Ashlee Eats Blog

A few things to remember before Christmas

*dusts off blog*

*cracks knuckles*

*girds loins*

Christmas is less than 72 hours away. Like most of you guys, I’m trying to fit in last-minute shopping, baking and a little bit of blogging, too. There’s no time for dilly-dally, so let’s dive into a few items to keep in mind as we wait for Santa to arrive.

  • I wrote a piece for WFPL about how to outsource your Christmas cooking. TL;DR – Order meals and desserts from your favorite bakeries and delis, make reservations or eat a little Chinese for Christmas dinner.
  • Big Momma’s Soul Kitchen on West Broadway offers a free meal for those in need on Christmas. Unfortunately, the restaurant needs donations and volunteers to keep this seven-year tradition alive, according to WAVE. Big Momma’s is in my book, Louisville Diners, and the restaurant is run by a great family with big hearts. Consider lending a hand or a couple of bucks for their Christmas dinner.
  • And speaking of my book, Louisville Diners, it would make a great stocking stuffer. Just sayin.  

OK, this was a nice break. But onward with Christmas shenanigans.

Local grocery will close unless new owners swoop in

The Root Cellar started in this converted garage in Old Louisville. It eventually closed and operated solely in its Germantown location.
The Root Cellar started in this converted garage in Old Louisville. It eventually closed and operated solely in its Germantown location.

Some sad news from a great local grocer: The Root Cellar will close at the end of the year unless new owners take over the business.

I’ve been a fan of The Root Cellar since it opened in Old Louisville in 2011. The small space was packed with local produce, meat and dairy products. At its peak, owner Ron Smith added a second location in Germantown in 2012 and even created a Kickstarter project to fund a mobile Root Cellar to bring produce to underserved areas in Louisville. Eventually, Ron closed the Old Louisville store and operated The Root Cellar out of the Germantown location.

On Saturday, Ron posted on The Root Cellar’s Facebook page that he will close the store at the end of the year if he can’t find someone to invest in the business. Here’s the post:

As many of you may already know, I have been trying to find some way to keep The Root Cellar around. I have discussed various ideas with some potential investors, but I have not fully committed to the process of selling the business. Well, now I have. I can no longer sustain the financial or physical burden of operating this store. I regret to have to tell you all, that I will be closing the store at the end of this year, unless a buyer or investor is found to take over the daily operation of the store. Any reasonable offer or investment scheme will be considered. I will be open regular hours through this winter and I look forward to serving each and every one of you. Thank you so much for your continued commitment to the store, the farmers and me. If you would like to meet to discuss purchasing the store, please email me at ron@louisvillerootcellar.com.

This makes me all kinds of sad. Ron is a great guy who always had the community’s interests at heart. He wanted to make fresh, local produce available to everyone, no matter what neighborhood you live in. I loved shopping at The Root Cellar when I lived in Old Louisville. It was good to know exactly which farm my eggs came from, to have a variety of seasonal produce around which to plan a meal, and to chat with an owner who loved food and agriculture even more than I do.

I’m not at Oprah-level baller status (yet), but I’m sure there’s someone out there who would be interested in taking over The Root Cellar. Ron included his contact info in his Facebook post, so get in touch with him if you want to invest. I’d sure hate to see The Root Cellar go.

Event Alert: Louisville Storytellers event will be all about food on Nov. 16

Food and good stories complement one another like Nutella and pretzels (just try it if you don’t believe me). And later this month, the first-ever Louisville Storytellers event will turn the spotlight on this entertaining combination.

Louisville Storytellers is a quarterly event from the Courier-Journal that will showcase people telling stories around a particular theme. It’s reminiscent of The Moth StorySlam, a monthly storytelling competition that I host ever other month at Headliners Music Hall. But rather than randomly drawing participants from an NPR-friendly tote bag, the Louisville Storytellers show will feature pre-selected storytellers.

Anyhoodles, the first Louisville Storytellers will take place Nov. 16 at Actors Theatre of Louisville. The theme of the night is “Confessions from the Kitchen: Stories from the world of restaurants and food.” It’s an exciting bunch of storytellers:

I’m excited about the diverse lineup for Louisville Storytellers. It’s good to see a group of restaurant owners, chefs and cooks that isn’t just made up of folks from white-tablecloth establishments. I’m also super-pumped to see Miss Shirley Mae Beard, who I interviewed for Louisville DinersIf her story is anything like our interview, everyone will be in for a good night.


Louisville Storytellers

When: 7 p.m. Nov. 16 (refreshments and cash bar available at 6 p.m.)

Where: Actors Theatre of Louisville

Cost: $10

For more information and tickets: https://tickets.courier-journal.com/e/louisville-storytellers-confessions

What I’ve been up to since my last blog post

In no particular order:

  • Procrastinated
  • Traveled to Berlin, Germany for work
A poor attempt at a selfie in front of a remaining piece of the Berlin Wall.
A poor attempt at a selfie in front of a remaining piece of the Berlin Wall.
  • Found my FitBit after losing it three months ago
  • Traveled to Brussels, Belgium for fun
A frites stand in Brussels, Belgium. That look on my face? Pure joy.
A frites stand in Brussels, Belgium. That look on my face? Pure joy.
Rob and I in Berlin. He's the best.
Rob and I in Berlin. He’s the best.
A café americano in Berlin.
A café americano in Berlin.
  • Finished my second semester of grad school
  • Got new glasses
My new glasses. Roscoe is less than enthused.
My new glasses. I love ’em. Roscoe is less than enthused.
  • Went (sort of) vegetarian for a month
  • Watched two seasons of Dynasty on Amazon Prime
Alexis Carrington serving
Alexis Carrington serving “grieving” widow realness.

7 tips to get the most out of the Kentucky State Fair

ALERT: You have through Aug. 30 to visit the Kentucky State Fair.

If you still need some convincing, here are 30 reasons why you should visit the fair, also known as the most exciting event of the year. And once you make the correct decision to go to the fair, here are some tips to make the most of your visit:

1. Wear closed-toe shoes.
Goats and other animals track that hay all over the place.
Goats and other animals track that hay all over the place.

Owners walk their animals in, out and around the expo center throughout the fair, which tracks straw, dirt and, ummm, organic material everywhere. You don’t want to step in something gross with just a $5 flip flop protecting you. 

2. Bring cash.
A footlong corndog was $7, a worthwhile purchase for my yearly treat.
A footlong corndog was $7, a worthwhile purchase for my yearly treat.

I’ve seen more vendors accept debit and credit cards over the years, but the majority of business at the fair is cash only.

3. Wear a crossbody bag.
Some of the rabbits were for sale. I was *this close* to bringing one home.
Some of the rabbits were for sale. I was *this close* to bringing one home.

This just makes the day a lot easier.

4. Bring a water bottle.
I don't have any pictures of water bottles, but I do have a picture of a cake in the shape of a woman's behind.
I don’t have any pictures of water bottles, but I do have a picture of a cake in the shape of a woman’s behind.

There are water fountains throughout the the expo center to fill up your water bottle. This is a lot better than paying $2 every time you’re thirsty. And that saves more money for ice cream.

5. Get to the fair early.
The dog show was packed, and it was only 1:30 p.m.
The dog show was packed, and it was only 1:30 p.m.

Traffic has been horrendous to get into the fairgrounds. If you’re going on the weekend, aim to leave the house by 10:30 a.m. to avoid afternoon traffic. And try to enter through one of the gates off Crittenden Drive rather than the big entrance off Phillips Lane. The traffic volunteers still might send you far away to park, but at least you’ll get in relatively quickly.

6. Map your route.
I always include the decorative cakes and other exhibit hall entries in my fair schedule.
I always include the decorative cakes and other exhibit hall entries in my fair schedule.

You have to have a plan of attack to make sure you see all of your favorite sights. Here’s the routine I’ve perfected over five years of fairing:

  • Animals
  • Lunch
  • Miller’s Border Collies
  • Exhibits
  • Flea market
  • Dessert

Notice I don’t have the midway on my list. That’s not an integral part of my fair experience, so I don’t try to squeeze in rides to an already full schedule. Decide what’s important to you and your family and friends, and go with that. You don’t have to make time to see the miniature Christmas tree decorating entries if that’s not your jam.

7. Make time to see the Miller border collies. This is not optional.
The highlight of my visit was getting one-on-one time with Flint, one of the Miller border collies.
The highlight of my visit was getting one-on-one time with Flint, one of the Miller border collies.

I love my dog, Roscoe. I really do. But the Miller border collies put my pooch to shame. These dogs put on demonstrations at the fair to show off their herding capabilities. Their owner uses whistles and voice commands to get the dogs to herd a group of unhappy ducks around a show ring and into a cage. It is AMAZING to watch. And you never know if the ducks will cooperate; this year, they exhibited some civil disobedience and wouldn’t get into that cage. Get to the show ring a half hour early to get a good seat to watch the herding.

Join me today, Aug. 21, at the Kentucky State Fair bourbon cooking competition

Funnel cake because it's time for the Kentucky State Fair.
Funnel cake because it’s time for the Kentucky State Fair.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, guys. The Kentucky State Fair is in full swing.

This year’s fair runs Aug. 20 through 30. Find out all the info about admission and hours here. I’ve documented my love affair with the fair for the past five years, so I won’t waste time running my list of reasons why you need to set aside some time to make it out to the Kentucky Fair and Expo Center. But I will mention one event that’s worth making a trip to the fairgrounds this evening.

I will be one of a great group of judges at this year’s 30th annual Evan Williams Cooking Contest, at 6 p.m. today, Aug. 21, on the Gourmet Garden culinary stage in South Wing Lobby A of the expo center. The competition pits amateur and professional chefs against one another to find out who can prepare the best entree, soup, stew, barbecue or casserole that features Evan Williams Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey. The Courier-Journal reports that there will be more than 80 dishes entered in the competition. That’s a lot of eatin’, friends. But someone has to judge these dishes, and I’m the lady for it. And you know I love judging a cooking competition — it’s like Chopped come to life.


Evan Williams Cooking Competition at the Kentucky State Fair

When: 6 p.m. today, Aug. 21

Where: South Wing Lobby A, Kentucky State Fair and Exposition Center

For more information: Kentucky State Fair’s website

The $10 Challenge: Thai Noodles

This is the dish that inspired me to get back on my $10 Challenge game.
This is the dish that inspired me to get back on my $10 Challenge game.

This year, I’ve fallen into a bit of a rut.

I’ve become a creature of habit when it comes to eating out at Louisville-area restaurants. Part of this stagnation is because of (shameless plug alert) my book, Louisville DinersI was doing nothing but eating at new-to-me restaurants ALL THE TIME while I wrote it last year. When I finally turned in that manuscript at the end of 2014, I happily settled into a restaurant rotation that I haven’t strayed from in what feels like forever.

I also blame my own laziness for my lack of restaurant exploration (and, consequently, a lack of $10 Challenge posts). With grad school and a new job at CNET and a husband and a Roscoe, it’s just easier to pick a restaurant that doesn’t require much planning and anticipation. I think a lot about a restaurant before my first visit, and I’ve just let my daily life tire me out so much that I haven’t had much mental energy to devote to finding new eating places. Is their menu online? How big are their entrees? Is it worth the trip? It takes a lot of work to love food as much as I do.

I know, I know, excuses that I’ve made before. But my new role at CNET has given me a perk I didn’t anticipate: a new work location with new neighborhood restaurants to try. My awesome co-workers have introduced me to some great restaurants in the area, and Thai Noodles on Preston Highway has quickly become one of my favorites.

Not much of a view, but just wait until you try the food.
Not much of a view, but just wait until you try the food.

The family-owned restaurant provides quick service, hearty portions and vibrant flavors at low prices. Thai Noodles is in the space that once housed Thai Smile 5, according to the Courier-Journal. The building isn’t much to look at — just a little red building across the street from a shopping complex. Don’t let the modest accommodations fool you because there’s a lot to love once you get inside. The dining room is a nice open space with booths and tables around the perimeter and more tables in the middle. Despite the open floor plan (I’ve been watching too much HGTV), the dining area is calm and quiet because of the muted lighting and soft music piping through the speakers. I want to talk softly while I’m eating my meal just to match the atmosphere.

The menu offers a nice variety of Thai food. There are plenty of five types of curries, four types of fried rice and more than a dozen noodle dishes. I’ve only visited Thai Noodles during lunch time, and the midday menu is a bounty. Each of the 26 entrees range in cost from $6.95 to $10.95 depending on your choice of meat. The meal also comes with a bowl of soup. Customers can also add a spring roll, steamed dumpling, fried wonton or gyoza for an extra $1.50. It’s almost too easy to keep a big lunch under $10.

A cup of soup comes with every meal at Thai Noodles. I'm down for that.
A cup of soup comes with every meal at Thai Noodles. I’m down for that.

The broth-based soup has some tiny pieces of chicken, white rice and scallions and serves as a nice introduction to your meal. It doesn’t hurt that the server brings the soup shortly after you receive your beverage. (And speaking of beverages, save a couple of bucks for the Thai iced tea/lemonade combo. It’s refreshing and creamy with a little citrus kick.)

The dish that made me want to be a regular Thai Noodles patron was the first one I tried: L3, the Pad Kee Mao. This is a stir-fried rice noodle entree with egg, basil, broccoli, carrot, tomato, onions and bamboo shoots in a basil sauce. I chose shrimp to go with my noodles, an option that only cost $7.95. I also sprung for an order of dumplings for $1.50 since the lunch special was such a great deal. With every entree, you pick the level of heat you’d like on a scale of one red pepper (low) to five red peppers (Thai Hot). I picked one pepper because I wanted to be able to live with myself for the next 24 hours.

The steamed dumpling appetizer from Thai Noodles. You could pop these like Tic Tacs, or be polite and take tiny bites. Guess which option I chose.
The steamed dumpling appetizer from Thai Noodles. You could pop these like Tic Tacs, or be polite and take tiny bites. Guess which option I chose.

Just a few minutes after I had slurped up my soup, the waitress brought the steamed dumplings. They were filled with balls of ground chicken that poked out from the open dumpling exterior. The two dumplings were the perfect size for an appetizer in that they aren’t super huge and won’t fill you up too much before your meal. They had a subtle salty, savory flavor, but nothing too bold.

The Pad Kee Mao with shrimp at Thai Noodles.
The Pad Kee Mao with shrimp at Thai Noodles.

The Pad Kee Mao was a big plate full of vegetables, flat noodles and several plump shrimp. The basil sauce was pretty sneaky because it starts off as sweet, then hits you with some spiciness on the back end of the bite. However, my one-pepper heat level was the right choice for me — just enough spiciness to perk me up, but not enough to prevent me from truly enjoying this delicious meal.

I’ve been happy with my lunches at Thai Noodles, so happy that I’m back here writing a $10 Challenge. It just took a work location change and a tasty plate of noodles to get my groove back.


The Stats
  • L3 Pad Kee Mao with shrimp: $7.95
  • Steamed dumplings: $1.50
  • Total (excluding tax and tip): $9.45

Mission: Accomplished

Event Alert: Kentucky Farm Festival, July 11-12, 2015

Photo courtesy of Kentucky Farm Festival.
The Maples in Crestwood. Photo courtesy of Kentucky Farm Festival.

I appreciate agriculture. It’s hard not to when you love food as much as I do. Sure, there’s the food stuff that’s scientifically modified and pushed down an assembly line that’s engineered to be DELICIOUS (Oreos, I can’t seem to quit you). But there’s nothing quite like a bite of fresh produce from a farmer, especially if s/he is close enough to call “neighbor.”

If you share my appreciation or just want to learn more about local farming, Oldham County’s tourism and convention board will host Kentucky Farm Fest this weekend, July 11-12 in Crestwood at a farm called The Maples (because all good farms have names, dontchaknow). The Kentucky Department of Agriculture and Kentucky Proud are also sponsoring the event with the goal of celebrating agriculture.

Some of the Kentucky Farm Festival’s activities will include animal demonstrations about shearing and milking, cooking demos, and workshops from chefs, distillers and farmers. You can take a look at the impressive lineup here. I’m pretty excited about the products that will be at the Foodie Market.

Admission to the Kentucky Farm Festival is $5. For more information about getting there and where to park, visit the event’s website.


Kentucky Farm Festival

When: 9 a.m.-6 p.m. July 11, 2015; 10 a.m.-6 p.m. July 12

Where: The Maples Farm, 6826 W. Highway 22, Crestwood, Ky. 40014

Cost: $5

Non-profit to open kitchen incubator in former Jay’s Cafeteria space, good food to follow

Photo courtesy RunSwitch PR.
Photo courtesy RunSwitch PR.

It’s fitting that a non-profit would open a kitchen incubator in the space that once held Jay’s Cafeteria. Jay’s, which was located in the Russell neighborhood of the West End, was a Louisville institution for decades, and the restaurant was a prime example of how small business can thrive and help bring attention to an often overlooked part of our city.

The non-profit organization Community Ventures will bring resources to new food-related businesses with Chef Space, a kitchen incubator that the group plans to build in the space that once belonged to Jay’s at 1812 W. Muhammad Ali Blvd. The group announced the project this week. Let’s take a peek at the media release:

Chef Space … will provide commercial kitchen space and business support services for up to 50 food-related early stage businesses. The facility will also house a retail outlet and meeting spaces open to the community. Community Ventures is renovating the 13,000-square-foot site with a late October opening planned as the first phase of a comprehensive neighborhood revitalization project.

I’d never heard of a “kitchen incubator” before this announcement. According to the Chef Space website, the incubator will provide a shared, licensed commercial kitchen that early-stage catering, retail and wholesale food entrepreneurs can rent at affordable rates. Chef Space also plans to provide support services, advice and programs to help grow these businesses so they can ultimately move out of the incubator and fulfill the incubator’s goal:

We want to add to Louisville’s already vibrant local food scene by creating a community of like-minded entrepreneurs dedicated to producing top-notch products. We want to help you do better, what you do best.

Chef Space will accommodate as many as 50 food entrepreneurs at a time. Folks who are interested in participating in the program can apply here.

I’m excited to see a new venture take over the Jay’s Cafeteria. But I’m even more excited about what the budding businesspeople who participate in Chef Space will provide for the Russell neighborhood. This project can’t do anything but help the area and our entire city.

Let’s take a break from food to talk about race

What is the word to express how I felt when I opened my laptop to see that nine people were killed at a Wednesday night Bible study? What word can describe the sorrow that washed over me as I saw the release of the victims’ names and thought about the lives that hate cut short? Is there a word better than unsurprised? Frustrated that hate once again rears its ugly head? Angry that I live in a country where someone can harbor and act upon racist ideology with lethal force in a sacred place?

Weary.

I am weary.

I’m weary because I am black, I am an American and I’m a human being who is tired of seeing a world in which other humans harbor inexplicable anger toward a group of people for looking different.

I spent a lot of Thursday on Twitter retweeting folks who captured the frustration I felt after the church massacre in Charleston, S.C. late Wednesday night. I didn’t know what to say. Do I have a place to say anything? I’m just a food writer and oven reviewer, for crying out loud. But I’m a human. And I have a platform. And this is the time for the weary among us to step up for Clementa, Sharonda, Cynthia, Susie, Ethel, DePayne, Tywanza, Myra and Daniel.

Racism is real. It is both subtle and overwhelming. It’s hiring managers passing you up for jobs because of the “ethnic-sounding” name on your resume. It’s store managers following you around their business because of the color of your skin. It’s strangers assuming that you are an unwed mother. It’s sitting by as someone tells a racist joke. It’s not telling authorities that your roommate is planning a shooting spree on a group of innocent people. Racism ranges from inconvenient to deadly with lots of gray areas in between.

For my white allies: Recognize racism. Call it by its name. Acknowledge that racism and unequal treatment didn’t end with the Civil Rights Movement. Identify your own prejudices and ask yourself why they exist. Stop accepting casual racism by remaining silent. Have the tough conversations with your kids about how adults can hate other adults just because they look different. Empathize with someone who doesn’t look like you. Try to imagine the pain and frustration and weariness, and feel all of that, too. Use those feelings to propel you to take action.

For my black folks: We can’t just survive. We must thrive in the face of domestic terrorism. We might be weary, but we are resilient, too. Centuries of struggle have taught us to keep pushing. We must succeed in spite of hate. And we can’t let hate build and fester in ourselves.

I’m tired of being weary. You should be, too.