Sunday, December 18, 2011

Sit, relax, sip in Hampden

Don't get me wrong, I actually am happy to grab some quick caffeine from Starbucks, Dunkin' Donuts and even Rool Farms sometimes. Feel free to judge me, coffee snobs. But...when I can, I love to go to the fabulous Spro Coffee on the Avenue in Hampden.

Spro is described as a progressive coffee shop - and it kinda reminds me of the wonderful Blue Bottle in San Francisco's Ferry Building. Think slow, creative coffee. Be prepared to sit and wait. [Feed yer meter, hon.]

Spro owner Jay Caragay via Osmosis-Online: “Six different roasters, offering up to eight different coffees, all brewed by the cup, to order, in one of seven different brew methods. Quite simply, what we’re going to attempt to do is insane. But really, there is no coffee shop in the world that does what we’re attempting, which is what makes it so attractive. It’s about expressing coffee as far as we can take it. No holds barred."

Whether you like to do regular coffee, cappuccino, macchiato, french press [and the list goes on], you know you're in good hands. The warm, friendly, helpful baristas are there to guide you to the right coffee for you. They are the nicest, most UNsnobby people - and for that I'm thankful.

Since I brew French press coffee at home everyday, when I go to Spro I usually try something richer [and higher octane] like macchiato or espresso. On a visit a few weeks ago, I had two espressos and let's just say I got a lot done that day. Whoa. If you're in Charm City, give Spro a try. It costs a little more than Starbucks, but the quality of the beans and brewing comparison. They change their coffee selections often, so you can always try something new.

Thank you, Jay and company!

Soup's on

Soup is the most comforting, satisfying thing to me - especially in winter. My fave in the whole world is Ina Garten's Cheddar Corn Chowder. Cheese, corn, onions,, bacon...what's not to love? I sometimes use a little regular milk in place of the heavy cream and it's plenty rich. I've made this soup about ten times over the last few years. Obsessed? Yep. Make it, you will not be disappointed.

Here are two more great winter soups, both from my favorite food blog, The Kitchn.

First up, Baked potato soup with bacon, onion and cheddar. No, not the healthiest, of course, but quite tasty. 

Recipe note: it calls for two cups of bacon bits. I love me some bacon and the thought of buying bacon bits made me think, um, no. So, instead, I cooked an entire package of sliced bacon and made my own - but I didn't end up with enough. I'd probably use bacon bits next time - Oscar Mayer makes some that seem less scary to me.

This soup is, of course, very filling. Pace yourself.

Here is a healthier soup option: Sweet potato soup with miso and ginger. My local grocery store didn't have the miso paste, so I went to Asia Food on York Road [thanks, Lauren] and while there, I also picked up some buckwheat noodles for a future cooking adventure. This miso paste has such bright flavor and the ginger gives the soup a nice little kick. This would be great with a salad and good crusty bread for dippage. 

Recipe note: I'd use a smidge less ginger than what the recipe suggests.

Highly recommend this soup - I'll definitely make it again! And I've gotta give a shout out to my awesome Cuisinart immersion blender - they come in fabulous colors, too! No more pureeing soups in batches in the food processor. It makes life so much easier!

Winter + soup = comfort and warmth.

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Thursday, December 15, 2011


Last week, people in neighborhoods all over Charm City most likely heard screams of delight coming from my Hampden backyard. Holy s#;@! After six months of loving care, organic veggie scraps and weekend free-ranging, the chickens began to lay eggs. Well, Dottie [Ameraucana – fancy pants Martha hen] laid a gorgeous blue-ish green egg. And now, a week later...three more in varying shades of that blue-green. A few of my friends commented that they were too precious and beautiful to eat. Sorry, people - these are for eating!


I did a test…poached a store-bought white egg, a farmers market brown egg and Dottie’s egg. As you can see, the yolk of my home-produced egg was thicker and very vibrant orange. The farmers market egg was also really good - as they always are. The main difference was the brightness and consistency of the yolk. Dottie's egg was the best!  

So, we've come to the beginning of life with super delicious fresh eggs in my little backyard. Can't wait til I have enough eggs for baking. Yesterday, I found a latte-khaki-ish colored egg. Not 100% sure who laid it...but I'm on the case!
Thanks to everyone who helped me get here - especially Joan Norman, Rob Copeland and Joanne Rawl Appel - you all are the best. 

Check out this article about the nutritional value of eggs - and eat some eggs, hon!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

waverly in winter

I'm a big Waverly Market fan. Since it's a year-round market, I go every week for staples like milk, eggs, bread, lettuce, apples, potatoes, onions and bacon (yes, bacon is a staple in my house.) The selection of fruits and veggies, of course, is a bit more limited in the cold winter months...but I feel good supporting local folks as much as I can - not just in the summer. There's everyone from South Mountain Creamery where I get my milk, butter and cheese, Andy and those great fresh eggs, Cindy for ice cream, bacon and other meats...and the list goes on. Whatever I can't find there, I can get at Trader Joe's or Whole Foods. Also, whenever my wallet allows, I try to buy one special item not on my list. Things like a bouquet of tulipsgoat cheese  or some ginger hemp granola. Oh, and I'm fueled by Zeke's, too.

This week, my "special" purchase was some porcini  mushrooms from the nice gal at Woodland Mushrooms. I'm hoping to make mushroom risotto and she said the porcini variety are excellent for that. She invited me to take a wiff. They smelled amazing. The way she handled them - putting them oh so carefully in a paper bag and advised me how to use them - it was almost like she was selling me her offspring - it is clear that she's passionate about her 'shrooms.

Even though it just ended, I'm already looking forward to my One Straw Farm CSA share next year (June - November.) If you've been thinking about joining a local CSA, give it a try. You can always split it with a friend, so don't be worried that it's too much food. Not only are you getting fresh veggies (and other stuff depending on the farm) and supporting a local farmer, it also makes you get creative with your cooking. When I first started participating in the five years ago, I wasn't familiar at all with things like swiss chard and kohlrabi and thought, "Holy dirt, what am I gonna do with this?" Joan Norman changed all that. Each week, I'd chat with her about what I'd picked out and she'd give me great ideas for preparing it. I'd never really loved eggplant...but last year, she suggested I try baby eggplant - slice and roast it with thyme, olive oil and salt + pepper. So flipping good! And this is just one of the tons "off the top of her head" recipes Joan that has given me. Also, there is a great feature on one straw's website: Name that Veggie. It's a great way to learn more about the items you see at the farmers market. Check it out!

If you are a meat eater, check out Clementine's meat CSA. You will receive 20lbs of meat (choose from beef, chicken, pork and lamb) per week - locally sourced, humanely raised. If you've ever eaten at Clementine, you know Cristin and Winston know their stuff. Taco Tuesdays are one of my favorite things. ever.


Thursday, December 1, 2011

better than bouillon

i have to agree with the folks at my MOST FAVE food blog, the kitchn.

better than bouillon is the best. when you've run out of your homemade stock...drop a little of this super concentrated flavorful goodness in a pot with boiling water...and you're good to go. comes in many flavors - i've used the beef, chicken and vegetable. don't buy those yucky dry cubes...this is so good.

tell your friends...or save the secret for yourself, hon!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The "F" Word

I'm not the biggest fan of the word foodie. Yes, I'm pretty sure I am what people would call a foodie [hellouuu, I write a food blog and keep chickens] but I really just think of myself to be someone who really loves good food. Eating it, preparing, sharing it.

Don't get me wrong, I like foodie things. I shop at my local farmers market every Saturday. I've participated in a weekly CSA for years and years. If I had the chance to go to one of these amazing Outstanding in the Field dinners, I would go. I would run, actually.

One of my strongest food memories was made when I visited Dan Barber's fabulous NYC restaurant Blue Hill several years ago - maybe the best meal I've ever had. Tons of courses, interesting and unique ingredients, amazing wine, the freshest of everthing. The folks from Blue Hill also run the Stone Barns Center, a wonderful farm in New York where they raise everything from vegetables to livestock. It's all about sustainability [ah, there's that word...] and having the very freshest food possible. Love that. taste in food varies - doesn't yours? People who say they only eat this or would never eat that...that is so not me! One night, I might have a meal of local and organic stuff like roast chicken, bibb salad or maybe some homemade soup. Then, another time, I want something super simple [and greasy] like a grilled cheese sammie. And I must add that to me, grilled cheese means just 'normal' cheese, no fancy bread, with butter in the pan. Yum.

Speaking of CSAs, did you know that Clementine has a meat CSA? Check it out! [I'm hoping to split a share with a friend.]

Life's short. Dig in. And don't take yourself too seriously.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

wines fit for a thanksgiving feast

when it comes to wine for thanksgiving dinner, lots of people will tell you what goes best with turkey. and stuffing. and potatoes. and...pumpkin pie. i wanted to get some insight from a pro, so i visited my friend carey williams at the wine source in hampden for some advice. found some easy, happy crowd pleasers, as well as a few choices that are little bit different. here we go...

i used to be one of those 'i don't like chardonnay' people. but all these years later, i now know that i simply prefer a cool climate chardonnay like eve chardonnay from washington state. you'll taste apple and a hint of honey...thirst quenching, too. it pairs well with mashed potatoes, green beans, etc. definitely a great basic, easy drinking wine many folks around your table will enjoy - a real crowd pleaser. $10.99

rose makes many people think of summer. some people think it's white zinfandel. um, no...but it's a great choice for thanksgiving! one great option is the 2010 artzuri garnacha rosado - a luscious, dark pepper rose. this always seems balanced, soft and fresh - really great with turkey. $9.99

for a little more&nbs adventurous palate, you might consider 2010 francois villard viognier from the rhone valley in france [the fancy name on the label is les contours de deponcin.] when you smell this one, you get rosey, perfume, exotic fruit. drinks so nicely! medium weight, not super acidic, very elegant.  really nice with sweet potato pie. $31.99. [treat yourself for the holiday.]

you often hear about medium bodied reds for thanksgiving and if you'd like to go that way, give the 2008 kesseler spatbergunder a try. it's a german wine using a grape transplanted from burgundy where it's known as pinot noir. this wine has a nose of blackberries and a hint of cherry and is on the rustic side. this would be a great red wine for someone just getting into reds - not too intense, with a juicy palate. $19.99

want a red that's a bit more spicy? give the 2010 tramontane roussillon rouge a try. carey described it as "juicy, forward and brimming with spicy red fruit." i agree! bold, juicy, complex. $9.99 [a great value, by the way.]

don't be intimidated or try too hard to make 'perfect' pairings with your entire thanksgiving meal. for example, it's close to impossible to pair sauerkraut with wine. beer is great with it, fact, if you're more of a beer person, do your thing and have some really good beer! the folks at scribbleskiff  have some great suggestions for beer pairings. and i also recommend that you visit my friend jed at the wine source for some advice. he has introduced me to so many of my favorite beers over the last few years.

so, as we enter the holiday season, make sure you try something new and HAVE FUN!

eat, drink and be you, hon.

Monday, October 24, 2011

baltimore chickens: life in the coop

drama in the coop...

we've had a few lineup changes. as the 'girls' approached five months, things really got interesting! first, gertie [ameraucana] started to CROW! oy, it was out of nowhere was loud. she [well, he...] was quickly taken back out to the country where that sorta behavior is a-ok. my neighbors have been so nice, so i wanted to make sure we had no more early morning wake up calls.

i had long suspected gertie was a rooster, due to the fact that he was always 'odd man out' from the other three...they wanted nothing to do with him. when i dropped him off, i was actually sad. gert had been my fave...the prettiest, easiest, sweetest. and would have laid blue/green eggs...the whole thing was a bummer.

coming home in gertie's place, was edith. she's brown and quite beautiful. and a total spaz - and afraid of everything, everyone. i think once she gets more used to her new city home, i think she'll be more fun and saucy.

here's edith. thinking she might go by 'edie.'

when i brought edith home, clara [very bossy rhode island red] became quite aggresive and wouldn't leave edith alone for a second. i scooped edith up and put her in a separate area to catch her breath. tried again the next day and it was even more dramatic. so, i called an old friend in my hometown who is a more experienced chicken keeper and she was willing to take her. we'll see what happens. when i left clara in kingsville, she was doing fine. my friend emailed me recently to say she suspects clara might be a clarence. we will see. clara's place [man, this is like menudo or something...], comes agnes. only took me twenty minutes to catch her - i thought that was pretty good. i wonder how long it took rocky. what a workout. here's agnes:

with all of these changes, my girls dottie and millie are being pretty good. a few little chases and intimidating 'i was here FIRST!' sorts of actions...but nothing too scary. edith might have a different take on that...

so, it's one day at a time here on my little urban farm. they're keeping me on my toes fer sure. henry, my 4 yr old yellow lab, is also rolling with the punches. he's been quite sweet, actually. what a good dog. here is a photo i will with henry and gertie.

i'm hoping that dottie and millie will start laying soon. right now, they're investigating the nesting boxes.

gotta be patient, hon.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

wow, you're sorta crunchy...

the other day, my friend said, 'hey, you're sorta crunchy.' hmmm. he meant it as a compliment...and i took it that way.

i'm not sure when i became so crunchy. okay, so i shop at the farmers market every saturday, year-round. some say that's a little crunch. i reuse as many things as humanly possible...cups, jars, ziploc bags, etc. i don't have cable. i take my dog for hikes in the woods. i have chickens. [hello, crunch and a little odd, i'm told.] and my newest thing...i have a composter. holy crunchy granola goodness. check out gertie the chicken enjoying a compost boo-fay. and check out this great composting news from san francisco.

i'm still learning...but with the web, you can google just about anything! here are a few sites with very helpful basics on composting.

composting 101
how to get started
reducing kitchen waste

and this list is great - i consult it all the time.

between composting and recycling, there is very little in my trash can these days. and that's the way i like it! is a really great stainless countertop compost pail to collect kitchen waste.

last week, i saw the documentary bag it and it really opened my eyes about plastic and waste. i'm now on even more of a mission to minimize my impact on the earth. [geeeez, that sounds so high and mighty and obnoxious.] but i mean it in the best way possible.

last year, a work colleague [age 92] gave me two boxes of gorgeous mason jars with zinc lids. she said they are from the 1940 or 1950s. i did some research and quickly learned that i could not use them  for their original purpose...too old and not safe. buzz killed, thanks. so instead, i'm going to take the suggestion of a friend [thanks, lucien!] and use them instead of plastic containers to store things like leftovers, pasta and baking ingredients. love that idea, don't you?

i love my grocery bags...i take them everywhere [the ladies at talbots gave me some funny looks, but i don't care.] i wish everyone would use them! every time i see someone leaving the grocery store with loaded with plastic bags, it makes me a little sad.

i don't really think i'm crunchy. i just want to do a little better.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

get the picture?

one of my favorite parts about the blog is the photography. my friends now know...when the food comes to the table...when you make your plate at thanksgiving...when the pie comes out of the oven...

stop, style, snap...then, EAT!

here are some of my faves...


Tuesday, August 30, 2011

feast your eyes

last week, my neighbor and facebook pal, elaine, suggested that i submit a few photos for a feature on called feast your eyes. it sounded like a great idea, but i was up to my eyeballs at work and i barely had time for lunch [granola and yogurt] at my desk. i was also having a day where i just couldn't focus. but this seemed like a great opportunity, so i found the photos i liked best, i hit send and got back to what i was doing. thought nothing more.

until today.

i opened my email to a lovely message letting me know that my photo of delicious caprese skewers that i'd made for a friend's july 4th barbeque had been chosen as a featured photo! seriously. very, very exciting in my little world.

what's next...matt lauer eating my food? yes, please!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

kitchen MVP

a few months ago, i was on the lookout for a new grating tool and a chef friend of mine recommended a microplane. so, i hit up williams-sonoma at towson town center [and that store is dangerously close to anthropologie...] and got one. I LOVE THIS THING.

i use it to grate cheese, zest lemons, mince garlic, onions, chocolate and more. i only wish i'd been able to get one of the cool new colors - i've seen green, fuchia, purple, blue, yellow...quite cute.

do you have one of these? highly, highly recommend. check out this contains a zester/grater, medium ribbon grater and extra coarse grater.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

urban farming, hon

wow, look how little they were back in june...

the girls got their big break on the local news yesterday! i even got the title of 'urban farmer' while on camera. hilarious. and...since getting their two minutes of fame, the chickens have been prancing, strutting...beaks up in the air. i swear i saw dottie smiling - she really liked that mike schuh guy. i hope the piece convinces some city folks who'd been on the fence to jump in and become chicken keepers!

unfortunately, they are also beginning to display some j-lo-esque diva behavior...

clara is demanding cotton candy for bedding instead of pine shavings.

millie would like sauvignon blanc instead of water. she actually could use a drink, so i'm considering it.

dottie? she's all about black truffles. says they need to be from a specific region in italy. i'm googling.

good old gert. she's too polite to ask...but i think she wants something...maybe old bay on her corn cobs?

whether on the actual blog or on facebook, please do share and make comments! i want to know what foods you're growing, cooking, eating and obsessed with - for me, lately, it's watermelon, tomato and feta salads...

charmcitycook turned one year old last month - it's been such a great creative outlet, emotional comfort when needed and it's inspired me to try even more new things all the time. i guess 40 actually is the new 30, because that's when i fell in love with food.

thanks, hon. keep on cooking.

Friday, July 29, 2011


UPDATE! we finally, finally had the all-important coop inspection, hon. as he came into the house, the nice city animal officer said "well, hello are the chicks?" turns out he was the same inspector who came by last month when someone reported me. he took pics, asked questions and said everything looked fine and that the chickens looked really healthy. next step, he sends a report back to his boss and then...the girls will be full-on legit. bring it on.

the girls...

millie [white] is a nervous little girl and hard to catch.

gertie [black/grey] is sweet and calm. she takes a lot of crap from the other three. love her.

clara [reddish] is full of sauce. large and in charge. do not mess with this one.

dottie [light greyish] is sort of switzerland-esque. just goes with the flow and tries to blend in.

think i know their breeds, but still waiting to see if they are - in fact - girls. will know in a few months. if any turn out to be boys, they will no longer be city chickens. wonder if they'd lose their hampden accent when they go back to the farm? whaddayous think?

oh of my neighbors actually reported me! a knock at the door on a sunday night...very nice animal control officer informs me that someone has anonymously - of course - called to say i had illegal chickens. wowwww. he asked to see them, i said, sure thing...and he took a look in the coop and said with a smile and a slighty raised voice, "clearly, someone has too much time on their hands. your chicks look great and you're fine." thank you, sir.

well, they've been living in a rabbit hutch for the last six weeks or so. [big thanks to joanne!] thankfully, they are now in their new digs. they are doing lots of perching, pecking, chirping, eating and napping. and...they've figured out the whole 'ramp that leads to the coop' thing. sort of. huge thanks to my friends rob and lauren for all of their help with design, supplies and the actual building of the coop and run. i have the best friends. lovely, fresh eggs are coming their way in the fall...

here the chickens head up the ramp for the first time.

they love bananas [and melon rinds, strawberries, potatoes, etc...and of course, chicken feed.]

take a look at how LITTLE they were just six weeks ago...holy cuteness.

the adventure far, i like this whole city chickens thing.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

market faves

what are some of your favorite things at the farmers market?

here are some of mine from waverly...

berries, berries, berries

thomas' peas

broom's bloom ice cream

andy's eggs

rhubarb - for pies and...making rhubarb vodka right now...

one straw farm beets

fiddlehead ferns from the mushroom lady



chesapeake microgreens - love their boston lettuce, too

zeke's coffee - tell tale dark and gunpowder espresso are faves

p.s. my friend [and former babysittee] peter elmore is writing a great blog about farm life at one straw farm, the organic farm run by his aunt and uncle, joan and drew norman. check it out!