Monday, December 12, 2011

Hello Stranger

So, it's been a while. I really have a commitment issue with my blogging habit when it gets nice outside. In Montana, you have to take advantage of those few short months of sunshine and warmth during which I, for one, am OUTSIDE as much as possible! But now that the ground is covered in white for the next 8 months, I think it's time to settle back in front of my computer and attempt my writing once again. I must's good to be back...

I know this is technically a "food blog", but this entry is in honor of some special PEOPLE in my life. And, of course, I will tie in some of the food we enjoy together!

This Christmas, Jordan and I are heading south to Tennessee to be with FAMILY for the holidays. I guess maybe the fact that I have not been back to Nashville since LAST DECEMBER has made me a little emotional about my family and friends there. As I was looking through pictures of my parents' visit to Montana last summer, the sentimental tug on my heart was beckoning me to blog about it. I'm such a sap!

Ed and Sue.

First stop upon arriving in Missoula...naturally a brewery!
Big Sky is a personal favorite. (Mainly because the samples here are FREE, and I can usually drink no more than ONE of the FOUR 4 ounce glasses they give you. Such a light weight!)

This is a familiar sight for anyone who has ever taken a peek at my blog.
BIGA PIZZA is an absolute MUST for visitors to Zootown. Also a must is starting your meal there with the antipasta platter. This was my parents' inaugural meal in Big Sky Country!

My father should get royalties for the promotion of Montana products during his time here.
In this particular case, Mr. Ed says you should eat your huckleberry preserves!

Here, he is showing what fabulous coffee LOOSE CABOOSE offers.
I just love how passionate he was about things made in Montana! Hehe!

We took a road trip to GLACIER NATIONAL PARK. It was gorgeous, as always, but a little bit sweeter due to the company i was keeping.

This was take three of a picture at Glacier. Jordan and I were laughing uncontrollably and dad's finger STILL made it into the shot somehow!

There are not many places where you can have a snowball fight in July!

My parents fell in love with the mountain goats. But really...who wouldn't think these creatures are absolutely adorable! Mom & dad wanted to take one home. That might be taking it a bit far.


Jordan and dad acting goofy. I am truly blessed that my husband and father get along so well.
Now if they would only share that huckleberry ice cream with me!

Another highlight in the Missoula restaurant world...CAFFE DOLCE.
We shared the local lamb burger on homemade ciabatta with goat cheese and local thick-cut bacon, Housemade pasta with prosciutto & parmesan, and Field greens salad with stone fruits.

Meeting friends for a creamy treat at none other than BIG DIPPER.
I have sat at this picnic table countless times, but this was one of the happiest memories there.
This moment was also the beginning of Momma Sue's Big Dipper infatuation. She has even asked if we could ship it to Tennessee for her!

Good Food Store Cheese Tasting Class = The most delicious way to spend your First Friday
List of the cheeses and recipes we got to taste!

GREAT HARVEST on a Saturday morning. Can't get much better than that!
Our spread of Apple crunch rolls, Savannah bars, Cream cheese & berry scones.

A sunny Saturday at the Farmer's Market of Missoula.
I'd say, by the looks of things, our day together was blissful!

When you come to Montana, MEAT should be on the menu!!
Char grilled buffalo steaks / Grilled rosemary smashed potatoes / Field greens

This was the first time my parents had ever eaten steelhead, this type of trout that tastes very similar to salmon to me. Jordan and I discovered it as a favorite after living in Montana for a little while. Another is easier on the budget than fresh salmon.
Grilled steelhead and squash.

Remember my mention of mom's obsession with Big Dipper. Well, she forced us to go back with her for another taste of sweet goodness. She practically had to threaten us to order our dark chocolate & nut-dipped cones. Then we cried the entire time we suffered through the eating of the best ice cream in Montana. Cruel, I tell you...

Last dinner in Missoula with my parents at JAMES BAR. The way to start a meal here is with the hot & crispy sweet potato tots! I bet you can't eat just one!!

The dinners were delicious, the trips were a blast, the desserts were decadent, and the laughs were too many to count. But moments like this...Jordan and dad bonding over a guitar lesson...and quality time spent TOGETHER with my precious parents were the TRUE treats of this visit. More satiating than any meal could ever be.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Traveling mercies...Eating mercies...

In preparing for a road trip there is always one vital thing to take care of before making a packing list, reserving a hotel room, or checking the weather forecast. This one necessary action could make or break a vacation. Obviously, researching eateries and formulating a culinary plan of action is what I am speaking of! Doesn't everyone do this as soon as an idea for a trip is conceived??

Okay Okay. Perhaps I am in the minority on this issue.
But travel with me and you are sure to eat well...

Jordan recently fell in love...with a guitar in Spokane. This gave us a wonderful excuse to get away together for a weekend in the 2nd largest city in Washington. Living in Big Sky Country is a dream, but this city girl was itching for a temporary taste of urban influence.

Upon researching Spokane, it came to mind that maybe...just maybe...there might be one of our "favorites" from Nashville in the city. I slowly typed "Maggie Moo's" into my Google search box with the hopes of a child anticipating Christmas morning. Back in the south, we were regulars at the treatery to get our fix of rich red velvet ice cream with brownies mixed in or creamy blueberry muffin batter ice cream with chunky walnuts. Alas, the ONLY Maggie Moo's in the entire state of Washington is in SPOKANE!! Take THAT, Seattle!!

The heartbreaking, or humorous...(however you want to look at it)...part of our story is that this particular Maggie Moo's only makes those two flavors seasonally. And apparently, we were there out of season. I may or may not have called the store to see if they would accept special flavor requests, but apparently they want me to have to plan another trip to Spokane this summer and then again around Valentine's Day...

Fear not...I had backups ready. I had found a trendy little place called FroYo Earth that I was interested in trying. Frozen yogurt seems to be all the rage in bigger cities...last time we were in Nashville, 4 or 5 new shops had opened up!

FroYo Earth was completely self-serve which is BRILLIANT!! The business saves money on employees because guess who does the work? WE DO!

There were 10 different flavors of yogurt on the back wall with dispensers allowing one to swirl flavors together if desired. Thimble-sized "tasting" cups were provided so that customers could sample until they found the perfect flavors. This sampling policy could get a girl in trouble...

I decided on bluebery acai, cake batter, and tart (basically a classic plain yogurt) flavors. The next step in the process was the ENDLESS self-serve toppings bar. Nuts of all kinds, granola, fresh fruit, gummies, candies, chocolates, pie filling, cheesecake, cookie dough, caramel, marshmallow creme, cereals...even sweetened condensed milk!! Again, this situation gets a girl in trouble. Please don't judge my overflowing cup of goodness...

Our first morning invited a culinary adventure we did not expect. After sleeping in a bit that Saturday, Jordan and I did something we NEVER get to do...go to BREAKFAST together! Jobs and schedules just don't allow this luxury, so our walk along the river into the city center of Spokane knowing that a good meal was in our near future was a treat!

Such a simple name for such an extraordinary place.

Jordan claims that this establishment caused him to become an "official foodie". We even had a celebration for his graduation to foodie-hood! I saw the immediate change in him...the sparkle in his eye with that first bite of apple cake French toast, the sigh that followed a swallow of thick-cut honey pepper bacon, the quick glances of curiosity each time a server walked by with a different dish, the grin on his face upon his return from going back to the KITCHEN to personally COMPLIMENT the cooks!! My husband was a change man from this morning forward...

And this is the cause...
Two dishes to share was perfect:
Apple cake French toast with maple pecan butter and caramel / Roasted asparagus, mushroom, onion, zucchini omelette / Garlic roasted red potatoes / Buttered toast

Ethiopia may not seem like a culinary destination, and it probably isn't. However, when an opportunity arises to taste something completely foreign to me, I seize it!

I discovered an Ethiopian restaurant in Spokane owned by natives of the country and thought it would be worth a try. Dinner at Queen of Sheeba was on our itinerary for the weekend and we were excited!

We learned that traditional dishes are served on one big round of injera - a flat bread made out of "teff". Teff is a grain that has more absorbable calcium than MILK and is richer in iron than liver!! Who knew!! The injera itself is similar to a pita/tortilla, but a bit spongy in texture and tart in taste. The flat bread is used to scoop up bits of the meat and vegetable dishes making utensils unnecessary. And who doesn't like eating with their hands?!

It was not a meal I would want to eat everyday, but it really was tasty! The experience of learning first-hand about an unfamiliar culture was what made it special, and I am so glad that we tried it.
Our meal included garlic collard greens, red lentils, steak with spices, ground beef in curry sauce, chicken slowly simmered in turmeric & cumin, and the traditional boiled eggs.

Funny know that guitar that had caught Jordan's eye? Well, a completely DIFFERENT guitar won his heart on our FIRST trip to Spokane. That's right, he found an even crazier deal that fit his taste and his purposes better. The only problem: it wasn't available for another 3 weeks! Oh well, another excuse for a weekend away, right?!

The second trip to Spokane just happened to be during the weekend of the BLOOMSDAY run. In layman's terms, this meant 60,000 participants taking over the city for 3 days. And we wondered why in the world we couldn't find an available hotel room...

Due to the masses of carb-loading runners downtown, Jordan and I decided to dine a little off the beaten path. This helped us avoid restaurants full of excitable travelers shouting encouraging phrases across the room to each other, comparing pedometers and sweatbands, or displaying recent injuries from the LAST run they finished. With 60,000 of them, they also might have already eaten all the food....

We found ourselves at a, (dare I say it?), restaurant CHAIN!! That was almost painful to type.
Chili's was our best option. I have to admit that it does hold a special place in my heart. My FIRST meal in America after a semester abroad in Spain was at a Chili's in an airport. I had never tasted better chips and salsa...true story...

On our second trip to the city, we thought it only appropriate to get frozen yogurt again...since there is no good place in Missoula to get it. We ended up at DIDIER'S. It was a cute little mom & pop storefront with friendly service and a hometown feel. This frozen yogurt shop was not self-serve, and the three young ladies working there truly did SERVE. They were great! What a fun late night treat!

I opted for white chocolate almond yogurt with chocolate covered graham crackers. DIDIER'S was VERY reasonable...just $2.49 for almost more than I could handle. :)

One question: Should we join a support group???
Somehow, we ended up back at MADELEINE'S for breakfast for the THIRD time in ONE month! It's just beyond me how that could have happened!

Whatever that force was, however, I am truly grateful for it.
For round three, we again shared the apple cake French toast because you CAN'T NOT order it!! Only this time we also split the corned beef hash...good quality corned beef with red potatoes, asparagus, peppers, onions, and fried eggs.

On our way out of Spokane, we took a detour to Green Bluff, Washington through gorgeous farmland to TREZZI FARM & WINERY. Here we feasted our eyes upon endless green fields and soft blue skies. And then, we just feasted...

Davide, (a Milan, Italy native), and his wife, Stephanie own this vineyard/event venue/catering business. And they do a fine job at all they do!

Jordan and I partook in a food & wine pairing on our visit. $3 gets you a tasting of Trezzi's Barbera red and their chardonnay, as well as a signature dish. On this particular Saturday, Davide had prepared baked polenta with marinara & mozzarella. And this Italian's idea of a "food tasting" was to keep urging us to go back and eat MORE! I like his style.

If you ever have the chance, stop by the farm for a tasting!! Davide is passionate about his cooking, (which he does ALL himself!), and doing what he LOVES. And that is most important. I think we all should be influenced by that attitude. The Trezzi couple will make you laugh, teach you something new, and inspire a fresh love of life during your time with them. They will also feed you well...
Happy Travels!!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Here's the scoop...

This past weekend, we had a friend from Tennessee come stay with us in Missoula. He was in town to lead a marriage seminar and to speak at our church. We were thrilled to find that he would be here for a few days, so we jumped at the opportunity to invite him to be our house guest. Sunday night Jordan and I discussed holding him hostage and not letting him return to Nashville. However, we decided not to be selfish. And we figured that his family would eventually miss him and we would be found out. Plans thwarted!!

David has a PhD in counseling and is just one of those people who exudes wisdom and intellect. I could ask him questions and listen to him speak for hours on end! David teaches classes through a seminary and has his own practice in Nashville, TN. Also, he was our premarital counselor...which gives me a boost of confidence in the future of my marriage to Jordan :)

Saturday night, David returned to our house after facilitating a marriage seminar all afternoon then having a dinner/meeting with a couple from our church. Not to mention, there were FOUR services coming up on Sunday for which he needed to prepare. I figured the remainder of his night would be spent writing out key points or reading notes. However, Jordan and I mentioned that we might go to get ice cream. So instead of getting out his notebook, David automatically went to grab his jacket. Our bond strengthened a little in this moment.

Standing outside in the chilly Montana a line of about 25 9:00 pm...for ICE CREAM!! It just goes to show the influence food is capable of having in our daily lives! How much longer will this MEMORY last than if we had stayed in and watched a t.v. show? How much more FUN was the evening? How much more did we LAUGH that Saturday night? How much more enjoyable CONVERSATION was made?

Genuinely enjoyable times, such as this one, build upon relationships that become even more special. These times might also make your ice cream taste even sweeter...

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The APPLE of my eye...

New York City
It's not just the name of a city. It symbolizes an attitude, a culture, an icon...a living, breathing metropolis we are all enamored in, intrigued by, or at least curious about.

What is it about NYC? Is it the continuous flow of the masses through its streets, or that unexplainable energy one feels just by existing in its environment? Is it the array of ethnicities represented, or the obvious artistic flare characteristic of every citizen in the city? Could it be the empowering feeling of invincibility that is automatic when you are there? The fashion, the opportunity, the determination, the dominating buildings, the excitement, the commotion, the zeal, the fortitude...

It is a combination of all of these things.
These things along with the food.

I left my heart in the "Big Apple"

Enjoying lunch at a true New York delicatessen. Egg salad, pastrami, matzo ball soup, sandwiches as big as your head!

JUNIORS' claim to fame is that it is the establishment which invented the famous NYC "Black and White Cookie". Those are delicious, but we opted for the also famous cheesecakes. It just seemed right...

I loved starting our mornings in the city with a stop to get a fresh, warm New York bagel! This particular morning, we were on our way to spend a day in Central Park. I couldn't resist a big "everything" bagel with scallion cream cheese.
The REAL breakfast of champions!

Julie and Brette enjoying creamy gelato during one of our many walks around "Little Italy".

The culinary options available in New York are a bit overwhelming! Especially when you are a "foodie" who wants to make the absolute MOST of every bite! During my visit, I found some truly UNIQUE places!

Here, Brette and I are at "Rice to Riches" in the Nolita district of NYC. This trendy little shop serves just one thing...rice pudding! They have flavors such as Fluent in French toast, Hazelnut Chocolate Bear Hug, and Coconut Coma. As if that isn't fun enough, you can top your bowl of pudding with delights like oven-roasted fresh fruits, toasted butter pound cake, or caramel vanilla sauce.
Who needs riches when you have a warm bowl of rice pudding?!

Eating a NY hot dog fresh from a vendor in Times Square. just seemed right...

I had one of the best meals of my life in Little Italy at Grotto Azzura on Mulberry Street.
We had lunch "al fresco": housemade breads, gnocchi with fresh mozzerella & tomato sauce, penne with tomato, basil & eggplant, and insalata caprese with some of the freshest buffalo mozzerella I have tasted!

Our friend, Stephanie, was hospitable enough to share her apartment in the financial district of the city with the three of us. She was working with the Broadway musical, TARZAN, at the time of our stay. Here, we are enjoying sliders at a hip tapas bar off of Broadway. The first night I was in NYC, Stephanie invited me to join her to the cast party TARZAN!! It was an incredible, memorable night of meeting intriguing people, getting to feel more like a real New Yorker, learning more about life on Broadway, and eating lots of yummy tapas!

The intoxicating sweet smell of chocolate is inescapable even before you enter the doors of HERSHEY'S in Times Square!
Here I am amidst wall-to-wall displays of M&M's in every color you can imagine! There was every Hershey product I could think of in this place. I felt like a kid in a candy store...literally!

It is THE place to get dessert! But its popularity demands that you come early and be ready to wait. We anticipated this and went to put our name in, walked around to some local shops, and came back in TWO HOURS when our table was ready. "Was it worth it?", one might ask. I would do it again in a heartbeat if that answers that question!

The "Frrrozen Hot Chocolate" was made famous in Kate Beckinsale's movie, Serendipity. I opted for the Peanut Butter Frrrozen Hot Chocolate just to add to my gluttony. It is frosty decadence...and just sweet enough without giving you a toothache. Not only was it richly satisfying, but it was fun to eat!! Always a bonus for me!

Be ready for a novel of a menu at Serendipity 3!

What a fantastic trip!
Experiencing the "city that never sleeps", traveling with my sister and friends, exploring as much as humanly possible (despite the city's nickname, I needed some shut-eye!) for 7 days, seeing true Broadway productions, meeting people from all walks of life, embracing different cultures...all in one American city!, chasing celebrities (I am guilty as charged), getting lost on the subway...just a couple times, and eating extraordinarily throughout...

"I want to be a part of it. New York New York!!"

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

El Dia de Amor

In honor of the closing of February, I am highlighting the month's claim to fame.
Valentine's Day.

Throughout my life, it was just another day. Besides some chocolate from my parents or cardboard Aladdin & Jasmine valentines from my 2nd grade classmates, I never expected (or received) much else.
Until February of 2007.
The first "El dia de amor" of "Jordan & Jenny".

That February 14th, I had agreed to help the event coordinator at church with her Valentine's Day balloon deliveries. I mean, what else was I going to do on this "day of romance"?? I was currently talking to a guy who went to the University of Florida. Translation: Jordan was far, far away.

So, I go to her to start my first delivery.
To: Amanda Morris - Starbucks in Glenbrook
Okay. I've got this one. I pack the big balloon bouquet into the back seat of my Civic, (which I do not recommend for visibility's sake), and headed to Starbucks.

I walk in carrying the awkward bouquet of balloons that inevitably hit me in the face a few times and got caught in the door as I entered the coffee shop. After my battle with the floating mylar globes, I get to the counter and confidently ask, "Does Amanda Morris work here?" The twisted expression of confusion on the barista's face just made me think he assumed I was some weird circus act who happened to carry balloon bouquets around wherever I go just in case a performance opportunity arose.
Finally, a response. "No. I don't know any 'Amanda Morris.'"
Now I was confused.

Backing away from the counter, (slightly in fear he might call security on the balloon freak), I reread the card. I looked up to see if perhaps there was a girl who might look like an "Amanda Morris". Scanning the shop, I noticed someone walking toward me from the corner.

My jaw dropped simultaneously as I actually dropped the entire balloon bouquet in the middle of Starbucks.
"What are you doing here?!"
Maybe not the best response, but I was shocked! We had only been "talking" long-distance for a few months and he was supposed to be in Florida! I only realized it was "real" when he embraced me in a big hug. The initial surprise wore off a little, but I was still in disbelief...for pretty much the rest of the day.

He had flown up to Tennessee from Florida for a few days to spend our first Valentine's Day together! His decision to do this, (and that cheesy balloon bouquet), are kind of what started it all. Or at least made me realize this guy was serious!

Knowing my love of food, Jordan prepared a delicious dinner of homemade ricotta manicotti, salad, and tiramisu. I apologize for no photographic documentation but remember...I was still in shock...

An adorable strawberry chocolate cake from Whole Foods Market.

Jordan had made the decision to transfer to MTSU in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. I guess he didn't want to have to pay for another plane ticket to surprise me for Valentine's Day :)
Our second of the holiday together was another fun celebration. He cooked for me once again sticking to pasta - appeasing my Italian roots - and we enjoyed our sweet little cake.

We decided to celebrate the special day a little non-traditionally in 2009. We picked up smoothies from my FAVORITE smoothie bar, KEVA Juice. I had a "Wake Up Cup" - a comforting blend of peanut butter, banana, peaches, granola, blueberries, cinnamon, and milk. With our portable lunches, Jordan and I headed downtown to the Adventure Science Center. AKA - the children's science museum in Nashville. Young at heart, right?!
We had a blast walking through a human digestive system, learning about physics, and seeing what we might look like in 50 years. (Actually, that last part was more frightening than fun!)

After our adventurous day, we headed back to Hendersonville where we watched a gorgeous sunset from our favorite lookout. As our appetites became apparent, it was off to Jordan's house where we feasted by candlelight on a meal we had purchased from Whole Foods.
Grilled swordfish with roasted tomatoes
Broccoli rabe with whole garlic cloves
Cous Cous with pine nuts & raisins
Butternut squash risotto cakes
Pluots & blueberries

Our FIRST Valentine's Day as "The Johnston's"
On February 14, 2010, we decided to get all dressed up with no where to go! This was in part because we were Montanans now and the cold weather makes it all the more cozy to be indoors!
Fondue at our apartment was the menu of the evening. And it was delicious!

Gouda cheese, garlic, & beer fondue

Red pears, roasted potatoes, roma tomatoes, and hearth bread.
All delicious...but even more so when submerged in gooey cheese!!

J-squared is still living happily in Montana, but this year we celebrated at our own HOUSE!
2011 marks our FIFTH Valentine's celebration together! It is amazing to see how much has changed and how much WE have changed throughout this journey together!

Valentine's Day always seemed unremarkable to me until I found my "someone" to celebrate. I am still a believer that the card, candy, and stuffed animal industries are instigators of all the hype surrounding the day. However, I now see it in a slightly different light.

It is an opportunity to reflect on how much you are loved.
A chance to show you appreciate your beloved.
A day to show love to others. excuse to eat chocolate.

D'Anjou pear
Red pear
Black grapes
Aged parmesan
Apple paste
Dark chocolate
Le Corsaire port, Missoula Winery

Farfalle with artichoke, pesto, tomato sauce