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Posts from the ‘Belmont’ Category

Friendsgiving.

I’ve got a love/hate relationship with potluck suppers. I do love the surprise. There’s no set menu. You arrive to find an entire buffet of homemade food, but you have no idea what each dish will be. Like Golden Corral without the spectre of salmonella.

But I hate them too. Because of the self-imposed pressure to perform. Whenever I’m invited to a potluck two thoughts come into my head: What can I bring that’s tasty. And what can I bring that takes almost no effort? While I realize these two things are not always compatible, they end up important because invariably I’m invited to a potluck during a week when I have a dentist appointment, three deadlines, two visitors, a dirty house, and I feel a cold coming on. My head understands no one is standing behind me with a “You Did Good” clipboard to check off. Still, a part of me wants to drop off a gorgeous golden-crusted concoction oozing deliciousness and have everyone exclaim, “You brought that?! Wow!” A part of me wants to win the potluck game.

Potlucks weren’t always so cutthroat in my head. When I was a poor college student and the larder was bare, I went to a few potlucks, not many, as my friends cocktailed, never cooked.* The ones I did attend were Stone Soup affairs. Folks brought what they had and we made do. Usually with cheap jug wine or Milwaukee’s “Beast”. I recall a special New Year’s Eve Gumbo Potluck in particular where everyone got drunk on sangria, then watched “When Buildings Collapse!” on Fox.

The competitive spirit creeped in the older I got. Maybe it was some twisted leftover childhood trauma from how I used to brag excessively about my mother’s cooking, then for our French dinner in middle school she dropped off a sad-looking green bean casserole. I recall a Christmas party in my twenties where I made chocolate paté from the “Great Chefs of San Francisco”. It took hours. And it made a shit-ton. I was eating chocolate paté in July. Not that’s a bad thing. Then there were the neighborhood picnics where I sweated and slaved over massaged kale like it was an Olympic hopeful before saying, “Fuck It!” and making a cold semi-Asian chicken salad from my Dinner Doctor cookbook.

I blame Food Porn, or what I lovingly call “Food Pron”. Ever since food became fetish it has to be camera ready. Dripping in delicious succulence and ready for its closeup. Which means it probably has to be fancy. Or at least involve bacon or tweezers. Because comforting casseroles and deviled eggs don’t scream, “Do me now! Do me hard!”

Case in point. The Friendsgiving event I attended a few weeks ago hosted by Our Local Commons. Now I love this event. I look forward to it every year. Local food purveyors, restaurant folks, and enthusiasts gather with their potluck offerings to give thanks, to drink local cider and beer, to gorge, and to collect funds for a local charity. And every year I sweat what to bring. Because these guys are professionals. And I’m just a scribbler who aligns herself with the professionals and hopes they’ll allow her to join the party.

And every year the food is stunning. Just Bon Appétit meets Gourmet magazine stunning. Without the benefit of food stylists. This year was no exception. Sizzling bacon-wrapped dates from Mas Tapas. Mushroom Tarragon Pithivier from The Spice Diva. Succulent roasted goat from The Ivy Inn. Buttery cauliflower paté, yes foie gras tasting stuff made from cauliflower! Gorgeous Pumpkin Cake with Salted Caramel Cream from Maliha Creations. Perfectly fondanted (fondant? seriously?) Hummingbird Cake. Just to name a few. And the taste? So good I want to give up.

So what’s a poor scribbler to do? Give up. Well, okay not give up, but settle for dishes I know at least taste good. They may not win any food stylist awards, but they’ll make your tummy happy. Last year I brought Cathy Fields’s Big Stone Gap Corn Pudding which doesn’t look like much but is guaranteed to add 5 pounds to your frame. This year I brought my Muddy’s Pound Cake. With some fancy schmancy apple butter from Paul Virant that I got from Fire, Flour, & Fork to slather on top. He’s a Michelin-starred chef from Chicago. I figured a little highbrow butter on some homespun cake couldn’t hurt.

How did the Friendsgiving turn out? I ate my weight in succulent bacon-wrapped dates and drank about a gallon of bourbon apple cider. Marveled at how gorgeously delicious a mushroom tarragon pithivier can be. Roasted mushrooms marry themselves with the licorice of the tarragon and the flake of the pastry (pithivier is a puff pastry pie, yes, I had to look it up) and make your tummy happy.

The ultimate chagrin? I went to cut a slab of Muddy’s Pound Cake to find only one thin sliver missing. But the apple butter was GONE. G-O-N-E gone. Sigh. Fancy-schmancy wins again. Sure, Muddy’s Bundt is homely. But in taste? It’s fucking gorgeous. Buttery, light, with the best part the chewy-browned outside layer. Like the best Blondie you ever had. Even better topped with the last vestiges of the apple butter. It added about 5 pounds to my frame. Which seems to be my new criteria for a good potluck addition.

So sure, the good-looking cakes cleared out pretty quick, while once again my homely contribution sat on its Dixie paper plate. That’s fine. Because at the end of the night there was more for me to take home. You can have your fancy cakes. I’ll pick my Muddy’s recipe every time. Not only is it a way to remember and honor her memory, in my humble opinion, it just tastes better.

Thank you to Our Local Commons, and all of the folks who made Friendsgiving possible this year. I truly enjoyed it. Happy Thanksgiving everyone. Remember, whether your dishes are gorgeous or homely, no one is standing behind you with a clipboard. You’re fine. As long as the dish tastes good, everybody wins. Cheers!

*Ironically, one is now a chef while the other owns a restaurant. Go figure.

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2012 Best Dishes. (Top 3!)

All week I’ve been describing my top Charlottesville Dishes of 2012. This was not the year of the “Best Restaurant” but the year of memorable bites and brews. The stuff I crave when I get hungry for something special. The dishes I immediately remember without even thinking. Looking back over the list, they’ve run the gamut from appetizers to mains to condiments. And now we arrive at the Top 3.

Numbers 12-10

Numbers 9-7

Numbers 6-4

3. Almond Cake. I gained weight this year. And I blame Jenny Peterson of Paradox Pastry. Seriously, I go in there for one little sweet treat and a tea, and I end up going home with a bagful of goodies. Her Spice Cake made me tear up it reminded me so much of my grandma’s. But her Almond Cake? It made me slap the table. Hard. It’s my favorite kind of cake because it’s SO dense and chockfull of almond flavor. Cakey cake ;) But the kind I make at home with almond paste comes NOWHERE NEAR the perfection she reaches. And it’s served as a giant slab which makes you feel like a naughty child who’s eating dessert before dinner. What’s better than that?

2. Bibimbap. Imagine a huge piping hot stone bowl of rice, veggies, meat, and sauce all topped with a fried egg. The meat is sliced thin and is secondary, acting as a condiment to the veggies and rice underneath. The sauce is spicy, but sweet as well. The rice on the bottom is getting crispy because the stone bowl is browning it up nicely. When you take your chopsticks and blend it all together, the egg yolk runs all through this delicious mixture, turning it into one big gorgeous heap of comfort. In your mouth the crispy rice, the sizzling meat, the creamy egg and crispy vegetables blend into a perfect morsel of happiness. There is seriously nothing better to eat on a cold day. The Bibimbap they serve at The Korean House on Carlton Avenue is unstoppable. Suffering from the flu? The blues? A serious case of “There’s nothing new to eat in this town” syndrome? Eat this. Now.

1. Potter’s Craft Oak Barrel Reserve Cider. I love this stuff. Adore it. People have begun to get sick of hearing me wax poetic on how beautiful it is. The checkout guys at Whole Foods roll their eyes when they see me coming because they know I’m about to go off on the merits of Potter’s Craft Oak Barrel Reserve Cider. Again.

I’ve spent years telling anyone who’ll listen about the wonderfulness that is cider, and to my glee, 2012 was definitely “The Year of Cider” in Charlottesville. There are 6 cideries in the area at last count, numerous cider tastings and events, and November saw our first Cider Week in Virginia. So what makes Potter’s Craft Oak Barrel Reserve so special?

It seriously tastes like nothing else I’ve had. Ever. And I’m what you call a cider enthusiast. Nothing is more refreshing on a hot day, cold day, hell, any day. Dan Potter and Tim Edmond have really invented something new. I’m convinced of this. By aging their blend of cider in used Laird’s Apple Brandy oak casks for 6 months, they’ve allowed a dry, crisp, refreshing beverage to acquire undertones of mellow roundness, caramel, vanilla, and well. . .bourbon! It has replaced Calvados as the after dinner drink of choice in our house. It’s lighter, but with the same “kick” a nice digestif offers after a big meal. What did we crack open on New Year’s? Not champagne my friend. It was this cider. Sipped slowly. Sipped often. Congratulations Dan and Tim. This was the best, greatest thing I had in Charlottesville all year. By far.

What do you think? Agree? Disagree? Must admit, it was tough to have only 12. So I include these additional as honorable mentions. Thank you Charlottesville for keeping my belly full this past year, and here’s to a scrumptious 2013. Cheers!

Honorable Mentions:
Smoked Turkey from BBQ Exchange (only available Thanksgiving & Christmas)
“The Burger” at Brookville Restaurant
Sticky Toffee Pudding at The Ivy Inn
Dolmas at Twisted Branch Tea Bazaar
Blondies at Great Harvest Charlottesville

Tavola.

The oddest thing about Charlottesville. It’s a small town, a ‘ville, a ‘burg, definitely not a city. So you’d think living here 4 years I would’ve met just about everybody there was to meet at the corner store. Or grabbing bagels at Bodo’s. Or getting dinner at Maya, or snagging a six pack at Beer Run. Or bumping eco-friendly shopping bags at the Saturday farmers’ market. Or pushing past the strollers at Fridays After Five.

But no. In my tenure as writer I’ve met the majority of Charlottesville food folks online. Seriously. I’d say a good 70% of either industry peeps or enthusiasts I’ve met through email, Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Pinterest, or Google Plus. Just kidding. NO ONE has met anybody through Google Plus.

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