The $10 Challenge: Bearno’s Pizza*

*The Better-Late-Than-Never Edition

Ordering your own pizza is a display of equal parts independence and self-reliance with a pinch of gluttony.

“Look at me,” I often tell myself while perusing online pizza menus as I plot the night’s meal. “I can order any combo of toppings I wish. I need consultation from no one. Take that, cruel world.”

I reserve this treat for the long days when nothing is going right, and the smallest joy can make you feel like you’re back on top. On a recent crappy day, I relaxed with a Golden Girls DVD, some leftover Dragon King’s Daughter sake and my own medium pizza from Bearno’s Pizza.

Continue reading “The $10 Challenge: Bearno’s Pizza*”

Bits and pieces: Hurricane Katrina aftermath, Salvador Dali and other food news from the web, 8.30.10

A McDonald's in the Mississippi gulf coast in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Photo courtesy Gary Mark Smith via Flickr.
  • It’s been five years since Hurricane Katrina encroached on the gulf coast, an anniversary that network news has observed with specials looking back at the devastation. It’s still hard to watch the footage and think of the misery so many people experienced in the world’s most powerful nation. Though it seems trivial compared to the human toll, the hurricane also changed the food culture of the area. The New Orleans Times-Picayune compiled a list of 13 ways Katrina changed the food culture of New Orleans. Number three was particularly heartbreaking:

Locals’ appreciation for food deepened. “In a very intense, concentrated space of time, people found out what really mattered to them… Food became the most important rituals of our lives.”

  • Baby carrots are looking to lay the smackdown on its unhealthy competition. According to this article in USA Today, almost 50 carrot growers will launch a $25-million marketing campaign that “sets its sights on a giant, big-spending rival: junk food.” The plan of attack includes packaging carrots in Doritos-like bags, making carrots available in vending machines and introducing an app featuring people crunching carrots. Crispin Porter + Bogusky is the ad agency handling this campaign, but I’d advise the carrot growers to turn to Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce.
  • The Huffington Post has a slideshow that features nine of the world’s most expensive cookbooks. If I had bottomless pockets and exuberant tastes, I’d fancy Les Diners De Gala, a cookbook written by artist Salvador Dali that can fetch as much as $4,400. I’ve been to the Dali museum in St. Petersburg, Fla. If his food was anything like his art, I’d put that cookbook in my rotation.
  • Someone call the Man v. Food guy – I have a challenge for him. Owners of a British mail-order seed company say they have developed the world’s hottest pepper, according to a story in the Chicago Tribune. Michael and Joy Michaud created the Dorset naga pepper, which was tested at 1.6 million Scoville heat units. How hot is that? Well, a jalapeno tops out at only 8,000 Scoville units.

When it pays to buy organic: 3 questions to ask before you splurge

Official seal of the National Organic Program
Image via Wikipedia

A woman I met in the hills of New York state had a simple view on eating meat.

She only ate animals who lived a happy life.

It’s been a couple of years since I heard this mantra on meat-eating, and I still apply her attitude toward my food purchases. I want meat, veggies and fruit that have lived the good life — no hormones, no pesticides, no unhealthy mass production. This translates to buying organic.

In the perfect world, my cabinets and refrigerator would be dotted with the green and white USDA organic seal. In the real world, my wallet cries each time I reach for the free-range brown eggs plucked from the butts of happy chickens.

I can’t afford to buy exclusively organic. Most folks I know can’t, either. But here are some questions to ask yourself when deciding whether to buy organic:

  • Do you eat the skin of the fruit and vegetable you are buying?
    • Yes: Choose organic. The Environmental Working Group recommends choosing the organic option in this instance to decrease your exposure to pesticides. The group, a non-profit that focuses on public health, reviewed nearly 100,000 produce pesticide reports from the USDA and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to determine what fruits and vegetables have the highest, and lowest, amounts of chemical residue, according to CNN. All of the “Dirty Dozen” fruits and vegetables with the most pesticides are foods that you eat whole, such as blueberries, lettuce and cherries.
    • No: Regular is fine. Produce with a thick outer layer has a naturally high defense level against pesticide contamination, the Environmental Working Group. These foods include onions, avocados and sweet corn.
  • Are you pregnant or buying food for children?
    • Yes: Choose organic. There’s some debate about the health effects that pesticides have on your health, but children and fetuses face the biggest risk for contaminants, according to this article on organic foods from BusinessWeek.
    • No: Regular is fine.
  • Are you buying meat, dairy products or eggs?
    • Yes: This one’s a toss up. Only 16 percent of grains and 15 percent of meats tested by the USDA in 2002 had detectable pesticide residues, according to BusinessWeek. The main concern for shopping in this category is widespread use of antibiotics and growth hormone. The FDA says the use of hormones is OK, but some consumer groups disagree. This week, I bought non-organic eggs, and I often buy other non-organic meat products because of my budget. FYI — I feel fine.
    • No: Carry on with your fruits and veggies.

Bits and pieces: Risky foods, hummus and other food news from the Web, 6.21.10

How risky is Mr. Potato Head?*
  • Be careful before you eat those french fries. Or that tuna sandwich. Or that omelet. They could make you barf, according to a story in L.A. Weekly. The Center for Science in the Public Interest, a D.C.-based non-profit, released a list of the 10 riskiest foods regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The list, L.A. Weekly says, is based on cases of illness reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. According to the report, these foods account for nearly 40 percent of all food-borne outbreaks since 1990. The list includes potatoes, tuna, eggs and leafy greens.
  • Congratulations to the leaders of the hunger-fighting charities Bread for the World and Heifer International, the co-recipients of this year’s World Food Prize, according to an article on the Voice of America website. The $250,000 prize is awarded to organizations that have improved the global food supply and helped fight poverty.
  • Well, it’s about time — hummus is catching on in America, especially the flavored varieties, according to an article in the New York Times.

Fifteen years ago, hummus was a $5 million business led by a smattering of companies, the article says. Today it dominates its sales category, called refrigerated flavored spreads, which has more than $325 million in annual retail sales, according to Symphony IRI Group, a Chicago market research firm. Sales are up more than 18 percent in the last year, it said.

  • Some bad food news: Food prices are expected to increase during the next decade, with some grain costs going up between 15 and 40 percent, according to Voice of America. Rising demand for bio-fuels made from food crops will help keep prices rising, according to a report from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

*Picture courtesy of Hasbro

The $10 Challenge: Los Aztecas Mexican Restaurant

I love a success story.

But for this week’s $10 Challenge, I was determined to fail.

I have operated under the notion that $10 should be enough to receive a decent meal at a local restaurant. But what if you throw in a couple of extra bucks? Will the more-expensive meal be worth blowing off the $10 budget I have imposed upon myself for the last few weeks?

I decided to test this theory at Los Aztecas Mexican Restaurant, a local chain with three locations in Louisville and the surrounding area.

Los Aztecas Mexican Restaurant on Main Street in Louisville, Ky.

Los Aztecas has been the go-to Mexican place for my buddies and I for years. In high school, I visited the restaurant’s Main Street location about once a week because it was the only eatery open for lunch during my Sunday afternoon shift at the Louisville Science Center. I didn’t fully appreciate the variety Los Aztecas offered back then. Instead, I ordered a chicken quesadilla (the starter entree for anyone new to Mexican food) each time I brought something back to the museum for lunch.

A few years have passed, and I have since been fortunate enough to further explore Los Aztecas’s extensive food and tequila selection. But I’ve gotten into a rut during my last few visits. I have been ordering the quesadilla fajita grande with chicken or the burrito fajita grande with chicken with the reassurance that each of the similar dishes will always come out tasting great.

On my most recent dinner visit, I wanted to flip to a new page in the Los Aztecas menu and try a different entree.

Continue reading “The $10 Challenge: Los Aztecas Mexican Restaurant”

19 farmers’ markets to visit in and around Louisville (and counting)

Peppers at a farmers' market.

Updated 6.16.10

It’s that time again.

Farmers’ markets have sprouted up across Louisville, displaying a rainbow of produce more brilliant than anything in an art gallery — cardinal red peppers, mustard yellow melons, kelly green pea pods.

I plan to visit my first farmers’ market of the season this week. Here is a list, courtesy of Local Harvest, of some markets in Louisville and southern Indiana.

  • Old Louisville FarmWorks Market, 1143 South Third Street (parking lot of Walnut Street Baptist Church)
    • 3-6 p.m. Wednesdays, June through mid-October
  • Gray Street Farmers’ Market, 485 E. Gray Street
    • 10:30 a.m. – 2 p.m. Thursdays, June 4 through Oct. 29
  • Bardstown Road Farmers’ Market, 1722 Bardstown Road
    • 4:00-6:30 p.m. Thursdays
    • 8am-noon Saturdays (year round, different hours in the winter)
  • Rainbow Blossom Farmers’ Market, 3738 Lexington Road
    • Noon-4 p.m. Sundays, May through October
  • Beechmont Open Air Market, Southern Parkway at Wellington Avenue
    • 8 a.m.-noon Saturdays, June through September
  • Broadway Baptist Church Farmers’ Market, 4000 Brownsboro Road
    • 8 a.m.-noon Saturdays, now through September
  • Mid City Mall Farmers’ Market, 1250 Bardstown Road
    • 4-7 p.m. Thursdays, now through October
  • St. Matthews Farmers’ Market, 4100 Shelbyville Road (parking lot of Beargrass Christian Church)
    • 8 a.m.-noon Saturdays, May through September
  • Suburban Christian Church Farmers’ Market, 7515 Westport Road
    • 3-7 p.m. Thursdays, May through October
  • Phoenix Hill Farmers’ Market, 829 East Market Street
    • 3-6:30 p.m. Tuesdays, now through October
  • Jeffersontown Farmers’ Market, 10434 Watterson Trail
    • 3-6:30 p.m. Tuesdays
    • 7 a.m.-noon Saturdays, May through October
  • Jewish Family and Career Services, 3587 Dutchmans Lane
    • 12:30-4:30 p.m. Sundays, May through October
  • Okolona Farmers’ Market, 7405 Preston Highway
    • 4-7 p.m. Tuesdays, June 23 through Sept. 8
  • Southwest Farmers’ Market, 10200 Dixie Highway (Valley High School)
    • 8 a.m.-noon Saturdays, June through October
  • St. Andrew United Church of Christ, 2608 Browns Lane
    • 3-6 p.m. Thursdays
  • Norton Commons Farmers’ Market, corner of Norton Commons Boulevard and Meeting Street, Prospect, Ky.
    • 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturdays, now through Nov. 6
  • St. Francis in the Fields Episcopal Church Farmers’ Market, 6710 Wolf Pen Branch Road, Prospect, Ky.
    • 4-6:30 p.m. Tuesdays
    • 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturdays, now through Oct. 30
  • Jeffersonville Farmers’ Market, Corner of Chestnut and Locust streets at Wall Street Church, Jeffersonville, Ind.
    • 9 a.m.-noon Saturdays (June 1 through mid-October)
    • 3-6 p.m. Tuesdays (June 1 through mid-October)
  • New Albany Farmers’ Market, 202 E. Market Street, New Albany, Ind.
    • 8 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturdays (May through October)
    • 4-7 p.m. Wednesdays (May through October)

Have I missed something? Please forgive me if I have omitted your favorite market. Just shoot me an e-mail or leave a comment.

Bits and pieces: food stamps, upside-down produce and other food news from the web, 5.24.10

  • It’s an amazing thing when stuff on infomercials actually get some mainstream attention. In this case, products like the Topsy Turvy, which allow gardeners to grow their veggies upside down, have become very popular among amateur horticulturists, according to the NY Times. (story)
  • The government is encouraging grocery stores and other retailers to accept customers who use benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, better known as food stamps, according to the Associated Press via ABC News. The encouragement is an attempt to de-stigmatize using food stamps, especially in the tight economy in which we are all suffering. According to the article:

Government food aid has grown in record levels over the last several years as the economic downturn has hurt families’ bottom lines. Estimated spending on all domestic food assistance programs has increased more than 80 percent over the last three years, and the SNAP program served more than 6.6 million additional households between October 2006 and February 2010

(story)

  • The Association of Food Journalists announced the recipients of its annual award competition recently. “The awards recognize excellence in reporting and writing in all media, newspaper food section design and content, food illustration and food photography,” according to the group. (list)
  • Corporations have gotten more creative with their benefits during the recession. Companies such as PepsiCo, Google and even the Toyota plant in Georgetown, Ky., are providing employees with organic gardens at their workplaces, according to the NY Times. The gardens allow employees “to take a break from their desks and take home fresh produce.” Me = jealous. (story)