've already eaten one packet of the biscotti . . . . And, even more importantly, she sent me off with a renewed love of celebrating fresh, local foods. I needed that.

dallas, texasDALLAS

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salsaI have issues with salsa around here. Like, why do Mexican restaurants give you hot salsa — as in tomato soup? Maybe it's me . . . I've had several local friends say they like cooked salsa. But my favorite salsas are fresh with lots of bright flavors that typically can't be found in a jar . . .

. . . that is until I discovered Malco's Magnificent Salsa from Baton Rouge.

I actually had two new salsas to try, Joseph's Garden Salsa from Madisonville and Malco's.

malcos_smalljoseph

So the family had a taste off of the two local salsas. We tried each one with chips and on cheese quesadillas. And there was absolutely no comparison. Let's just say the Joseph's is pretty much full, still in the fridge and Malco's is long gone.

Joseph's was OK, it was just like most other bottled salsas . . . muddled flavors with limp, if any, veggie presence. And Malco's was just such a nice surprise. 

I haven't given up on Joseph's Fine Foods, though — I plan to try some of their pickled veggies next . . . maybe even their "Zesty Brussels Sprouts." My husband is puking somewhere right now . . .

br_la_heartBATON ROUGE

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redstickI know that title totally sounds ridiculous . . . but, really, this pomegranate balsamic vinegar from Red Stick Spice Co. in Baton Rouge is amazing.

My husband actually told me about this company last fall after seeing it referenced on Tiger Droppings (yes, that place where I try not to look at the computer to see what he's laughing at . . . because I've done it before and been sorry . . . it's a man place, you know).

Anyway, being me and loving local stuff, especially as gifts, I bought several oils, vinegars, tea and spices for my mom, sister and mother-in-law for Christmas. And they loved them. Which was fun until I realized I didn't get myself anything.

And, after trying this vinegar, I can't believe it took me several months to go shop for myself.

caprese_recipeI put it on my caprese salad last night, but it would be fabulous just with oil as a salad dressing, reduced over ice cream (I know, that sounds a little freaky at first, but reduced balsamic vinegar makes a sweet syrup that I personally love) . . . . or licked off your finger . . .

And my sister suggested it on her favorite, easy chard recipe.

Easy, Go-To Chard
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Ingredients
  1. * * my sister doesn't use measurements . . . * *
  2. Ghee/butter/olive oil
  3. Dried cherries, roughly chopped
  4. Onions, roughly chopped
  5. Chard, deribbed if the ribs are tough . . . if from a farmer, it's likely tender enough
  6. Pine nuts, toasted
  7. Balsamic vinegar
Instructions
  1. Sauté dried cherries and onions in ghee/butter/olive oil until soft. Toss in roughly chopped chard and sauté until tender. Top with pine nuts and drizzle with balsamic vinegar. Serve.
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br_la_heartBATON ROUGE

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