Saturday, April 18, 2015

Taste of the Nation 2015

Taste of the Nation is without a doubt my favorite annual Charlotte event.  I've professed my love for the food, drink, and charity multiple times in the past (2012, 2013, and 2014), but I'll give you a brief idea of what you're missing if you have yet to attend.

Taste of the Nation combines an elaborate celebration of Charlotte's best chefs and restaurants, endless wine and crafty cocktails, live entertainment, wine grab-bags, and a silent auction to yield a fabulous evening for fundraising for No Kid Hungry and local beneficiaries Second Harvest Food Bank and Community Culinary School of Charlotte.  My fabulous parents even traveled from Atlanta to join me for the evening of food and fun.

If my description of the event isn't enough to interest you, let me swoon your senses with pictures of many of the delicious bites that graced my palate this evening.

300 East
Espresso Brownies, Goat Cheese Panna Cotta , and Passion Fruit Cheesecake
Baku Restaurant
Wage Beef Tataki Wrapped Around Pickled Daikon

Napa on Providence
Grilled Shrimp Over Chick Pea Salad
Date Nut Clusters and Merlot Truffles
Midwood Smokehouse
Housemade Chips and Jalepeno Bacon Dip

Johnson and Wales Culinary School
Assortment of Desserts
BBQ Pork Sliders and Chips
BBQ Pork Belly Taco and Carrot Cake
Dogwood Southern Table and Bar
Rosemary Vodka Lemonade and Brisket with Bourbon Cherries
Gallery Restaurant
Seafood Gazpacho, Pork Belly, and Deconstructed Key Lime Pie
In addition to a standard ticket, there are also VIP tickets for sale.  The benefits include early entry and an extra hour of opportunity to eat yourself silly as well as access to the Luxe Lounge.  In addition to the incredible sweets pictured below, there were passed appetizers and premium cocktails.

Cupcakes, Macarons, and Fancy Chocolates
Needless to say, it was a glutinous night that once again highlighted the incredible culinary talent that exists in Charlotte as well as the charitable giving from the community.  Congrats to Share Our Strength and No Kid Hungry for the 20th annual event.  I can't wait the 21st event in April 2016!

Sunday, March 29, 2015

AAOS in Las Vegas

I spent the past five days in Las Vegas at the AAOS Annual Meeting.  It's a massive orthopaedic meeting, with nearly 15,000 US and International attendees.  In addition, there are hundreds of different vendors, ranging from electronic medical records to implants for hip and knee arthroplasty to injectables.  Each day is packed full of courses, research, and case presentations.

I stayed at the Trump International Hotel, located just off the strip.  If you're planning a trip to Las Vegas, I can't recommend this hotel enough.  It's smoke-free, casino-less, and perfect for those who want an escape from the wild and crazy of the Vegas strip.  The rooms are spacious, bathrooms are massive, and the beds are the most comfortable I've ever slept in.  

Thursday's breakfast was from Bouchon Bakery - a place I discovered in NYC when I was there in January.  In addition to a soy latte, I had my first almond croissant and it is definitely my new favorite breakfast pastry.  

The conference was held in the Sands Expo within the Venetian.  The Venetian and Palazzo Hotels are connected by an upscale shopping mall that is filled with celebrity chef restaurants as well as gondolas navigating the Grand Canal.  The murals on the ceilings appear surprisingly real.

The weather was absolutely perfect for our stay - sunny, a light breeze, cloudless skies, and highs in the 80s.  The walk from the Trump to the conference center was about 15 minutes and I soaked up every sunny moment.  I was impressed at how immaculate the sidewalks and grounds were maintained.

Thursday night we dined at Mon Ami Gabi, and it was the best meal of the trip.  The restaurant was positioned directly across the street from The Bellagio and their famous fountains.  Despite not having reservations, we scored the perfect table for eight on the patio.  The fountains were easily visible from our table and we were able to enjoy the display of water, lights, and music every fifteen minutes for nearly three hours.  My dinner of french onion soup and mustard crusted salmon with butternut puree and brussel sprouts was perfectly executed.

After a long winter and seemingly endless travel in ice and snow, the bright sunshine was a welcome sight.  Each morning's walk into the sunshine was one of my favorites of the day.

No conference is complete without a bit of time for rest and relaxation, and in Las Vegas, that meant time by the pool.  The sun felt so amazing!

The poolside restaurant, H2 Eau, was impressive both in food options as well as price.  The Farm Salad included baby kale, quinoa, sunflower seeds, and cranberries, and was served with a hearty portion of waffle fries.

Each night after dinner we found ourselves at a different casino to try our luck at gambling.  Despite previous gambling successes in the Caribbean, my attempts at the penny slots left me $30 poorer than I had arrived.  Eventually the rowdy crowds and heavy cigarette smoke became too much and we returned to the Trump.

So, what's my verdict on Vegas?  I won't be back.  It's an odd combination of sights, sounds, and entertainment that is similar to an adult Disney World on steroids.  There are essentially two groups - college kids/young couples that are sloppy drunk and running wild without any restraint and older smokers in wheelchairs on oxygen and smoking at the slots.  It's a bizarre scene!  Restaurants are ridiculously expensive and food is underwhelming.  Nightly entertainment is limited to shows (tickets $150+), gambling, or strip clubs.  Drunken fools line the streets both morning and night and people try to shove strip club advertisements in your face everywhere you walk.  Sound enticing?

After five days of Las Vegas adventures, I was never more thankful to return home to Charlotte.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

An Unlucky St. Patty's

Yesterday was a bit of an epic failure.  I'm pretty sure there's not any Irish heritage in my blood, but regardless, it's always fun to dress in green and hope for a little extra luck on St. Patrick's Day.  Yesterday was especially important because it was the day that Ironman announced the 2015 Kona Lottery winners.  Despite being told that the announcement would happen at 12 noon, I was checking my email nonstop from the time I woke up.  I dressed in green, crossed my fingers, and hoped to see an email from Ironman pop up in the inbox.  Unfortunately, the luck of the Irish didn't fall on my side and I won't be in Kona in October.  I'm not sure who's more disappointed - me or my family who was planning an epic vacation to the Big Island.

I'd been craving the traditional St. Patty's meal consisting of corned beef, cabbage, and potatoes.  Growing up Mom always made that for us once a year and I remember loving each and every bite smothered with some mustard.  I picked up cabbage and potatoes at the farmers market and planned to stop by the Earth Fare hot bar on the way home to pick up some corned beef.  Unfortunately, their advertised St. Patty's hot bar special didn't include that particular item.  Not a problem I thought, Whole Foods is just across the street and will certainly have some.  Sadly, there wasn't any corned beef to be had there either.  And then I got home to discover that the bag of sweet potatoes that I planned to eat was covered in mold.  Lovely.

Frustrated, saddened about the Kona news, and tired, I came home and sat on the back deck and drank a Kombucha.  Eventually I threw some leftovers and an egg on top of lettuce and called it dinner.

Fortunately, today has been a much better day.  The morning started with 3800 meter in the pool that felt better than the previous few weeks' swims.  Lunch featured my favorite sandwich - avocado, tomato, hummus, and arugula on Great Harvest bread - paired with an apple dusted with cinnamon.  A refreshing nap in the sunshine energized some research and a late afternoon run.

The goal of tonight's dinner was to make up for the sadness of last night's meal.  Cabbage steaks were sliced, rubbed with garlic cloves and olive oil, and dusted with salt and pepper.  Sweet potatoes were cut into fries, rubbed with coconut oil, and dusted with cinnamon and cumin.  While they cooked, I seasoned some wild cod with garlic and a citrus herb seasoning and added it to the oven for the last ten minutes of cooking time.

Dinner is served!  I added some mustard to the cabbage and ketchup for the sweet potatoes, and I had a very satisfying dinner.

While I was in the kitchen prepping dinner ingredients, there were three bananas on their last days of life staring back at me.  I don't know about you, but once bananas start getting brown spots, I refuse to eat them raw.  Typically they get put in the freezer and used for smoothies.  Today, however, they were the key ingredient in browned butter banana bread.  The end result is a house that smells divine and some coworkers who will have a morning treat tomorrow.

And one last meal that's worth a picture - my Pi Day pizza.  Great Harvest just so happened to be selling pizzas on their garlic herb crust for just $3.14.  With the addition of extra tomato sauce and bell peppers, my pizza craving was satisfied.

How was your St. Patty's Day?  Did you remember to wear your green?

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Blizzard in Boston

My most recent fellowship interview brought me to Boston Children's Hospital.  Unless you've been living under a rock, then I'm sure you've heard about the record-setting snowfall they've seen over the past month.  And because it would have been far too much to ask for a weekend of good weather, another winter storm was forecasted to arrive during my visit to the city.

Mom joined me to make it a girls' weekend in Boston.  We arrived on Thursday and wandered Newbury St to do some shopping, exploring, and marveling at the 70+ inches of snow the city had received in the previous few weeks.  

The first priority upon our arrival was food.  I'd received several recommendations to try Flour Bakery, so we made that our first stop.  Our lunches included a spinach quinoa tofu salad, roasted tomato soup, and a tuna sandwich.  We had no complaints and made a few more visits for breakfast and snacks that weekend.

Another mandatory stop was a local coffee house - Thinking Cup - where I had the most perfect vanilla ginger latte and a few macarons.

To our surprise, the streets and sidewalks had been cleared quite well and made for fairly easy walking.  The plowed snow was stacked high along the sides of the roads and sidewalks, burying the parking meters and covering cars.  My interview events were Thursday night and most of the day on Friday.  Friday night's dinner was at Atlanta Fish, where Mom and I shared several different dishes, including fresh bread, raw oysters, clam chowder and fish stew, lobster ravioli, and crab cakes.  

Saturday evening was advertised to bring a blizzard to Boston, so we set out that morning to do some exploring while the weather remained decent.  But first, another stop for coffee and breakfast at Thinking Cup.  This time I had their hazelnut latte (made with hazelnut paste) and a cherry ginger scone.

The Charles River was frozen solid and the winds along the waterfront made the subfreezing temperatures feel that much colder.  I layered with two layers of socks, snow boots, thermal tights, jeans, a long sleeve shirt, a sweater, ski jacket, two pairs of gloves, a scarf, and knit hat, and was still only comfortable for short periods of time outside.  Fortunately we enjoyed the warmth of a trolley while touring the city and limited our exposure to the elements.

The Charles River
Courtyard of the Boston Public Library
Lunch on Saturday was at James Hook & Co, where we heard they had the best lobster rolls in the city.  We shared the large lobster roll and a cup of the seafood cioppino.  The toasted roll was piled high with succulent lobster meat that was lightly mixed with a creamy sauce.  Wow - it was delicious!

The trolley next took us to the North End, which is famous for Italian restaurants and bakeries.  Mike's Pastry and Modern Pastry were both highly recommended and the crowds confirmed we were in the right place.  All of the treats - a Boston cream puff, pistachio macaron, cookies, and cannoli - exceeded our expectations.  The afternoon took a tailspin when I received a message from US Air that our flight for Sunday night was cancelled.  After 2 hours on hold, the best the airline could do was rebook us on a flight Tuesday night.  Suddenly we had just bought an unintended 48 hours in the frozen tundra of Boston.

Since it was Valentine's Day, we had planned a nice dinner on Saturday night at Bricco in the North End.  We were seated in a cozy room upstairs next to a window and were able to watch the blizzard roll in while staying warm and enjoying a great meal.

To start, I had the mixed greens salad with poached pears, fresh beets, and goat cheese.  Mom's appetizer of octopus over string beans, however, stole the show.

For my entree, I couldn't take my eyes off the Pappardelle Al Cinghiale - wild boar roasted in red wine with porcini mushrooms.  There simply are no words to describe the richness of the meaty sauce paired with the perfectly al dente homemade pasta.

The peak of the blizzard came through overnight and morning brought sustained winds upwards of 50mph and an additional 16 inches of snow.  The city had literally transformed to a white out overnight.  Needless to say, the day was spent staying warm and dry inside.  I tried repeatedly (a grand total of nearly 6 hours on hold in a 24 hour period) to find another flight back to Charlotte on Monday, but everything was sold out.  The concern was that an impending ice storm into Charlotte on Monday and Tuesday could potentially keep us stuck in Boston even longer.

Eventually we settled to take our chances and attempt to fly standby on Monday.  Despite a seemingly frustrating day stuck in a hotel room, we rallied and had a fantastic dinner.  Since the city was largely shut down by the blizzard, there weren't many dinner options.  Fortunately, Atlantic Fish had opened their doors for the evening and I feasted on yet another wonderful lobster roll and a giant serving of french fries.  Comfort food at it's finest!

As it turned out, luck was on our side on Monday when we flew standby and caught one of the few flights back to Charlotte prior to the ice storm.  From Monday evening through Tuesday morning there was a steady mix of freezing rain and sleet, resulting in a sheet of ice on the streets, cars, and trees.

The Charlotte Knight's baseball stadium looked more like an ice rink than it did a summertime venue.

Although the temperatures remained in the low 30s for the day, the sun came out by noon and melted much of the ice on the roadways.  Hopefully there won't be too much black ice in the morning as the city tries to return to normal.

And finally, despite the seemingly endless winter, lunch today reminded me that spring is just around the corner.  A colorful arugula salad filled with local veggies, a fried egg, and a juicy orange brightened up the otherwise cold and dreary day.