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.

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.

national donut day!

recently, phillip and i have been big on celebrating all the national food days, and it would have been a shame if we had gone all day this past friday without celebrating national donut day.  in honor of these delectable, fried dough creations, i’ve decided to highlight some of our favorite donut shops here in the atlanta area.  warning:  this post may cause you to drool.  🙂

since moving to east atlanta late last year, we try to do our best and eat at local restaurants in the area that we cannot find elsewhere.  sure, we could hit up the local dunkin’ for a donut or two, but per suggestion from our eav neighbor lawrence, phillip ventured to happy donuts on friday to snag us a treat.  i was working away on my computer when he returned with a lovely variety that were made even better since it was a buy-one-get-one-free deal for the day.  don’t you just love when that happens?  i promise we did not eat all of these in one sitting, but don’t put it past us!  these donuts are plump and very flavorful.  my favorites include the red velvet, strawberry, boston creme, and maple icing.

another great local spot is the well-known sublime doughnuts.  i could not find a recent picture from our latest visit, but believe me when i say they are one of the favorite spots in town.  if you are in the city, especially on the west side, please go by and stay for a coffee and a donut.  this place will cheer you right on up and also fill you right on up.  🙂

down in fairburn, we love the king’s donuts.  this spot is on the way when we visit phillip’s parents in peachtree city, and if we are in town when they’re open, we almost always make a stop.  again, no pictures because we ate them all before i could snap one, but these donuts are just plain fun.  the other weekend we had one with grape-flavored icing, one with oreo cookie crumbles, and another with frosting and fruity pebbles!  if you’re young at heart or have young ones in your life, i think king’s donuts would be the perfect place to bring them.

last but certainly not least is probably our top spot for donuts:  duck donuts.  duck donuts opened up while we were still living at the condo and was barely a quarter mile from our neighborhood in buckhead.  i stopped in one morning after a workout to see what the buzz was about and became a fan almost instantly.  these made-to-order creations might be smaller than your average donut but are just as worthy of your hard-earned dollars as any of these other establishments.  they have suggested topping/flavor pairings, or you can build your own combination.  we almost always get a beach ball and blueberry pancake and then whatever else tickles our fancy.  they do have seasonal features, so visiting throughout the year is a must!  😀

i most certainly hope you are now craving something sweet, and the best part is you know where you can go to satisfy that craving!  i don’t doubt there are other incredible donut shops in our great state, so please share your personal recommendations.  we just might write about them someday!

national burger day!

last tuesday was national burger day, so after a grueling workout at orangetheory fitness, phillip and i decided it was only right that we join in the celebration.  i pulled up yelp, in search of a burger joint we had not yet tried.  as i scrolled through pages of results, i stumbled upon a burger place that is not only off buford highway (some of atlanta’s best restaurants are off buford highway) but is also inside a chevron gas station!  i asked phillip just how adventurous he was feeling that night, and he kindly obliged my curiosity, especially when i told him this spot has four stars.  so, we pulled out of the lot, drove about ten minutes north, and were ready to give burger baby a chance.

like many of the reviews state, two things are definitely true.  first, you most certainly will miss this place if you are not looking for it.  second, once you do know what you are looking for, things are going to look a little curious.  the signs are a bit beat up and nothing really looks official, but if you can get past that, you’ll find in the left back corner of the store the burger baby counter.  even before we ordered, i immediately knew this adventure and meal would be dedicated to anthony bourdain.  i’m most certain this is the type of place he would want us to try on such an occasion.

as we perused the menus, loads of fresh, delectable “wangs” were being dressed for some customers in front of us.  if i hadn’t come there with the mission of celebrating national burger day, i may have walked out of there with a basket of wings.  guess we’ll just have to come back another time!

it was our turn to order, so we asked the lovely patrice for some help in navigating the menu.  she made a few recommendations, and we ultimately decided on two orders of sliders (four sliders total), one with muenster and the other with swiss, and some french fries.  patrice was kind enough to hook us up with a side cup of parmesan garlic sauce for dipping, a creation she has self-named “patrice’s parm fries.”  spoiler alert – they did not disappoint.

all the burgers and fries are made fresh to order, so while we waited we jammed along to some “wild thoughts” by rihanna along with the lion king on the tv in the background.  doesn’t get much better than that!

along with the sweet tunes, here are other things you need to know about burger baby.  they do accept credit cards, something i mention because sometimes with smaller places that is not the case.  also, there is nowhere to sit and eat here.  there are a couple stools, but those are more for when you’re waiting.  so, definitely plan to eat this in your car (while it’s still hot!) or enjoy it elsewhere.

it wasn’t too long before patrice called out our name for food.  we thanked her for her friendly suggestions and wisher her luck at her birthday dinner later that week.  what can i say?  i can chat it up with just about anyone.  🙂

thumbs up, patrice!

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