Archive for October, 2007

Food Blogging 101

Regina Schrambling of the LA Times writes an article on food blogging and offers suggestions for beginning food bloggers. The link to her “primer” is here, and she even offers her own attempt at a food blog, which can be accessed here.

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Eat Arkansas Link

The Arkansas Times’ Food Blog, Eat Arkansas, included a small little post about my recent sandwich picture. Check it out here!

Lazy Saturday

Saturday followed a fun night at a Halloween costume party, so needless to say the day got off to a slow start and never really picked up all that much.

We decided on waffles for breakfast, but the thought of making waffles from scratch was too tiring. We settled on a box of belgium waffle mix instead and threw in some fresh blueberries.

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I made waffles with half of the batter and a huge, thick pancake with the other half. The blueberries were a little big for the waffle iron and kind of exploded as the waffles cooked, but the end result was pretty good. I think I liked the pancake better: thick with a cake-like texture. Yum!

For lunch I made Jay a grilled turkey, egg and cheese sandwich:

eggturkey.jpg

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Easy to make, not exactly from scratch, but still delicious.

New camera = food pictures

After last payday, I decided to break down and splurge a bit on a new camera. Not too much, just enough to leave me a little food money. After my third camera within twelve months was stolen (the first two were lost ….), I decided I couldn’t take it anymore. I love taking pictures but am no fancy photographer, so I although I wanted a decently nice camera, I didn’t need a lot of features.

I settled with the new Sony Cybershot 12.1 megapixel camera. My dad would be happy to know that I did some extensive research on small, sleek, and point and shoot digital camera before deciding on this one. (I was actually looking for 10 mpx cameras when I discovered the 12 mpx models had just arrived). I’m very happy with it so far. It has enough features for a photography novice like me to have a little fun (big plus: the ability to attach different lenses) and has wonderful picture quality, but the price wasn’t something outrageous or beyond my reach–although now after getting some recent highlights in my hair I’m feeling a little money pinch.

Anyway, all that talk about cameras was really to get to the point: ever since I bought my camera, I’ve been wanting to take food pictures. Although I had my new camera on my recent trip to Santa Barbara, I was too timid to take pictures of my meal at Opal, and I never really had a chance to take any other pictures. Now that the weekend is approaching, one with ample time for cooking and baking, I’ve been scheming what kind of things I want to create, just so I can take their picture. Layer cakes, pasta dishes, burgers, grilling …. my brain is flooded with ideas. I know that food photography is different from regular photography–as the food sits there it’s appearance fades, lighting is an issue, try to fill your lense with your whole subject matter–and therefore it might be difficult, but I am ready to try. I also would like to start putting pictures back on my blog.

One drawback: a recently self-imposed diet. I guess I could just say, “Oh it’s the weekend, I can eat what I want,” but this ends up just pulling me into a never-ending cycle of restriction the next week. So what’s a girl to do? Just bake a mixed berry crostada and not eat it? Devote hours to a chocolate layer cake only to kiss it goodbye? I think not. It’s a connundrum I find myself in, but the pull and the desire of cooking and baking is beginning to overwhelm me. Plus, I have a new toy.

Opal Restaurant and Bar, Santa Barbara, CA: Restaurant Review

Website: http://www.opalrestaurantandbar.com/opal.html

This past weekend Jay and I took a little trip to Santa Barbara, CA for a friend’s wedding. Arriving early afternoon on Friday, we did a little research and looking around for a good dinner spot before deciding on Opal. While other restaurants looked very good and imaginative, something about this place called out to us from the ads in the yellow pages and the pocket concierge given to us by the motel we stayed at.

The restaurant was packed, which made it seem like a good bet. We didn’t have reservations but were seated without any real difficulty. The only table for two was close to the door, and it was a bit chilly out, but a few glasses of wine later we forgot all about that.

For my starter cocktail I had the special, a ginger cosmo, but it tasted just like any other cosmo to me (and was deceptively strong). Jay ordered a vodka tonic, which was delivered in a huge glass. With dinner (after a glass of Malbec for me!) we split a bottle of the Tantara Pinot Noir from Santa Maria Valley. This is probably one of the best pinots I’ve ever had, much warmer than it’s cheaper counterparts and much more complex. Overall a very good choice.

The restaurant has a regular menu, but they also have a full menu of specials for the day. This was greatly appealing and one of the reasons we chose the restaurant. There were so many options on the special menu that I didn’t even look at the regular menu. Also a plus was a special pairings menu that suggested different wine pairings for different menu choices.

For the appetizer I had a salad of tiger prawns over gourmet greens with a light vinagrette and feta cheese. Absolutely wonderful. The prawns were plentiful but not overwhelmingly so and were thankfully not overcooked. Jay started with a small salad.

For dinner I had another special, the salmon wrapped in prosciutto with a pepper-cream sauce (I almost chose the paiella, but went with the salmon because I got scared the paiella might be too spicey). The salmon and the sauce were wonderful, but I found some faults with the sides. The brocolli was bland and unexciting, but more shocking were the mashed potatoes. I grew up eating mashed potatoes out of a box, the kind of spuds you add water to and just heat them up, and I know what spuds from a box taste like. It only took one bite of the “mashed potatoes” to realize they had just come from a box, and needless to say that sent my opinion of the place down a few notches. I’m not saying I’m right, I didn’t personally walk into the kitchen and watch them prepare the potatoes, I’m just saying they dasted damn close to spuds from a box.

For dessert we split a chocolate and pecan tart, but on reflection we should have chosen the berry pastry with brown butter. I could have eaten a dark chocolate bar with nuts in it and it would have tasted about the same. Not to say the dessert was bad, it was just average, unexciting. I think the creme freche was the best part of the dessert.

All in all, Opal was a good choice. Fresh ingredients and an ever-changing menu are nice. The ambiance was nice, even though we were sitting right next to the door. I felt, however, that my happiness over my restaurant choice slowly dissolved over the course of the meal, and rather than leaving in an extatic mood I left wanting a little something more. Yes, the apps were good and my salmon was good, but the sides looked straight out of an assembly line and the dessert could have come from any other decent restaurant. Next time I might try something else down the street.

2007 Arkansas Heart Association Festival of Wines: Review

Last week Jay and I attended the 2007 Arkansas Heart Association Festival of Wines. I had heard great things about it before and had wanted to go last year, so I decided to treat the two of us.

 The festival was held in the new Dickey Stevens Ball Park in North Little Rock, but in previous years had been held at Acxiom (not entirely sure where on the Acxiom grounds). I like the new ball park and this was a good excuse to get out there again. Nevertheless, I think the concept was more than what the event planners could handle, and there was a serious lack of people-flow and trash planning.

We arrived at the ball park around 6:30 (the event started at 6) to a moderately crowded but quickly-moving in-gate. Once inside, however, it was clear that this event wasn’t going to be as relaxing as I had hoped. The interior of the ball park was immensely crowded and confused, with pushing and angry looks, and immensely long lines that took forever to progress through. We started at the first table, but from what we could see every table was packed. The event billed over 600 wines and food from about 20 or so vendors, with a total of 44 tables to sample wine from, but over 2 hours later of standing in line we had only visited 13 tables, and the event was shutting down. Rather than allowing for a nice mingling room and letting visitors look around and choose what wine tables or food vendors to visit, the experience was much the heard mentality, with everyone shuffling after the person in front to grab that next taste of wine. The temperature was unseasonably warm (well, for Arkansas it might be normal, but it was warm), and add to that the amount of people crammed into a tight space you get a hot, sweltering and sweaty mess.

Speaking of wine tasting, while water was available to rinse out our glasses, it was few and far between and most of the servers didn’t realize I was asking for it.

And speaking of food, there were barely any trash cans available, and those few (I saw one or two at most) that were available weren’t even next to the food stations where you would receive additional plates, i.e. trash. If I had had one more hand attached to my body I might have been able to handle my wine glass, my even brochure (with a list of wines from each table that I was trying to make notes on), and my various plates of trash. Combined with the crowd and people shoving and stumbling into each other, it was a pretty frustrating experience.

¬†Eventually I tasted enough wine to not care too much about the crowd, but it took a good long time and too much waiting to get to that point. Some of the servers did pour a good amount of wine to taste, but the whole essence of a “tasting” was completely lost in the event. While I was attempting to taste various unknown (at least to me), most people just stuck out there glass for whatever readily-pleasible wine the servers decided to pour. Instead of what I had imagined, we were just shuffled along from table to table to get ourselves drunk, nevermind the fact that expensive, nice, exotic, and unknown wines are waiting to be tasted.

I ran into one of my friends who attended the event last year when it was held at Acxiom, and she said it had been much better: everything was open and not nearly as crowded. Maybe planners were heavily influenced from donations from the Stevens family, or maybe they were just drawn to the new ballpark. I hope, however, that next year they will reconsider and not plan the even in a place that reminds me of trying to fight through the crowd on my way to class in high school.

Vieux Carre: Disappointing Lunch

Still wary of wandering too far from the house on a Friday lunch date, Jay and I decided to stick close to home and walk to Vieux Carre, located in Hillcrest close to the corner of Beechwood and Kavanaugh. Earlier in the summer it was billing itself as “Best Business Lunch” as voted on by readers of the Arkansas Times. I generally stand fast to the Times, so I thought I would give it a shot for lunch. Jay and I both had dinner here soon after it first opened but it had failed to impress, so we had high expectations for its lunch.

Unfortunately, my expectations were quickly dashed. First strike: service was very slow. At this point the lunch rush had passed and there were only about three or four seated tables (including us), but we were largely neglected. Second strike: menu. If you don’t want a sandwich or a salad, then you might as well not come, as there are only three entrees listed that do not fall into one of these categories. Furthermore, the salads are (almost) entirely meatless (the one exception is the chicken salad), and I didn’t see any option of adding chicken to any of the salads. I myself had a bit of a conundrum here, not wanting salmon for lunch (the only entree that appealed to me), but wanting protein (thus no salad for me) but also wanting to stay a little on the healthy side (thus no appealing sandwich). I decided to go with the turkey melt, and Jay had the club. Third strike: the food itself. The only interesting part to my sandwich was a cranberry sauce, but I could have made the exact same sandwich at home. Jay’s club was completely bland, didn’t have enough veggies and didn’t even look like a club.

The only good part about the meal was a cup of the special roasted red bell pepper soup, but other than that the meal was entirely forgetable and unremarkable. We decided agaisnt dessert because we were so fed up with the place, and needless to say we won’t be going back ever.

Maybe Vieux Carre got “Best Business Lunch” because it appeals to the person who thinks a sandwich at a sit-down place is a nice lunch, who just wants a sandwich real quick and nothing too inventive. For anyone with an actual taste for food, however, and with a more sophisticated palate than your standard Joe, Vieux Carre is nothing more than filler and fuel for the engine. One more note: we were the youngest people in the restaurant by about 30 or 40 years, and my experience has taught me that a restaurant populated mostly by older people is not going to excite or appeal to me in the slightest (for some reason I can’t help thinking about Caper’s at dinner for another example).


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All posts and images copyright 2008 & 2009 Jenny Robertson, unless otherwise specified. All rights reserved. Any use of images without prior written consent is prohibited.
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