Druid City Garden Party 2014

by Sarah on September 15, 2014 · 3 comments

Despite his adoration of steeplechasing (at least once a year, in Charlottesville, anyway), I was a bit caught off guard when The Professor queried, “So, do you want to go the garden party?”IMG_20140914_194838

Of course, this garden party wasnot a pinkies-up tea party with floral dresses and petit fours–not that there is anything wrong with that– but a celebration of locally grown, locally made, and locally crafted food and brews, all to the soundtrack of a southern string band.Promotion-Poster_11x17_4.1.4_REV_FINAL-2014

The fact that is benefits the Druid City Garden Project, which develops sustainable teaching gardens in Alabama schools, was even better.DCGP logo

Although I usually get a 9 oz. pour when I go to Black Warrior Brewing Company, I managed to do some good work on the cup of Apricot Wheat I chose, but, of course, my focus was on the food.IMG_20140914_194649

As you see by the menu, it was pretty much local foodie and farmers’ market aficionado heaven.

We may not have an extensive number of restaurants here in Tuscaloosa, but the noteworthy ones we do have  can turn out some pretty amazing food, especially when they have such wonderful local produce to work with.druid-city-garden-party-menu-2014jpg-e4c001945f5feda4

Some highlights, for me, were (perhaps obviously) the Belle Meadow Farms Watermelon Gazpacho made by Chuck’s Fish, which had a subtle savory finish that balanced out the sweet watermelon perfectly…IMG_20140914_172347_846

…the Sweet Potato Crusted Catfish with (local) Andouille Cream Sauce, which just won’t ever look pretty served like this, but which I could have eaten an entire plate of, easily.IMG_20140914_180026_881

Epiphany turned out a Summer Melon Soup with Lemongrass Syrup and Pickled Honeydew that I am hoping is on their regular menu the next time I visit, because I could make a dinner out of that alone.IMG_20140914_175259_643 (1280x719)

Although a little sweeter than anticipated, you had to give Hotel Capstone points for presentation on their Goat Cheese Grit Cakes with Duck Confit and Orange Marmalade.IMG_20140914_172314_952

The simple, subtly rich Tomato & Okra Bake with Parmesan crust on top was comfort food in a cup…IMG_20140914_172659_211 (1280x719)

…and, yes all you crazy squash lovers, there WERE “Pumpkin” Pie Bars topped with a Harvest Spice SQUASH Gelato, made with both kabocha and delicata from Snow’s Bend. (Interestingly, I have both sitting one my counter. I will NOT be making this dessert. ;) )IMG_20140914_180449_579 (1280x719)

I wasn’t sure how The Professor would handle all that squash in dessert form, but he said he liked it. [Cue: Heart lifting.] One thing I never doubted would be his love of these BLT Bites, featuring local bacon and an incredible tomato jam that, as our friend Brian said, is reason enough to take a visit to the new Southern Ale House.IMG_20140914_172623_071

Great cause. Great food. Great friends to share it with.

If only I’d had enough money to outbid everyone else in the silent auction for the farm dinner for six at Snow’s Bend Farm.

Maybe next year. ;)


Red Wine Ratatouille

by Sarah on September 11, 2014 · 1 comment

In case you haven’t figured it out–and are even still visiting The Smart Kitchen every now and then to check on me-- second year of my PhD program has been a little bit overwhelming at the onset. Today, my officemate and friend, Jereme, and I were talking, and he said, “The work is always there. The list always has things on it. Some days you just have to say, ‘That is just not going to get done right now…I’m taking some time for myself.”IMG_3188 (1280x852)

Since cooking dinner makes me feel normal, and I had a bunch of vegetables that were just gripping on to life, and cooking dinner for The Professor makes me happy, I figured that was the best place to start.IMG_3157 (1280x853)

My cooking technique has long been, ‘take all the veggies, throw them in the pan, and see what happens’—IMG_3159 (1280x853)

If you had planned to make ratatouille but ate most of the vegetables before you actually had the energy to cook, you might have to improvise a little bit.IMG_3174 (1280x853)

(Good thing the flash of green from garden basil lends the illusion that there might actually be zucchini involved.)IMG_3178 (1280x853)

And if the wine is already open…IMG_3152 (1280x853)

…just saying.IMG_3179 (1280x853)

The Professor, as usual, told me we could always go out if we both hated it.IMG_3195 (1280x853)

But we managed to stay in.

[And blog, because, as I just said to The Professor, "Who doesn't want red wine in their ratatouille?"]

Red Wine Ratatouille

(Serves 2)

  • 1 small onion
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 small red, orange, or yellow bell pepper
  • 1 small eggplant (about 1 1/2 cups when diced)
  • 1 small yellow squash and/or zucchini
  • 2 medium tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 Tbsp. tomato paste
  • 1/4 cup red wine
  • s + p
  • oregano, basil, red pepper flakes
  • Parmesan cheese (optional)
  1. Dice all vegetables to approximately the same size. (The smaller you cut ‘em, the quicker they’ll cook!)
  2. Saute onion and garlic in olive oil until onion turns translucent.
  3. Add bell pepper. Cook about 3 minutes or so.
  4. Add eggplant, squash, and water to the pan.
  5. Season with salt,pepper, and herbs.
  6. Continue cooking until tender.
  7. Add tomatoes, tomato paste, and red wine to the pan.
  8. Cook until desired softness.
  9. Adjust seasonings to taste.
  10. Serve over pasta.

Good news for those of you who-like me–rarely find yourself with any semblance of energy to meal plan, prep, and cook dinner these days:IMG_3093 (1280x853)

1. That Thai curry paste you saved from the last time you made Thai curry will still be good when you finally get around to using the rest of it.*

*You can go back and look at how long it has been if you want to. I repackaged it—you’ve got to use leftover baby food jars for something, right?IMG_3066 (1280x853)

2. Mixing frozen veggies with whatever scraps you have in the fridge is a totally legit style of cooking.IMG_3076 (1280x853)

Should you be making a half batch because you don’t have a whole can of curry paste (see #1), and you aren’t sure you want to commit to opening a whole can of coconut milk, because when the heck are you going to use the rest of it if you only cook once a week….

IMG_3052 (1280x853)

3…..you CAN use almond milk in a pinch.

(Even almond milk whose purchase date you don’t remember, but whose expiration date always seems to be months away.)IMG_3083 (1280x853)

4. Almond milk will not, however, reduce the heat level of said curry.

Nor will it prevent your “red” curry from actually appearing quite orange.IMG_3088 (1280x854)

In fact, you might sweat a little bit, and be concerned when your dinner date starts coughing uncontrollably after a particular, non-dissolved bite.

(Don’t worry, though…you’ll know that “It’s really flavorful. “)IMG_3095 (1280x854)

5.  This will only make you rethink the need to use even half of the curry paste can next time, AND know for sure that when they tell you at the Thai restaurant they’ve made it Thai hot, they were lying.IMG_20140830_203415


End-of-Summer Sarah-bration

by Sarah on August 24, 2014 · 7 comments

Remember when we used to say “the start of September brings with it the start of school”?

OK, maybe we never actually said that, but Labor Day DID use to be the “official” end of summer, inasmuch as we returned, bright-eyed and bushy tailed, with brand new backpacks and the one outfit you could convince your dad to order you from the L.L.Bean catalog. (Striped leggings and corduroy skirts were–and perhaps still are…–a fashion revolution.)

Now, however, it is my birthday that seems to mark the end of the summer for me…and this year, as it was also the mark of the end of a decade, it seemed only fitting to host an End-of-Summer Sarah-bration. [For which I misspelled my name three times while creating an invitation.]


How so very quickly this summer flew by
And Sarah’s 30 years seem like the blink of an eye
Come celebrate pencils and classes and books
And the fact that this redhead is maintaining her looks (?)

We’ll give you seafood and meat (no promises what type)
Grilled sweet potatoes, because they ARE worth the hype
Please bring a salad, a side, or a snack
Along with some wine or your favorite six pack

Fun will be had, and maybe a cake (?)
We might just find out if The Professor* can bake
Let us know if you’re in for one last summer fete
If you miss it, you’ll be SUPER sad, I bet.

*I put his actual name. Even though my little sister and my aunt do refer to him as “The Professor” in real life.IMG_3034 (1280x853)

And you probably ARE sad you missed it. The food was pretty standard: hummus mixed with whole milk yogurt–my trick to make it creamier, more filling, and cost-effective–with local cucumbers and pita bread leftover from dinner out the other night; last-minute chips and Ernie’s Black Bean & Corn Salsa (delicious, but not as good as the original)…IMG_3029 (1280x853)

My rediscovered go-to salad-that-pleases-everyone (adapted and adopted from my Aunt Elizabeth), smoked sweet potatoes, and watermelon.IMG_3026 (1280x853)

Of course, with The Professor involved, there was plenty of meat. PLENTY of meat.* (At one point I wasn’t sure if he secretly thought I had invited only cavemen–or Paleo-eating Crossfitters–to the party.)

*Not pictured, but there were two types of fish, pork sausage AND loin, flank steak, AND chicken legs.IMG_3048 (1280x853)

The only snafu was that I had less local tomatoes than I thought…but it turns out I’m quite creative in my old age, and peaches with basil and pepper are actually crazy good.IMG_3010 (1280x853)

Some might say the fact that the Sparkling Lemonade Sangria lasted only thirty minutes after the first two guests arrived (and fifteen minutes into the actual party) another issues, but I found it made for an EXCELLENT start to the evening. :) IMG_3040 (852x1280)

And an excellent end to the evening? A homemade, triple-layer dark chocolate peanut butter frosted cake made by two of my dear friends, commissioned by The Professor.

Delicious. Truly. I scraped the icing and cake off of the serving plate with my fingers. (Evidence of this was found on my dress later that night.) IMG_20140822_202948_995 (1) (1280x722)

But better than the cake was the happiness of having so many old(ish), relatively new, and brand new friends with me to celebrate, relax, and just enjoy a Friday night in a backyard in the South before the craziness of this semester can truly take hold.facebook_post

For which I have a remedy, by the way:

Leftover cake.IMG_20140824_162533


A couple of posts ago, I reviewed my new favorite “energy bars” and warned informed y’all that I’d be attempting to recreate some of the flavors as soon as possible.IMG_2961 (1024x683)

But while the back of the bar ingredient info is helpful, a PhD student about to enter her second–already more intensive–year ain’t got time (or money) to acquire and assemble all of those ingredients.*

*Or to use correct English, apparently.IMG_2956 (1024x688)

[Not to mention I'm studying Health Education & Promotion, not chemistry, so successfully creating my own probiotic blend doesn't seem likely.]IMG_2951 (1024x683)

But I almond butter? Well I can make that from roasted, salted almonds in seconds minutes.IMG_2970 (1024x683)

As for dates, Costco-sized tubs linger for ages in the back of the fridge, don’t they?IMG_2976 (683x1024)

Green tea matcha powder might be a little bit harder to come by, but a worthy investment. [Or worthy of being reviewed and then forgotten about until now, anyway. :) ]IMG_2981 (1024x683)

Not much more to it than that, except my favorite Growing Naturals protein powder and a nice drizzle of honey.IMG_2999 (1024x683)

Just like that, an easy, less expensive recreation of the bars I fell in love lust with a few weeks ago.IMG_2987 (1024x683)

Perfect for bouncing into a brown bag (or lunch box) for back-to-school.recipereduxAUGUST

[OK, you might not want to actually BOUNCE them...]IMG_2985 (1024x684)

Green Tea & Honey Energy Balls

(Makes 10-12)

  1. Process dates in a food processor until crumbly.
  2. Add remaining ingredients until well mixed.
  3. Press and roll into balls (or bars).
  4. Store in the fridge.


It’s been a week since I got back from the epic Maine & Massachusetts adventure…IMG_20140808_174655

…which, oddly enough turned out to include everything I imagined it would…IMG_20140807_150046 (1)

…and, as usual, was even more wonderful than expected.IMG_20140809_181641

I don’t know what to say about it except that there was a WHOLE lot of delicious food consumed—IMG_20140811_183413

—and a whole lot of delicious drinks (see the liquefied crystallized ginger in that glass below).IMG_20140811_201442

There were many roads traveled…IMG_20140808_174557

…and new “friends” made along the way.IMG_20140808_103148

I still love my family more than words can say (but the multiple times I almost cried on the way home might demonstrate)IMG_20140811_191043

—and the newest addition really IS the cutest baby in the world.IMG_20140809_124206

I’m certain I used to have greater stamina for more photos and more recaps…IMG_20140807_154645

…and much more detailed descriptions of food and drink…IMG_20140810_181835

But I guess I’m just going to let that be enough.

IMG_20140808_181202Maybe I’m getting tired in my old age?IMG_20140811_095220



Next Stop: Summer Vacation

by Sarah on August 6, 2014 · 4 comments

Travel snacks are being packed.IMG_20140804_144245

An absurd amount of time has been spent on making summer playlists for the rental car drives.playlist

And I’m off to check one more star off of the U.S. Flag…greetings-from-maine-postcard

…(hopefully) fulfill a foodie dream of eating a lobster roll in a shack on a beach…Foodnut.com

…see some of my favorite people in the world…IMG_20130823_190315_846 (1024x576)

…and make sure my adorable baby niece receives her first pair of cowboy boots.IMG_20140803_154715

I’ll also come back a year older.SpeedLimitSign_30MPH_NYC_DNAinfo.com_011112-e1326390764709

To summarize in emojis (thanks to The Professor):vacationemojis2


EFFI Foods? EFFI(n’) Good. [Review]

by Sarah on August 5, 2014 · 4 comments

This might be the easiest review I ever write. I can honestly say I’ve never received a product to sample that disappeared as quickly as these EFFI (Eco Friendly Foods Initiative) bars.

Nor have I ever so genuinely wanted more.IMG_2687 (1024x683)

During my lecture on Exercise for Fitness & Health this summer, I tried to touch on some current trends and tangentially related topics to physical fitness and training. One of those issues was the perception of nutrition bars and their many monikers: protein bars, meal bars, meal replacements, snack bars, candy.*

*Actual slide from my lecture.proteinbars_candy

We talk about if they are really necessary for most people, and, taking images and ideas from this blog post as inspiration, discuss what is actually in most of them. The moral of the story being that, in general, there are a lot of ways to get protein, and not all of them involve manufactured sources or added sugars.grams-protein2

But we also talk about the need, on occasion, for a quick snack, or something to sustain you when your next meal isn’t quite within your grasp, especially if your busy schedule mandates you hit the gym with no time to go home and prepare yourself a turkey sandwich or way to keep a tub of Greek yogurt cold.IMG_20140730_122820

And EFFI Foods has solved that problem.Screen-Shot-2014-07-29-at-9.58.25-AM

With a socially conscious mission, and a global reach, you feel somehow like you are doing your part to not only keep your hunger at bay, but perhaps pull a little Captain Planet action at the same time.Capture

And yes, there are added ingredients my grandma wouldn’t know a thing about, but I personally HAVE heard of spirulina :) , and I also don’t mind getting probiotics in a bar, as I already take a pill with them anyway. (Also, at the risk of a TMI moment, I think the probiotic blend works…)IMG_20140804_174243

They’re also certified by every eco-friendly food-related organization I’ve ever heard of–and many I haven’t.effi_foods_certifications

Lower in sugar than many others (and all of it natural), enough fiber and protein to sustain you through a swim or just a busy day of errands, and honestly, so good I’ve saved the wrappers to see if I can somehow recreate the flavors in a bar or ball of my own…IMG_20140801_134717



Aside from the fact that I served my friend Emily a pile of Jason’s Deli bean salad mixed with tofu and tomatoes, topped with cold, leftover, White Bean & Sun Dried Tomato Pasta, when she came over for dinner the other night….IMG_2854 (1024x683)

I actually think I’m getting pretty good at this hostessing thing.IMG_20140802_200619

Although every time people are coming over, I stress and worry that the ratio of side dishes to meat won’t be adequate and that there won’t be enough food or too many desserts* I’m slowly learning that sticking to a few ‘tried and trues’ and letting everything else fall as it may might actually work out most of the time.

*I know, impossible, right?IMG_2908 (1024x683)

So, when The Professor and I decided to have the new members of his department over for a cookout, I first freaked out about the wording of the invitation, the potential of having only four bags of chips and twelve-packs of beer as contributions, and how much work I was going to have to do to prepare.IMG_20140803_124224 (675x675)

But then I pushed pause, took a breath, and looked to the binder of tried-and-true recipes I’ve collected from family and friends over the years.

And of course, that was the biggest hit of the dinner.*

*Except for the pork loin and local sausage The Professor smoked on the grill. With this crowd, I couldn’t compete.IMG_2943 (1024x683)

Everyone has some version of “the Asian salad“–so called, I’m sure, simply for the use of ramen noodles as a topping. My Aunt Elizabeth’s version–which I’ve recreated before–has nothing really “Asian” about it at all except for those little crunchers (which will get soft if you prep the salad too early, but I like it anyway).*

*I did add a smidge of soy sauce and sesame oil, but not enough to truly make a difference.IMG_2926 (1024x683)

So I don’t know what to call it, except for the “I Don’t Even Like Salad!” Salad, because that’s a paraphrase of most of the comments I’ve received every time I’ve ever made it.

And, just like I’ll probably STILL stress before the next cookout, I’ll also be making this again.IMG_2936 (1024x684)

The “I Don’t Even Like Salad!” Salad

(Serves 8)

  • 1/2 head of cabbage, shredded (about 6 cups or so)
  • 10 oz. baby spinach, torn
  • 1 bunch green onions, sliced (whites and light green parts)
  • 1/3 cup sliced almonds
  • 1 package ramen noodles, seasoning packet discarded
  • 3 Tbsp. sesame seeds (optional)


  • 1/2 cup canola or grapeseed oil
  • 2-3 Tbsp. water
  • 6-8 Tbsp. rice vinegar
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp. seasoned salt
  • 1 Tbsp. sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp. dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp. black pepper
  • 1 tsp. light soy sauce
  • just a drop (!) of toasted sesame oil
  1. Layer spinach, cabbage, onions, almonds,and  noodles in a large bowl.
  2. Whisk–or shake–together all dressing ingredients.
  3. Just before serving, toss salad with dressing and sprinkle with sesame seeds.
  4. Let the compliments come in.IMG_2940 (1024x683)

Tuesday night, I looked over and realized that The Professor was not, in fact, returning family and work e-mails, but was instead blogging.

Oh how times have changed.

But, it IS about time to catch up on the OXO What a Grill Wants campaign, isn’t it?IMG_2776 (1024x683)

So without further ado: heeere’s Johnny The Professor!heresprofessor


Chapter 4: Silicone Basting BrushIMG_1228 - Copy (1024x683)

In my last column, I extolled the virtues of OXO’s awesome 16- inch grill tongs, which handled various meats, fishes, and vegetables with ease.  Well, they’re back, with their new friend the OXO Silicone Basting Brush!IMG_2768 (1024x683)

This past Sunday, as Ms. Smart and I sought to make room in the freezer, we decided it was time to cook up that slab of ribs from <Redacted> Farms.
I could tell you where these tasty pigs are raised, but then I’d have to kill you. 
This was a nice rack, and for that, I used a mix of Salt Lick dry rub (one of the few things that is cheaper at Whole Foods than a normal grocery store), and an apple-flavored dry rub I found in desperation while on vacation in Whistler, BC a couple years back.  The latter is an excellent complement to most anything pork, and I like to use it on roasted pork loin too.IMG_2755 (1024x682)
I let the rubs sit for about two hours before starting the fire, and then used the basting brush to give the ribs a nice coat of olive oil all over. Ribs take time, and the oil helps keep them from drying out while on the smoker.  They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so my thoughts on the brush can be seen below.
Insert photo of sexy rib basting action here :) *
*Editor’s Note: OK!IMG_2762 (1024x682)
 Aside from keeping your ribs moist, the other key is to leave them alone. Focus on keeping a good fire (I used lump charcoal and oak logs), and back off the ribs.
If you’re lookin’, you ain’t cookin’. -A very wise pitmaster. (amazingribs.com)
There were also a couple sweet potatoes to roast, and just as before, the tongs did not disappoint.  They handled everything with ease.  The result: pure awesomeness.IMG_2774 (1024x683)
Sexy cooked ribs and pretty plated food shots here. *

IMG_2781 (1024x684)

*Editor’s Note: On it.IMG_2786 (1024x683)
 Stay tuned for the last two installments on the OXO What a Grill Wants Series:
The Meat Tenderizer: Pounding Food into Deliciousness
The Lost Grill Tool: Where’s My Burger Spatula?