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Xi’an Famous Foods: Foodie Nirvana

Tonight I successfully reached Foodie Nirvana. A lot of my followers ask me, “What’s the best dish you have ever eaten?” Well, I finally have an answer. If you find yourself in New York City, do me a favor and please go to Xi’an Famous Foods at 81 St. Mark’s Place. Don’t let the 12 stools and small amounts of counter space discourage you. If you find a seat, excellent. However, I suggest ordering your dish to-go. You can dine at one of the nearby pubs or parks in the area.

When I walked into Xi’an Famous Foods I asked the gentleman ahead of me in line what to order. He pointed to the menu and said enthusiastically, “You have to order N1. I keep coming back to New York City solely for this dish.” Little did I know, but my life was about to change. “N1” stands for Xi’an Famous Foods’ spicy cumin lamb hand-ripped noodles.

I ordered N1 and couldn’t find an open seat. Luckily, I caught the M15 bus at 1 Ave to head back to Caryn’s Upper East Side apartment. My hands were freezing from the New York wind and bitter cold. I wrapped my hands around the to-go container of noodles. People started looking around for the person responsible for the amazing aroma that began filling the bus. One lady even eyed my to-go container in envy. My mouth was watering. Hurry up! I needed the bus to stop so I could make a run for the apartment at sit at the kitchen table to devour the bowl filled with noodles. Once my fingers were thawed, the bus reached 1 Ave. and 62 St. I jumped off the bus and reached Caryn’s apartment.

I ripped open the container and dug into the dish using a pair of wooden chopsticks. I pulled one of the wide and tender hand-made noodles to my mouth. The noodles were perfect with a rough and doughy texture. These steamy hot noodles were topped with chunks of sautéed cumin lamb. Sweat began rolling off my brow and I felt my face turning pink. The lamb was tender and spicy. The pieces of chopped cabbage, onion and celery cooled down the dish. I debated on getting a glass of water but the food was so amazing, I remained glued to my chair. What a mental struggle!

I can honestly admit that I shed a tear after I finished eating Xi’an Famous Foods’ spicy cumin lamb hand-ripped noodles. Maybe that tear was out of pure joy or perhaps it was from the intense, yet perfect array of spices. I have never been so satisfied in my life. I don’t want the glorious after taste of the dish to leave my mouth.

lamb curry noodles

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TerraVITA

TerraVITA is just around the corner and features many Greater Raleigh culinary experts and restaurants. Terra meaning “of the earth” and Vita meaning “life” captures in its definition the very spirit of the event. If you have an appreciation for great food and drink, you do not want to miss this three-day celebration. Foodies, mark your calendars for November 1-3.

The headline event, the Grand Tasting on The Green, will take place on Saturday, November 3 from 1-4:30pm. This TerraVITA event showcases sustainably made wine, microbrews, coffees and spirits and offers them side-by-side with culinary tastings by James Beard-nominated chefs, artisan chocolatiers, charcuteries and cheese makers from across the state of North Carolina. The participating restaurants and food artisans for this event from the Greater Raleigh area include Herons Restaurant, Elemental Chocolate, Little Hen Restaurant, Mandolin, Crumb, 518 West, 18 Seaboard, Market Restaurant, Lucky 32 Southern Kitchen, The Chef’s Academy, Escazu Artisan Chocolates, and NamaKiss Chocolates. The beverage participants from the Greater Raleigh area include Slingshot Coffee Company and SIP…A Wine Store. Advance tickets are $65 for the all-inclusive event with a special designated driver/no alcohol ticket offered for $55 before November 1.

In addition to the marquee Grand Tasting, three other events occur during the festival: Chefs’ Harvest Potluck,The Sustainable Classroom, and The Carolina Table: East Meets West Dinner. Tickets are still available for the Sustainable Classroom, which will be held on November 2, 9:30am-4:15pm. This event includes a combination of culinary workshops, tastings, and beverage and food demonstrations featuring food and beverage experts and aficionados. Tickets are $35 for two sessions, or $50 for four consecutive sessions. Each session lasts an hour and fifteen minutes and will include multiple experts specializing in different facets of food and/or drink. Jay Pierce from Lucky 32 Southern Kitchen and Sherry Stolfo from The Chef’s Academy are two of the experts representing the Greater Raleigh area.

Tickets are selling fast for TerraVITA. I couldn’t think of a better way to spend a weekend. Surrounded by food and beverages for three days? Count me in!

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Paleo Pumpkin-Almond Muffins

I recently decided to become Paleo. Yes, I’m now a “cavewoman.” Fine, I’m just eating like one. I absolutely love the fall season, especially pumpkin! Pumpkin spice lattes, pumpkin pies, pumpkin cookies, and pumpkin beer are among my favorites.

I am still dedicated to buying local foods. However, the Paleo diet is limiting my choices because of some of the obscure ingredients I am required to use. I went to Harris Teeter to purchase most of the products for my homemade Paleo Pumpkin-Almond Muffins. I bought a can of organic pumpkin for about 3 dollars. There was only brand of almond meal/flour produced in Milwaukie, Oregon by Bob’s Red Mill. It set me back quite a few bucks too! Sheesh, 11 bucks for a small bag of this stuff. Thankfully, I had local eggs from Latta Farms on hand and some local honey produced by one of my old college buddies. I had all of the spices in my kitchen cabinet (thank you, Mom). The almond butter I used was from Trader Joe’s and also contains roasted flaxseeds. After reading quite a few Paleo blogs and tips, I created a recipe.

Paleo Pumpkin-Almond Muffins

Yield: 10 muffins

Ingredients

1 cup almond meal/flour
1 cup canned organic pumpkin
2 eggs
1/4 cup almond butter
1/4 cup honey
2 tbs vanilla extract
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp salt

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl and blend well by hand.
  3. Use paper liners and divide muffin mix among 10 cups.
  4. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until muffins are cooked all the way through.
  5. Cool and then serve.

I know you’re not supposed to eat raw eggs but I had to try the batter. I licked the spatula. The batter earned my seal of approval! These suckers were going to be delicious, I could already tell.

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My goodness! The aroma of these muffins is absolutely overwhelming. My roommate has trouble smelling and she could even smell them when she walked in the door! I was trying to contain my excitement as pumpkin and cinnamon filled the air.

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Perhaps the best part about driving to the grocery store, laboring in the kitchen and torturing yourself by the smell of pumpkin is what? You guessed it, eating! The muffins were extremely moist and I enjoyed the slight crunch from the almond butter. The nutmeg, cinnamon and vanilla remind me of the crisp fall weather that is slowly beginning to approach North Carolina. I highly suggest this recipe and let me know how you like my Paleo Pumpkin-Almond Muffins!

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Charleston: So fresh your mouth won’t know what hit it

This weekend I took Courtney to my favorite city in South Carolina, Charleston. I was blown away by the local food movement in Charleston and wanted to share my experiences. Courtney and I were in Charleston to visit Cameron, a sous chef at Oak Steakhouse. As soon as we arrived to the charming city, Cameron took us to dinner at the Macintosh off King Street, the Oak’s “sister” restaurant. Chef Jeremiah Bacon was destined to be a chef. Everything is better with bacon, right? He is doing some amazing things at the Macintosh and strives to incorporate local ingredients into his unique Southern dishes. We ordered multiple appetizers and one of my favorites was the pork ravioli with South Carolina creamed corn puree, charred corn, onion and basil. I was ecstatic to meet Chef Jeremiah Bacon, who is a genuine person dedicated to providing fresh, homegrown food to his customers.

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On Saturday morning we strolled through the Charleston Farmers Market in Marion Square. The produce was abundant at the market and I enjoyed walking around talking to the farmers. Not only does the Charleston Farmers Market offer fresh local foods, they also support local businesses. You can purchase anything at the market from South Carolina themed coasters to goat cheese!

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While at the market, I finally got my Roti Rolls fix! Cameron has been raving about Roti Rolls for weeks, a food truck dedicated to the “farm to table” movement. Roti Rolls is Charleston’s first “farm to truck” and offers a local, fresh, and seasonal menu. Imagine wrapping Asian, Indian, Caribbean, Latin and Southern cuisine in roti bread. We tried multiple Roti Rolls and I was impressed with the creative food. My roti roll had some unique toppings like homemade pimento cheese and curried potatoes. Southern met Indian in my roti roll, something I didn’t think could happen in such a delicious manner! I also enjoyed the side of fresh watermelon, which I’m sure Corey and the Roti Rolls gang purchased from the farmer’s booth right next door.

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After spending the morning at the Charleston Farmers Market, Courtney and I hit the beach at Sullivan’s Island. The weather was gorgeous and after getting sunburned we definitely needed a beer. Poe’s Tavern conveniently had two open seats at the bar. We posted up and ordered a local Mt. Pleasant brew, the White Thai from Westbrook Brewery. The White Thai is the perfect summer beer and was brewed just a few miles from where we were sitting. How refreshing and local!

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We made our way to Bowen’s Island Seafood for dinner. I had the frogmore stew, a traditional Charleston dish. I already know what you’re thinking…no, the dish doesn’t include frog parts! Frogmore stew is a dish made with sausage, shrimp, potatoes and corn. The shrimp is caught a few miles from Bowen’s Island Seafood and tastes extremely fresh. For 13 bucks, I had enough food to feed a small army. I recommend eating at Bowen’s Island Seafood if you want delicious food and a great view of a famous Charleston sunset over the water.

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For Sunday brunch we paid a visit to one of Charleston’s most popular restaurants, Husk. Husk’s menu changes daily and the local meats, produce and products are listed on a large chalkboard next to the hostess stand. Husk purchases local foods from farmers in South Carolina and also offers other products from North Carolina, Tennessee and Georgia when needed. One of my favorite appetizers was the grilled crostinis with pimento cheese and bacon jam. Not only is the food local, the plateware is too!

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It’s easy to support the local food economy and you can see this in full circle in Charleston. Farmers, restaurants and businesses are working together to provide people with fresh, local products. Take a stroll through the Charleston Farmers Market and I guarantee you’ll witness what I’m talking about. I enjoyed my trip to the beautiful city of Charleston. I promise you can’t keep me away for too long!

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Chef Jay Pierce: Local Food Rock Star

 

I remember the first time I met Chef Jay Pierce at Lucky 32 Southern Kitchen in Greensboro. I was planning a local food Speakers Series at UNC-Greensboro for the Commissioner of Agriculture. Why wouldn’t I talk to Chef Jay? He is passionate about cooking with local ingredients and has greatly impacted the Greensboro community. He strolled out of the kitchen wearing the coolest chef pants and his long brown hair was tied back in a pony tail by using pieces of food-safe materials. Chef Jay enthusiastically told me about the Grillades and Grits dish I was devouring; slowly braised pork shank and braising liquid served over a bed of delicious cheddar cheese grits. Not only could Chef Jay make my mouth water as he described the cooking process, he was able to tell me that the grits were from The Old Mill of Guilford and the pork was from Cane Creek Farms. He truly takes the time to get to know farmers and producers throughout North Carolina. He has a huge network of people involved with food and agriculture due to his philosophy about purchasing and serving local food at Lucky 32.

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Take a walk through the Piedmont Triad Farmers’ Market and I’ll bet money on it that the farmers will rave about Chef Jay. He consistently visits the market to fill up an old London taxi cab with produce grown in the Greensboro area. Did I mention the Lucky 32 taxi is decorated with produce and farm animals? Not only does Chef Jay work with farmers, the producers also have a tie to this local foods enthusiast. For instance, Chef Jay works directly with Jammin’ George who sells locally produced jams that Lucky 32 provides for their customers on the weekends. Chef Jay helps George think of new flavors for his jams like apple bourbon and cranberry tangerine. You can see the local foods movement in full circle in the Greensboro community, and I feel a big part of that is due to Chef Jay. He has proven how important it is to support your local farmer and eat at restaurants who do the same.

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(Photo Credit: Chef Jay’s Twitter)

Now let’s talk about Chef Jay’s food. I think this Louisiana native and Oregon trained chef has a good chance at winning Competition Dining’s Fire in the Triad. Not only has he lived in numerous places throughout the United States, since 2006 he has been putting a unique spin on North Carolina ingredients and creating some outrageously delicious food. Lucky 32’s menu is filled with eclectic Southern dishes using locally grown products. Don’t you think this dish below looks like a jalapeno popper? But wait! It’s really a crab-stuff okra served with truffled heirloom popcorn. Who does something that creative and tasty? That’s Chef Jay for ya!

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Chef Jay really isn’t scared to take chances. Last night I went to the Highland beer school at Lucky 32. Guess what was on the menu? Local lengua on rye with slaw and funky cheese, served with a Highland Kashmir IPA. Yes, lengua is cow tongue. He made me a cow tongue believer; it was seriously the best cow tongue I’ve ever eaten and the meat reminded me of a tender pot roast. Chef Jay is also known to change up a menu the day of an event. For example, he was in the kitchen yesterday and decided he didn’t want to serve up the usual chocolate peanut butter pie, he wanted to add a unique spin- goat’s milk. Oh boy, that pie was rich and heavenly tasting. It will be interesting to see what Chef Jay comes up with during Competition Dining’s Fire in the Triad because he’s excellent at being creative on the fly. Plus, his knowledge of local ingredients is immense.

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If you haven’t had the pleasure of meeting such a remarkable chef who is a local foods rock star, attend the American Cheese Society’s panel on Saturday at 11 AM in Raleigh about the rise of local food in the Triangle. Chef Jay is a speaker along with Portia from Chapel Hill Creamery and Colin from The Fearrington House to discuss why the Triangle has embraced the idea of local food on a whole other level.

I’m sure by now you want to purchase tickets to Competition Dining’s Fire in the Triad. Chef Jay Pierce and his team compete in the first round against the chefs from Bistro B, which is on August 13th. Each chef will be given a secret North Carolina ingredient the day of the competition and must make three unique courses for diners. What’s awesome is that diners get to be the judge! Hurry and buy your tickets because it’s definitely going to sell out. Click here to buy your tickets now: www.competitiondining.com/events/fire-in-the-triad.

Learn a little more about Chef Jay:

1. A food I can’t live without:  pork – carnitas, sausage, head cheese, ribs
2. My favorite Lucky 32 menu item: cornmeal-crusted catfish with creamy grits and collard greens
3. My must-have Carolina ingredient: Homeland Creamery buttermilk
4. My drink of choice: Bourbon
5. When I have a day off I’m: reading about food
6. Open my refrigerator at home and you’ll find these three things: miso, sriracha, salsa
7. The music blaring in my kitchen: Rolling Stones
8. Favorite smell: Chicken stock
9. My favorite North Carolinian, living or dead, real or fictional, is: Thelonious Monk
10. If I could cook for anyone, it would be: Edna Lewis

*Note: Question adapted from the Charleston food blog

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Sitti Courtyard Summer Mixer: HUGE success!

After sending numerous tweets, working with 100.7 The River and advertising the Sitti Courtyard Summer Mixer through Facebook, July 26th had finally arrived! Kate and I got to the courtyard a little early and sampled the Fullsteam beers on special for the Young Professionals Mixer. Fullsteam supplied four amazing beers for the event, which are brewed using local North Carolina ingredients. The Fullsteam Southern Lager, El Toro Classic Cream Ale, Carver Sweet Potato, and Working Man’s Lunch were all on tap. One of my favorites was the El Toro, it was perfect and light for the hot summer evening. The El Toro is unique because it’s brewed with North Carolina grits! Who would have thought?

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People started coming back to the Sitti Courtyard a few minutes before 6 PM and the crowd kept coming until about 8:30 PM. We had at least 100 people attend our first Young Professionals Mixer at Sitti! The event was a great way to connect Young Professionals living in the Raleigh area. I met so many new people at the Mixer ranging from all different fields including real estate, agriculture, lawyers, government, radio and more! The event was also great because it highlighted the beautiful Sitti Courtyard and food. A lot of people at the Mixer had no clue the Courtyard existed at Sitti or had never eaten at the restaurant. The Courtyard is wonderful for enjoying an authentic Lebanese meal or having your own private event.

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I was thrilled with the turn out and plan on hosting another Sitti Courtyard Mixer in late September. A few brave Young Professionals were decked out in their summer outfits, including seersucker! Maybe in the fall we can have another suggested dress code, thoughts?

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I can’t wait to see everyone again in the fall! Thank you to Sitti’s wonderful staff, Kitty at 100.7 The River, and all of my Twitter followers for helping to make this event such a huge success.

 

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Sitti Courtyard Summer Mixer with Fullsteam beer!

I’ve been planning the Sitti Courtyard Summer Mixer with my old college roommate, Kate. Sitti is one of my favorite restaurants in Raleigh and they have generously let us take over their courtyard on July 26th (thank you, Patty, Sean, and Patrick)! It’s difficult for young professionals to meet and we wanted to give people in Raleigh an opportunity to network. From 6 to 9 PM on July 26th I encourage any young professional in the area to attend this event. More information is below.

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Fullsteam is one of my favorite, local breweries based out of Durham. Sean Wilson, the Chief Executive Optimist of Fullsteam Brewery is dedicated to using North Carolina ingredients in his beer. Of course I wanted Fullsteam to be involved with the Sitti Courtyard Summer Mixer. Their Sweet Potato Carver is made using pureed sweet potatoes produced by Yam Co. based in Nash County. The Summer Basil farmhouse ale, one of the most unique beers I’ve ever had the pleasure drinking, is made using pounds of basil from a local NC farmer. Perhaps the most interesting beer has to be the Wanderlust, made from Cheerwine syrup and over 40 pounds of cherries. You better believe I freaked out when I learned a beer was made using Cheerwine! Sean recently joined the Goodness Grows program and will be using the “Got to be NC” logo on Fullsteam’s products. He’s definitely supporting local foods and beer! 

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If you come out to the Sitti Courtyard Summer Mixer, you will have the opportunity to drink one (ok, not just one) Fullsteam beer at a great price! You’ll also get to eat some awesome Lebanese food from Sitti, a restaurant dedicated to using local NC foods. Did you know that Gravy and Sitti purchase a locally raised cow each week to use in their restaurants? Sitti also has been using Locals Seafood, a company delivering the freshest possible seafood from local NC fishermen to the Triangle area. I tried Sitti’s seared tuna kabobs this weekend and wow, they were awesome and fresh! 

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I hope everyone can make it out to this great event on July 26th! I’ll be wearing my seersucker and I’m anxious to meet new people. 

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Final reflections.

I have gained valuable experiences and knowledge through my 43 day local food challenge. I feel it is necessary to reflect on the 43 days and to share these reflections with those of you who have been loyal followers of my blog. I will start each reflection off with a common question I received from friends, family, and strangers during my challenge.
 
Have you lost weight?
 
I wish! I only lost one pound during my 43 day local food challenge. I was asked the question, “have you lost weight?” almost every other day. Maybe I finally mastered the art of wearing clothes to disguise my weight? Who knows! I found myself consuming more fruits and vegetables during my challenge. I also ate eggs or peanut butter most mornings, which provided me with protein and energy to make it through the day. Overall, I feel eating local foods is much healthier. I ate “whole” foods and basically eliminated processed foods from my diet. I avoided the center aisles of every grocery store. I could only find local foods on the outside of the grocery aisles. Think about it; the outside of the grocery aisles usually includes healthy foods like produce, meat, bread, and cheese. I also shopped frequently at farmers’ markets, where processed foods barely exist. By shopping at farmers’ markets and avoiding the center aisles of the grocery stores, I didn’t give myself the opportunity to pick up crackers, cookies, popcorn, cereals, and other snack foods. 
 
On the other hand, there were days when my diet was absolutely terrible. My coworker’s husband called me the “beer and ice cream girl.” Sometimes when I was traveling or did a poor job of planning when to go grocery shopping, I had to resort to eating local ice cream for a meal. I definitely drank a lot of beer too, that explains why I only lost a pound. I knew North Carolina had some great beer, however, my local food challenge definitely taught me a thing or two about NC beer. We have so many breweries and the beer rocks! 
 
What can you eat?

I got this question a lot. My response was always, “anything grown or produced in North Carolina.” Let me elaborate and reflect.
 
I could eat any fruit or vegetable grown in North Carolina. This was surprisingly hard at first. I started my challenge during the winter crop season. There weren’t a lot of fruits I was able to eat besides apples from the mountains. I definitely missed being able to pick up oranges, bananas, and berries from the grocery store. Thankfully, strawberries, blueberries, and peaches were available during part of my local food challenge. Americans definitely take produce for granted. I encourage you to look around the grocery store next time you’re shopping for produce. Everything comes from Mexico or California. You can purchase a banana or avocado every day, too bad it’s traveled hundreds of miles to get to you. I enjoyed talking to farmers and purchasing produce at the farmers’ market. I knew who was growing my food and I wanted to support them for their hard work. 
 
I ate breads and granola produced by local bakers. Anytime I was visiting a city in North Carolina, I always picked up a loaf of bread from a local baker. Nana’s bread in Greensboro, Ninth Street Bakery in Durham, Neomonde in Raleigh, Little Red Wagon Granola in Chapel Hill, and Camino’s in Winston Salem were among some of the bakeries I visited.
 
Meat was interesting. I’m not a huge meat eater, however, the local food challenge caused me to become more carnivorous. The challenge also allowed me to learn more about cuts of meat and different types. I ate a lot of ground beef because that was easy to find at the grocery store and at restaurants. Whole Foods carries local beef, grass fed and organic. I also purchased a lot of meats from Mae Farms, including Canadian Bacon and pork tenderloin. I found local meats to taste more flavorful compared to the meats I was purchasing at Food Lion. I am also happy that I live in North Carolina. The coast is only two hours away from Raleigh so I was able to eat a wide variety of seafood, which was wonderful. We are definitely a diverse state when it comes to meat. I can’t imagine living in a state that doesn’t have fresh, local seafood. 
 
I only ate chocolate as long as it was made by a local, artisan chocolatier. I ate chocolate from Escazu and the Videri Chocolate Factory, both are located in Raleigh. I couldn’t live without chocolate. Although the cocoa wasn’t grown in North Carolina, it’s good to support a local chocolatier. I was also able to see the chocolate being made in Escazu’s store. 

It’s so expensive to eat local, right?

Yes and no, some products are pretty expensive while others are cheaper. A locally made chocolate bar cost me around 6 bucks, compared to the 1 dollar I could spend on a Hershey’s bar. I also found cheese to be pricey. Before my local food challenge, I usually bought bags of Food Lion brand cheddar or Parmesan cheese for 2 or 3 bucks.  When you’re shopping for local cheeses, you can’t just buy a bag of shredded cheese. I tried lots of different types of cheeses and fell even more in love with goat cheese. Although I would pay 3 dollars for a small piece of cheese that barely fit in the palm of my hand, it tasted so much better and I found a smaller amount of cheese was needed at meals. Produce wasn’t expensive. I found fruits and vegetables at the farmers’ market to be about the same price as the grocery store. Sometimes certain fruits and vegetables were a few cents more a pound but I’d rather place a few more cents in my local farmer’s hand. Produce at Whole Foods on the other hand, wiped my pockets clean! Remember the four dollar tomato? I would highly suggest shopping for produce at your local farmers’ market.
 
I did spend a good amount of money at restaurants. I enjoy eating out and I consider this a social activity. I spent a lot of time searching online for restaurants and then calling them to make sure they offered local foods. As far as pricing, the restaurants were comparable to others in the area. Most of the restaurants I visited have found a way to make their menu seasonal so they can incorporate local foods. 

Umm, why are you doing this again?
 
Because I want to. I didn’t embark on this local food challenge to prove a point or to be ridiculous. Honestly, I wanted to see what all the great state of North Carolina had to offer me. I simply wanted to see if our state was diverse in the types of agricultural products available to consumers. There’s so much talk about eating local foods, I just wanted to see if you can easily do so in North Carolina. Plus, I get bored easily. I wanted to see if I could stick to a challenge.
 
I didn’t really see this one coming, but my social network has definitely been impacted by my local foods challenge. I have met numerous foodies and chefs throughout North Carolina because of my challenge. It’s refreshing to talk to a chef and discover their passion for local foods. My friends were also excited about my challenge. Courtney was always willing to drink a local beer with me or visit the farmers’ market. My friend Jonathan who lives in Pittsburgh sent me a picture of a chalkboard at his work’s cafe. The chalkboard listed foods the cafe would be offering during the day and which local farms were supplying the ingredients. Not only have I impacted people in North Carolina to think locally, my blog has reached other parts of the states. My blog was also picked up by the Greater Raleigh Convention and Visitor’s Bureau because I frequented a lot of restaurants dedicated to serving local foods. I am the visitRaleigh foodie blogger now!
 
What’s the first thing you’re going to eat after this challenge?
 
Avocados. If only North Carolina could grow avocados because I missed guacamole the most out of any food. Also, fruit! Americans are spoiled, I couldn’t eat common fruits like bananas and oranges.
 
Would you do the challenge again?

In a heart beat. It’s kind of funny, I often forget that I’m not doing the challenge anymore. I have totally changed where I shop for foods. I haven’t been to a large grocery store since the end of my local food challenge. I only shop at the farmers’ market now and then at Whole Foods for products I couldn’t find at the farmers’ market. I can honestly say close to 90 percent of my food dollars are going towards local foods. The 10 percent is going solely towards avocados!

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It’s almost too easy to eat local in Asheville.

I always love visiting Asheville. The restaurants in Asheville are dedicated to using local foods. Although I successfully finished my 43 day local food challenge, I stuck to the rules of my challenge for the most part when I was visiting Asheville. It was almost too easy to eat local foods!

I wanted to mention an amazing restaurant I visited while in the city last week, the Tomato Jam Cafe. I had to call the Tomato Jam Cafe for directions because I missed my turn into the restaurant, which is noted by a tiny blue sign pointing to an office park. The restaurant sits on the corner of a medical office park and is open for breakfast and lunch.

Bekah and I walked up to the cash register to order. I ordered the Tori Melt, walnut chicken salad with cranberry mustard and goat cheese. The bread was from a local baker, Annie’s Naturally Bakery in Western North Carolina. I couldn’t decide which side to order, so I told the employee to surprise me. She picked the homemade applesauce.

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The sandwich was perfectly toasted. The walnut chicken salad with cranberry mustard was definitely unique. Most chicken salads are too heavy on the mayo for my liking, but Tomato Jam Cafe got it right. The goat cheese made the sandwich savory along with the sweet and tangy flavors from the cranberry mustard. I’m so happy that the employee picked the homemade applesauce for my side dish. The applesauce is out of this world. Imagine eating chilled, baked apples. Incredible! The applesauce wasn’t mushy, it was chunky and was sweetened nicely with a touch of cinnamon.

After cleaning my plate (it was easy), a cupcake was delivered to our table. The cupcakes are baked fresh at the restaurant. We received a double chocolate cupcake topped with cinnamon chips and toasted coconut. The cake was light and the cinnamon chips added the most amazing taste to the dessert. You haven’t lived until you try cinnamon chips. Forget chocolate chips!

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I had a great experience at the Tomato Jam Cafe. The employees make you feel like you’re at home eating in their kitchen. Maybe it was the alphabet magnets and artwork hanging up from loyal customers? You feel cozy while drinking out of a mason jar and enjoying some fresh, home cooking. I highly recommend paying Tomato Jam Cafe a visit. There is something for everyone at the restaurant.

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Going out with a bang!

My 43 day local food challenge ended on Monday. I do apologize for not writing until today. I’ve been at a professional conference in Asheville with little time to blog. Anyway, on Monday I decided to go out with a bang! For breakfast I ate leftovers from the Mother’s Day brunch I prepared with all local foods, crustless quiche and a blueberry muffin. The best part about the meal was definitely drinking a glass of chocolate milk. Maple View Farm’s chocolate milk is amazing. It’s so rich and fresh. You can taste the difference in this milk, which is produced 30 miles from where I live. I don’t mind spending a buck more for better tasting milk and for essentially decreasing my carbon footprint.

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Sarah, Simone, Gabi and I went to lunch at Beasley’s in downtown Raleigh. I ordered the vegetable plate for 9 bucks. The collard greens were tasty. A lot of people don’t like to eat “greens.” If you’re one of these people that’s iffy when it comes to collard greens, you’ve got to go to Beasley’s. I promise you will change your mind. They are prepared with a little vinegar and I added Beasley’s homemade hot sauce for a slight kick, I like things spicy! The coleslaw was also delicious and interesting. The coleslaw I typically eat is prepared with finely chopped ingredients and of course, lots of mayonnaise. Beasley’s uses local produce in their coleslaw and what I found to be a unique addition were the tomatoes. The coleslaw isn’t swimming in mayo and is chunky, which created a nice crunchy texture. The best vegetable on my veggie plate was (by far) the mac and cheese. Is mac and cheese a legit vegetable? Well, today it is! The mac and cheese was prepared with Ashe County pimento cheese. The pimento added a nice flavor to the baked mac and cheese. I am slightly obsessed with cheese in general and in my opinion, Ashe County makes some of the best darn cheese in all of North Carolina.

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Courtney wanted to treat me to dinner for my graduation. We had to drive out to Holly Springs to run an errand so we decided to grab dinner at Homegrown Pizza. When we pulled up to the restaurant, we were a little nervous. You have to walk through what looks like an office building filled with chiropractors and dentists before actually reaching the restaurant. We sat down in a booth and started people watching. A lot of parents were treating their kids to pizza. Soon my attention was drawn from the families to the pizza. The crust was bubbly and the aroma of the pizza passing by the booth was divine.

Courtney and I asked our waitress about the local ingredients they use in their pizza. The pizza dough and marinara sauce are homemade and prepared every day in the restaurant. The produce is delivered to the restaurant by Papa Spud’s, an online farmer’s market that connects restaurants and people to local and sustainable farmers. Papa Spud’s delivers fresh food right to Homegrown Pizza’s door. The only time Homegrown Pizza doesn’t use local foods is when particular items aren’t in season. Courtney and I decided to order the veggie pizza prepared using local produce. She added pepperoni and jalapenos to half of the pizza. She’s my friend who likes everything extremely spicy, remember?

The pizza came out to our table within a few minutes. I enjoyed the pizza and my favorite part was the crust. I felt like I was on cloud nine after taking the first bite of the pizza crust. The crust was golden brown, a little crispy, and airy. The produce was so fresh and tasted wonderful with the homemade marinara sauce. I also appreciated that Homegrown Pizza doesn’t drench their pizza with sauce. I would definitely go back to this pizza joint soon!

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After dinner, Kristin and I drove over 30 minutes away to Angier for ice cream. I told you I was going out with a bang! Kristin and I are ice cream buddies. Our love for ice cream instantly bonded us when we first met a few years ago at NC State. Sunni Sky’s was featured on Good Morning America and Kristin told me I had to try their homemade ice cream. We pulled up to flashing palm trees and a huge crowd of locals devouring waffle cones piled high with ice cream. We walked into the ice cream parlor and there was no way I was going to decide between Sunni Sky’s 90 plus flavors. I started sampling a few flavors and my indecisive personality got the best of me. I asked the two employees to pick out their favorite flavors for me, which were strawberry cheesecake and brownie batter.

Kristin and I sat outside at a picnic table. We couldn’t stop raving about the ice cream. No wonder Sunni Sky’s was featured on Good Morning America! Their ice cream is fabulous. My favorite flavor was the strawberry cheesecake. The chunks of cheesecake were huge! The brownie batter was also amazing. I think they should rename their brownie batter as death by chocolate. I’m a chocolate lover so I was pleased. The chocolate ice cream was heavenly and creamy, then the brownie bites made the ice cream even more divine. I would drive every day to Angier to get this ice cream.

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Eating local foods has been challenging at times but it was surprisingly much easier than I thought. In my next blog post I will be reflecting on the past 43 days. I also promise to keep this blog going when I find interesting restaurants or recipes that use local foods.

 

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