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Focus on the Fish Balls!

30 Oct

After my family’s great adventure to DC’s Eastern Market, we returned to Ellie and Dave’s fabulous apartment for an amazing meal prepared for us by their good friend, Cheech, who introduced us to the unique culinary experience that is Chinese hot pot.

Hot pot, also known as Chinese fondue or steamboat, refers to several East Asian varieties of stew, consisting of a simmering metal pot of stock at the center of the dining table. While the hot pot is kept simmering, ingredients are placed into the pot and are cooked at the table. Typical hot pot dishes include thinly sliced meat, leafy vegetables, mushrooms, wontons, egg dumplings, and seafood.                –Wikipedia

To get us started, Cheech produced two blue crabs to lay the foundation for the flavor of the hot pot broth. Of course, we didn’t quite expect live crabs (!) but apparently that’s the way they sell them at the Chinese grocery store. Our slight guilt was quickly washed away when we tasted the wonderful broth.

One blue crab showing his spirit by holding tight to the bag of scallops.

The other crab making a last plea for mercy.

Since most of the actual cooking of the food occurs during the dinner, most of the prep work beforehand is just getting all the various ingredients ready. One of the best parts of hot pot is the variety of food that you can try, making each dinner a unique experience. Some of the items that Cheech brought for us included slender slices of beef and lamb, succulent scallops, shrimp, beef and fish balls, and various vegetables.

Prep work in the kitchen.

Laying out the table before the feast.

After everything was set out, we got down to business and started choosing what to put in the hot pot. As you can tell from the picture below, we had a good time.

The hot pot was definitely a hard act to follow, but we successfully ended our meal with some tasty baklava and pumpkin bread from one of the Eastern Market vendors.

A delicious meal and an entertaining experience; a win-win situation for my family.


Festival Calories Don’t Count

18 Sep

Or at least that’s what a friend told me after he encouraged me to eat a piece of baklava for him when I mentioned I was on my way to the annual Raleigh Greek Festival.

Whether or not it’s true, I did happily consume quite a few calories at the 30th annual festival hosted by the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in Raleigh. It brought back some very fond memories of the Winston-Salem Greek Festival that I had attended almost every year, but hadn’t been able to make since starting college and I’ve really missed the experience. I only learned about the Raleigh festival on Friday night and was able to quickly recruit a couple of friends to go with me the next night.

Once there, we skipped the more expensive (what do you expect from three poor recent graduates?) though delicious looking dinner options and instead chowed down on the hamburger of Greece, the gyro. I don’t typically enjoy lamb, but the seasoned meat in gyros is simply deletable, and I can never get enough of it and Holy Trinity’s did not disappoint.

My delicious dinner minus a few bites.

After we finished the main course, we had to choice from the vast selection of Greek pastries, most with unpronounceable names such as Loukoumades or Karithopita, and we ended up sharing a bowl of the slightly non-traditional baklava sundae. The treat consisted of superb vanilla ice cream sprinkled with bits of baklava and topped with chocolate syrup.

The mouth-watering dessert.

After we had stuffed ourselves silly, we went for a stroll around the booths selling a variety of “Greek” wares ranging from carved Nativities to Russian nesting dolls to beautiful icons. I fell in love with a beautifully hand painted ceramic tile and I quickly bought it to bring some more color into my kitchen and use a trivet.

My new beautiful trivet.

So it was a great experience with great friends and great food. Can’t wait till next year!

School Pride & New Homes

17 Sep

Growing up, I was never that invested in traditional sports at either the professional or collegiate level nor did I have any loyalty to a particular team or school. I got dragged to my sister’s basketball games for 8 years and would occasional cheer for any professional North Carolina team due to state pride, but that was about as far as my interest went in most sports.

Then I was accepted into UNC and the strangest thing happened. As soon as I put on my first Carolina blue t-shirt, I began to develop an irrational hatred of that school down the road, the epitome of evil, Dook University. It started with a few harmless “Go to hell Dook!”s while singing our fight song, but quickly developed into something much more. Any mention of the school or a glimpse of its ugly emblem would make my vision go red.

So imagine my surprise last spring when I ended up apartment shopping in none other than the hometown of the devil himself, Durham. I had just accepted my job offer and was looking for housing near the Research Triangle Park when I glumly accepted the fact that living in Durham made sense for a number of reasons. Having never really been to the town despite its closeness and unsure of what to expect, I started packing and prepared for the worst.

After moving to Durham almost three months ago, I am happy to admit that most of my fears have thus far been unfounded. I found a great apartment in the heart of Old West Durham, one of the city’s more vibrant neighborhoods and I couldn’t be happier. I’m within walking distance of great shops, restaurants, and bars with only a 12 minute commute to work. I’m close enough to Chapel Hill that I can go visit anytime I feel homesick and am nicely situated between my second homes, the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Outer Banks. Though I still feel the urge to run over Dook students when I’m driving past East Campus, I am overall proud to call myself both a proud Tar Heel and Durham resident.

I use friends visiting me in my new home as an excuse to go out and explore the town and a night with my foodie hero, Meghan of the previously mentioned, was no exception. After much debate, we settled on The Broad Street Cafe, a Durham staple providing great food, drinks, atmosphere, and music.

I knew we made a good choice when our waiter was surprised that we needed menus to order, a sure sign of frequent repeat customers. Torn by the many delicious sounding options on that menu, we finally chose the sweet potato fries with a roasted red pepper aioli for a starter and picked the shrimp (with bacon and pesto) and the spinach (topped with ricotta and fresh tomatoes). What followed was pure foodie bliss as we feasted on the simple yet delicious fare. Though I am not normally a fan of sweet potato fries, I eagerly eat my half of the basket and we had to ask for a second serving of the aioli. Meghan couldn’t decide on her favorite pizza, but the spinach had the slight edge over the shrimp for me, yet both were outstanding and their thin crusts are bound to inspire replica experiments in both our kitchens.

Overall, a great experience and a hopeful sign of many more in my new hometown of (gulp) Durham.

Both images from The Broad Street Cafe's website.