The Essential Guide to Winter Camping Booze

I’ve got a lot to be thankful for this year, and friends are right at the top of my list. Since moving out to Colorado at the beginning of the year, I haven’t been able to spend very much time with my family – so my friends out here have become my tribe. To celebrate the holiday weekend, I’m packing up my Stanley thermos, and heading out to Shelf Road to climb with a crew of fellas from back in my Tallahassee Rock Gym days.

But winter camping isn’t always my thing.

The cold gets to me sometimes. But I know the season for camping trips is probably cooling down a bit, so I couldn’t pass up the invite to climb in perfect 60º weather only a few hours away. Aside from my climbing gear and camping equipment, I have one priority for this trip: drinks. These fellas know how to have a good time, so I put together three essential drinks everyone should bring along during winter adventures.

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Hot Chocolate with Irish Cream

This is possibly my all-time favorite winter drink. I’ve always adored hot chocolate, so the next progression was clearly to introduce liquor to the mix. I added three shots of Saint Brendan’s Irish cream liqueur (aka Bailey’s for poor people) to the Stanley one-handed thermos filled with water and three scoops of hot chocolate mix – bonus points if you add a shot of whiskey and some coffee! And of course, top it all off with an offensively large mound of heavy whipped cream for good measure.

Okay, so the whipped cream might not be practical for the outdoors – but the one-handed thermos definitely is. This thing keeps drinks hot for up to six hours, tags along easy everywhere from adventures to my morning commute, and doesn’t spill even a single drop.

 A Flask Full of WhiskeyDSC_8046

When you’re hiking around with a pack full of ropes and gear, there isn’t an abundance of space for fancy winter libations – which is where the 8 oz. Stanley Adventure flask (which is on sale right now!) comes into play. I bought a small 12 oz. bottle of my favorite whiskey, Bulleit Rye, and loaded it into my flask to keep on hand for moments when the crew needs a pick-me-up, or when I’m in need of a victory swig after a climb. A simple flask packs easy, doesn’t add a lot of weight to your load, and can add a dash of adult-enjoyment to any beverage. Perfect stocking stuffer idea, anyone? I know. 

 A Six-Pack of Seasonal Beer

The easiest drink for camping, ever, period, is beer. It’s plentiful, cheap, and always refreshing after a day of exploring. Winter is a great season for bringing beer because you know it’ll stay cold – there’s nothing worse than a hot, skunky beer when you’re camping in the summertime. For our Shelf Road adventures, my buddy Jeff decided to pick up a six-pack of New Belgium’s seasonal winter ale. He describes it as “a white IPA, so it’s not as hoppy – and it has a really clean taste with a smooth finish. Honestly it’s the perfect winter beer.”

I let Jeff borrow my Stanley vacuum-sealed pint glass, which features a built-in bottle opener on the lid! This might be my favorite Stanley product right now, since the big mouth opening and spacious 16 oz. capacity are ideal for optimized beverage size.
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Bottoms up, y’all!

Disclosure: This post was sponsored by Stanley as part of their Give The Gift of #Stanleyness campaign. Thoughts (and genius beverage suggestions) are 100% mine, as always. If you want to help support The Morning Fresh, click those links – Eddie Bauer is currently offering free shipping on all orders over $49!

Cuban Mojo Chicken Sandwiches with Garlic Aioli

My best friend from college, Marisa, is visiting from Key West this week — and when she asked me if there was anything she could bring from Florida, I nearly exploded begging her to bring me some freshly baked Cuban bread. You see, there is literally nowhere in Denver to buy Cuban bread. My favorite restaurant, Cuba Cuba, even has to fly theirs in from Miami. Not cool, right? So when Marisa showed up with a massive supply of Cuban bread, I knew I had to make some mean sandwiches for everyone. There wasn’t time for my usual lechon asado — so I improvised a little with chicken!

The first step to cooking delicious Cuban meat is making your own mojo to marinate it in. Our household recently acquired a really gorgeous mortar and pestle, so I’ve been going a little crazy with my mojo experiments. It’s just too much fun mashing garlic and onion and spices together — the whole kitchen smells like savory heaven!

How to make your own mojo!

The other “sauce” necessary for this recipe admittedly intimidated me at first — the garlic aioli is mayonnaise-based (and I am not a mayo fan). I was worried it was going to be too mayo-ish, but mixing in the fresh herbs and tangy mojo created the perfect flavor and texture. My mayo-phobia caused me to be cautious when lathering the sandwiches with the aioli, but we all ended up going back to dip our bread in more and more sauce — it was so tasty! But back to the mojo chicken:

cubanmojo

Here’s a little secret that I must confess: I was so diligent with taking pictures of every step of the recipe and taking notes on my ingredients — but once I plated all four sandwiches, I totally forgot to snap a photo of the final product! I improvised a bit and tried to arrange my plate so you couldn’t notice that I had totally already eaten half of my sandwich, oops. It’s the thought that counts, right? 

IMG_0930This Cuban sandwich recipe became an instant favorite. I’m finicky with my meat, so the traditional Cuban sandwich with deli ham (yuck!) isn’t quite my cup of tea. The mojo marinated chicken is lean yet so flavorful. If you want an extra Cuban kick, try adding pepperoncini or pickles to your sandwich.

Let me know your thoughts on my Cuban mojo chicken sandwich with garlic aioli recipe! What’s YOUR favorite Cuban sandwich recipe?

 

Cuban Mojo Chicken Pressed Sandwiches
 
Pulled chicken marinated in homemade mojo, pressed on Cuban bread with swiss cheese and garlic aioli.
Author:
Cuisine: Cuban
Serves: 4
Ingredients
  • 2 loaves Cuban bread
  • two heads of garlic
  • sliced swiss cheese
  • 2 lbs. chicken tenderloins/breast
  • 1 small yellow onion
  • 1 avocado
  • 2 limes
  • 1 orange
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1½ tsp salt
  • 1½ tsp pepper
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 1 tablespoon fresh chopped cilantro
  • 2 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley
  • ½ cup mayonnaise
Instructions
  1. Prepare the homemade mojo: Finely dice the garlic and onion. Mash together with salt, pepper, and oregano. Squeeze the juice from the limes and orange, and mix together. (I use a mortar and pestle, but any other method will suffice.)
  2. Prepare the garlic aioli: combine one part chopped parsley, one part mojo, and three parts mayonaise. Add additional mojo to taste.
  3. Pour the mojo over the raw chicken -- then marinate in the refrigerator for one hour.
  4. Over medium heat in a large cast iron skillet, cook the chicken in the mojo juices. Once the chicken is cooked all the way through, use two forks to shred the chicken in the cast iron. Continue to cook until the chicken lightly browns. Remove chicken.
  5. Prepare the sandwiches by slicing the Cuban loaf in half. Spread aioli on one side, add a thick layer of shredded chicken, a slice of swiss cheese, and a few slices of avocado. Butter the outside of the sandwiches.
  6. Melt a teaspoon of butter in the cast iron, then add the sandwiches. Using a large, flat pot cover, firmly press the sandwiches as they heat up. **If you have a few bricks easily accessible, you can use them to keep the sandwiches pressed.
  7. Enjoy!

 

Homemade Oatmeal Coconut Dark Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe

No matter how “healthy” I try to eat, I always end up caving to overwhelming sweet tooth cravings. I never used to find myself with random bouts of an insatiable need to jam sugary treats into my pie-hole, but lately my confectionary cravings have become a problem – because I tend to satisfy those cravings with things like the expired whipped frosting I found in the back of the pantry last week (not cool, folks, not cool).

The solution? Trade questionable, processed sweets for something homemade. I won’t even try to pretend that a pile of cookies is healthy for me – but baking with wholesome, organic ingredients makes me less guitly when I wake up and eat a bunch for breakfast. My favorite little trick: I swapped the usual butter for coconut oil, yum! The result? A delicious, gooey homemade oatmeal coconut dark chocolate chip cookie recipe – that’s anyone can bake!

Coconut Dark Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies (with coconut oil!)The ingredients laid out for my homemade oatmeal coconut dark chocolate chip cookies recipe.• ingredients

+ 1 ¼ cup packed brown sugar
+ 1 cup coconut oil (softened)
+ ½ cup sugar in the raw
+ 2 eggs
+ 2 tablespoons low-fat milk
+ 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
+ 1 ¾ cup flour
+ 1 tsp baking soda
+ 1 pinch sea salt
+ 3 cups rolled oats
+ 1 cup dark chocolate chips
+ 1 cup shredded coconut

Note: You can adjust the amount of coconut and dark chocolate chips to your taste – but I found this to be the perfect combination!

• instructions

+ preheat your oven to 375º.

+ make the cookie batter.

You’ll make a sugary base by mixing together the sugar and coconut oil. Once you have a nice mixture, add the eggs one by one, and then stir in the milk and vanilla. In a separate bowl, blend the flour, baking soda, and salt – then add that to the cookie batter. Last, stir in the oats, coconut, and chocolate chips.

+ bake the cookies.

Plop small mounds of dough onto an ungreased baking sheet. I like to moisten my hands with a little water before forming the cookie balls to keep the sugary dough from sticking to my fingers. Bake the cookies for 10-12 minutes at 375º.

+ enjoy!

Recipe yields about 4 dozen cookies.

I won’t lie and say that this can be excused as a totally healthy snack – but it sure beats devouring an entire box of Girl Scout cookies. For me, becoming a healthier person is all about taking it one step at a time, and slowly making better choices when it comes to what I put into my body. So an oatmeal coconut cookie instead of half a pint of ice cream is just one small victory in the battle towards wellness!

What’s YOUR ultimate sweet tooth weakness?

Satisfying my Inner Latina at Houston’s Finest Mexican Markets

I’ve been in Texas before – too many times, if you ask me. My visits to the Lonestar State are usually long stretches of driving during hauls across the country, most noteably my May journey where I struck a black bear with my hatchback at 2:30 AM while driving in the middle of nowhere.

Really, Texas and I don’t historically get along.

The first leg of the Simply Adventure trip called for a few weeks traversing new parts of Texas, but my excitement for places like Hueco Tanks was combated by the bad taste Texas tends to leave in my mouth.

And then I got to Houston.

Niko and I stopped in the city for a day on our way out to Reimer’s Ranch near Austin. We weren’t expecting much from the day, but ended up knee-deep in an incredible culinary journey.

The first stop: Canino Produce Co.

Brightly colored fruits and vegetables at Canino Produce market in Houston, Texas.

This bustling Houston hotspot is an absolute must for anyone into farmers markets. I haven’t been to all of the farmers markets in Houston, but I’d be willing to bet that this one is the best. Crowded rows of merchants line a narrow corridor where you can find everything from prickly cactus pears to thick bundles of fresh cilantro.

The best part? I didn’t speak a lick of English during my encounters with the farmers and veggie peddlers. I somehow summoned up my inner Cuban, and discussed everything from corn prices, avocado readiness, and pepper sizes entirely in Spanish.

We loaded up on multi-colored bell peppers, tall stalks of green onions, fat cherry tomatoes, and a wealth of vegetable before heading over to our next stop, which sits conveniently across the street.

My tray of goodies from El Bolillo Bakery in Houston, Texas.

El Bolillo Bakery is the kind of place that makes you question whether you’ve been teleported into the heart of Mexico.

Picture this: You walk into a cute bakery, pick up a giant metal tray, arm yourself with a pair of tongs, then wander through a maze of cabinets, displays, and countertops littered with a dizzying amount of freshly baked goods. It is absolutely incredible.

I felt like a little girl visiting my family in Mexico City as I explored the rows of skinny churros, plump bollilo rolls, and hundreds of unidentifiable treats. While I attempted to seek out familiar confections, Niko let his curiosity take control, and loaded up on whatever items tempted his appetite. We filled our tray with a heap of sweets, and grabbed a bag fullTeresa and I show off our goodies from El Bolillo Bakery in Houston, Texas. of the best tortillas I have ever eaten.

And it all came out to just $8.25 (including my gigantic bottle of Mexican cola). Culturally-rich, loaded with flavor, freshly baked, AND budget-friendly? Yes, please!

Afterwards, we retreated to Teresa’s house, where she cooked up an incredible taco dinner unlike any taco concoction you could imagine: I’m talkin’ tortillas filled with butternut squash, whole roasted beets, quinoa, kale, fresh arugula from her garden, and shredded queso blanco. Needless to say, I was a very happy camper after that meal.

While our stop in Houston was short, and focused largely around these two destinations, my experiences exploring the culture and food of the city’s Latino community totally changed my attitude towards Texas – an perspective that has only grown more favorable as I spent more time in this state.

Easiest Recipe for Homemade Chicken Noodle Soup (ever!)

For some folks, the winter season is just an excuse to crank up the heater and indulge in an endless supply of homemade pumpkin spice lattesbut for those of us who live in a house full of dirtbag climbers, the winter months are all about survival.

You see, we don’t run the heat, so at this very moment, it’s about 55º in my kitchen – which means everything is cold. So cold, in fact, that when my housemate poured fresh coffee into his tall cup, the glass was so cold that it shattered upon contact with the hot liquid. In a world where everything is cold, hot food becomes a dietary staple.

My favorite way of warming up with edibles? Homemade soup! Stew a giant pot of hearty liquid warmth, and you’ve got instant heat to last up to a week. And while I love a fancy soup just as much as the next gal, there’s nothing better than an easy, simple soup. Plus, the entire house seems to warm up with the smells of stewing veggies and simmering broth.

This homemade chicken noodle soup recipe yields 10 mason jars worth of goodness – plenty to last you at least a week – and this may just be one of the easiest soup recipes, ever. The most difficult part of making this soup is merely the effort that it requires to patiently wait for your soup to reach optimal soup-age – but there’s no shame in sneaking a spoonful or two during the cooking process.

What you need:

  • 50 ounces (6 ¼ cups) of 100% natural chicken broth | Since I’m on a dirtbag budget I used the 99% fat free canned version from Swanson.
  • 3 cups carrots  *
  • 2 cups celery *
  • 1 yellow onion *
  • 12 ounces of wide egg noodles
  • 1.25 lbs of chicken breast * | We get ours from Earth Fare; it’s ‘local’ chicken from Springer Mountain in Georgia!
  • 2 cubes of bouillon/seasoning of your choice
  • 4 cups of water | Purely to add to the soup as it cooks; additional water will be used to boil the noodles.

* Bonus Points if you get these items from a local farm or market!

How to make the easiest homemade chicken noodle soup (ever):

1. In the biggest pot you’ve got, start boiling some water. Chop your chicken breast into smaller pieces (think about 8 per breast), and toss ‘em into the water to boil.

2. While the chicken is cooking, begin preparing your vegetables. Dice the onion; slice each celery stick in half, and chop; slice and halve the carrots. The size and thickness is up to you – I prefer to make my veggies in a variety of sizes to make each bite a surprise.

3. After about 10 minutes, check the chicken – if there is no pink left in the middle, drain it and set it aside to cool for a few minutes.

4. While you’re working on the chicken, toss your vegetables and two cups of water into the pot. I added a small amount of chicken broth, to soak up some flavor while the veggies softened. Add celery and carrots first, then onions later. Now is a good time to add salt, pepper, and garlic powder to the pot.

– At this time, you should also set a separate pot to boil, and cook your package of egg noodles.

NOTE
: I do not cook my egg noodles all the way; I leave them al dente because they will continue to absorb the broth in the soup (this is a great way to avoid getting them too mushy during storage).

5. Once you can handle the meat, begin to pull the chicken apart with your fingers (or a fork). You’ll quickly find that what began as a small pile of chicken chunks will grow into a rather large heap of shredded meat.

6. Add the chicken, remaining broth, noodles and any other leftover ingredients, to the pot (I didn’t drain the noodles, I added the water along with ‘em). Once the soup reaches a bubbly brew, toss in the bouillon/seasoning cubes. Continue to season to taste, if necessary.

7. Begin the waiting game. Set the soup to a simmer, and occasionally stir and taste for at least two hours. The longer, the better – but it may be hard to resist the temptation of pouring yourself a bowl.8. Ladle your soup into mason jars, and set some aside in the freezer (not completely full), and some in the fridge to be eaten quickly.

After an afternoon spent tending to my vat of homemade chicken noodle soup, I was left feeling almost eager for all the mason jar rations to be devoured so I could cook up another big batch of soul-warming soup. I’m thinking loaded baked potato soup may be next up on the schedule…

Do you love soup, too? What’s your favorite flavor?

I reckon I’ll be making quite a few more kinds of soup this season,
so let me know which variety I should experiment with next!

For more foodie fun, check out my “For The Foodies” board on Pinterest.
And if you liked this recipe, add it to your boards – and give it a ‘thumbs up’! 

How to Make a Homemade Pumpkin Spice Latte (in a mason jar!)

Homemade Pumpkin Spice Latte (in a mason jar).This week, I wore my favorite flannel shirt for like 3/4ths of the day without dripping in sweat – and therefore, it is totally autumn.

While long-sleeved shirts and knit scarves are both worthy reasons to get stoked about the fall season, we all know the real reason folks get hyped once the temperatures start dropping:

Pumpkin spice lattes! 

As always, I woke up extra early and bolted to the nearest Starbucks to get my first fall-flavored latte on September 4th – the first day they appear back on the menu – but I must admit, it was a bit painful to shell out the $5 for my tasty treat.

So I decided to make my own.

After testing out a few different recipes, I nixed a few ingredients, made a few tweaks, and came up with my own (slightly) healthier version of this pumpkin-flavored drink.

And when I say ‘healthier‘, what I really mean is that I used 2% milk instead of whole milk, and only refilled my whipped cream once instead of five times. Baby steps, right?

What could be better than a homemade pumpkin spice latte served in a mason jar?

Here’s how to make your own homemade pumpkin spice latte
(with unlimited whipped cream refills, of course):

What you need:

For the pumpkin-y mixture:

½ cup 2% milk
1 teaspoon brown sugar (I use light brown)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1 tablespoon canned pumpkin puree (I use unsweetened)

To complete the latte:

1 cup coffee (the stronger, the better, if you ask me!)
3 cubes of white sugar
half & half creamer (to taste)
whipped cream
ground cinnamon (optional)

How to make your pumpkin spice latte:

  1. In a microwavable bowl or cup (OR MASON JAR!), mix together the pumpkin mixture ingredients (milk, brown sugar, vanilla extract, pumpkin pie spice, and pumpkin puree). It’s best to use a whisk, but for us dirtbags, a thorough mixing with a regular ‘ole spoon will do.
  2. Microwave the mixture for about 1:45 (minutes). The timing may vary, so keep an eye on your milk – you want it to get nice and frothy.
  3. Pour the frothy mixture into a tall glass (ahem, MASON JAR!), and add your coffee. Stir in half & half, and sugar. I use sugar cubes to control my outrageous sugar portioning, but a spoonful or two should be fine if you use it in non-cubed form. It’s all about personal taste!
  4. Load up on the whipped cream. And feel free to continue loading up on the whipped cream! Sprinkle some cinnamon on top, if you so please.

Note: Personally, I tend to take forever to finish my coffee. I like to let it sit around and get a little cold before I drink my coffee – disgusting, I know. If you’re like me, be aware that the pumpkin puree tends to settle on the bottom after sitting around for too long – so drink up quicker, or be sure to stir your latte so you don’t get a mouthful of pumpkin at the bottom.

This recipe will provide the yummy goodness of one fairly sizable latte. I usually end up making one for both Niko and myself, so I just double up on the ingredients for the mixture, then let Niko add cream/sugar as he pleases – he likes his coffee more bitter, so he adds way less sweetener than I do.

There you have it folks, a homemade alternative to your favorite Starbucks drink. This do-it-yourself pumpkin spice latte is way more budget friendly than the Starbucks version, and you don’t have to change out of your pajamas to enjoy one! I’ve been drinking them in the mornings out in my garden, and it’s become my favorite way to begin chilly fall days. Plus, everything is better in a mason jar.

Do you love pumpkin spice lattes as much as I do?
Have you tried any other homemade versions of Starbucks drinks?

For more foodie fun, check out my “For The Foodies” board on my Pinterest.
And if you liked this recipe, add it to your boards, too! 

How to Make Your Own Healthy Baked Kale Chips

I’m on the path towards edible righteousness, attempting to cut out all the junk and focus on healthy, local food – but I have one serious obstacle that keeps bringing me down:

I love to snack.

I work from ‘home,’ which means one of two things: I’m either cooped up all day at the little wooden table in our kitchen, or I’m holed up for hours at a coffee shop. Either options inevitably puts me way too close to tempting munchies. And let’s face it, my willpower is weak.

Snacking is something that I simply can’t not do. I love to munch, my belly is always begging me for treats, and frankly, I just really adore food.

My first experience with kale came when my lady friend Teresa (who is a truly phenomenal gardener/baker, this chick defines “green thumb”) moved away to Texas. She bequeathed me one cherry tomato plant, one Tabasco pepper bush, a chard, and three little kale stalks. I had never eaten kale before, but had seen a few recipes for kale chips – so I decided to give it a try.

The first three batches were a complete disaster. I was using this kale chip recipe, which instructed me to bake them for 15 minutes at 375 degrees. I burned those poor kale leaves to an inedible crisp every time.

Eventually, I realized this recipe simply wasn’t working, so I decided to do things my own way – and now, I get perfectly crisp, perfectly flavorful kale chips. 

Here’s your seriously simple, seriously delicious guide
to baking your own batch of seasoned kale chips:

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What you’ll need:

1. KaleBonus if you buy it local at a farmers market or grow your own!
2. Salt and/or your favorite seasonings
I am all about garlic salt and black pepper; keep it simple.
3. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
4. A Sookie Sheet
Or, in my case, many cookie sheets. 

How to make ‘em:

1. Preheat your oven to 275 degrees.

2. Prep your kale. I buy mine from local farmers, so they’re often full of little caterpillar buddies – which means I have to take about 15 minutes to scrutinize each leaf and save any critters who might be snacking on my kale. Rinsing your kale is recommended, but be sure to properly dry it afterwards. I just got a salad spinner, and aside from being really fun, it’s really essential for drying out the kale.

3. Break up each big leaf into bite-sized pieces. Mine are usually about two inches long, with some smaller pieces mixed in. Tear the leaf along the thick spine, and toss that spine afterwards. It’s a bit tough to chew on compared to the flaky leaf parts.

4. Toss all the kale into a big bowl, and drizzle olive oil over it – the amount depends on preference and how much kale you’re cooking, but be sure that each leaf is slightly coated. Season to your liking, but don’t be shy with the salt! It really does a lot to overpower kale’s natural bitter flavor – and makes your kale chips taste just like potato chips.

20120912-114806.jpg5. Arrange the pieces on a cookie sheet. I try to get ‘em all pretty flat, but they inevitably overlap a little – which is fine, kale shrinks A LOT when it bakes. Just don’t make it a big jumbled mess; you’ll need to toss ‘em halfway through.

6. Put your cookie sheet into the oven, and bake for 20 minutes. Halfway through, pull the tray(s) out, and flip each piece of kale to ensure even crisping.

7. After 20 minutes, check on your kale to see if each piece is entirely dried out. I often end up pulling out the majority of my kale chips, then putting a handful back in the oven to finish up – the pieces are never perfectly uniform, so some may take a little longer.

Final step: Devour your delicious kale chips, totally guilt free. In the rare event that you don’t finish your entire batch in one sitting, you can store kale chips for a few days in airtight containers. Just be sure that there is no moisture in any of the kale chips – that’ll make the rest of ‘em soggy. And no one likes a soggy kale chip.

Did you know kale is loaded with antioxidants, and provides 100% of your daily Vitamin A, C, and K in just one cup? Yeah, it’s that good.

Have you ever made your own kale chips?
Have any suggestions or tips to add to my how-to?
Do you love kale chips as much as I do?

For more delicious foodie recipes, and healthy eating tips (with a few totally not healthy indulgences mixed in), check out my For The Foodies board on Pinterest.

I ate flowers for dinner last night – an adventure in cooking squash blossoms

About a month ago, Niko and I instituted what may be our greatest tradition of all time – Saturday morning dates to the farmers market at Tallahassee’s Market Square pavilion. Each week, we take a leisurely drive across town to the familiar covered gathering spot where a collection of local farms congregate to peddle their edibles.

This weekend, we made the ultimate discovery – well, I did. While scouring for fresh garlic, Niko guided me over to a smaller stand run by an unfamiliar woman I hadn’t seen before. Her table was heavy with winter melons, chanterelle mushrooms, fresh green onion stalks, and two baskets full of squash blossoms. I immediately bounced on the blossoms, while Niko looked at me with a very puzzled look on his face.

Uh, flowers for dinner?” is basically what his expression read.

Silly boy, Niko had clearly never experienced the tasty delight of noshing on an edible flower. I hadn’t eaten squash blossoms in years, let alone ever actually cooked it myself, but I was determined to make it work – so I paid the meager $3.00 for my basket of blossoms, and dumped the dainty flowers into my produce bag.

[Read more…]

Eating local in Tallahassee is easier (and tastier) than it may seem

Call it ignorance or naivety, but I always carried a stigma that Tallahassee simply wasn’t the place to indulge in a locally-minded lifestyle. Places like Chattanooga and Boulder are rampant with the local mentality, but Florida just doesn’t seem to have hopped on that train yet.

After checking out the Locavore Index 2012, a chart that ranks states based on commitment to locally-sourced foods, I was disappointed to see that Florida not only ranked poorly – we were at the very bottom of the list. Not cool, Sunshine State. So, to further my adventures in local eating, I journeyed to three different places this week that showcased some of the best locally grown and owned destinations in town. Check ‘em out:

The Cool Cow

The vacant space next to Fat Sandwich on Railroad Avenue has seen many eatery ideas, but it wasn’t until an ice creamery popped up that the void was finally filled. Walking into this joint isn’t exactly impressive – but the simplicity is part of the experience.

The Cool Cow offers six flavors daily. Chocolate and vanilla are always on the menu, but the four other varieties are swapped out every two days – a total of 200 flavors rotate through the soft serve machines. On the day of our visit, we were offered Georgia orange, kiwi frozen yogurt, berry sorbet, and mocha hazelnut.

I went for the mocha hazelnut – and it was outrageous.

Topped with rainbow sprinkles and marshmallows, my cup teeming with creamy mocha ice cream was beyond tasty, but Niko’s treat took the cake. He ordered a banana split, and got everything on it – which was a solid decision. His chocolate, vanilla, and mocha hazelnut ice cream plops were layered thick with hot fudge, caramel drizzle, waffle cone bits, fat dollops of whipped cream, and even a cherry on top. It was pure perfection.

The mocha oreo milkshake my buddy ordered also deserved an honorable mention, but the part of our cool experience that deserves the biggest ovation is the service we received. Our ice cream guru was not only a wizard with a can of whipped cream, he handled everything with the best attitude I have ever encountered in the food industry. He was kind, courteous, and complimented Niko’s choices of toppings. He’s the kind of guy you leave a 40% tip for. Kudos, Cool Cow – we’ll be back.

The Tallahassee Farmers Market

I am a huge fan of produce markets – so much so that I am dedicating a portion of the 2013 trip to exploring as many as I can. Niko and I have made a few trips out to the Thomasville Farmers Market in Georgia, but we had never taken the quick trip to the convenient one located in Market Square.

After a few weeks of failed Saturday morning attempts, we finally made it out to explore the covered pavilion loaded with local goods. Some of my favorite farms were in attendance, including Turkey Hill and Orchard Pond Organics. The pavilion wasn’t huge, but it was certainly big enough to hold every bit of produce I needed.

We strolled around the stands before making our final selections, feasting our eyes on a huge assortment of goods. There were plump peaches, thickly husked corncobs, freshly cut sunflower stalks, ripe heirloom tomatoes, and more. My bounty was a harvest of ripe blueberries, Japanese eggplant, okra, lemon and lime, and more tomatoes than I know what to do with – plus a little rosemary plant!
 Hands down, this is the best fresh produce market in town, with friendly farmers, great edible offerings, and unbelievably reasonable prices. Whoever said eating healthy and local is expensive clearly never stopped by a farmers market. [Read more…]

Thick slabs of steak, creamy baked brie, and camp cuisine that spoiled my outdoor perspective

During my first few climbing trips, my campside cuisine consisted of canned soup and instant mashed potatoes. Soon, fellow campers enlightened me about the camping bliss that could be achieved by simply adding an avocado to my instant mashed potatoes. Eventually, my food bin felt like a culinary success filled with parmesan cheese, canned Indian dishes, black beans, and tortillas.

I felt pretty darn fancy. I even started carrying a few spices with me to add a little extra flavor to those wonderful instant potatoes.

My humble perspective on outdoor cooking was absolutely shattered during the Havasupai excursion with the OmniTen and Columbia Sportswear. Holy mother of delicious. Our trip was guided by the wonderful folks of Arizona Outback Adventures, who not only successfully herded our crew through the canyon to the Havasu Falls campground, but truly blew our socks off with the best camping cuisine I have ever tasted.

It started with a gander at the camp’s impressive kitchen set-up. Our guides have a semi-permanent area pitched throughout the entire season, and the kitchen area was fully stocked with multiple grills, preparing areas, giant cookware, and everything in between. The first thing our guide, Brian, whipped out was a giant box of grapes – “well that’s a nice snack,” I thought to myself.

I was delighted by the prospect of popping a few plump grapes into my mouth to refresh my parched body after a 10-mile hike in the desert, but it didn’t stop there. Rather than tossing a bowl of grapes on the table, we were presented with multiple platters – of baked brie sprinkled with nuts and cranberries, assorted crackers, and a fanning spread of cheeses.

Wait, this was just the ‘starter’ course?

Judging by the appetizers we were served before dinner, I had a feeling things were about to get outrageous – and they did. For dinner, we feasted on the thickest steak and asparagus stalks that have ever entered my belly. The meat was complimented by a healthy helping of quinoa cooked with veggies, plus fantastic grilled mushrooms. I was a very happy camper at this point.

After a night of deep sleep, I woke up excited for a new day of exploring waterfalls and travertine tunnels – but first, breakfast. I stumbled out of my tent to find artfully plated platters of fresh fruit waiting to be devoured; and devour I did.

Our crisp and cool morning bites soon gave way to the main attraction: a sprawling cornucopia of scrambled eggs, grilled sausage, cheesy potatoes, and more. In an effort to accommodate our vegan companion, the crew even whipped up a batch of veggie sausage patties and vegan pancakes.

When it came time for our final dinner together before the 10-mile hike back out of the canyon, Arizona Outback Adventures once again outdid themselves with an Asian meal fit for royalty. Having experienced their culinary masterwork the night before, we were all curious about what we would be treated to as we watched the chefs get down to business.

To begin, they fattened us up with huge piles of edamame, and then continued the superior snackage with veggie pot stickers while they got to work on our main course.

Dinner left me wishing I could live at this camp forever. We were wowed with thick strips of Mongolian beef with sauce-smothered broccoli, grilled tofu and shrimp, white rice, and a colorful vegetable stirfry. Like I said, this was not your average campside meal. 

I think the entire Columbia Sportswear and OmniTen team will join me in extending an enormous amount of gratitude towards Brian, Jenn, Chris, and Sheldon for creating a truly unbelievable outdoor experience. While I will likely never again feast on two-inch thick steaks while camping, I am grateful for this amazing opportunity to partake in an adventure that was entirely catered and guided.

Sigh, now it’s back to instant mashed potatoes and corned beef hash out of a can – not that I can really complain; corned beef hash is the best way to start a long day of adventuring.