chestnut flour – who knew

over the past couple of years i have investigated (and tried my fair share of) gluten-free baking recipes.  it is not out of necessity but rather curiosity, as gluten-free treats tend to have a lackluster reputation.  the good news is that gluten-free baking has come a long way, and the most creative bakers out there are getting inventive with alternative baking ingredients so that the gluten-free brownie you see in the bakery’s case doesn’t taste like cardboard.

my coworker george recommended i check out the book alternative baker, as his wife swears by its recipes.  i quickly placed my order on amazon and once in my eager hands, i started at the beginning to read all about the author’s outlook on alternative ingredient baking and how to use the book.  alanna taylor-tobin presents her recipes in a welcoming manner and includes charming backstories to each which, to no surprise, i just love reading.  i have put my own baking skills to the test with near perfect success on several recipes, and although i’d like to take the credit, i must give it to alanna.  she has meticulously tested different ingredients in different amounts over and over again to ensure that the recipes in this book will make anyone come across like a seasoned baker.  and besides the fact that they taste incredible, my treats have always come out looking exactly like her pictures.  exactly.  i mean it!  there might be nothing more satisfying, at least today.  🙂

in a recent baking mood, i came across a recipe for loaded chocolate chip cookies that required chestnut flour.  i looked high and low at the local grocer for chestnut flour with no luck and then resorted to calling the specialty food stores in town.  still, no chestnut flour to be found anywhere in the greater atlanta area.  not ready to give up, i went back to the recipe, which actually referenced two suggested brands of chestnut flour.  next thing i knew, i was in contact with sandy bole from ladd hill orchards in sherwood, oregon who so kindly helped me order one pound of chestnut flour.

with the primary ingredient in hand (thank you again, sandy), phillip and i got to work toasting pecans and chopping chocolate and sifting flour.  the dough came together nicely, don’t you think?

nothing better than cookie dough.

we patiently waited 15-18 minutes, rotating the cookie sheets front to back and top to bottom halfway through baking.  the smells from the oven were cozy and warm as the cookies baked to perfection.  once slightly cooled, we took a gooey bike, taking in the rich chocolate, tart cherries, crunchy pecans, and nutty chestnut flour.  here is one of the best parts about these cookies (and most everything in this cookbook), unless you tell someone they are gluten-free, they should have no idea because the quality, flavors, and combination of ingredients is so thoughtful and delicious they have no reason to believe otherwise.  the bonus?  you learn about new options, and if you are not learning, you are not growing.  🙂

so, here is what you need to take away from this post:

  1. gluten-free baking is not scary or difficult.  with the right ingredients, you’ll be a booming success.
  2. this cookbook is incredible.  please.  go order it.  now.
  3. for all your chestnut product needs, give ladd hill orchards a ring.  they couldn’t be kinder.  tell  them alanna taylor-tobin and kelsey davis sent you.

next up from the cookbook?  i’ll try my hand at some rich chestnut brownies and am betting they’ll be a hit at book club this month.

the classic city

a couple of weekends ago phillip and i had the wonderful opportunity to return to my college town of athens, ga.  the occasion, yes, did revolve around georgia football, but we made the most of the weekend by visiting some places home to my fondest memories while i was in school.

we had driven in town friday night to soak up every minute of athens we could, and since we hadn’t stopped for dinner on our drive in, the first order of business was some food at none other than the famous keba.  we both ordered double lamb sandwiches with fries as the side, and i think it was the quietest meal we’d had in a while because we were enjoying it all so much!  keba did have a location in atlanta for a bit (with the great taste of the original), but it shut down and i’ve of course been craving it ever since.  it was a perfect start to what would become a pretty perfect weekend.

pure joy.

we cleared our table and drove over to nathan and samantha’s house.  i’ve known nathan since college when, as freshmen, we met in the redcoat marching band.  he and samantha have lived in athens for several years now and always are kind to open their home to friends and family.  it’s not often we get to see them, so it was a special treat to catch up on life and football and everything in between.  we did plenty of that especially the next morning over coffee and bagels (which we brought from emerald city in east atlanta) before nathan, phillip, and i drove to campus to join in on the gameday experience.  it was an extra special occasion because it was our homecoming weekend against kentucky, and even though it rained nonstop all day, the bulldog nation still showed up nicely to support the team.

nathan had redcoat duties, so phillip and i donned our ponchos and took a sloshy walk through north campus.  as i imagine many graduates do when they are visiting their old stomping grounds, i pointed out to phillip all the different buildings and where i had class and which lobbies were the best for napping.  the rain couldn’t keep our cheery demeanor down, especially once we arrived at the arch, because taking a picture under the arch is always something to smile about.  🙂

hungry for a bite, we shuffled into the taco stand.  now, i did not do a lot of downtown eating when i was in college, but one spot i frequented was the taco stand, especially when my younger brother clark visited, as it was his absolute favorite spot in town.  phillip and i lucked out with a couple of stools at the bar, so we de-layered, ordered chips and salsa and a couple of beers, and enjoyed the gameday atmosphere.

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stuffed cheez-it pizza for the win

earlier this week my older brother kyle sent kari and me a link to a story about pizza hut’s new stuffed cheez-it pizza with the comment “another marketing campaign tailor made for kels!”  well, it couldn’t be more true.  after rapid-reading the article, i fired back the message “i know what i’m having for dinner on tuesday!”  so, when tuesday night did roll around, phillip and i parked in the exclusive pizza hut parking spots to give into the hype.

we enthusiastically ordered the pepperoni stuffed cheez-it pizza and were thankful the cashier was kind and did not laugh too much at the unusual amount of excitement we were showing.  i mean, just look at this face!  cheez-its and pizza – what more could we want?!

phillip and i patiently waited in those bright red chairs, our expectations nearly through the roof.  we had just finished a tornado class at orangetheory and were eager to undo our workout.  about ten minutes later, our order was up, and i squeaked when i saw how cute the box was.  i guess sometimes in life it’s good that simple things can excite us so much.  🙂

we sat down and opened the box to reveal four fresh, piping hot cheez-it pockets.  don’t they look just like the crackers themselves?  the answer is “yes.”

the cheez-its were honestly a little smaller than i expected them to be, and a single order like this is really more of a snack or a side item probably meant to be ordered with something else.  these pictures give you an idea of the scale/size.

phillip and i each started with a bite of just the square, no marinara dipping sauce quite yet.  we chomped, we chewed, we thoughtfully savored, and in the end we decided that pizza hut had truly capture the cheez-it essence.  it isn’t too much cheez-it, it isn’t too much pizza.  it’s an excellent combination of the two.  the edges were crispy but not burned, and bites closer to the center were warm and gooey.

although quite delicious on their own, they are even better with a dollop of the marinara sauce.  it really completes the bite and brings everything together.  as we finished up, we were extremely tempted to order more, as i easily could have eaten a whole box on my own.  somehow we refrained, which was difficult seeing as how i do not know how i’ve been living up until now without these stuffed cheez-it pizza bites in my life.  the good news is that i can definitely have them again.  the bad news it they’re only around for a limited time, so you better hurry and order yourself some before we beat you to it!

cranberry bliss bars

it was an all-starbucks weekend when my mom was in town to help dog-sit my dog nephew rocco and house-sit for my brother while he, kari, and bode were out of town.  things started off with a couple of post-workout pumpkin spice lattes on saturday and continued into that evening when we tried out this copy-cat recipe to make our very own cranberry bliss bars.  they are mom’s favorites during the holiday season, and since they aren’t out just yet for purchase at your local starbucks cafe, we decided we would make our own!

can’t you just hear the Christmas tunes on your radio now?

my mom, the expert on how a cranberry bliss bar should taste, tried them for breakfast this morning and said they were divine.  i bit into a forkful myself and declared the same, even though i’ve never actually had one from a starbucks store!  the chocolate chip chunks combined with the cream cheese frosting and chopped craisins make for a delicious, rich bite that pairs perfectly with some fresh fruit and a steaming cup of coffee.  our only tweaks to the recipe?  more craisins in the batter and some orange zest in the frosting.  oh yes, that is exactly how i will make them next time, and i’m sure that will not be long from now.  🙂  the seasons are changing, and we are ready for all the holiday-themed treats we can get!

breakfast of champions.

the great chicken sandwich debate

okay, folks!  coming to you directly is another social media-driven taste test of the popeye’s chicken sandwich versus the chick-fil-a chicken sandwich.  unless you have been living under a rock the past week, you have seen a reference somewhere in your day-to-day about popeye’s new chicken sandwich and all the talk it’s causing around town.  well, i decided i could not simply sit aside and let the rest of america tell me which they liked better:  i needed to try them for myself!

this past friday after work and a great workout, my big brother kyle so kindly first waited at popeye’s (for 30 minutes) to pick up a couple of their sandwiches and then swung by chick-fil-a to grab their sandwiches and some sides.

to make this taste test as fair as possible, we ordered both sandwiches plain, just chicken and bread, and split them down the middle so that we all (phillip, kyle, kari, and i) would have half of each.

popeye’s on the left, chick-fil-a on the right.

i started with a bite of the all familiar chick-fil-a sandwich, as i hadn’t had one in a while and wanted to re-familiarize myself with that distinct taste.  after doing so, i bit right into the popeye’s sandwich and immediately noted how much crunchier their breading is than cfa’s.  phillip agreed in that regard and also commented that the popeye’s sandwich is, in its own way, somehow lighter yet more buttery than cfa.  i mean, if you look in the photo above, the popeye’s bun is glistening from the ceiling light.  must be all that melted butter goodness!

with all this being said, the cfa sandwich still had plenty going for it, including its signature, somewhat sweet taste – maybe it’s all that peanut oil?  and as i continued to munch through bite by bite, i personally concluded that i could easily see myself craving a popeye’s sandwich in one moment and then a cfa sandwich or nuggets in another.  someone at the dinner table commented that they are “both in the same tier of good” just different, and i don’t think i could agree more.  the popeye’s sandwich is an excellent fried chicken sandwich, while cfa does what it does well with a simple, classic chicken sandwich.

one excellent comment kari made was that the popeye’s sandwich makes her want to go try the popeye’s five bonafide big box to see how the fried chicken itself is.  you know the one, don’t you?  where the popeye’s spokeswoman annie is standing in the street and an oversized popeye’s box drops from the sky?  well, in case you don’t know it, here it is for your viewing pleasure.  🙂

and if you don’t believe us after all this, then read this post that phillip found.  it puts into additional words all you need to know about this 21st century fast food drama.

now, i mentioned that we also grabbed some sides from cfa, which included their classic waffle fries and also their new macaroni and cheese.  yes!  you read that correctly, mac’n’cheese at chick-fil-a!  kyle was the first to try a spoonful and without any hesitation said it was “gangster” and that he wants it “pumped right into his veins.”  that paints quite a picture, doesn’t it?  phillip gave the mac’n’cheese a taste, too, and gave it an “a+” (and a thumbs up).  i agree the mac’n’cheese is creamy and delicious and a fully unhealthy but completely satisfying accompaniment to a meal that, overall, was fun to share with my loved ones.

towards the end of dinner, i asked everyone which of all the dishes would they want for their last bite?  phillip and kari both said the cfa french fries because there’s something irresistible about those thick waffle fries.  kyle said the cfa sandwich.  i myself said the popeye’s sandwich, but what do you know?  my last bites were the mac’n’cheese!  as for my nearly ten-month old nephew bode, he was at the table, too, and enjoyed some vanilla puffs for his last bites.  can’t wait to take him for his first popeye’s before too long!

the impossible whopper

as many of you know, i am a sucker for a good marketing campaign, especially when it comes to food.  i mean, i tried the pizza hut p’zone because of a good commercial they were running, and although not the topic of this post, i’ll save you the trouble now and encourage you not to order the p’zone.  it was bad the first time it came out and is still bad on this re-release.  too much dough and not enough filling!

anyway, i digress slightly.  this post is about the impossible whopper by burger king.  i kid you not when i tell you that, as i am typing, a commercial for the impossible whopper just aired.  it’s like it was fate.  because i did not want to miss out on the alternative-patty craze that seems to be gripping the nation, i asked phillip to stop at burger king on his way home from work last week and pick up a couple of impossible whoppers for us to try now that they are available nationwide.

we unpacked our bag of grub, snapped a few photos, and then started chomping away.

i’ll cut straight to the chase and keep it real with you all.  the look of an impossible whopper is just like that of a regular whopper.  a complete bite (bun, patty, toppings, and all) really tastes just like a burger.  i broke off a little hunk of the patty itself to see how it tasted on its own, and it wasn’t too bad.  it definitely had that flame-grilled taste on the outside, but a plant-based patty just doesn’t have that juicy, savory element that a meat patty has when perfectly cooked.  some things just cannot be recreated.

i’d say if you are interested in the impossible whopper, go get yourself one.  i’m not certain i’ll have it again, but it was fun to give something new a try, and i think it’s pretty cool that a big, popular chain like burger king has a trendy, meatless option for customers who crave it.  up next on my list of things to try include the beyond meat patty this week in our blue apron meal kit and then, if i like that, maybe the beyond meatball marina sub at subway.

doughnut dollies – atlanta, ga

hi, readers!  phillip davis back at it as a guest blogger on my lovely wife’s website.  it is with great pleasure that i yes, introduce you all to another unique doughnut spot that we visited yesterday for a breakfast treat called doughnut dollies!  i love the more traditional spelling of the word doughnut, so i will keep this consistent across the remainder of the blog.

it was a lovely sunday morning down here in atlanta, and kelsey and i were en-route to orangetheory fitness (otf for short) to get our workout groove on.  now, if you haven’t heard of or tried otf, it is a 60 minute high-intensity interval training cardio-based workout that seeks to get folks to experience epoc (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption).  essentially, the workout gets you out of breath and recovers you during the duration of the class so that your body burns more calories during and approximately 36 hours after the 1-hour workout.  kudos to our coaches, taylor, mike, obi, draya, and kat, for pushing us on a weekly basis.  i highly recommend trying a class if you haven’t already (hint hint, you can try your 1st class for FREE)!  ok, so i got carried away there, but had to mention otf since kelsey and i definitely have the “otf bug.”

anyway, we were on the way to otf when kelsey, out of the corner of her eye, saw a pretty unique logo to our right with what looked to be no other than an american red cross on it that had the words “doughnut dollies” above the iconic symbol.  now, i am sure that she saw the red cross instantly because she donates blood on a regular basis.  i, for one, initially thought the building was some kind of medical center, so i believed it wasn’t anything food-related until she told me, “oh, phillip!?  there’s a new doughnut place over there!”  without hesitation, i got the car to a complete stop at the red traffic light, turned to look at the logo, then told kelsey, “oh, we’re definitely going there after our workout!”

cool logo stamped on carry-out box!

once our 1-hour otf strength workout came to a close (thanks for a good class, obi), we got in the car and drove roughly 1 minute away off howell mill road to go see what the cute, little doughnut shop was all about.  we entered the cafe, which by the way, was clean and tidy, and noticed the incredibly large doughnuts staring right in front of our faces inside the clear glass counter.  now, the howell mill location is doughnut dollies’ 2nd location in georgia, and silly enough, this particular store was celebrating its 1 month anniversary since they opened last month in june.  what a fun way to celebrate a very special occasion by trying and enjoying some doughnuts ourselves!  time was on our side, for sure.

kelsey and i looked at the different types of doughnuts (the store calls them tiers, or levels, since they have a variety of basic and specialty doughnuts that customers can order) and decided to order a strawberry doughnut and a smores doughnut.  at first glance, we felt the tiers were a little confusing since they had 4 different price levels depending on what kind of doughnut you order, and the doughnuts were not clearly sorted by tier in the glass window display.  we got over this pretty quickly and selected our doughnut choices shortly thereafter.  we also noticed that the store served jittery joe’s coffee, so naturally, we decided to order 1 small coffee with cream and sugar to split (i didn’t want to get over-caffeinated).

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Coming to America – Day 3

After breakfasting at the hotel, we set out to visit our relatives in Brownsville.  It was an absolutely beautiful day with blue skies and warm, comfortable temperatures.  As I mentioned earlier, my mother took us by train to visit Brownsville in 1964.  As we drove onto the street, it was just like we remembered!  The main house that belonged to my mother’s uncle and aunt, and where we stayed in 1964, is in the middle of the block with two family homes above it and two family homes below it.  Such a lovely area, very green and open.  The chicken coops behind the main house are even still there, but no chickens today.

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We met our cousin Jim Despot (who remembers our visit in 1964) and his son Dustin and his two children who all live on the block.  Dustin was a fifth generation coal miner until recently.  They were so welcoming and kind.  We all sat around Jim’s dining room table talking family, both past and present.  Jim prepared a delicious lunch for us of pasta and meatballs and homemade apple pie.  Jim shared recipes with me, and I was very grateful for that.

On our way back, we followed Jim to another cemetery where his grandfather and grandmother are buried.  His grandfather was our grandfather’s older brother.  Jim and Dustin told us how he arrived in America by boat before World War II, where at some point he was drafted and sent to war back in Europe on the very same boat he came to America on!

Back in Pittsburgh at our hotel, Gary, Kyle, Kelsey and I went for a walk over the Sixth Street Bridge, also known as the Roberto Clemente Bridge, one of the nearly identical “Three Sister Bridges” that spans the Allegheny River in Pittsburgh.  This bridge was erected in 1927, and you have a beautiful view of the baseball stadium right on the river.  The bridge is closed to cars on game days so that fans can cross it.  On the walkways of the bridge, many locks (Love Locks) are placed on the railings, similar to what you might see in Europe.

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Dinner that night was Clark’s choice, and we ate at a wonderful Mexican restaurant called Las Velas.  We all enjoyed the food very much.

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When we got back to the hotel, it was time for Liverpool Rummy, the favorite card game in our family.  My mom used to play this with her lady friends betting dimes.  They were quite the group!  Mom, my brothers, and I, along with Uncle Al when he was in from fishing, would play this game.  Mom taught it to all her grandchildren.  Luckily, Kelsey had purchased three decks of cards earlier that day.  We took over a large table in the hotel lounge area and proceeded to have a wonderful time.  It is always fun to play this with the family.  Shout out to Clark who won the game!

Coming to America – Day 2

June 20th

Our mission today was to travel to Cheswick, PA to find Deer Creek Cemetery and the graves of our Grandfather George and Uncle Felix.  We had breakfast at the hotel and set off with an overcast sky.  The scenery was beautiful, so green and so different from the Los Angeles area!  We found the very old cemetery and set out looking for the graves.  Gary had looked up the information, and we knew which sections they were in, or so we thought.  We all got a lot of steps in as we went back and forth, row after row looking at gravestones.

deer creek cemetery.

I personally find old cemeteries very interesting and can wander for hours looking at the headstones and wondering who these people were, what their lives were like, etc.  A lot of the people buried here were born in the mid- to late 1800s.

Kyle and Clark found George Despot’s headstone (1888-1941), and we gathered around.  He died of black lung from working in the coal mines.  It was emotional for Gary and I, remembering our mother had told us and knowing that she had been here when he was buried.

It started lightly raining as we looked for Felix’s grave.  Back and forth, up and down we went in the grass.  We couldn’t find the grave, but our shoes sure got wet!  We finally went to the office, and the groundskeeper looked it up right away, so we followed him in his vehicle to the correct section.  We found Felix’s headstone (1916-1947), who died of a burst appendix, and that of this daughter Judith.  We thought of the stories our mother had told us of her big brother.

Our mother had a younger brother who also came to America; his name was Albert, or Uncle Al as we all called him.  He joined the Navy and ended up settling in San Pedro, CA to work as a fisherman.  After our mother’s dad and brother Felix passed away, she moved out to Long Beach, CA to be near her brother Al.  Our next stop was in memory of him.  We climbed into the van and headed to Oakmont Country Club where Uncle Al had worked as a caddie when he was a kid.  Gary fondly remembers Uncle Al telling stories of working at Oakmont.  A little history for those who don’t follow golf:  the course at Oakmont Country Club, designed in 1903, is one of the most difficult in North America.  It has hosted more combined USGA and PGA championships than any other course in the United States.  We arrived at the guard shack and explained that we just wanted to go to the pro shop and pick up a few souvenirs because Uncle Al had worked here many, many years ago.  The gentleman gave us the once over (being sure we were properly dressed because golf courses can have dress codes) and said we could go in.  What we could see of the golf course was absolutely beautiful as well as the buildings.  We picked up some gifts to take back home and set off.

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Coming to America – Day 1

Hello, my name is Aunt Cindy, and I am Kelsey’s aunt from California.  I am honored and a little scared to be a guest writer on her blog.  I recently flew to Pittsburgh from Los Angeles to meet up with my brother Gary (Kelsey’s dad and a former guest blogger) and my nephews Kyle and Clark for what I have named the “Coming to America” tour.

Our mother Goldie Despot came to America from the then Yugoslavia (now Croatia).  Her father Grgo (George) and Uncle Stipan (Steve) had arrived in America and were working in coal mines outside of Pittsburgh.  George sent for his children one-by-one; my mom Goldie was 11 and traveled by herself on a ship to New York.  She stayed on Ellis Island for several days and was then put on a train to Pittsburgh where her father was to pick her up.  My mother lived at different times with her father in Harmarville and uncle and aunt in Brownsville.  She grew up in these areas, went to school, and learned to speak English without an accent.  She eventually moved to California, married, and had my brothers and me.

My mother took us three kids on a train to Pittsburgh in 1965.  We all have memories of that great adventure.  My mother kept in contact with a few of her friends and cousins in Brownsville, but since she passed in 2001, no one has been in contact with them.  Gary decided he wanted to go back and visit and found a few relatives, so the new adventure began.

Wednesday, June 19th – Arrived in Pittsburgh

Gary and Kelsey drove to Pittsburgh from Atlanta and picked Kyle, Clark, and I up at the airport.  Here are a few photos of Gary and Kelsey’s driving adventure.

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We left the airport in the rented minivan and, thanks to the Neuwirths (friends of the Alabama Andrich family), we were ready to video this awesome sight as we came out of the tunnel into Pittsburgh.

After we checked into our hotel, the Springhill Suites Pittsburgh North Shore, we enjoyed tasty appetizers of crackers with three different flavors of easy cheese and whiskey shots in the boys’ room.

We set out to find something to eat and walked in the light rain to Mullen’s.  We ordered beers and other things to drink.  I spotted a Black and Tan on the menu.  I love a Black and Tan and this one was made with Yuengling Beer, which we on the west coast cannot get.  It was delicious!  Looking at the menu, the Pittsburgh Wrap caught my eye.  The menu said it was the #1 best seller, and I have to agree!  I loved it.  Grilled steak tossed with cheese sauce, coleslaw, and French fries.  My plan was to share it, but only a small portion went to Kelsey for a taste – I ate everything!  I never had French fries on a sandwich but have to say these French fries were not the usual boring fires.  I don’t know what they did, but they were delicious.

Kelsey went with the pierogis (which are filled dumplings of Central and Eastern European origin, made by wrapping unleavened dough around a savory or sweet filling and cooked in boiling water or pan-fried).  Kelsey and I were both looking forward to these, as they are not common in Atlanta or the South Bay area of Los Angeles.  Unfortunately, they were pretty firm without enough butter and, ultimately, very disappointing.  Clark had the chicken wings and enjoyed them very much.

After dinner we were all pretty worn out, so we walked back in the rain to our hotel for a good night’s rest.