Tag Archives: Food

Blossom Deli saved my life

We started indoor soccer at the YMCA this weekend and the kids’ games were spaced just perfectly to mess with the entire day.  Abigail played at noon so, by 1, we were pretty hungry.  We knew better than to eat before the game as the floor needed to stay puke-free.  Anyhow, by 1, we were all pretty hungry so we headed downtown to one of our favorite restaurants.  It’s a local downtown place and lately has been somewhat flaky about when it is open.  We usually hit it on evenings and weekends though it really caters to the weekday lunchtime crowd.  That’s right…you guessed it…they were closed.

Anyhow, we were pretty bummed and more urgently, pretty dang hungry.  We stood in the middle of the street with vacant zombie-like looks on our faces, wondering how we would survive…what we would do to get food…whether we could bear to go on.  Fortunately, my lovely wife, with cat-like reflexes and an eagle eye, spotted the Blossom Deli a few hundred feet away.  If only we could make it the 100 steps to their door-step, surely they would have something they could give us to avert disaster.

Somehow we made it to Blossom Deli alive.  It’s all a little fuzzy, but I sort of think ants must have picked us up and were carrying us to their nest when some heroic patrons rescued us and drug us inside…but I have no evidence of that.  Anyhow, we got inside and…you’ll never believe this….they sell food at the Blossom Deli!

We were seated right away (I think they noticed our pitiful blank faces and feared a zombie attack) and quickly set us up with liquid salvation from the fountain.  Yes, you heard me right…they have a real soda fountain at Blossom!  I wasn’t going to push my luck, but I bet they have a real live soda-jerk somewhere too.  Anyhow, the whole place seems right out of the 1950s.  Inside the place is art-deco floor to ceiling.  A lowered grill sits adjacent to the bar seating and simple tables (like your grandma used to have in her kitchen) were everywhere.  Ours even had a nice, easy rock to it.  I think the only thing missing was a poodle skirt or two.

So, the less creative members of my family ordered hotdogs (all beef as Isaac likes to remind me) while I ordered my usual (see, I am the creative one!).  Whenever I go to a restaurant and I see a Reuben on the menu, I order it.  I am not sure why but I MUST order it if I see it.  So I ordered my “usual” and a cherry Coke.  When the waitress (I bet she wants to be called that rather than a server…it’s 1950 afterall) delivered our drinks, I initially wondered how she would tell my cherry Coke from the others’ vanilla Cokes.  Silly me, it was easy…she just sipped from each straw and knew right away!  Not really.  No, she simply looked at the color.  My cherry Coke was definitely red…and I think that red was either the fantastic cherry flavoring or the color of awesome!

Isaac and I quickly drained our glasses (he declared his vanilla Coke to be the best he’d ever had and he’s had a bunch) and asked for another.  When it finally became clear that we weren’t weren’t about to be hauled off by a creepy guy in black carrying a scythe, I took a look around.  The mirrored walls make the inside look much larger than it really is.  It’s really quite comfortable but cozy inside.  The waitresses gave great attention to everyone and I could see as the cooks prepared my meal…fresh!  Blossom Deli offers a daily blue plate special which I will definitely have the next time we go there.

I am sure we will go to our other “favorite place” again when we see it open sometime…but we now have a new go-to local restaurant in Charleston, WV!  Blossom Deli, not only did you possibly save my life, you nourished my soul (well…at least my stomach!)


Today, I wrote an article for Not Dabbling in Normal about the benefits of growing stevia, a plant that naturally produces very sweet leaves.  One can chew on the leaves and get a pretty good rush of sweet, but it’s not terribly convenient or attractive to grind up leaves when cooking.

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I decided to make a stevia extract which is a liquid into which the sweetness of the stevia leaves has been concentrated.  I saw a variety of articles and recipes on how to make stevia extract, but two in particular caught my attention.  Each required a liquid to make the extract.  One used water, the other used vodka.  I decided to try both varieties and see which I liked better.

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I am not much of a drinker.  In fact, I am pretty much not a drinker at all except for the occasional medicinal shot of brandy when I have a sore throat.  Aside from that, I don’t know the difference between varieties of alcohol.  I walked into the local drug store and headed for the liquor aisle where a huge array of vodkas greeted me.  I didn’t know one brand from another so I decided the surest way to pick a good vodka must be by the aesthetics of the label.  I looked and looked and debated, but I finally settled on Gordon’s vodka.  See?  Doesn’t it just look pretty.  The simple light blue label just seemed pleasant to me…it must be good stuff.

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So I got the vodka and headed home.  To make both the vodka and the water-based extracts, I coarsely cut stevia leaves until I had 2 cups for each recipe.  I don’t really know what a coarse cutting is, so I decided to use coarse language as I sliced the leaves into chunks.  I can’t really see how it will help make things sweeter, but if the recipe calls for cussing, I figured I better oblige (actually, I called in Emily…she’s the pro).

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(Research…purely for research)

So, into a mason jar I added 2 cups of leaves and one cup of my liquid – vodka in one jar, water in another.  I covered each and will let it stand for 24 hours gently shaking the jars a few times during that period.  I started the brew last night and the liquid has turned green by this morning.  The vodka-based extract is greener so I suppose it has drawn more of the essence of the stevia out.  At the end of the soaking period, I will filter each through a coffee filter and then simmer the extract over medium-low heat for 30 minutes to concentrate the extract and remove the alcohol.  It’s best to store the liquid in a jar in the refrigerator for future use.

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Everywhere I have read says that I will need to dilute the extract with water before using in a recipe.  I suppose the sweetness of the mix is very powerful.  I’ll know more about that soon!  We’ll use these extracts in cooking and I’ll report back later.

So, what do you think?  Have you heard of or used stevia (or truvia, the store variety)?  Did I buy a descent variety of vodka?

Cider Press Plans

Since I made my cider press last year, I have had numerous people ask me for the plans I used to build it.  I couldn’t find any plans either so I sort of just starting cutting and drilling and painting.  I figured that when it finally looked like a cider press, it would be done.

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I suppose I did sort of congolomerate the ideas of plenty of folks and I added a few of my own so I can’t take all of the credit.  My press is made soley of pine lumber.  Hardwood is probably better but it costs more of course.  I do sort of wish I would have had some plans when I was starting though so I will provide a few measurements that might help you build your own…


Click the image above to see the cider flowing.  (Click here for a quicktime version)

By the way…you can see some of our first cider of 2009 over at Not Dabbling in Normal today.

Anyhow, here is my homemade cider press:

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The length between the red and blue squares is 3 feet.
Between the red and green is 3 1/2 feet.
Between the green and brown is 1 foot.
I just added the yellow square because I thought it looked nice

The uprights are 2×4 pine and everything horizontal is 2×6 pine.

Hopefully these additional shots will help it all make more sense as well…

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It’s Juicy!

My Mom makes the world’s best pies (don’t try to dispute it…) and she always makes us several varieties when we visit. Isaac has convinced her to bake a special pie whenever he comes. You see, he loves cherry flavoring but not the big old snot-like lumps (his words) of cherries in pie filling. Of course, in making the world’s best pie, one wouldn’t dream of buying canned pie filling. So, since my Mom makes her own, she is in a great position to filter out the cherries after making the syrup. That’s right, she makes cherry-juice pie for my son.

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I have to admit, I prefer cherry-juice pie to cherry-snot pie any day. All the flavor remains but you never get the surprise loogie. Now, my boy likes to eat and he is all about cleaning up the last drop of cherry juice. He gets that from his mother who has a similar feeling about ice cream and apple pie. It’s cool though because we don’t have to wash their plates after they do their tongue-cleaning.

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When we eat cherry-juice pie, we don’t talk.  It’s serious business, you see, eating the world’s best pie.  These pictures are taken over a 4 second period so the silence doesn’t last too long.  He devours pie!  So, have you ever had a juice pie or do you like the chunks (particularly in cherry pie)?

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She’s pickled and I’m sauced!

I tried and I tried but Emily got pickled the other night. Of course, the same night, I got pretty sauced so I guess we’re even. The garden hasn’t produced most things very well this year but we do have a lot of tomatoes and cucumbers.


We’ve already made plenty of salsa with the tomatoes and peppers, onions, etc that we got. We figured tomato sauce can be used for about everything so we made a batch of that. It’s pretty easy really so it was ideal. We run the tomatoes through our Velox tomato press and then throw it all in a crockpot to cook down.  Some folks boil their tomato puree until it is half the volume.  We just throw it in the crockpot (uncovered) and forget about it for 24 hours.  By then, it is cooked down and we are oficially sauced.  I think we had about 2500 pounds of tomatoes and once it was all cooked down, we ended up with 5 pints of sauce.  We’ll run throuhg several more batches of sauce because it is so handy when we need to make something yummy over the winter!

(That’s the good stuff…I love the smell of vinegar and pickling spices)

Neither Emily nor I like cucumbers raw.  Emily doesn’t like them pickled either but she’s sauced, obviously.  Anyhow, I love pickles so we made a bunch with the cukes we harvested this year.  I grow dill too so we definitely made our pickles from some of the freshest ingredients around.  I suppose we could make vinegar, but I don’t think we’re ready for that yet.  Anyhow, I love making pickles because the smells of the ingredients take me back to when my Grandma canned pickles.  She canned tons of stuff and the smells and the warmth of the kitchen remind me of her<sniff, sniff>

(This is really a pressure canner but it’s deep enough to water bath can too…without the lid of course)

Ok, so it was a bunch of fun getting pickled too.  Don’t tell, but I figure we’re get pickled and sauced a bunch more times this summer!

My Shiitakes are fruiting!

I have always said that I never met a mushroom I didn’t like.  I guess I don’t like the ones that could kill me, but aside from that, I really dig mushrooms.  In some ways, I suppose I feel a certain kinship with mushrooms.  I am usually in the dark and they keep feeding me bull…well, you get the idea.

A friend of mine is a mushroom enthusiast and helped me inoculate several white oak logs with shiitake spores last summer.  Shiitakes have apparently only been grown outside of East Asia since 1982 so I am not too far behind the curve…I was at least alive in 1982!  Anyhow, the mushroom spores came mixed in a damp sawdust filled container.  We used a 1/2 inch spade bit to drill inch and a half deep holes all over the log and packed the spores into the holes.  I melted beeswax and covered the inoculated holes to seal in the mushroomy goodness.  I pitched the logs out behind my shed and waited.  Just this weekend, they started fruiting!

We used white oak logs because their bark apparently is best at remaining tight on the logs for a longer time than other tree varieties.  Over the past year, as the log decayed, the spores began to run through the log and finally fruit as they have taken hold.  The logs I inoculated are 4-8 inches in diameter and 2-4 feet long.  I expect that they will fruit for 2-10 years depending on how things go.  We’ve had such a wet spring and summer that I suppose they will fruit a lot this summer!  We’ll eat a bunch fresh but I will probably dry some for use over the winter.  For this kind of payoff, I can handle being in the dark a little!

Anyone else grow mushrooms?


We have a secret spot where we go to pick blackberries.  Of course, blackberries have thorns so our screams probably make our location a little less secret than it otherwise would have been.  Still, we go blackberry picking every 2-3 days while they are in season.  Last night was our first venture to the patch.

Emily and I are coming up on our 15th wedding anniversary and we’ve known each other almost 20 years.  I have known her parents about the same length of time.  Last night was the first time we have taken them along with us.  It was hard to decide whether I knew them well enough to trust them with my secret location.  Finally I broke down and we all went picking.

Last year we went so much that we were overrun with berries.  Don’t tell Emily but I am hoping for the exact same problem this year.  With the first batch, Emily made a blackberry pie last night.  I have breakfast lined up for the next few days for sure!

I plan to make some blackberry cobbler and some blackberry wine as well.  My dandelion wine is looking great so I am going to try my hand at blackberry too.  It’s funny to be making wine since neither of us drinks, but it’s the adventure that I enjoy!

Anyhow, blackberries are in season in WV and I have the stained and scratched up hands and arms to prove it!  Are you getting berries where you are?

5 to 10

When we go to the beach, we have a pretty set routine…we get up around 8, grab a quick bite to eat and start applying sunscreen. Once properly lathered and slathered, we grab another bite to eat and head for the beach (with our coolers full of food). Beach tents have evolved and we have moved along with them. We carry our tent down and set it up (and maybe grab a bit of beef jerky or some peanuts) and head for the water. My immediate family body- surfs until noon at which time we grab a bite to eat and then back at it.

I sort of love the beach because we basically have no rules. For breakfast and lunch, Chips-Ahoy cookies are perfectly acceptable as the main course or as a side item. I drink pop by the two liter and am rarely caught without a handful of some sort of food that is ruining my bikini body. But it’s the beach you see so all rules are pretty much out the window.

So after a day full of eating at the house, we always go to some fancy (or at least expensive) seafood place where we eat far too much (and far too rich) fresh seafood. One place that is a ton of fun at Tybee Island is called the Crab Shack. The Crab Shack is certainly not a fancy place but it is expensive. It’s sort of hard to imagine why the prices are so high since all of the dining is either outside under the trees or inside a shack. By shack I don’t mean a quaint little restaurant building…I mean a shack. Cats crawl all over the place grabbing the bits of seafood that people drop and birds occasionally swoop in to snatch a piece of low country boil of a runaway shrimp.

In spite of its humble appearance, the food is really great. They specialize in “low country” food like low country boil, shrimp on grits, shrimp a-la-mode (channeling Bubba from Forest Gump here), etc. Everything is brought on a paper plate and the tables have holes cut in the middle where diners throw everything when finished. We eat everything with our fingers and garner the biggest smiles from the kids you can imagine!

Anyhow, an additional draw of the place is the alligator lagoon where a few dozen alligators reside. For $3, one can purchase 4 soft dogfood-like morsels to hang on the end of a bamboo pole to feed the gators. It is a blast although it appears that the gators eat well as they sometimes don’t want to play along with the “gator fishermen”. I suppose a cat might fall in here and there to satiate them, but generally, I think every patron must be feeding the gators ’til they are full. We were lucky to find a gator that put on a good show for the kids and ate everything we sent his way…must have been the runt of the group I guess.

Anyhow, we eat way too much every year and I generally gain 5-10 pounds in a week. It’s worth every calorie though as fresh seafood is hard to beat!

Dandelion Wine

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I was making homemade hooch but I didn’t say what type I was making.  It’s sort of a funny thing…Emily hates dandelions with a passion.  I don’t understand her issues with them but she goes around the yard picking the heads off of them all the time.  Occasionally she’ll dig the roots, but mostly she just wants the flowers out of sight.  Always one to see an opportunity, I asked her to save the dandelion heads she picked for a project I had in mind!

Wine can be made from all sorts of things including various flowers.  Most people have heard of dandelion wine, but wine can also be made from clover, roses, pansies, coltsfoot, and golden rod among others.  Anyhow, the real key to dandelion wine, is to use the flower petals and not anything green.  I picked a ton of dandelion heads and cut the petals off of them until I had 2 pints of dandelion petals.  That doesn’t sound like a lot, but when you consider the sticky factor, you’ll understand the effort that went in to this project.  My fingers were very yellow and sticky and I left yellow fingerprints all over the place!

Anyhow, I kept remembering how tasty the last batch of dandelion wine was many years ago so I pressed on through the allergies and rainbow of colors on my fingers.  I wrapped the petals in cheesecloth so they would be manageable and started my brew!

In a big open pitcher, I added the petals, 6 pints of water, 3 Campden tablets, 3 lbs of white sugar (as an approximation…remember 2 cups a pound, the whole world round…2 cups of about anything weighs a pound),  1/3 oz of citric acid (taste some of that straight up sometime!), and yeast nutrients.  I let this mixture sit for 2 days in the container loosely covered to keep dust out.  After 2 days, I added champagne yeast and let it sit another day.  Finally, as it started to bubble, I moved everything but the pouch of petals to a fermentation vessel.  The bubbler on top allows the carbon dioxide to escape.  Of course, carbon dioxide is a by product of the yeast converting the sugar to alcohol.

Funny story time…I know someone who was creative and decided to forego the typical bubblers used for fermentation.  Really, the whole point is to allow a bit of CO2 to build up and then force its way out without allowing other contaminants back in.  Some folks take care of that issue by stretching a balloon across the mouth of the fermentation jar.  Well, being extra creative, this person stretched a balloon-like male birth control item over the jar lid.  Of course, this method would work just fine to allow the CO2 to escape.  I am not sure how I would feel about the CO2 building up and…uh…inflating the “balloon” though.  Anyhow, without thinking about it, this winemaker bought the variety with spermicide too.  Some folks say that too much drinking may lead to pregnancy, but I think this may be a solution!

Anyhow, now I have to wait a few months until all of the sugar is converted to alcohol or the alcohol content rises enough to kill the yeast.  Either way, the bubbling will stop and the wine will be ready to settle/age/bottle.  I’ll post more on that when the time comes.

(Here is a windows media version if the above doesn’t work)

In the meantime, I will certainly enjoy watching the bubbles rise through the murky yellow concoction.  It bubbles and fizzes like crazy, very similar to a bottle of pop when first opened!

Homemade hooch

About 15 years ago, my Dad and I decided to make wine with a bumper crop of raspberries that we had harvested.  We had never tried making wine but we figured if Hank Jr said a country boy could do it, we needed to make sure we were up to snuff.  So we headed to the recycling place to snap up a few gallon jugs in which to ferment our hooch.  We made homemade “bubblers” to vent carbon dioxide from the fermentation and started along our way.  The internet was, of course, young, so online stores hadn’t cropped up.  Finding wine or champagne yeast was not a simple process so we started our fermentation with regular bread yeast.

In case you didn’t know, wine is made by adding fruit/flowers/sweat socks to a mixture of sugar and yeast.  If all goes well, the yeast feeds on the sugars and produces alcohol and carbon dioxide.  To prevent a mess, the carbon dioxide is vented off (without allowing new air or contaminates to enter the mixture) leaving the alcohol.  At some point (usually no more than 15% alcohol), the alcohol kills the yeast and fermentation stops.  Of course, if the yeast runs out of nutrients (i.e. sugar) before that point, fermentation also stops.  Our first batches of wine made from regular bread yeast were not as high in alcohol (and we sweeter than usual wine) since the yeast was not meant to tolerate full wine-level alcohol content.  They also didn’t taste quite as good as regularly fermented wine tasted, I suppose.  Still, they were dang drinkable and well worth our effort.  We eventually branched out and, quite successfully, made apple and grape and dandelion and all sorts of other types of wines as well.

As is typical, I recently got a wild hair and decided that it was time to once again get back into the wine making business.  It is legal for individuals to make homemade wine (thanks to the 21st Amendment).  In fact, one can make several hundred gallons of wine before there begins to be any problem (look it up on your own and with regard to your own local laws).  No one is allowed to sell homemade wine, however, without proper licenses, taxes, etc.  I don’t intend to make much wine, and certainly not hundreds of gallons so this operation will be well within legal limits.  

Anyhow, I ordered some real champagne yeast, nice bubblers and some other additives to make my own wine.  I still recycled my fermentation vessel like I did before as that worked perfectly well.  Later on this week I will tell you the specific sort of wine I am making (it ain’t boring old grape) and show you how I put it all together.  I suppose the wine we are making is one that is in line with what Hank had in mind for a country boy!