Time to reclaim Ashlee Eats for frugal Louisville eaters

Rice Krispies
Brand name, y’all. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I thought I had made it. I had a secure job at a huge company. I could pay my bills on time. I bought Rice Krispies instead of Crispy Rice. 

For the past few months, I’ve visited more upscale restaurants high on the fumes of financial security. My budget has upgraded from dollar menu to value meal.

Then I received an $80 dinner bill that kicked me in the pants. I blame the one two three cocktails for my lapse in fiscal responsibility during a birthday dinner at a delicious restaurant that shall remain nameless (I’m protecting the innocent; it’s not the restaurant’s fault I balled so hard).

I felt all the feelings after that splurge:

  • I felt full (seriously, that food was delicious)
  • I was thankful that I could afford that meal
  • I was guilty that I had abandoned this blog’s original pledge of eating frugally and had wiled out in the name of YOLO*
  • I was sad that there are still folks in my city who can’t afford a meal anywhere, let alone an $80 one
  • I felt motivated to refocus Ashlee Eats around the four tenets of my food philosophy: buy local, be green, eat frugally, and fight hunger.

I’ve eaten some delicious food since I started calling myself a food blogger. And sometimes, great food comes with an even greater tab. I’m not saying we should refrain from treating ourselves sometimes. I’m also not saying that I’m anywhere within spitting distance of rich or able to regularly throw down almost 100 bucks for dinner.

But for me, that $80 ticket reminded me that I hadn’t followed my own advice about eating on the cheap. It reminded me that I had stopped writing so much about hunger and frugality. It reminded me that I stopped being a good steward of my own food philosophy, on this blog and in real life.

What do these revelations mean for Ashlee Eats?

I’ll write more about good deals around town, either at fancy places or just regular ol’ spots. I’ll share more recipes, since you can save so much money by staying in a few nights a week. I’ll still highlight restaurants that are worthy of treatin’ yo’self, because we gotta have some fun. And I’ll broadcast more events that provide an opportunity to give back to our community so we collectively kick hunger’s behind.

Oh, and I’ve gone back to Crispy Rice.

*YOLO — You Only Live Once; an urban version of carpe diem; my motto for the past few months; an outdated term I refuse to abandon

30 things I love about the Kentucky State Fair

1. The rows of food vendors that surround the exhibition center

2. Balancing a corn dog, bottle of water and wallet while obtaining even mustard distribution on the corn dog

KyFair13_corndog

3. The sounds of the midway as I approach the entrance

4. The samples of country ham in the West Hall

5. The sorghum samples on pieces of biscuits in the West Hall

6. The rabbits

KyFair13_rabbit

7. The display boards the Future Farmers of America (FFA) kids put together to present the work they’ve done all year

8. How inadequate I feel when I read that one of the FFA kids made $2,000 from farming their own tobacco

9. The desire to recruit FFA kids to my zombie apocalypse survival team

10. The clothes, art, jewelry and bug displays from members of 4H

11. The rows of quilts entered for competition

KyFair13_quilt

12. The homemade miniature houses

13. Funnel cake

KyFair13_funnel

14. Lazy cows

15. Miller’s Border Collies, the dogs that herd ducks through a little obstacle course

KyFair13_dogs

16. Feeling inspired to teach my dog, Roscoe, a new trick after seeing Miller’s Border Collies

17. Piglets having lunch

KyFair13_piglets

18. Catching the weighing of a 1,034-pound pumpkin

19. The commercial exhibit hall in South Wing C where they sell everything from bras to modular homes

20. The booths in South Wing C that sell packets of seasonings and provide dips and pretzel sticks for sampling

21. Seeing a baby chick hatch, look confused, then hang out with its brothers and sisters in the West Hall

22. Getting to the baking contest entries before they start to get moldy

23. The cakes that don’t even look like cakes

KyFair13_Cake

24. Crazy-looking birds

KyFair13_duck

25. The Pride of the Counties booths that showcase attractions throughout the counties of Kentucky

26. The sweet smell of roasted nuts that floats throughout the exhibition halls

27. Discovering a new treat, like pineapple whip

KyFair13_whip

28. Not discovering a new treat, like the Krispy Kreme sloppy Joe

29. The 15,000 steps that register on my pedometer after a day at the fair

30. Learning that the state outside Louisville metro city limits is actually pretty neat

Now it’s your turn — what are some of your favorite things about the Kentucky State Fair?

The Kentucky State Fair runs through Sunday, Aug. 25. Visit the fair’s website for more information.

My two pennies on the Louisville food truck fiasco

Spotted on Main Street in Louisville.
Traveling Kitchen, one of many Louisville food trucks.

I hesitated to dip my toe in the recent conversation that has dominated Louisville social media about the cleanliness of food trucks.

In case you missed it, WAVE 3 aired a story recently by reporter Eric Flack about the sanitation and safety of food trucks, mobile eateries that park on the street or at events and serve dishes out of the sides of the vehicles. Eric reported that Metro Health and Wellness inspections “reveal trucks that were cited for food on the floor, dirty kitchens, cheese sauce at potentially hazardous temperatures, mislabeled toxic items and cooks without hair nets.” He went on to interview the chief health inspector with Metro Health and Wellness, who said she never eats at food trucks because of sanitation concerns. You can read and watch the full story here.

This feature lit up on the Twitter feeds and Facebook pages of food trucks and customers. The overall feeling was that WAVE 3 at best, got the story wrong, or, at worst, sensationalized a non-issue.

Cheese makes everything better.
Lil’ Cheezers, another food truck.

I used to be a journalist in a former life. I know what it’s like to catch a lot of criticism for a story that captures a subject in a harsh light. But this story ignited so many feelings because it just wasn’t fair.

  • In his story, Eric highlighted a food stand with some questionable cleanliness. As I understand it, food stands and food trucks are different and held to different standards. An apples to apples comparison isn’t appropriate.
  • If there is an issue with the cleanliness of food trucks, the story should have included some basic facts to support that claim. How many trucks have been shut down because of health concerns?
  • I would’ve liked to see a comparison of percentage of food trucks that have violated health guidelines versus the percentage of brick-and-mortar restaurants that have made the same violations. This story gives the impression that food trucks are not as safe as restaurants in stationary locations, but fails to use statistics to back up that assumption. I watch a lot of Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares — traditional restaurants can be disgusting and unsafe, even if they serve food in buildings rather than from trucks.
  • Food truck operators said they didn’t feel like Eric made an effort to reach out to them. There are a couple of united groups of food trucks, the Louisville Street Food Alliance and Louisville Food Truck Association, that would have been good sources to include in this story to provide an overall perspective of health and safety in the trucks.
  • I’ve eaten at a lot of food trucks since they hit the Louisville landscape a couple of years ago. I’ve never had any concerns about my health after eating at these trucks. I’ve never gotten sick. I’ve never seen unsafe practices. I’m only one person, but a lot of people share my views (search Twitter for Louisville food trucks).

Eric did a follow-up story in which a metro councilman said there could be guidelines in the future that mandate the display of health inspection grades in food truck windows. Here are some other blog posts you should read, too:

Mary, one of my Moth StorySLAM buddies, getting a burger from Grind back in October.
Mary, one of my Moth StorySLAM buddies, getting a burger from Grind back in October.

The Root Mobile: The latest Louisville Kickstarter project worth your donation

 

The owner of The Root Cellar has worked hard to bring farm-fresh, local food to Louisville, and now he wants to take his market to the streets.

Ron Smith, founder of The Root Cellar food markets, has started a Kickstarter campaign to raise $10,000 for the creation of The Root Mobile. Ron’s goal is “to transform an old bus into a mobile market bringing our farm fresh food to the people who have the least access to it.”

The Root Cellar is located in two brick-and-mortar locations — the original store at Third and Hill streets in Old Louisville and the corner of Kentucky and Swan streets in Germantown. So why put produce on wheels? Here are some of Ron’s objectives:

• increase the access to local foods in our community by taking The Root Mobile to neighborhoods called food deserts

• raise awareness for the need to change the paradigm of food delivery

• create a new business opportunity for The Root Cellar

• provide input into those areas of the South/West Ends of Louisville that would best support a permanent location for a third store

I regularly shopped at The Root Cellar when it first opened in 2011 and I lived right around the corner. Ron is not only one of the nicest people I’ve ever met, but he really cares about the community and the ability to access local food. I’m happy to see that he has taken on this project, and I happily pledged my support on Kickstarter.

As of Thursday night, The Root Mobile has raised $4,833 toward the big $10,000 goal. The project needs to raise the money by April 29 to be funded. If you’re interested in contributing to The Root Mobile, visit the Kickstarter page here

What restaurant should replace Lynn’s Paradise Cafe?

The scuttlebutt about Lynn’s Paradise Café just keeps churning.

The latest news about this now-defunct Louisville restaurant staple is that the owner, Lynn Winter, wants to sell the restaurant, the Courier-Journal reports (click here for more background on the closing).

Winter said she is “going to be really picky” about who she sells the café to. Fortunately, I’m not picky. Nor do I have a stake in this fight. That means I can spout off a list of what I would like to see go into this prime real estate at 984 Barret Avenue:

  • Guaca Mole. This restaurant has become my new favorite place to eat.
    Chicken molé with plantains at Guaca Mole.
    Chicken molé with plantains at Guaca Mole.

    Fortunately for me, this Mexican restaurant is located in the East End. Unfortunately for everyone else, it’s only located in the East End. A Guaca Mole outpost in the Highlands would fare well.

  • Wild Eggs. My love of this breakfast/lunch spot runs deep. Putting a Wild Eggs branch in this location would give post-Derby revelers an affordable, great place to brunch.
  • A soul food restaurant. And not one of those fancy soul food restaurants where a plate of grits costs $12. I’m talking about a place with a Kool-Aid of the Day (a real item at a Las Vegas restaurant I visited once), cornbread made in cast iron skillets, collared greens cooked in pork fat, and a “meat and three” special that only costs about $8.
  • A barbecue joint. Because you can never go wrong with barbecue. Scientists have proven it. Give me some pulled pork, crispy coleslaw and baked beans, and I’m in heaven.
  • A 24-hour bakery with delivery services to the greater Louisville area. A woman can dream, can’t she?

What restaurant (real or imagined) do you think should replace Lynn’s Paradise Café?

A food blogger needs a food tattoo, right?

My tattoo. I shall call her... Lulu.
My tattoo. I shall call her… Lulu.

You’re looking at my lower back. My muffin top area, if you will. Upon that muffin top is a permanent slice of cheesecake, a tattoo that I’ve affectionately named Lulu.

This is my first and only tattoo. Kudos to the amazing tattoo artist Amanda Pepper in St. Louis for creating this. I knew I couldn’t go wrong with an artist who shares my love of desserts and Golden Girls.

I don’t want to wax poetically about what it symbolizes (visit the blog F Yeah Tattoos if you’re into that). I’ll simply say that Lulu is a little souvenir from my 20s that I get to carry with me for a lifetime. And it’s as cute as a button.

I will do anything to save money, but I won’t bake bread or roll sushi

I’m up for just about any recipe. But there are a few dishes I’d rather buy than make myself.

Sometimes, plain ol’ convenience wins out over the reward of creating something in your own kitchen. Time is in short supply these days (damn sequester), and I can’t always make everything lovingly from scratch. Instead, I shelve my ambitions and pick something off my shelf that only needs to be opened, eaten and enjoyed.

Here are a few foods that I would rather buy than make. Feel free to chime in.

  • Bread. I don’t have a bread maker. I also don’t have the patience for dealing with a live, active culture like yeast. Why go through the trouble of cutting butter into flour, and kneading, and waiting, and baking, when I can just grab a slice from the 89-cent loaf I scored because of a Kroger manager’s special? This category also includes dinner rolls, biscuits and pita bread.
  • Tahini - Sesame seeds paste
    Tahini – Sesame seeds paste (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

    Hummus. I blame the tahini, a key hummus ingredient, for my aversion to making this dip on my own. I hate buying a condiment that only has one special purpose in the world. Can I put tahini on chicken, fish and steak? My fear is that the tahini will fester in the back of my cabinet between batches of hummus.

  • Curry. My curry will never, ever be as good as the most mediocre curry in the most mediocre restaurant. I prefer not to try rather than have my hopes dashed.
  • Salsa. I had a bad experience with homemade salsa. It involved two friends, some vegetables from the Trader Joe’s in Washington, D.C., and a Magic Bullet blender. Unfortunately, it did not involve any spices. That soupy mess has scarred me for at least another decade.
  • CrackersThe Kitchn, one of my favorite food blogs, is always trying to tell me I can make my own crackers at home (here are 10 recipes). I’m sorry, but eff that. I turn to a box of crackers when I’m feeling all sort of feelings that only Golden Girls and cuddling with my dog can make better. Making my favorite feel-better snack from scratch takes away some of the comfort. It adds work. I can’t do it.
  • DKD sushiSushi. Don’t even get me started. Jiro has spent his whole life becoming the master of raw fish and rice. I’m not going to even try.

What foods do you refuse to make?

Hungry for Valentine’s Day gift ideas? Try these 6 edible treats.

Photo courtesy of EuroMagic via Flickr.
Photo courtesy of EuroMagic via Flickr.

What sad lives we lead if they are, indeed, like boxes of chocolate.

It’s true that, like life, you never know what you’re going to get when you tear through that red cellophane. But is life also full of disappointment coated in sugary promise?

Boxes of chocolate are the most discouraging Valentine’s Day gift. When someone mistakenly gives me one, I try to activate my dormant X-ray vision to find the two caramel-filled chocolates that are hidden in every box. Even with a little help from the Rosetta Stone of a guide that’s sometimes included in the lid, I still end up biting through ghastly coconut and raspberry filling. Yuck.

There are other edible presents I’d rather see this Valentine’s Day. Consider these when picking out something for your sweetie.

  • An Edible ArrangementNo one in the office is upset when their coworker gets an Edible Arrangement. This bouquet of fruit (and sometimes chocolate) is meant to be shared, not envied like a traditional bunch of flowers.
  • A Panera bagel. If you follow me on Twitter, you know that my love for the cinnamon crunch bagel at Panera runs deep. Real deep. A warm, chewy bite of the pastry along with a cup of coffee would start Valentine’s Day off right.
  • Twix/Take 5. Stick with one or two types that your significant other loves if you insist on giving something from the candy aisle. My favorites are Twix and Take 5.
  • Cookies. Specifically, two cookies, a rose and a mixtape from the coffee shop/record store Please and Thank You.
  • Pizza. Rob and I have done the heart-shaped pizza for Valentine’s Day, but that isn’t even essential. Order me some Bearno’s and reserve your judgement when I eat half of a large pizza.
  • Cellar Door ChocolatesThis isn’t the stale variety you find in your neighborhood drugstore. This local business offers a variety of fresh, decadent chocolate treats.

What do you think is the best edible Valentine’s Day present?

Why are we so mad about the Taco Punk Kickstarter campaign?

 

 

kickstarter logo
kickstarter logo (Photo credit: AslanMedia)

Taco Punk’s Kickstarter campaign has left a bad taste in the mouths of local foodies.

 

The local Mexican restaurant announced last week on the crowd-sourcing website Kickstarter that it’s trying to raise $20,000 to expand operations (I wrote a story about it for WFPL.org that you can read here).

 

The criticism of owner/chef Gabe Sowder for turning to Kickstarter has been pretty thick on social media. After Sowder sent an email to supporters announcing his Kickstarter plans, food blog Eater Louisville wrote a pretty scathing assessment in the post, “Taco Punk’d: NuLu Restaurant Asks for Donations So It Can Keep Selling $10 Taco Platters.” In a point/counterpoint feature on WFPL.org, Kentucky Public Radio intern Rae Hodge (she wrote that Taco Punk review everyone was talking about a while back) said:

 

… when a third-rate taco baron, selling $10 papier-mâché tortillas, starts passing the collection plate while preaching the “Keep Louisville Weird” sermon and serving bad beer, you better believe I take umbrage, particularly when their initial business plan relied on windfall income from unlucky tourists.

Ouch.

 

So why are we so mad at Sowder?

 

Are we big believers in the ups and downs of capitalism? Should we just let the market rather than fundraising determine the fate of a private business?

 

Or is this a bigger issue? Are we a little more harsh toward private enterprises asking for public money in the wake of big government bailouts?

 

Or do we just not like the food at Taco Punk?

 

Tardy to the ramen noodle party

Image
Chicken ramen with bok choy.

Brace yourself for a surprising confession.

I ate ramen noodles for the first time two weeks ago.

It seems criminal that it took me nearly three decades to eat this budget-friendly dish. The only time I was close to ramen as a child was when my mom only fixed ramen for my dad, who slurped up the noodles with baked chicken legs. It seemed like a “grown-up food,” so I stuck with my spaghetti. Then I went to college, where the halls of my all-girls dorm were thick with the smell of spice, salt and chicken, the hallmarks of a bowl of ramen. The smell was so pervasive that it dissuaded me from ever bringing those noodles into my life, budget be damned.

As with most of my food awakenings, Rob is the one who opened my eyes to the possibilities behind the red and yellow square packages. He grew up eating ramen noodles because “they were cheap, they were good and they were easy to make.” A couple of weeks ago, he came in with a Kroger bag full of ramen packages. I’m pretty sure his eyes twinkled.

It was time to give these noodles a whirl. He expertly boiled water and dropped the brick of wavy noodles into the pot. After pouring away most of the water, he sprinkled a chicken flavor packet into the now-flaccid noodles while simultaneously tossing them with a fork to ensure even flavor distribution. It was like watching Iron Chef. And the secret ingredient is … RAMEN.

I steamed some leftover bok choy to accompany the ramen (you know, to make it healthy) and helped myself to a bowl. My mind was blown. The ramen was so salty and spicy that I’m pretty sure I met my sodium intake for the day. The bok choy added some crunch to this tender noodle dish. My mind raced with all the vegetable additions I could make in the future.

Days after my awakening, a six-pack of chicken-flavored ramen sits patiently in the cabinet. But I won’t let almost 30 years pass before I eat ramen again.