Friday flyby of links

It’s the best day of the week, and it’s also time for some link lovin’. I was excited to include the Independent Weekly‘s special 2013-2014 Eats guide to the Triangle, but it appears to only reside in the real, non-virtual world. If you’re a Triangle resident/transient/hungry passerby, try to snag a copy.

I’m off to DC tomorrow to celebrate my cousin’s college graduation (woo!) It’s the first time I will have visited since the exodus in March. At the very least, it should have warmed up.

Find a hardcopy of this dining guide, which includes new restaurants and fun articles like "Dining for Introverts"

Find a hardcopy of this guide, which includes the newest eateries, hilarious food pyramids for the different Triangle cities, and the lighthearted “Dining for Introverts”

  • Take me away from my computer [Condé Nast Traveler]: While this Grand Tour of Asia is not gastronomic per se, the details of sipping coconuts on the beaches of Sri Lanka to perusing the food stalls in Singapore whet the appetite for adventure.
  • Half say “Ew” and half say “Ooo” [That Winsome Girl]: I stumbled upon this recipe for coffee Jell-o after my wisdom teeth extraction. It sounds like a java version of panna cotta, leading me to feel more intrigued than squeamish.
  • Grill, baby, grill [Apartment Therapy]: The Internet is abuzz with grilling recipes, tricks, and tips, but what if you don’t have space for wardrobe-sized machinery? The Weber Smokey Joe Grill would be my top choice, but sadly the apple green hue is no more.
  • Colonel Sanders’s contraband [NY Times]: If you were on a desert island/in the Gaza strip, what would you pay to have smuggled through tunnels for you? Ice cream sundaes? Fresh sushi? KFC?

Dining in Durham, Pt. 1

After three days of chipmunk cheeks followed by a Sunday spent pampering my mom, I’m ready to get back into the swing of things. The dreary weather has finally receded and with any luck, we’ll enjoy a spring respite before things heat up too much.

The temp job I have is in Durham near Duke’s east campus. As a bleeding-blue Tar Heel, I rarely explored this nearby city during my undergrad years in Chapel Hill. Known historically for industry tobacco and more recently as the home of an iconic baseball flick, the Bull City was strapped with an unsavory reputation until recently. Urban revitalization is in full swing downtown, including the converted American Tobacco Campus, which borders the new performing arts center and the Bulls baseball park. Even the office where I work was once a mill.

I’ve barely begun to scratch the surface of all that Durham has to offer, but here’s the first installation of my eating and drinking recommendations:

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The lovely American Tobacco Campus houses many restaurants including my favorite location of Tyler’s Taproom— perfect for a pint and a burger

Geer Street Garden offers a healthy(ish) take on Southern staples, including gluten-free options and a bright bar

Geer Street Garden offers a healthy(ish) take on Southern staples including gluten-free options, plus al fresco dining and a sunny bar [photo courtesy of Durham Magazine]

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Across the street from Geer Street, you’ll find connoisseur-quality coffee at Cocoa Cinnamon

Besides java, this garage-hipster-hangout has the most luscious hot chocolate -- made with almond milk no less

Besides java, this garage-turned-hipster-hangout has the most luscious hot chocolate — made with almond milk no less

Located a little south of downtown, Nantaco is worth the trek for fresh, inventive Mexican fare -- not to mention $5 margaritas

Nantaco is worth the trek for fresh, inventive Mexican fare — not to mention the expansive salsa bar and $5 margaritas [photo courtesy of Nanataco]

Bring on the breakfasts

I’m under an eight-hour food and drink fast before the wisdom teeth come out. Unfortunately, that means missing favorite meal of the day.

As a kid (and extremely picky eater), I detested breakfast: Cereal always got soggy in the milk; eggs were icky; oatmeal was boring; yogurt was weird; and pancakes held little appeal. The breakfasts of my formative years were cheese toast, Pillsbury Toaster Strudels, and Pillsbury cinnamon rolls on the weekend. It was hardly the diet of champions, but thankfully my tastes have matured considerably since then.

I may miss out on this great start-of-the-day, but that doesn’t mean I won’t drool over my favorites. I imagine there will be much drooling for other reasons anyway.

Ooey gooey Pumpkin Pie Oatmeal— recipe courtesy of Fannetastic Food

Ooey gooey Pumpkin Pie Oatmeal— recipe courtesy of Fannetastic Food

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Another Fannetastic Food find: I like topping these protein-packed pancakes with sliced apples and Greek yogurt

These flour-less pancakes are equally tasty topped with slivered almonds and raspberries

These flour-less pancakes are equally tasty topped with slivered almonds and raspberries

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Multigrain bread with almond butter and flax seeds and Greek yogurt with chopped pineapple, coconut flakes, and more flax seeds

Over-easy egg atop multigrain toast and garlic-sautéed spinach

Over-easy egg atop multigrain toast and garlic-sautéed spinach

Adventures in gluten-free baking

I’ve now completed two weeks on a g-free diet. The jury is still out as to whether I’m feeling the benefits, but I do know this one thing: Gluten-free baking is hard.

Like sleeping babies, these muffins look dreamy in their beds but become divas once removed

Like babies, these muffins look dreamy in their beds but are temperamental once removed

Four and a half years ago, I was not a baker. My greatest culinary accolade was microwave-made Ghiradelli fudge. I once tried to broil chocolate-chip cookies. In hindsight, it’s no wonder that my attempt at gluten-free banana bread was a sad, crumbly hovel at an office bake-off.

Since then, I’ve made my share of successful bundts, cupcakes, muffins, cakes, and cookies. I even took third-place at another workplace bake-off.

It was with this slightly inflated ego that I approached g-free blueberry and poppy seed buckwheat muffin recipe. Hubris, it turns out, is not barred from the baking world.

Although I used the same all-purpose mix as the author (brown rice flour and cornstarch), the muffins were structurally unsound– most lost their bottoms before popping out of the pan. I’m not sure whether to blame this kerfuffle on my lack of a kitchen scale, substitution of Greek yogurt for buttermilk, or general g-free ineptitude.

Despite the crumbliness, I ate a few of the muffins, which had the signature nutty undertone of buckwheat. They could have used a bit more flavor (orange zest? cardamon?) or sweetener (just a smidge of brown sugar?). I miss the easy muffins of yore, but now I’m doubly determined to create a successful baked good sans gluten.

A menu of mush

There comes a time in a teen’s life when her real-world experience and years of learning leads to a certain wisdom. Or in most cases, wisdom teeth.

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I’ll subsist on smoothies like this Carrot-Pineapple rendition but without the straw

Enter me. I got my 12-year molars at 15 and now I’m getting my wisdom teeth ten years later than the average person. The two teeth (I only have two) should be relatively easy to remove, and I’m relieved to know that my sore mouth and locked jaw were not some chronic TMJ pain. For two days, I could barely manage to open my mouth: Chewing anything larger (or denser) than a raspberry presented a real problem.

This pre-antibiotic spell gave me a preview into what eating will be like immediately following the extraction. And let me tell you (you being readers under the age of 17), it puts a damper on one’s gastronomic gusto. Here’s my post-surgery meal plan, based on recent experience with lock jaw and suggestions on Internet forums. I will try to stick with my gluten-free detox, but if push comes to shove, some exceptions may be made. The cardinal rule: No straws whatsoever.

  • Applesauce
  • Smoothies
  • Yogurt (get the good bacteria back in action)
  • Savory or sweet millet/quinoa porridge
  • Small berries
  • Hummus by the spoonful
  • Almond butter by the spoonful
  • Soups and broths
  • Scrambled or over-easy eggs
  • Polenta or grits
  • Super-tender fish fillets
  • Jell-O (exactly when else does one eat Jell-O?)
  • Frozen banana “ice cream”
  • Whole Foods’s vegan chocolate pudding

Any other recommendations? I’ve got to stock up the pantry stat.

G-free… again

I have a reputation for trying detoxes, cleanses, elimination diets and other odd fasts. Just when I met my friend in Atlanta last weekend she asked, “What are you eating these days?” Yep, tales of what is — or more importantly is not — on my plate travel far and wide.

Five years ago I did my first “crazy” diet. I gave up gluten, the notorious, sticky substance found in wheat, rye and barely. At the time, gluten was just rising to infamy as the new villain of food groups (see also: salt in the ’80s and high-fat content in the ’90s).

Nope. Everything in this box is off-limits for three more weeks

Nope. Everything in this box is off-limits for three more weeks

I felt fine on the diet but not completed cured. To test for celiac, you have to be ingesting gluten regularly for about four weeks so the telltale antibodies will show up in the blood test. After five months of no regular bread, cupcakes, pretzels, etc., I finally had a doughnut Thanksgiving morning of 2008. It was amazing.

Flash forward several years and two negative blood tests later: I’ve cut out gluten again. It turns out that the whole time I thought I was g-free the first time, sneaky sources like deli meats (yep, they’re fillers for many brands) and spirits (distilled from grain) kept me from following through. While I thankfully do not have celiac, I wonder whether some small but annoying symptoms would benefit from avoiding these foods. It is, according to the NYT, the one protein the human body cannot fully digest.

It’s one week in, and I’ve slipped only once — at least that I know of. It turns out that Altoids do not have gluten but the miniature versions do.

Have you ever done an elimination diet for common allergens like soy, dairy, eggs, corn or another food? What was your experience like?

Atlanta without the heat

This past weekend I met my “big” from college — who, of course, is quite tiny — in Atlanta. She’ll be move to the city for her residency in the summer and needed to scout out a place to stay. Despite a slightly smarmy company of relocation headhunters, my friend fell back on her NYC instincts and found a fabulous place in mere hours. Thank you, craigslist.

Cityscape as seen from Piedmont Park

Cityscape as seen from Piedmont Park

Growing up in nearby SC, I visited “Hotlanta,” but never in the summer when rumor had it that the concrete jungle created its own weather. This trip was unseasonably cool (highs in the 60s) and sun-sunny. From Midtown and Downtown to Five Points and Decatur, we toured (and tasted) the city, and despite the epic traffic jams, still found it quite sweet.

Victory drink at Leon's in Decatur. Tequila, jalepeño and a medley of spirits pack a refreshing but hot punch

Tequila, spirits and jalepeño make for a spicy victory drink at Leon’s in Decatur

A food truck festival that would make DC blush, had we not been on an apartment hunting mission, we would have stopped

Food truck festival that would make DC blush; also one source of the aforementioned traffic

My first trip to NYC was to visit my "big" when I was a freshman in college

Still travelin’: My first trip to NYC was to visit my “big” when I was a freshman in college

Not just biscuits (yes, we had them, too) -- a grain bowl brunch at Radial

Not just biscuits (we had them, too): a grain bowl + over-easy egg for brunch at Radial Cafe

Art from one of the many booths at the Atlanta Dogwood Festival

Art from one of the many booths at the Atlanta Dogwood Festival