Monday, July 23, 2012


When I was a kid, my dad took my brother and I to an Indian restaurant in Georgetown.  We split a platter that had lots of miscellaneous chutneys on it.  My brother was the first to try one of the brownish, greenish looking ones, and a look of "yuck" spread across his face.  After drinking water, saying how gross it tasted, and making his disgust clear, he asked if I wanted to try it.  By all human logic, I should have said, "no."  Why would anyone want to try something so gross and so capable of producing such a look of displeasure?  But, I had to know.  I had to know, what does "that gross" taste like?

So, I did.  And, it was "that gross."

I tell this story because I'm sure this type of morbid food curiosity is not uncommon.  Smart people upon hearing something is gross have the good sense to walk away.  Being a foodie means waving good sense and jumping in with both feet.  About a year ago, I wrote about trying live squid and silkworms in Korea.  Part of the driving force behind that was to know for better or worse, what food experience was I missing.

One high "ick" factor food I've been intrigued and taunted by is Durian.  For a while, I've heard about this smelly fruit that has such a strong stench, it has been banned on some subways in Asia.  There is even a no durian sign for places that don't allow its strong pungency to taint the air.  

Food shows and travel shows love making unsuspecting average Joe's try durian.  Food hosts describe the fruit and offer Joe a smell.  Joe smells and pulls away in revulsion.  Although this should make me not want to try durian, every time a food show host presented the big, yellow and red, spiky fruit to someone and I watched his/her expression of horror, I found that old morbid foodie curiosity piquing.

The chance to try durian never really popped up until recently.  I discovered in Lincoln, NE, that several of the Vietnamese restaurants offer durian bubble tea.  Knowing that access was now available, I knew the moment of facing durian was at hand.

When I went to Virginia in June, I visited my friend Kathy.  She reads my blog regularly and so had read from a post that I was interested in trying durian. She said she tried it and liked it, which helped give me a little more  food courage.  When we went to a Thai restaurant, Kanlaya, in D.C.'s Chinatown, durian bubble tea was on the menu.  With a little bit of Kathy's encouraging, I ordered one.  I figured, coupled with chewy tapioca pearls, cut with sweetness, and blended up, would be a chance to wade in.

It's weird.  The smell gets in your nose.  Then it takes a while to build up the sweeter side of the taste to get the smell out.  I had heard people describe it as sulfur like, rotten egg hints.  Antony Bourdain says, "Its taste can only be described as...indescribable, something you will either love or despise. ...Your breath will smell as if you'd been French-kissing your dead grandmother." He even goes so far as to describe the act of eating durian as "sexy."  To me, it is spring onions, with a hint of eggs, and a sweet not quite fruity finish.  If you drink enough of it, you build up the more tasty side of the fruit.  But, I never really overcame that taste of spring onions.  Once I ate some food and came back, spring onions would battle for flavor dominance.

After a couple of sips, Kathy asked me if I liked it.  I can't say "no," but I can't say "yes" either.  That distinct confusion of something that looks like a fruit and yet doesn't produce fruit like associations makes for some palate confusion.  So, if you want a bright fruit to enjoy, durian isn't it.  If you want a strong tasting savory bite, durian isn't really it either.  For me, it is a no man's land experience.  I know what it isn't, but I don't know what it is either.

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Saturday, July 14, 2012

Botanical Gardens

 After going to see the new Martin Luther King Monument, my friend Kathy and I talked about where to go next.  I mentioned that I hadn't been to the Botanic Garden in over 15 years.  Since Kathy had never been, we wandered around.  

The outside area is beautiful.  You can sit on a bench and enjoy lunch with views of the Capital or the museums.  From the gardens, the views of the Mall becomes encircled with leafy greens and bright flowery colors.   Inside, you can wander the themed rooms to see desert or jungle plants, the flora and fauna of Hawaiia, or one room filled with delicate orchids.  For the foodies, one of the displays features metal plants, grouped in bunches, and filled with the spices and herbs that comprise things like curry  or African Berbere.   With it, you could smell the individual spices and see how they come together to flavor your favorite dishes. 

I've included my favorite pictures from the gardens.  But, the photos don't even begin to do the beauty of the place justice. 

Next Up is the last of the D.C posts . . . Adventures with Durian
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Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Washington Monuments

When I lived near D.C., I kinda of took the proximity for granted.  Now, with living half a country away, I thought it might be nice to have some pictures to remind of what great city D.C. is.  Though not food related, I thought you might enjoy  my photographic walk through the Mall. 

Washington, Lincoln, and WWII

Martin Luther King, Jr. 


Capital Building

National Museum of the Native American

Next Up . . . The Botanical Gardens
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Monday, July 9, 2012

What I Ate On My Summer Vacation

A couple of weeks ago, I left Nebraska and went back to Virginia to visit friends and family.  Over the time there I conquered a food fear in Washington D.C., tried some new vineyards and revisited a familiar one, and explored Floyd, VA.  It was a lot of fun and made for lots of food blog posts.  

So, over the next couple of weeks, you get to read all about what I ate on my summer vacation.  I'll start this week with some photos from Washington, D.C. and a review of a Thai restaurant in Chinatown.  Then, I have a series on Virginia Tastings, which will cover the vineyards I visited as well as a new experience doing a coffee tasting.  Finally, I'll end with a couple posts on sampling the food in Floyd.  

Coming Up . . . "Washington Monuments."

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Thursday, June 28, 2012

Cherry Risotto

Whenever I visit my parents, my mom asks that I make up some risotto. So, after finishing dinner one night, I asked what kind of risotto the two of them wanted. Since mom had just bought some cherries, I suggested a savory cherry risotto. I figured the challenge of using cherries to make a savory dish would be a fun experiment, and that if I could make it work then it would be a great side for poultry.

4 cups low sodium chicken broth
1 tsp rosemary (half for broth, half on cherry/mushrooms)
½ tsp. ground white peppercorns
¼ tsp thyme
¼ tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp chili powder
1 tsp orange zest
Pinch of nutmeg
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
2 cups cherries, seeded and halved
1½  cup sliced mushrooms
pinch of salt 
½ half an onion, cut into slivers 
¾ cup white wine 
  cup risotto
½ cup of arugula, chopped finely

  • Place a pot over medium heat.  Pour in broth and add all the spices (1/2 tsp rosemary, thyme, chili, peppercorns, cinnamon, and nutmeg) and orange zest.  Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer. 
  • In a large pan over medium heat, sauté cherries in 1 tablespoon of the olive oil for 3 minutes.  Then, remove cherries, add three more tablespoons of olive oil and sauté  mushrooms.  When mushrooms are lightly brown, add the cherries back and pour in ¼ cup of white wine.  Sauté for about 5 minutes, or until most of the wine is cooked off.  Remove mushrooms and cherries to a bowl and season with 1/2 tsp of rosemary and a pinch of salt. 

  • In the same pan, add 2 tablespoons of butter and add onions.   Cook until brown and wilted (not quite fully caramelized, but close).  Then, add the risotto and stir until the grain is translucent, except for a white dot in the center (about 5 minutes).  Add the 1/2 cup of wine and stir until completely absorbed.  Add a ladleful of stock, stirring continually.  Wait until the stock is completely absorbed before adding another ladleful.  Continue to keep adding broth a ladleful at a time, only adding more once the broth is absorbed.  It should take about 20 minutes or more to get the risotto tender.  
  • When the risotto is soft and you have added all but the last ½ cup of broth, add the cherries and mushrooms.  Cover with a lid and let finish over a low heat for about 5 minutes.  When you are ready to serve, add the rest of the broth, a small pad of butter, and top with toasted almonds or goat cheese.   
    Created with photobucket slideshow.

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Monday, June 25, 2012

Jazz in June

In the month of June if you happen to be walking around Downtown Lincoln on a Tuesday night, you will find yourself in the middle of quite a music, people, and food filled event called "Jazz in June."  The website for Jazz in June says it is more than just a tradition, "it's a summer standard."   Judging from the large crowd and lawn packed with picnic blankets and collapsible chairs, I'd say Lincoln agrees with that statement.

Although I wish I knew enough of Jazz to speak with intelligence about the music, scene, and band, I'll stick with what I know--food.

Even if Jazz isn't your thing, come for the food.  I haven't had much of a chance to check out the portable food stall life of Lincoln's fairs, events, or outdoor shindigs, so coming to Jazz in June and seeing what types of culinary caravans show up was quite exciting.   The types of food carts that showed up to Jazz in June represent quite a smattering of food niches.
 For snacks, Stahl's Cotton Candy makes up freshly spun cotton candy.  Pop Art serves frozen popsicles, and the sounds of small popcorn explosions and the scent of butter and sugar wafts from Golden Kernel Kettlecorn.  Then, on the savory side, you can sample some of the 36 flavors of Smoky Gun's Jerky.  I tried the Honey Bourbon and it made my taste buds really happy.

For refreshment, you can try refreshing fruit drinks from Aloha Tea Room or get a bright smoothie made by Great Harvest Bread Co.  I went with what to me was the only logical route, a $1 glass of home-brewed root beer from the Root Beer Guy, aka David Stajner.  It has lots of vanilla, is nice and sweet, and is a great summer refreshment.

Nibbles and drinks aside, choosing a main course is hard when the selection is so wide and intriguing.  I was tempted by Greek fare at the Parthenon, crab rangoon from Manilla Bay, or "bombay sliders" made by Aloha Tea Room; all sounded intriguing.  Or, I could have had pizza from a portable wood-fire grill courtesy of Rolling Fire.  A  portable wood-fire grill, that is pretty unique.  After a couple investigative laps around the carts, two food options begged to be sampled. 

Food Stand Tasting #1: Shongaezee’s Native American Grill
Dough being tossed about in a deep frier will almost always catch my attention.  Who could be immune to such a combination?  Then, couple frybread with options of hot dog, taco, or burgers seems to take everything you love about fair food and put it in one ridiculously compelling taste argument. 

I have never heard of Native American Frybread.  So, this was a little food lesson for me.  According to the "Native American Frybread 101" poster on the stall, frybread came about from reservation living. The common rations where foods like flour, cheese, and lard.  So, frybread served a good use of those materials by frying discs of bread in lard.  Frybread isn't fried in lard anymore, but the recipe and prep have remained the same.
After snooping for a while to see what frybread option looked tastiest, Dennis and I went with the Native Burger: frybread, hamburger, lettuce, tomato, and cheese.  Frybread itself reminds you almost immediately of a doughnut.  It isn't sweet, but that combination of crunchy outside crust and ridiculously soft inside is exactly like a doughnut.  So, the experience of the Native Burger is like eating a hamburger on a savory doughnut.

In other words, heavenly.  The best part is the bit at the end when all the mustard and ketchup has run to the bottom and been soaked up by the bread.   

Food Stand Tasting #2: Daffodil Gourmet Catering
It is a rare thing to find Persian food in places other than metropolitan cities.  I've only had Persian once and that was in a trip to L.A.  It is a unique branch of food that isn't quite Greek, isn't quite Lebanese, and isn't quite Indian; instead, it is concoction of all three.  The dish I had in L.A. was Khoresht Fesenjan, a stew of pomegranate and walnut, and it was incredibly unique in flavor and texture.

Since I can always get Indian and Mediterranean, it seemed silly to pass up a chance at Persian.  After trying the food, I'd say that nobody should miss the chance to try Daffodil's food.  Dennis and I split a dolma, spinach pie, and a kotlet (a meat, onion, and potato patty).  The dolma has a hint of cinnamon and spice and so stands out from its tarter Greek counterparts.  The kotlet was moist and flavorful and worth eating repeatedly.  But, the spinach pie was the best.  So wonderful flaky and with a smooth spinach inside that was just what you want a spinach filling to be with the right balance of spinach, cheese, and seasoning.  I don't think you could go wrong with any of the items, but the spinach pie is a must. 

June 26th is your last chance to check-out the Jazz in June scene.  So, bring a blanket, sample some food, and have a great night of enjoying some jazz with friends. 

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Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Pho Nguyen

On the day I set aside to try out Pho Nguyen, I arrived after the restaurant had closed.  And, since I am leaving town today, I won't get a chance to complete my Pho Tour with you until later.  

So, I've set aside this posting space to review Pho Nguyen.  Check back in early July to hear how my Pho Tour of Lincoln, NE, ends.  

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