Season[ing]’s Greetings!

I have never, ever been able to resist the spice aisle at the grocery store. I began cooking standing beside my mother when I was very young; from her I learned the basics—to wit, you generally can’t go wrong with salt, pepper, and garlic.

I’ve been cooking for a lot of years now, and while I’m still pretty fond of salt, pepper, and garlic, I’ve always been drawn to spice blends. Like, say, “Greek seasoning,” which has, one discovers, as many iterations as there are Greeks, it seems. Or steak seasoning. Italian seasoning.

One thing I have learned, though, is you just can’t beat fresh. Sure, I’ve been pinching fresh herbs for salads and seasonings off my plants in the backyard for years. But I’ve quit listening to the siren call of the spice aisle at my favorite grocery. You can buy fresher seasonings online.

My awakening came as a result of a wedding gift. A friend gave us a gift pack of six salts and seasoning blends from the Savory Spice Shop, and when I ran out of Black Dust Coffee Spice Rub (fabulous on steak) I ordered more. And … oh my goodness. I fell down the rabbit hole of spice blends. Over successive months, I tried more and more combinations. The main location for the Savory Spices Shop is in Denver (they also have franchse stores all over the country), but their service is fast and efficient, and they always send a little sample of something different when they pack your order. And I love being able to buy in bulk (cheaper) if I really like something.

Salt from the Salt Sisters, spice blends from Savory Spice Company, Lupicia tea … these are a few of my favorite things. 🙂

Here are some of the things I buy from SSS:

  • Vanilla (beans and extract): I haven’t bought “flavoring” (as opposed to extract) in decades but with the advent of essential oils, people are starting to realize that the closer you get to the actual thing, the better off you are. And yes, I’ve splurged on different vanillas. (Tip: When I use a vanilla bean for baking, I save the pod, clip it up into 1-inch pieces, and drop them into my sugar bowl. It seasons the sugar! We don’t put sugar in our tea or coffee but guests often do, and vanilla sugar is a treat.
  • Pepper: Mostly the Four Corners blend in bulk, because my Irish husband has a thing for pepper sauce on steak. I tried the Szechwan peppercorns once and they weren’t for me (I’m not a pepper user, much, and it wasn’t right for pepper sauce) but in Asian recipes it would be yummy.
  • Salt: Fumee de sel was in my original gift, and is quite nice (not as smoky as my other smoked salts, and a little coarser). I enjoy the little differences between sea salt, kosher salt, flaked, fine, coarse, and on and on. I love the crunch, for example, of Maldon sea salt flakes, and was exposed years ago to fleur de sel, which I also keep on hand. (Neither of which I buy from SSS, actually.)
  • Spice blends: The temptation here, of course, is to go crazy, but I would advise you to ease into stocking your spice cabinet. This Santa Maria blend is a wonderful mix that we love on salads and steamed veggies. Pike’s Peak Butcher’s Rub is my all-purpose go-to when I’m not sure where to start. Remember that some blends are salt free (California Citrus Dry Rub has a nice bite to it), so check the ingredient list. When I mentioned SSS on Facebook, a friend recommended I try Park Hill, which I’ve used on pork, and that led me to Barnegat Bay, which I’ve used on pork and chicken. Check the ingredients—you might be surprised. I get a lot of ideas of things to try from the “People also bought …” at the bottom of the page. I always find something interesting that piques my curiosity. And I haven’t even begun to sample the ethnic blends yet.
  • Single spices: This spring I was going to make a simple kale salad that called for a little cayenne—and I didn’t have any. So I decided to start trying single spices, since I loved the freshness of the blends. When my little baggie of finely ground cayenne arrived, I nearly swooned. You can really smell the difference.

So I’m sold. The SSS website does a great job of helping you get just the right thing, if you’re not sure.

I hasten to add that Savory Spice Shop is not the only online purveyor of fresh spices. A friend of mine recently bought some assorted blends and spices from Penzey’s, which he highly recommends. And I also patronize the Salt Sisters, which I discovered when a friend gifted us with a steakhouse seasoning blend and another called Tuscan Farmhouse—both of which we use and enjoy regularly.

Salt Sisters has a smaller inventory than SSS, but their customer service is also excellent. Here are some other things I buy from them:

Those of you who know me know I really prefer “real” tea to herbal, so that should tell you something about the tea from Salt Sisters.

Since we’re talking about tea, I’ll just throw in two other tea shops at which I enjoy shopping:

  • Gong Fu in Des Moines, Iowa; highly recommended by one of my authors.
  • Lupicia in Hayward (the San Francisco Bay area). A friend of my son’s went to college in the area, and she exposed me to Lupicia. The teas are packaged in beautiful tins that make lovely gifts.

Finally, no blog post about the things we use to make eating pleasurable in this house would be complete without a discussion of our local olive oil shop. Here we buy infused and pressed olive oils (they’ll sample anything) and balsamic vinegars. We trade recipe ideas (dark chocolate balsamic on vanilla ice cream? oh yeah) with the owners, succumb to their sales, and just can’t imagine a salad without oil and vinegar.

Bon appétit!

Nashville Noshing

The thing about restaurants, of course, is they come and go. They start hot and then fade away. The places I loved when I worked in Nashville live in my memory, but many of them are, sadly, gone gone gone. (You’ll see one recommendation from me below, however.) So I don’t rely on the Internet so much.

No, I ask my food-appreciating* friends. 🙂 Here are some comments I solicited earlier today, unedited:

• “Husk is the best brunch and lunch spot in Nashville. Parking is also easy.” Jamie’s note: Husk is THE hot restaurant in Nashville right now, from what I understand.

• “Monell’s is really fun if you want to try down-home family style. Jamie’s note: Monell’s is a Nashville tradition. You should go.

• “Woodlands for lunch. Stellar vegetarian Indian buffet … regular menu for dinner/evenings is also excellent but I love being able to try a little bit of everything!”

• “Thai Phooket is delicious too! It’s located right next to the football stadium.”

• “Tin Angel is solid and under-appreciated and not as crowded as some of the newer, hipper stuff.” Jamie’s note: When I worked on West End Ave in the ’90s, I ate at the Tin Angel probably once a month. I’m delighted to see it still exists.

• “Lockeland Table, Margot, Kalamata’s.” Jamie’s note: Love Kalamata’s!

• “My family loves the Pharmacy.”

• “Rolf & Daughters is my favorite of the new, hipper stuff I’ve tried.”

• “If they’re downtown and are into Mexican food, tell them to try Bakersfield (in the bottom of the Encore condo building) … their guacamole is, like, ridiculous.” Jamie’s note: Interesting name for this one, eh, California friends?

Mas Tacos is quite delicious, but definitely expect a line. Their pozole … OMG.”

• “Miel Restaurant.”

• “I always liked to take people from out of town to Family Wash. It has a distinctly Nashville feel, good food, and interesting music booking, so you can eat dinner and then see a show (usually no cover charge, they just pass a hat, which is also kind of charming). They moved recently to a bigger building in a less crime-prone part of East Nashville. The shepherd’s pie is out of this world.” Jamie’s note: Right she is about the shepherd’s pie. Great ambience here too.

• “Rolf and Daughters, Butcher and Bee, Adele’s.” Jamie’s note: These 3 are farm-to-fork concept, as is Husk.

• “Tavern, Butchertown Hall, and Tin Angel.” Jamie’s note: I ate at Butchertown Hall recently, and it is spectacular.

One Last Thought From Jamie

One of the best meals I’ve ever had anywhere was at the Mad Platter in Germantown (a Nashville neighborhood) in the mid ’90s. I’d been tasked with locating “something nice” for a year-end celebration for my very small department. I knew nothing about fine dining, so I quietly canvassed some friends who did, came up with the Mad Platter, and made the reservations. Once I made this announcement, my boss (whom I loved and respected and still do) began to second-guess me. He’d never heard of it. And yada yada ad nauseam. I was stressed to the max over this silly holiday dinner. As soon as I arrived, though—before I’d tasted the first bite of anything—I knew I’d made the right choice. It’s charming, in an old grocery store building. I think we sat at that table, unrushed, drinking and eating, for four hours. Maybe five. If you have an opportunity to go, I highly recommend it.

Germantown-May-2015-45

OK, A Couple Links Too

      • I like this one because they update it. Trip Advisor, Yelp, and the like can get woefully out of date. And they have a map.
      • I love Southern Living, and I trust them to get it right. Also, I’ve been to most of these places.
      • I’m digging Nashville Guru; they definitely seem up to date.

I think you’re fixed for Nashville dining now. 🙂

* I don’t want to call them foodies, because they’re not snobs, and that word has such a crappy connotation since it was taken over by hipsters.

Eating in Murfreesboro

I’m not a picky eater. I just like good food, and I don’t care if it’s a chain. (I know that it’s all about who’s managing the place.) There’s lots of choice in Murfreesboro these days—you can just drive down the street and see lots of places I haven’t mentioned—so bear in mind this is just one gal’s recommendation.

Links provide addresses for mapping, although I’ve tried to give a general location.

Lists are in no particular order. I’ve indicated whether a restaurant is local only, or a regional or national chain.

Breakfast

  • Peter D’s (local): We love this place; had our wedding day dinner there. Near the party hotel.
  • Mimi’s Café (national): Always good, always satisfying. Near the party hotel.
  • Sylvan Park (local): Meat-and-three Southern cooking.
  • Cracker Barrel (regional): Choice can be overwhelming but it’s solid and fast.
  • City Café (local): It’ll do. Diner-style breakfast. On the Square.
  • IHOP or Waffle House: You know about these. Not far from the party hotel area.
  • Panera Bread (national): Dependable and good. Not far from the party hotel area.
  • Dunkin’ Donuts (national): Out by our house. (Starbucks too.)
  • Fast food: Sonic, McDonald’s, Hardee’s, Bojangles, Chick-fil-A

Lunch & Dinner
Note that there is a lot of dining around the college area that I’m completely unfamiliar with.

  • Parthenon Grille (local): One of my faves. Out near our house.
  • Chop House (regional): Always, always good. Not far from the party hotel area.
  • Lemongrass Sushi & Thai (local): One of my favies. Close to our house.
  • Marina’s (local): Italian, been here for at least 20 years. On the Square.
  • Maple St. Grill (local): Chef owned and operated. On the Square.
  • The Alley on Main (local): Chef owned and operated. Just off the Square.
  • O’Possum’s Pub (local): Chef owned and operated. I have friends who love it.
  • Five Guys (regional): There is no big ol’ greasy burger better! Not far from the party hotel area.
  • Five Senses (local): Chef owned and operated. Go to linger over your meal.
  • Toot’s (local): Wings. Much loved. Noisy. Go to Broad Street location.
  • Peter D’s
  • Mimi’s Café
  • Sylvan Park
  • City Café (lunch)
  • Don’t forget the BBQ list. 🙂

Pubs

Treats

Enjoy!