My Breakfast Obsession: Olibea – The Best Breakfast in Knoxville

Gorgeous Mis en place at Olibea in Old City
Gorgeous Mis en Place at Olibea in Old City

This article from Travel & Leisure recently came out touting Knoxville as one of the top ten places to visit in the US.  If you’d shown me this article even a year ago I would have probably laughed and said NO WAY is Knoxville worth it.  Spend your dollars and time in nearby cities like Nashville and Asheville.  Yet, the last year or so has brought significant changes to Knoxville, and I can see why its starting to get some national attention.  I appreciate this article, though I think it is very one sided (MEAT! and BEER!).

This grilled cheese! Made with Cruze Farm local cheese and topped with a duck egg.
This grilled cheese! Made with Cruze Farm local cheese and topped with a duck egg.
Knoxville's own Olibea early on a Saturday morning.
Knoxville’s own Olibea early on a Saturday morning.

Though, to be fair, meat and beer seems to be a real focus of the Knoxville area.  Which frequently leaves my husband and I feeling a bit left out.  We both came from larger cities where being a pescetarian was NO BIG THING.  Most every restaurant not only had options on their menu, they put as much thought into those veggie and alternative options as they do their carnivorous ones.  That just isn’t the case in Knoxville.  While Knox Mason is a superb restaurant, its not one I can really go to.  There is like A dish we could order, but we’d still have to get it tweaked.   Of course, Chef Matt Gallaher just opened Emilia, which I have not yet had the chance to try, but with a true Italian focus it already looks to be more promising for alternative diets.  You had me at mussels ya know?

Breakfast goodness at Olibea
Breakfast goodness at Olibea

Which brings me, with much preamble, to what I am writing about (and obsessed with) today, which is Olibea.  I’ve long wanted to write about Olibea, operated by Chef Jeffrey DeAlejandro.  Well, since 2014, when it opened in the Old City section of downtown Knoxville.  It is my husband’s favorite breakfast in Knoxville.  It is my favorite breakfast in Knoxville.  It is even my MOM’S favorite breakfast in Knoxville, and that’s saying something.  My point, here, is that this restaurant offers creative, quality, delicious food to a variety of diners.  Chef Jeff says on the Olibea website that:

“I always felt that breakfast was a fresh start to my day. That no matter what happened yesterday today was going to be good cause I had breakfast. My idea for OliBea is simple: to bring you the best local/fresh ingredients as I can without killing your pocket. A place for you to come every day and have a chef-driven breakfast. Let Olibea be your fresh start, from my great grandma’s homemade cinnamon rolls to my house cured bacon.”

And it IS that place for my husband and I.  This may seem ironic when their Chef is frequently posting photos and offering classes on whole hog butchery.  I have no issue with this.  I think pork is delicious.  I just choose not to eat it.  But I DO choose to eat at Olibea as often as possible, because they care about the quality of ingredients, the presentation of food, and serving a well rounded clientele.

Their house pickled Mossy Creek mushrooms are divine.  They have meat alternatives on the menu, and even offer a veggie version of their sausage gravy, which is delightful.  They have amazing daily specials, such savory carnivorous delights as brisket tacos, and pulled pork enchiladas.  The staff are friendly, and while the place itself is small, the atmosphere is always convivial, and people frequently share larger tables.

Biscuits, potatoes, and vegetarian herb gravy with fresh Cruze Farm butter.
Biscuits, potatoes, and vegetarian herb gravy with fresh Cruze Farm butter.
Olibea omelet with spicy pickled mushrooms and potatoes on the side. YUM.
Olibea omelet special with spicy pickled mushrooms and cheddar cheese and potatoes on the side. YUM.

And let’s take a minute to talk about their biscuits.  Crumbly, large, and with a hint of saltiness they are delicious by themselves, slathered with locally made Cruze Farm butter, or dipped in syrup.  Their omelets are always vegetarian adaptable, and they’ve even spiced mine up for me by adding more chilies.  I suspect that they don’t get may requests for that here – I once heard someone complaining about the “spicy mushrooms” and was baffled they thought the same mushrooms I was eating were spicy.  But for this New Orleans transplant they were simply FLAVORFUL.  Oh my God flavorful.  I can’t resist this omelet now, and I order it almost every time we go.  That plus a biscuit and I’m set til dinner!

Lemon pancakes made with Cruze Far buttermilk. They look so deceptively simple. But THESE. ARE. GOOD.
Lemon pancakes made with Cruze Farm buttermilk. They look so deceptively simple. But THESE. ARE. GOOD.

I should also take a minute to mention their pancakes.  How boring, you’re thinking, and I get it.  Pancakes are pancakes are pancakes.  Except they are not.  These lemon pancakes are made with Cruze Farm buttermilk, and are light, airy, and exactly the right size.  Drizzled with butter and syrup, or topped with some of their house made jam, they are irresistible.  I kept telling my mother, no, these pancakes are special, and she didn’t believe me until she tasted mine.  Now, that’s her order at Olibea, with a side of eggs, because sweet and savory together RULE.

The veggie dish from the fall featuring a duck egg, beets, and other goodness on a baked acorn squash. Pretty, pretty good for you, and delicious!
The veggie dish from the fall featuring a duck egg, beets, and other goodness on a baked acorn squash. Pretty, pretty good for you, and delicious!

And they have at least one dedicated vegetarian entree on the menu.  Their Grits & Escabeche is the plate du jour at the moment, and it is rich, hearty, and delicious featuring oh-so-creamy Riverplains grits, Mossy Creek mushrooms, bright, charred dandelion greens, and topped with a runny, yolky, sunny duck egg. I adore this dish and just lament that I can’t order it more, but because I’m pregnant right now, I am not supposed to have the runny duck egg.  And this is one dish that just isn’t the same without it!

Long counters and bright colors make this a cheery, convivial spot for breakfast or lunch.
Long counters and bright colors make this a cheery, convivial spot for breakfast or lunch.

They also have delicious Stumptown coffee and daily fresh squeezed juices.  And the place inside is beautiful!  They don’t serve alcohol at the moment, which is probably good.  If they did, I might never leave.

Olibea in knoxville, Tennessee
Olibea in Knoxville, Tennessee

There are a couple of places in Knoxville I think stand out from the pack, and I’ll write more about them.  But for me, Olibea is above and beyond, and I wanted to give it a whole post of its own.  I appreciate it that much.  And I hope other Knoxville area restaurants will follow suit, with creative non-meat focused dishes as well as above board carnivorous options, quality ingredients, and deliciousness for more than just the barbecue crowd.

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Books: The Girl I Used to Be by April Henry

*A free copy of this book was provided to me by Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.*

The Girl I Used to Be by April Henry
The Girl I Used to Be by April Henry

The Girl I Used to Be by April Henry is now available from Amazon

Olivia Reinhart is an emancipated teenager who survived a gruesome event when she was but a toddler.  She spent most of her life believing that her father killed her mother, abandoned her, and ran away to save his own skin. But the book opens with Olivia discovering that her father has also been found dead, in the same are as her mother was killed, and is now believed to be a victim of the crime himself.  Olivia remembers nothing of the event, even though she was present.

We then travel with Olivia to the town she was from when she was Ariel Benson, before she ended up in foster care and was adopted only to be returned to foster care. We follow along with her as she tries to discover the truth of what happens with her parents.  She meets townspeople who all knew her, but she doesn’t remember them.  They also don’t seem to recognize her, except for one young guy, who was apparently best friends with her when they were young.  He ends up being a romantic lead in the story, as you might imagine, though Olivia’s relationship with him, and indeed every character she meets, is tainted by her wondering fi they could have been involved in her parents murder.  As she meets people, and seeks to find out who is responsible for the murder of her parents, memories of that time slowly begin to return to her.

The book builds up a great deal of suspense, and I was following along gladly, intrigued by who-mighta-done-it and interested enough in the characters.  Then, before I was ready, it about faces and drives to a fast, mostly satisfying, conclusion.  I felt the introduction and resolution of who the killer actually was was a bit too pat, for my taste, and happened in a manner I couldn’t quite believe.  Still, it was a quick, pleasurable, and captivating read, and I would recommend this read for anyone interested in murder mysteries, and YA. But I do wish the book had taken a little more time to draw out the web of characters it introduced, and driven down to a better paced and thought out conclusion.

My Perfect Day in Edinburgh, Scotland: DIY Food Tour Edinburgh Edition Part 1

Plaque near Arthur's Seat, Edinburgh.
Plaque near Arthur’s Seat, Edinburgh.

I absolutely adore Edinburgh, Scotland.  My husband and I met in Edinburgh, I have amazing, close friends in Edinburgh, and I have never failed to have a lovely time in that atmospheric city.  Just walking around is a treat – the vistas are stunning, the alleyways and stairways are mysterious, and the people are friendly.  If I were going to live anywhere abroad (and my husband and I frequently have this conversation) Edinburgh tops the list.  Seriously – I love it that much.

Just so you know, none of the places mentioned below have given me free ANYTHING.  I am describing these because I genuinely love them, and think that if you are looking for something to do, eat, drink, gift, or buy in Edinburgh you might be interested.

Unlike this recent article, I think there is delightful food to be had in Edinburgh.  Perhaps it’s right that they are lacking a bit in haute cuisine, but there are any number of farm to table restaurants serving good, quality, delicious food.  I am going to write about a day I spent in Edinburgh, with a fabulous breakfast spot, a cozy, scrumptious lunch spot, and a place where you can go to bottle your own gin.  That’s right, I SAID BOTTLE YOUR OWN GIN.  And yes, there will be whisky!

To begin the day, my husband and I stopped very early at The Water of Leith Cafe, which was on our short walk into the heart of New Town.  The cafe is nothing fancy, but it is cute and cozy and sits right next to the Water of Leith.  From our table in the corner we could watch the water flowing by as we sipped our coffee and our tea.  We had the full Scottish Breakfast for under ten pounds, which we shared, because it was enough for two.  I ordered an extra side of toast, because when in the UK, jam is my jam.  Seriously, berries in the UK are delicious, which leads to scrumptious jam.  I was not about to share that with my husband.  I dig him, you know, but not that much? 😉

The Full Scottish Breakfast! This one even came with fried bread. #caloriesdon'tcountonvacation
The Full Scottish Breakfast! This one even came with fried bread. #caloriesdon’tcountonvacation
My extra side of toast and jam #selfish
My extra side of toast and jam #selfish

After this we wandered around a bit, taking our time to work our way to the Royal Mile.  These photos don’t even do the place justice, it is THAT gorgeous.  We walked for several hours (one should do this as a rule after a full Scottish breakfast actually) and visited Dean Village, a fabulous little town on the Water of Leith that sued to be a milling center.  Now it is just absolutely picturesque.  While you can be on Princes Street in five minutes, its also possible to wander for hours along the water, exploring the village and its surrounds.  We took our time, enjoying the quiet of the early morning, and wandering wherever we felt like.  There’s always another gorgeous view around the next corner in Edinburgh. But finally we wound up in Old Town, and visited The National Museum of Scotland, which is a great place to wander around if you have spare time, or if you’re killing time.  They also have a lovely gift shop.  Have I mentioned how much I love museum gift shops?

Dean Village, Scotland
Dean Village, Scotland
Dean Village, Scotland, in the early morning light. It's like being transported to another time and place!
Dean Village, Scotland, in the early morning light. It’s like being transported to another time and place!
View from inside the museum. SUCH a great place for kids!
View from inside the museum. SUCH a great place for kids!

After this my husband went off to do some research, and I met my friend for lunch at an Edinburgh favorite, Under the Stairs.  It is literally under the stairs.  A basement restaurant with all kinds of cozy oozing from the stone walls and candlelight reflecting shadows on those same stones.  Its a great spot for romantic dinner, but we thoroughly enjoyed our lunch here.  They have delicious food and affordable bottles of wine and bubbly.  My friend and I indulged in the bubbly of course, because why not?

Prosecco, Candles, and Atmosphere a go-go at Under the Stairs!
Prosecco, Candles, and Atmosphere a go-go at Under the Stairs!

After lunch, we headed out to wander and shop, and also bottle our own gin at Demijohn’s.  Yes friends, I BOTTLED MY OWN GIN.  I know when people think of Scotland they think of whisky, and with good reason.  But gin is also incredible there – its the home of Hendricks after all.  So it really shouldn’t come as a surprise that just off the Royal Mile there is a distillery where you can sample (ahem, yes, sample as much as you like) and bottle your favorite.  They also have a selection of olive oils.  This makes for a fabulous gift for a wedding or any event really, as you can also etch or inscribe a message on the bottles.  Friends, I sampled.  And I purchased.  I brought home a lovely gin with hints of orange and citrus in it, that I can actually drink by itself, though mixed with a rosemary simple syrup and a splash of tonic or club soda makes THE BEST COCKTAIL.

Demijohn's - where you can bottle your own gin and olive oil!
Demijohn’s – where you can bottle your own gin and olive oil!
It's like an apothecary's shop inside!
It’s like an apothecary’s shop inside!
They take care to help you inscribe your bottle and wrap your gift carefully.
They take care to help you inscribe your bottle and wrap your gift carefully.

The fun isn’t over, though, because next door to Demijohn’s is Ian Mellis.  What is Ian Mellis you ask? Why, cheese and wine.  Yummy British cheese and wine!  They have an amazing, well curated selection of British cheeses and fine wines.  You can wander in this store and select a cheese or three that they’ll wrap for you, pick a bottle of wine, some oatcakes (which I’ve never seen outside of Scotland but are hearty little things between crackers and dry toast that are PERFECT for a wide variety of cheeses), tuck it all in your bag, and head up Arthur’s Seat, the extinct volcano that overlooks Edinburgh.  Thats a different favorite Edinburgh activity though.

Give me all the cheese!
Give me all the cheese!

This day, I purchased some jam (I DID tell you I had a problem) and a bit of cheese to take home (yeah that bag smelled AWESOME by the end of the night), and mostly drooled over the selections. If you don’t know British cheeses well, you should, and this is a great place to get an introduction to the varieties, styles, and regions.  The staff are friendly, and they are happy to help you make your selection.

After this, we stopped for a drink, where my husband joined back up with us.  We wandered our way back down from the Mile to New Town, where we went to what I nearly consider my home away from home in Edinburgh, The Scotch Malt Whisky Society.  Wait, whisky and gin in one day you’re thinking? YES.  Whisky and gin IN ONE DAY.  Because why ever not?

My husband appears to be enjoying his wee dram!
My husband appears to be enjoying his wee dram!

The Scotch Malt Whisky Society is a members society that recently opened up their Edinburgh Queen’s Street location to the public, at least part of the time.  I have big, deep love for this place, because its the first place I actually LIKED whisky.  You’re talking to a girl, here, who was fed moonshine mixed with honey when she was sick as a kid (yeah, I’m from THAT kind of southern family), and also the girl who, in her 20s, drank a lot of Jameson because it was the done thing.  I still remember some of those hangovers.  Jameson hangovers aren’t pretty!

The bartenders are friendly and the selection is extensive at The Scotch malt Whisky Society!
The bartenders are friendly and the selection is extensive at The Scotch malt Whisky Society!

I thought all whisky was like this, rough and ready, and until I experienced the nuance – well, I didn’t understand that there was nuance.  But a friendly bartender at TSMWS helped me learn how to drink it properly.  I thought it was weak if you had it with ice.  I thought it ruined it if you added water.  I thought it all tasted like a peat bog.  I thought many, many wrong things.

Sample tasting notes. ADORE their creativity! Also, their whisky. I also adore their whisky.
Sample tasting notes. ADORE their creativity! Also, their whisky. I also adore their whisky.

This bartender patiently helped me.  He explained that some single malt whiskies are MEANT to have water added, as it helps release more of the aroma and flavor.  Some are not, but no one bats an eye if you add a bit of distilled water to your whisky.  In fact, most pubs have a spot on the bar with a distilled water spigot that patrons can help themselves to, and TSMWS itself places little pitchers of water on the table for their patrons.  EYES. OPENED.

He also had me go through their menu – which is extensive, and select a few whiskies based on their tasting notes for me to sample.  You can check out their flavor profiles online here.  I sampled several, and started out in the light and delicate arena, but fell in love with a very honied light to medium bodied whisky called Jar Jar Binks in Trouble Again.  No, seriously, the names for their whiskies ALONE make me love them.  I ended up buying a bottle of this whisky.  It ain’t cheap, but damn, it’s worth it.

I also love TSMWS for their food.  Not only do they have great fish and chips, which is to be expected, they have great veggie haggis.  You didn’t know there was such a thing as veggie haggis?  Thats to be understood.  Haggis, which is made of sheep’s lung and other offal, traditionally, has a reputation of being an “adventure food” and one Americans dare each other to try when they’re in Scotland.  I’ve tried the real thing, before I became pescetarian at least, but I didn’t really like or understand it.  Thankfully, my friends enlightened me that there is much more to haggis than one would expect.

Haggis is not JUST sheep’s lung.  It’s also mixed with spices and oats, and there are many different kinds.  By using a veggie protein, and the same mix of spice, oats, and sauce, one can make a delicious veggie version.  And on a cold day in Edinburgh (which let’s face it, most of them are) a warm plate of haggis, neeps (mashed turnips), and tatties (mashed potatoes) is pretty near perfect.  And the SMWS has my favorite version, probably because its topped with a WHISKY CREAM SUACE, though there are lots, and while this is a hearty dish by any definition or protein inclination, I can’t resist it on a menu most anywhere.  If the real thing isn’t your thing, or even if it is, do give the veg version a try!

Ok, so this is from their OTHER location in Edinburgh, which isn't open to the ;public, but I wanted to include it because I adore it. If I lived there, I. Would. Be. A. Member.
Ok, so this is from their OTHER location in Edinburgh, which isn’t open to the ;public, but I wanted to include it because I adore it. If I lived there, I. Would. Be. A. Member.

The SMWS has a restaurant area, but I prefer the coziness of the bar/lounge. You can order food there, and its such a great atmosphere.  They also have a good selection of wines, and a full bar, if whisky just will never be your thing.  Thus, it caters to every adult, and is just my favorite way to spend an evening in Edinburgh!  I hope you check it out next time you’re there!

And finally a favorite scene of Edinburgh. The castle as seen from the top of the mile. I think its impossible for me to not be happy here!
And finally a favorite scene of Edinburgh. The castle as seen from the top of the mile. I think its impossible for me to not be happy here!

Ridiculously Easy Homemade Brown Sugar, Butter, and Orange Syrup

Ridiculously Easy Hoemmade Brown Sugar, Butter, and Orange Syrup
Ridiculously Easy Homemade Brown Sugar, Butter, and Orange Syrup

A couple of weeks ago I hosted a brunch on a somewhat impromptu basis.  I didn’t realize until I already had a half a platter of pancakes made and a quiche in the oven that I had not much more than a thimbleful of maple syrup left, and while I had a bit of honey, I really didn’t feel like it was enough for six adults to slather on pancakes.  Also, pancakes without syrup is just no.  So I called on my friend Google, and found this recipe, which I decided, with fingers crossed, to try.

The results were oh-my-god good.  Mary Younkin says in her post (which she adapted from Foodie with Family) that it doesn’t replace REAL maple syrup, and that’s true, but my husband might argue that, especially with the price point of the real thing these days.  Of course, me being me, I tweaked this recipe, but I think my tweak really made it sing.  The orange flavoring adds a citrus element to the caramel syrup that makes this somehow far less sweet and more nuanced than you anticipate.

Butter, plus orange flavoring, plus brown sugar and water somehow equals delicious.
Butter, plus orange flavoring, plus brown sugar and water somehow equals delicious.
Easy peasy. The syrup is hot though, so a funnel to pour it in is handy!
Easy peasy. The syrup is hot though, so a funnel to pour it in is handy!

The recipe makes a fair amount (about 2 cups, or a Mason Jar and a bit), and we actually used it all before it went off, which surprised me.  It takes only minutes to make, so we are keeping some of this around for – well, all of the things.  It’s good on pancakes and waffles, it is good in oatmeal, and honestly, drizzle it on some ice cream or in a strawberry galette and you won’t regret it.

So how did it go over at my brunch?  I think everyone was a bit skeptical at first, and the proper real maple syrup was finished off quickly.  But then the first brave soul tried it, and then we all did, and we all proclaimed we thought it delicious.  And since they asked me for the recipe (which is when you know you’ve scored with your dish right?), I thought you might too.

Let me know what you think?

Ridiculously Easy Homemade Brown Sugar, Butter, and Orange Syrup

(adapted from Barefeet in the Kitchen and Foodie with Family)

2 cups brown sugar
1 cup water
1/2 cup butter
2 teaspoons to 1 tablespoon of Orange Flavoring or Grand Marnier (this depends on how much orange flavor you like.  I use 2 tsp for my basic recipe for topping things like pancakes and waffles)

1.  Combine the sugar and water in a medium size saucepan.

2. Bring to a boil, stirring until the sugar has dissolved.

3. Lower the heat to medium and allow the mixture to boil for 4 minutes.

4. Add the butter and stir until the butter has dissolved.

5. Remove from the heat and add the extract if desired.

Allow to cool slightly before pouring into a glass or metal storage container.

A film of butter will form over the top once it has been chilled.  Before serving again, pop the syrup in the microwave for 10 seconds or so, stir, and repeat if necessary.  Serve warm!  Because who doesn’t like warm syrup?

Two Reasons You Should Visit Knoxville, Tennessee in May: International Biscuit Festival and Market Square Farmer’s Market

Egg and Cheese Biscuits from Cruze Farm Milk Bar
Egg and Cheese Biscuits from Cruze Farm Milk Bar

Yesterday was a lovely, unseasonably cool day in Knoxville.  It was also the annual biscuit festival that takes place here each May, the International Biscuit Festival, which is done in conjunction with a southern food writing conference.  A biscuit festival you may be asking?  That’s right, a festival in honor of BISCUITS.  It seems pretty much tailored for me.  And probably you.  Because who doesn’t love biscuits?

This was the first time I have ever been able to attend the biscuit fest though, as for the whole time I’ve been living in Knoxville I’ve been traveling during the biscuit festival.  Last year I was actually in Shanghai during the festival.  I know, I know, woe is me.  This year, though, pregnancy is keeping us stateside, and I was eager to check out the festival.  However, at 8:30 the line for tickets opened it was already blocks long. Then we discovered that of the five biscuits the ticket gets you (out of maybe 8-10 options), only two of them were veg friendly.  Whomp whomp.

Still, my husband and I were excited to walk around and see all of the vendors, biscuit sellers, and in general, the biscuit fueled hullabaloo.  After you eat your biscuits from the various tents, you vote for your favorite by placing your ticket in one of their jars supplied for that purpose.  My husband and I wandered by all of the tents, peeking at the biscuit prep, sad that we weren’t going to be able to participate.  While I think ten dollars for five biscuits is a pretty good deal, and perhaps even for just two, a two hour line for only sweet biscuit options was just not something we were going to do this weekend. I think, in the end, we discovered that three were actually veg friendly, but two were sweet biscuits – bourbon, blueberries, and cream (which we later found out won the People’s Choice Award) and apple butter and gouda, I believe.  The third option I couldn’t tell for sure if it was truly veg or not – it appeared to be a caprese salad biscuit (ho hum).  The Blue Coast Bar & Grill sponsored this one, and their booth won for best booth display.  Though personally, I was with Marble City for that one too – check out their display below.  They won the People’s Choice for Best Biscuit, and as you can see in my photo from below, they definitely had a good style game going.

Bourbon, Blueberries, and Cream biscuits. Gorgeous! And winner of the People's Choice Award for 2016. By Marble City Kitchen.
Blueberries and cream biscuits with a bourbon maple syrup. Gorgeous! And winner of the People’s Choice Award for 2016. By Marble City Kitchen.
Blue Coast Bar & Grill won for best booth!
Blue Coast Bar & Grill won for best booth!

I really hope that next year will bring a few more veg and pescetarian friendly options that include the savory.  There are so many possibilities.  It’s not that I even want a fake meat substitute.  Fake meats are pretty generally boring.  But that is hardly where protein begins and ends for alternative diets.  Can I get a fried green tomato and pimento cheese biscuit? A sea salt ricotta and strawberry chipotle jam? An over the top egg and cheese?

Still, we thoroughly enjoyed walking around, seeing the different vendors, and, in general, soaking up the scene.  Check out the vendor below, Y’allsome, whose t-shirts and onesies sales help to support southern foster kids.  I want the hush puppy onesie for our coming wee one!

15% of proceeds to go help children in need!
15% of proceeds to go help children in need!

And here is the famous Blackberry Farm, who not only had a biscuit offering, also had set up as a vendor.  They were offering a sampling of their jams and pickled products, as well as premade mixes for pancakes and waffles, etc.  Their pimento cheese?  Oh my goodness.  Delicious!

 

Blackberry Farms goodness.
Blackberry Farms goodness.

There is also a pageant, an art exhibition, live music, and a biscuit baking contest.  We missed the biscuit baking contest this year because I think we didn’t wander far enough and were there too early (hint – a festival map as well as a bit more info on what you need tickets for and what you don’t would be SUPER helpful fest organizers).  I am definitely checking it out next year though.  If you’re not in the area, but like to bake, they publish the winning recipes online for each category of biscuit.  I think I’m going to try one or two myself.  How about you?

 

Cruze Farm Milk Bar! Can't wait til it's warmer because they have lavender honey ice cream, which is - mmmmmm.
Cruze Farm Milk Bar! Can’t wait til it’s warmer because they have lavender honey ice cream, which is – mmmmmm.

And never fear, we did NOT go hungry.  Because one of the best things about biscuit fest is that it takes place adjacent to the Market Square Farmer’s Market.  MSFM is one of my FAVORITE things about Knoxville.  It gets a bit bigger each year, and is chock full of vendors selling locally harvested fruits, veggies, meats, cheeses, eggs, plants, jewelry, pottery and more.  There are local bakers tempting you with everything from focaccia to cannoli to pasties.  The east Tennessee region boasts a long growing season, and because there’s such a mix of climates in the area, there’s a wide range of product available.  Yesterday was a wealth of fresh strawberries and greens of every kind imaginable.

I CAN NOT get enough strawberries this year!
I CAN NOT get enough strawberries this year!
Gorgeous heirloom lettuce.
Gorgeous heirloom lettuce.

 

Look at all the pretty!
Look at all the pretty!

I have been known to overdo it at MSFM before.  I am sooooo tempted by all the delicious veg.  Sometimes when I see a new or different variety of eggplant or pepper I can’t resist and MUST try it.  So now I invest what I want to spend in MSFM cash.  These little tokens can be purchased with a card via the market’s Square reader at their information table, and exchanged with most of the vendors for their wares.  This helps me stay on budget (kind of, sort of, not really, but it helps? 😉

Tokens you can purchase end exchange for goods at the Farmer's Market. They never expire!
Tokens you can purchase end exchange for goods at the Farmer’s Market. They never expire!
Delicious locally roasted coffee from Three Bears.
Delicious locally roasted coffee from Three Bears.
Get your hands off my hand pie.
Get your hands off my hand pie.

MSFM also boasts a number of food trucks, and many of the vendors sell prepared foods.  My husband and I indulged in an iced coffee from Three Bears, a local roaster, and a blueberry hand pie from  a vendor to kick off our morning, and then later a delicious egg and cheese biscuit (in honor of the day!) from the Cruze Farm Milk Bar food truck (pictured at the top).  ALL were delicious, and the many baby kicks seemed to indicate the wee one approved as well!

Crooked Road Farms CSA
Crooked Road Farms CSA
Fruit and veg from our two CSAs
Fruit and veg from our two CSAs

We also were able to pick up our goods from our two CSAs.  It was, for us, a near perfect morning.  I am excited that the MSFM is back, and look forward to all the upcoming Saturdays spent wandering the aisles.  If you make it to Knoxville, you should definitely make sure you stop by the Farmer’s Market on Saturdays!

On Joining Not One but Two CSAs in Knoxville, TN

I could eat my weight in strawberries! Picking our own at Mountain Meadows Farm.
I could eat my weight in strawberries! Picking our own at Mountain Meadows Farm.

I have long wanted to join a CSA, or community supported agriculture share.  For one reason or another, though, I’ve never done it.  Mostly it’s because I am usually traveling half the summer and it would be a waste.  CSAs can also be pricey, and I haven’t always had the 3oo-400 bucks up front that most of these require.  And also, with more and more farms offering CSAs, it can be hard to choose.  Especially as many CSAs have been criticized for various reasons, from price point, to shorting the CSA members of the better produce in lieu of better sales at farmer’s markets.  If you’re interested in whether or not this might be right for you, Serious Eats has a good article on the pro’s and cons of CSAs.

But since we live in Knoxville now, and East Tennessee has such a long and magnificent growing season, this year we couldn’t resist.  After all, we aren’t going anywhere with our wee one on the way, and we cook 90% of our meals at home, which means we buy a ton of produce.  Seriously, our grocery bill is a constant concern, and I am continually trying to reduce it,  but then, squirrel!  I must make insert-thing-I-must-make-here.

But which CSA to join?  Well, with me already six months pregnant and only to get bigger throughout the summer, any CSA that requires volunteer work is out (and while many do and I think that’s GREAT, I am just trying to be careful of my body and pregnancy).  We picked up a local food and farm guide, Nourish Knoxville, that listed several options.  From this, we narrowed it down to two, and finally decided on Crooked Road Farm.  The pickup options for Crooked Road worked best for us, and frankly, they had me at fresh eggs.  My husband and I LOVE fresh eggs, and go through many of them a week.  Sigh.  Usually about a dozen and a half.  But we also care about happy chickens, so we want to support farms that produce happy chickens, and delicious eggs.

Also, the price point of Crooked Road Farm worked for us.  It’s $240 for a 12 week share of produce, or $300 (an additional $5 a week) for a share of produce with a dozen eggs. This works out to about $25 a week for both produce and eggs, and considering the scary bills I’ve had lately at Whole Foods, seems like it will be a savings for us in the long run, though you DO have to pay up front. Crooked Road also ends in August, in the shoulder growing season here, and resumes in the fall with a second 12 week option.  While some CSAs power right through, what you mainly get during the hot August season is a lot of squash.  I love squash, but this year I will be full term with the wee one in August, and probably not up for pureeing, freezing, roasting, and grilling ALL THE SQUASH.  Of course, tomatoes are also an August staple, but I will eat my weight in those NO MATTER WHAT.  So this year, this CSA works for us, at least on paper.  We get our first box this week, and I can’t wait to see what’s in each one as the summer progresses.  I promise to update as we go along!

But while we were dropping off our deposit to Jonny for the produce CSA at the Winter Farmer’s Market, we discovered that Mountain Meadows Farm is offering an all fruit CSA.  What the what?  I can do that?  A CSA with all the fruits I can’t get enough since I got pregnant?  Oh dear.  Can we even DO two CSAs?

Why yes, yes you can.  Mountain Meadows is a farm I’m familiar with because they tend to have a great variety of eggplant and other produce during the summer.  I can’t walk by their stand at the Market Square Farmer’s market without buying something, even though it frequently means standing in line, because their produce is quality.  This year they are planning on traveling themselves over the summer, so are scaling back their produce operation, and focusing on fruit.  They are offering a fruit CSA for 17 weeks at $375, and we can pick up at the same market we’ll pick up our Crooked Road Farm box.  That’s about $22 a week, which might not be right for everyone, but for me, even when I am not pregnant, the fresh fruits of summer are one of the best parts.  Blackberry cobbler is what makes 95 plus degree days WORTH IT.  And strawberries?  Did I eat 5 pounds of strawberries this week almost by myself?  I plead the fifth.

So I really have no idea if these will be a boom or bust for us this year, whether I will feel overwhelmed by the produce we get, or stifled by a lack of variety.  I don’t know if we’ll save money in the long term, or if our food budget just suffered a cataclysmic demise.  I DO know I like the idea of supporting local farms.  And I also know I can’t wait to get my hands on our first boxes of fresh from the earth goodness.

My husband picking strawberries at Mountain Meadows Farm on his birthday.
My husband picking strawberries at Mountain Meadows Farm on his birthday.

I’ll keep you updated as the summer progresses.  I will also let you know soon about a few local U-Pick farms, which my husband and I have been exploring this season.  We’ve picked a total of 17 pounds of strawberries so far in the last week, and I cannot should be stopped.  We’ve also made arrangements (in addition to our CSA noted above) to get broccoli, beets, and okra from a local farm.  Perhaps it IS time to invest in the canning equipment I’ve been coveting….

Re Jane by Patricia Park: A Contemporary Korean American Retelling of Jane Eyre (yes, you read that right)

Re Jane by Patricia Park

I just finished Re Jane by Patricia Park, and found it a  mostly pleasant, quick read.  It tells the story of Jane Re, a Korean American who is raised in Flushing, Queens by her aunt and uncle.  The story parallels that of Jane Eyre, but is an interesting modern adaptation.  It opens with Jane working in her Uncle’s grocery store.  He is abrupt, rude, and dismissive of Jane.  She has recently finished college, and dreamed of a job on Wall Street, but the economic downturn has shut her out of that possibility.  It’s probably worth mentioning that the book is set in and around 2001.

Jane, unable to find a Wall Street job, takes a job as an au pair for an unusual family in Brooklyn.  Her ward, Devon, is an adopted Chinese girl, and the parents are an unconventional couple as well.  Of course, unlike Jane Eyre, the wife, Beth, is alive and almost omnipresent in the section of the book where Jane works for the Mazer-Farleys. She’s described as a very unlikeable intellectual, pushing wheat grass shots and veganism on her reluctant family, and feminist values on Jane, the Korean American girl who has been taught to always follow nunchi, a sense of family order, heavy on respect.  I thought this was actually quite interesting – watching Jane struggle to balance her traditional upbringing with contemporary life in China.  Of course, counterposed to this is Beth’s relationship with her Chinese American daughter, and Beth’s overdone and strangely myopic way of trying to incorporate Devon’s cultural background into her life and upbringing.

Jane inevitably falls for Ed Farley, the husband.  Unlike the real Mr Rochester, though, Ed is not a very interesting character.  From the beginning he seems overshadowed by his wife, who seems oblivious to the fact that she is dominating the household in ways the other members all find constraining.  But Ed seems to primarily lack personality.  He does, however, provide Jane with a bit of a culinary (as well as sexual) education, and this was one of the most interesting cultural points of juxtaposition for me.  Jane’s mind is blown when he makes her a fig and prosciutto hero, and again when he later makes her a cassoulet.  Ed’s role in the book seems tied to this for Jane in many ways – when later in the book he is forced to try to prepare that most classic of French (and caucasian?) dishes at Jane’s 20 something apartment, which lacks what to him are basics like thyme, he fails.

But as Jane’s relationship with Ed begins to turn sexual, she panics, and flees.  Her family has been called to Korea for the funeral of her grandfather.  She happens to quite literally fly over the September 11 terrorist attacks, landing in Seoul, Korea the day after they happen.  While I felt this was glossed over, I also was glad we weren’t forced to dwell in the New York of post 9-11 trauma.  Rather, in Korea, she goes about discovering her roots, redefining her looks, and discovering that her aunt and uncle, who taught her everything they know about Korea, were out of touch with contemporary Korea.  In New York she is an outsider because she is half Korean, half American.  In Korea, this status makes her even more desirable as an employee, friend, and girlfriend.

In Seoul she makes friends, finds a boyfriend, and almost marries him.  Here, though, the boyfriend introduces her to a kind of octopus dish where you consume live, wriggling octopus tentacles.  The juxtaposition with Ed’s fig and prosciutto sandwich, and also with her aunt and uncles prosaic bowls of rice, are unmistakable.  Her boyfriend, though, is also not right for her, and she soon splits with him.  She has unfinished business in New York, and, armed with new information about her own past, she flies home.

I actually expected the book to end sooner than it did, but in many ways I respect it for continuing on longer.  It not only introduces a relationship with Ed, it sees it through.  The Jane at the end of the book is not the same Jane as the beginning, but rather, a more rounded and fully realized character.  I recommend this read, especially if you are a fan of Jane Eyre.

Four Bees.

Wild Love Bakehouse, or Where to Eat in Knoxville, TN

Gracie might be watching her girlish figure, but I. Need. Pastry.
Gracie might be watching her girlish figure, but I. Need. Pastry.

It’s nearly 7 am and my husband and I are scrambling around getting ready.  I am putting the finishing touches on my makeup, he is trying to coax Gracie, our husky, to eat her food quickly, so that she can be walked before we leave.  Gracie is stubborn, and has never been too interested in food (I swear she is the reincarnation of some sort of early Hollywood Grand Dame), so this can be a daily ordeal.  This morning, though, we are in a hurry.  Because we want to get to the bakery in time to have first pick of the goodies.  Which is becoming a regular thing for us, and I MIGHT have a bit of an addiction problem.

Prior to the recent opening of Wild Love Bakehouse, though, my husband and I felt a bit starved for coffee shops.  When we first moved to Knoxville we lived in what I call the Wasteland of the West, aka, west Knoxville.  We were surrounded by chain restaurants and box stores, and couldn’t safely walk anywhere.  The closest “coffee shop” was Starbucks. Cue whining. Last year we moved to North Knoxville, though, and were at least close enough to a bus route that my husband could commute to and from campus on his own.  He doesn’t drive – but thats another story for another day.  And suddenly, in the last year, a number of new places have opened that have been helping assuage our we-don’t-live-in-New-Orleans-or-London-anymore sadness.

I'll take one of everything please.
I’ll take one of everything please.

There are coffee shops in the downtown area, however, they were typically packed and required a trip downtown.  I like going downtown, but it IS a trip from our house, and the whole point of your neighborhood coffee shop is that it is close.  So when Wild Love opened last November, we were thrilled, before we even saw the place.  It is, in fact, run by the proprietors of one of the downtown coffee shops, Old City Java.

So. Much. Pretty.
A rainy Sunday morning view of what is usually a sunny and bright patio.
A rainy Sunday morning view of what is usually a sunny and bright patio.

We went early on its first morning, and let me tell you, it was love at first sight, and heaven at first bite.  Inside it is full of light, with light wood tables, elegant picture windows, and a glass wall into the bakery portion of the shop where you can watch all of the tasty things being made.  It has a large selection of outdoor tables, and people frequently bring dogs with them to enjoy the outside area.  It has a distinctly northern European feel.  Its design is functional though – while there are several new coffee shops open in Knoxville now, Wild Love is far and away our favorite space to WORK.  Two long counter provide multiple outlets, and several long tables provide many work stations.

Window to the baking world.
Window to the baking world.

Its not just a place for students, writers, and their ilk though.  Strollers and toddlers can frequently be seen throughout the day.  Do I mention this just because I find it reassuring? As we have a baby on the way and I’m the kind of writer who tends to only be productive in a coffee shop? Maybe, she says, blushing, but I also think it is a testament to how much Knoxville NEEDED this kind of space for people of all ages. It is one of the major things I have been missing in Knoxville, and it is now practically in my backyard.

Strawberry Almond Frangipane Croissant. AH-MAZING. #noiwillnotshare #selfishpregnantlady
Strawberry Almond Frangipane Croissant. AH-MAZING. #noiwillnotshare #selfishpregnantlady

It is also simply delicious.  I swear, this Strawberry Almond Frangipane Croissant is one of the best I’ve ever had, including in my travels through France.  Check out the layers of dough in your croissant.  It’s looks properly laminated enough to even impress the judges of the Great British Bake Off right?  That’s right, fan girl here, and I AM NOT ASHAMED.

The quiche is velvety soft, and their savory scone du jour, the Green Onion, Feta, and Creme Fraiche is nearly irresistible.  They also serve a small selection of sandwiches, salads, and soup at lunch.  Ingredients are seasonal, locally and ethically sourced (check out this Instagram photo of the bakers picking their own strawberries), and they always seem to have a great vegetarian option.  Everything is made from scratch, and in small batches, which is why my husky needs to eat her food quickly!  Because I want to get there before they run out of insert-delicious-dish here.

Hot black loose leaf tea with a wee delectable shortbread cookie on Valentine's Day.
Hot black loose leaf tea with a wee delectable shortbread cookie on Valentine’s Day.
This is a sea salt ricotta and strawberry jam biscuit. YUM.
This is a sea salt ricotta and strawberry jam biscuit. YUM.

Their coffee is also impressive, single origin, and they have the best iced coffee/cold brew in town I think.  My husband loves their pour over, and I am fond of their lattes and cappuccino as well.  They serve Counter Culture coffee, and they care about each cup.  I once thought mine tasted off, and they quickly replaced it.  They also serve a good selection of hot teas, and their Rose Lemonade is so popular they have a hard time keeping it in stock.

In short, it seems this place was dreamed up with me in mind – and its mine!  All mine!  I’m kidding, of course, I am happy that the place is such a success, and hope their success continues.  And I will continue to get there as close to opening as possible, because that strawberry croissant!  And the Black Sesame and Sea Salt Bagel.  And the strawberry, rhubarb, and rose water hand tart.  And…  You get the picture.  And the next time you’re in Knoxville, you should get the real thing.

Wild Love Bakehouse.  Seriously.  You won’t be disappointed.