0 2011 Charleston Mac Off

Macaroni and cheese ranks right up there with the wheel and the telephone on the list of man's greatest inventions, at least if you ask me. Seriously, macaroni and cheese is one of my favorite things on the planet, so when I saw an advertisement for a macaroni and cheese cook-off between various local restaurants (15 or 16 in all), I was pretty excited. And because Tod feels the same way I do about good food, live music, and cold beer, we bought tickets--along with about 2,000 other macaroni and cheese lovers--and called it a date.

Tod, who is a complete sucker for quality cookware, naturally fell for the macaroni and cheese being served out of Le Creuset French Ovens. (To his credit, it was delicious.)

And I, who am a complete sucker for interesting fried food, naturally fell for the macaroni and cheese egg rolls. I know--ridiculous--but these were so good that I sort of wish I'd never tried them. I also wish I did not know that they are a regular part of King Street Grille's menu.

Importantly, despite our previous ideas to the contrary, there is a limit to the amount of macaroni and cheese that a person can comfortably eat at one time--a limit that we unfortunately reached before we had the chance to try every restaurant's sample. But in all, we had a great time, and we rolled home (on our bikes, not our bellies, although that may have been an option) happy, full, and with an even greater appreciation for quality mac and cheese. 

 Speaking of which, I think I know what I'd like to eat for supper tonight . . . . 

Update: I just so happened to have a box of Joe's Diner Macaroni and Cheese in the freezer (from Trader Joe's), and it was delicious! Cheddar, Swiss, Havarti, and Gouda . . . what more could a girl want?


0 Beef Brisket Soft Tacos

After our big night on the town on Friday, we decided that a home-cooked meal was in order on Saturday. So after perusing a couple of on-loan-from-the-library cookbooks, we busted out my crock pot and got to work. 

Are you wondering which cookbooks we perused? I thought so. Well wonder no more.

First, we perused Better Homes and Gardens' The Ultimate Slow Cooker Book.

Then we perused Slow-Cooker Quick Fixes from the editors of Southern Living.

After some discussion, we decided on a recipe from the latter, and if you read the title of this blog post then you know we decided on beef brisket soft tacos. Guess what? When the editors of Southern Living called these recipes quick fixes, they were not lying. You want details? Here you go.

First, we picked up a beautiful beef brisket from Whole Foods. The recipe called for a two-pound brisket, but we went a bit smaller than that. 

When we got home, Tod expertly trimmed the fat and cut the brisket into three-inch pieces. He then seasoned the meat with salt, pepper, chili powder, cumin, cayenne pepper, and a splash of Tabasco. The recipe called for certain amounts of these things, but Tod just eyeballed it. Yeah, we're wild and crazy like that.

Meanwhile, I chopped an onion and peeled several cloves of garlic.

While at Whole Foods we picked up some sliced celery from the salad bar; we only needed a little bit and I didn't want to buy a huge bunch of it only to watch it wilt in my fridge. After tossing the celery in the crock pot, I used my garlic press (yay for fun kitchen gadgets!) and added at least four or five cloves of pressed garlic to the mix. The chopped onion went in next. 

Then it was time to add the beef. 

After adding the beef, we closed the lid, turned it on high, and waited for about 5 or 6 hours.

When time was up, Tod removed the meat from the crock pot and used a fork to shred it.

After steaming our flour tortillas (we went with the small size), we set the table with bowls of chopped lettuce, shredded cheese, and sour cream. (I also meant to include a bowl of black bean salsa, but I guess I forgot in all of the taco-making madness.) Oh, and luckily, I had a cup of queso from Costco on hand (that stuff is restaurant quality), which we enjoyed as an appetizer with blue and white corn chips. We invited friends, opened up a growler from Charleston Beer Exchange, and enjoyed a delicious meal. (And it's a good thing it was delicious because I've been eating leftovers for the past two days!)

What fun and delicious things have you made in your crock pot recently? And don't you just love how great cooking in the crock pot makes your house smell? 


1 Fall for Charleston

For the first time in many weeks, Tod and I spent the weekend in Charleston. And for the first time in many, many weeks, we didn't have a single event, party, function, or game to attend! Woohoo! 

So, I know you must be wondering . . . what did we do with all that free time in the #1 city in America (and #3 in the world)? Well, we did exactly what I told my friend Emily we were going to do: we ate and drank our way around the city. Seriously.

Of course, along the way we enjoyed lots of walks with the girls.

Sunset walks along the water are Heidi's favorites. She told me so. 

Zelda loves them, too. 

On Friday night, we tried (and loved) a new restaurant, Two Boroughs Larder. Tod loved it so much that he told me he was going to guest-write a separate blog post about it. We'll see if that ever happens, huh?

Two Boroughs Larder is a restaurant; it's a bar; and it's a market. We loved the design of the place as well as the items offered for sale. I've definitely got my eyes on a t-shirt. (The owners' dog, Walter, is pictured on the t-shirt; he's pretty much the Two Boroughs Larder mascot.)

In addition to trying a new restaurant, we hit up a new (to us) bar--The Belmont--with some friends. We partied like rockstars. I mean, we partied with a rockstar. Honestly. And those of you who know Tod--who has always been a huge Hootie fan--will understand that when Mark Bryan came in to meet one of our friends and ended up staying and hanging out with us for a few hours--even buying us drinks at one point--Tod was so excited that he could hardly speak. Which is saying a lot for Tod because he's a talker.

Eating breakfast at the bagel shop is one of our favorite weekend activities. The food is great, and perhaps more importantly, the service is slow enough to allow Tod to thoroughly take in the rest of the customers, who are mainly . . . you guessed it, cute College of Charleston girls.

And with the amazing weather you know we rode our bikes everywhere. Just like little kids do. 

We hit the farmer's market . . . 

where I admired the shrimp man's giant prawn. Wait, that didn't sound right. But you know what I mean. Seriously, do you see how big that shrimp is? I'm such a nerd that I just had to ask him if I could take a picture of it.

And then I swooned over the eggplant. Looks like it's time to make some ratatouille--the redneck kind that I serve over cheese grits! 

Check out those red peppers. They're like eight times the size of the peppers I grew this summer.

And a fall farmer's market would not be complete without pumpkins, right?

Or cotton bouquets. I love these.

Come to think of it, I love all bouquets.

Like I said, we rode our bikes everywhere. Like little kids do. 

And you know what? All of those pictures are just from the first half of our weekend. Silly me, I left my camera at home for the second half of our weekend, so I guess you're spared all the cheesy pictures that I would have taken. Because we had just as much fun during the second half of our weekend as we did during the first. And the weather was just as beautiful. We even went to the beach. 

I hope your weekend was as lovely as ours. Lovely weekends make the world go 'round.


0 Spin Cycle

Here I really thought Zelda and I we were making progress, but it seems like it's two steps forward, one step back around here. (Sing it, Paula.) Or maybe it's one step forward, two steps back. It sure feels like the latter to me right now. 

In addition to eating a matchbook this weekend (which was really nothing compared to her recent rat poison binge and subsequent Hydrogen Peroxide-induced purge--no exaggeration there), Zelda has had two accidents this week, one at Tod's parents' house (on both the couch and Tod's leg), and then one at my house this evening (on the ottoman that she must not like me having). I know how to clean so it's really not a problem, and at the end of the day, it's all just stuff. I know that. Plus, it's not her fault; it's mine. And, of course, she still has a lot of puppy in her, not to mention that at 12 pounds--okay, maybe 13--her bladder can't be much larger than a ping pong ball. But I'm a problem solver, and I really want to solve this problem. I want to be able to trust that my dog will not eat some mysterious object and die when I am not watching. I want to trust that curiosity will not kill the cat dog. Shoot, I just want to be able to trust that she'll do all of her eliminating outdoors. 

But, at bottom, I guess maybe all of this is just a good lesson in patience. She's just not there yet, right? And that's what they make crates for after all. I just need to trust that she'll get there eventually and love her all the same during the journey. But if you ask me--which clearly Zelda isn't--it seems like taking one step forward and two steps back, or even taking two steps forward and one step back, is not really the best way to get anywhere.

Zelda, here's what I have to say: I love you dearly. I love how you see the world--and everything and everyone in it--as nothing but an opportunity for fun. And I love the passion and energy that you put into having fun. But the accidents, well, they're not so fun, and I don't love them, even though I know they're bound to happen. So maybe you can work on just spacing your accidents out a little bit more and more until eventually they seem not to exist at all. In the meantime, I will not yell (too much) at you, and I will not hurt you. I promise. I will love you, and I will always have treats for you. But please know this: when you have an accident, I definitely reserve the right--and whether this is passive-agressive, just plain agressive, or merely OCD, I neither know nor care--to gather up all of your favorite fuzzy babies--yes, even the ones with missing ears, legs, and tails--and toss them into the washing machine for a good thorough cleaning even when I'm pretty sure that you have just gotten them to smell the way you like them to smell since their last trip through the spin cycle. Oh, and just so you know, your crate bed and your favorite chipmunk-covered fleece blanket are going in there, too. And yes, they will smell they way that I want them to smell when I am finished with them. Then, I guess I'll give them back to you so we can start this whole process over again. The circle of life wins every time.

Oh, she knows alright. She spent the first five minutes of tonight's spin cycle resting on the tile by the machine. And that lasted until . . . she remembered the basket of tennis balls downstairs. All in a good day's work, huh, Zelda?


3 Books About Dogs

Y'all know by now that I'm a big fan of books--books of all kinds. I like hardback books; I like paperback books. I like books for little kids; I like books for big kids. I like books with more words than pictures; I like books with more pictures than words. 

Like I said, I'm a big fan of books. 

And although I have not yet ventured into the world of e-readers (you know, Kindle and the like), I have, over the past couple of years, gained a whole new appreciation for books on CD. And because I spend a fair amount of time on the highway, I've listened to a fair number of books on CD--my favorites generally being those that are actually read by the author and those that fall into the nonfiction and memoir categories.

Well, this past weekend, Tod and I were in the car on the way to an out-of-town wedding, and because I had become so enthralled with a particular book on CD, I made Tod listen to the last 30 minutes of it with me despite the fact that he'd missed the first five discs. Luckily, he enjoyed the bit he got to hear; thus, after finishing the book, we immediately embarked upon the author's next book, which I'm now about halfway through. You're dying to know more about these books, right? What are these books about? Well, if you read the title of this post then surely you know the answer to that question. Dogs.

Specifically, we were listening to, first, Jon Katz's A Good Dog and, then, his Dog Days. And listening to these books got me thinking--it got me thinking about books about dogs and, better yet, about my favorite books about dogs. (Thanks to all of the dogs in our lives, Tod and I have read a few books about dogs over the years. And yes, I've even read some training books, but that is definitely not to say that Zelda is particularly well-trained. Just ask Tod, or Tod's parents, or my parents, or, well, anyone who has had the pleasure of keeping her for more than 30 minutes. These days mischief is her middle name.) But back to the books. Here they are, in no particular order.

First, here are links to A Good Dog and Dog Days. And these are just a drop in the bucket as far as dog books written by Jon Katz go. Seriously, he must write a new one every year. But he's a wonderful writer, and I have loved reading hearing about life on Bedlam Farm with his beloved animals.  

If you're new to the world of dog books, my first recommendation is without a doubt Merle's Door by Ted Kerasote. So informative. So sweet. This one will stick with you. Tod and I read this book two years ago and we still talk about Merle. A lot.

Now if you prefer fiction to facts, then I recommend The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein. The dog is the narrator, but it's not hokey or schmaltzy in the least, and I think it would appeal equally to men and women, both young and old.

As far as fiction goes, Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls is one of my very favorites. It's the first "chapter book" that I remember finishing and immediately beginning again. Seriously, I remember lying on a twin bed with a wicker headboard in a rented beach house, crying my eyes out when I finished the book, and then immediately turning back to page one to start all over again. I'm not sure if I've ever done that with another book since, actually. So I guess that's saying something.

Since we're on the subject of more juvenile books, here are two that you won't want to miss. First, Tarra and Bella: The Elephant and Dog Who Became Best Friends by Carol Buckley. Umm, it's ridiculous how cute this story is. Seriously.

In fact, although you probably saw the video of this animal odd couple in an email forward a hundred years ago, it's so stinking cute that I'm just going to include it here.

The other really stinking cute children's book about dogs is Nubs: The True Story of a Mutt, a Marine, and a Miracle. It's proof that friendship can cross war zones, continents, and even species.

Okay, since we're talking about dogs, whose lives are entirely too short, I think I'd be remiss if I didn't mention one more: Good Dog. Stay. by Anna Quindlen. This book is short; it's more of an essay really. But it's a moving eulogy to Quindlen's beloved black labrador, and I know a few people who have found it comforting after losing a beloved friend. 

I'm sure I'll think of a thousand more great dog books after I publish this, but if you're a fan of the genre (assuming that it is, in fact, its own genre), will you please let me know in the comments what your favorite dog books are? 
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