Monday, May 22, 2023

Just Say "NO" to Brioche Buns

my favorite burger, from Alonso's, on a too-absorbent brioche bun which fell apart as I was eating.
Can someone please explain to me why every restaurant seems to think that using a brioche bun to sandwich a hamburger is a good idea? For generations, a plain white-bread "hamburger roll" was just fine. Fast food companies still use them. McDonald's has been using regular white bread rolls for almost 80 years, on over 100 billion burgers, without any complaint. Up until recently, so did every other restaurant that served a hamburger. So why do so many places now use brioche, especially on big and juicy burgers?  

This leads to my main argument against brioche buns: their structural weakness. While the tender and buttery texture of brioche is appealing for various baked goods, it lacks the sturdiness required to contain the substantial and often juicy components of a burger. The porous nature of brioche buns tends to absorb moisture quickly, leading to sogginess and potential structural failure. Womp Womp. As a result, the burger may become a messy affair, detracting from the intended pleasure of enjoying a well-assembled sandwich...and requiring far too many napkins.

Then there's taste. The best burgers have a harmonious blend of flavors and textures. Personally, I think a brioche bun messes up that harmony. For one thing, brioche, a type of French bread known for its high egg and butter content, possesses a delicate sweetness that can overpower the savory elements of a well-seasoned burger patty. This imbalance can lead to a clash of flavors. I feel the traditional hamburger benefits from a neutral bun that complements the savory components without overshadowing them. Leave brioche for toast with butter and jam (my personal favorite way to eat it).
It's also worth mentioning that brioche buns tend to be higher in calories, fat, and sugar content compared to their traditional counterparts. Hamburgers are fattening enough. Opting for a brioche bun may contribute to a higher caloric intake without adding significant value to the overall dining experience. And what about people who have allergies to eggs or dairy? No burgers for you! (And stay away from Martin's Potato Rolls, though delicious and structurally sound, they contain milk and butter.)

I do love me a good hamburger, but I have found myself eating far fewer of them than in the past, all because of that damn brioche bun (which has also started ruining chicken sandwiches). Perhaps that is good for me, health-wise, calorically, but I'm also missing out on the happiness that a perfectly constructed burger can provide.

Restaurants, please reconsider following the fad and go back to using real hamburger buns. Leave the fancy French bread to French restaurants. Or breakfast.

* Any products in this post that are mentioned by name may have been provided to Minxeats by the manufacturer. However, all opinions belong to Minxeats. Amazon links earn me $! Please buy!

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Monday, May 15, 2023


It's almost June, and we're firmly into farmers' market season, so it seemed like a good time to post some all-veggie recipes. To be honest, I don't frequent the farmers' markets in the area because they tend to be on Saturday mornings. I'll get out of bed at 5:45am to catch a 6am bus to work, but I don't have much interest in getting up before 10am on the weekends. But if that's your thing, more power to ya. For a number of years, there was a Tuesday morning market in the park across from my office, but I don't know if it's happening this year. I hope so! I love to buy locally-grown peaches and corn to round out my garden of tomatoes and herbs. I don't really need much more than that to have a happy summer.

Here are some of my favorite vegetable recipes. Let me know if you try any of them.

All the Veg can be used in this unusual risotto made with steel cut oats in place of rice.

blackened carrots with other stuff
Blackened Carrots with Other Stuff - we first encountered the concept of blackened carrots at one of Bobby Flay's NY restaurants and I added the preparation to my repertoire. Roasted carrots, blackened or not, are meaty and versatile and make a great first course or entree, with the right accompaniments.

Brussels Sprouts Tacos - I can't imagine not loving brussels sprouts, but I know it's not everyone's favorite veg. They make a great taco filling though.

butternut squash toasts
Butternut Squash Toasts - I've seen this Jean-Georges Vongerichten invention pop up on restaurant menus from time to time, and it's worth ordering. It's also worth making at home. It's maybe more fall-ish than spring-y, so save it for later in the year. (Would make a great Thanksgiving app!)

Caponata is an Italian relish that uses celery, eggplant, and peppers, and it tastes great hot or cold. Spread it on a sandwich, serve it with fish or chicken, or use it to top crostini.

Cauliflower - I listed several cauliflower recipes in another post, so I won't repeat them here.

Celery Root Remoulade - Have you ever poked around in the produce section and wondered what the heck were those giant knobby bulbs that resemble alien brains? Celeriac is a kind of celery that has the appearance and texture of a root veg, with a mild celery-like flavor. It can be roasted and braised like a potato, but it's also delicious raw. Celery root remoulade is a classic French preparation that is super easy to make. Try it alongside crab cakes instead of the usual cole slaw.

Fried Green Tomato Caprese - In those rare summers when our tomato garden went crazy, we were eating the fruits both ripe and green. This recipe is gluten free, but use regular breadcrumbs if you prefer.

Gagooch, or Zucchini with Eggs - this is a childhood favorite of mine that couldn't be easier to make. And it's a great way to get rid of some of the inevitable abundance of summer squash.

Green Bean Falafel - what? this is heresy! Delicious, delicious heresy.

Mexican Street Corn, the Minx way, can be made all year long if you use frozen corn. I won't tell.

Minty Pea Pesto - put all your proliferating mint to use in this pesto made with sugar snap peas. There's a risotto recipe included on this page, too.

Nectarine Soup - have too many nectarines (or peaches)? Make this lovely soup, with crabmeat.

Peach Mostarda is another way to get rid of a plethora of stone fruits.

stone fruit crisp
Stone Fruit Crisp - Sadly, Mr Minx isn't a fan of cobblers, crisps, etc. Not so sadly, I have to consume the whole thing when I make one. 

Tomatoes make terrific tarts. And salads.

* Any products in this post that are mentioned by name may have been provided to Minxeats by the manufacturer. However, all opinions belong to Minxeats. Amazon links earn me $! Please buy!

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Monday, May 08, 2023

Gluten-free, Dairy-free Berry Scones

scone after a trip through the toaster oven
While I wasn't going to get myself out of bed at 5am to watch the coronation of King Charles III, I did think it would be nice to recognize the occasion with a batch of scones. Scones, like biscuits, can be made with butter and cream, or with cream alone. Being lactose intolerant and somewhat lazy, not wanting to get my hands all buttery, I opted to make cream scones using only coconut milk. And because a large bag of gluten-free flour had been staring at me from the pantry for a few months, I thought I'd use that, too. 

Cream scones are easy-peasy, and using gf flour means there's no way to eff them up by overworking the gluten in the dough. I still remember the very first scones I baked. My family had recently come back from a trip to England, where we had devoured many of the clotted-cream-and-jam-smeared, currant-studded, biscuit-like baked goods that often came with a pot of tea. We were a little obsessed, but found there were few places to purchase scones in Baltimore in the mid-1970s. That problem could be solved if we made our own, which we attempted with a recipe sourced from who-knows-where. Clearly my mother and I had overworked the dough, as the resulting objects--though pretty and pleasantly-scented--would more aptly be called "stones." They all went into the trash except for one, which we deposited into a lidded container and shelved as an experiment. Occasionally we'd take off the lid and poke at the stone to see if it had gotten any harder. It appeared to have reached maximum rigidity during baking, because it remained the same texture during its entire tenure in our house. We kept it around for a number of years before tossing it out, though it still smelled fine and never got moldy. 

Anyhoo...Mom and I were wary of attempting scones after that, though at some point I discovered that they could be made with very little handling. Gentle patting is really all that's required; drop scones are even more stupid-simple. 

scones immediately after baking
I briefly considered making drop scones on this occasion, but the dough produced with coconut milk and gf flour proved very sticky. A test drop produced something that resembled an albino hedgehog more than a baked good. I had a hard time scraping the dough off the spoon and my fingers; attempting to do so formed little spikes all over the sad blob on the baking sheet. After I plopped the hedgehog back in with the rest of the dough, I thought a short stay in the fridge would firm up the dough a bit. It works with cookie dough, so why not give it a try? About half an hour later, the dough was firm enough to divide into two blobby balls and pat into disks. I dampened my hands a bit before patting them down, which left enough moisture to help the gold-colored coarse sugar I sprinkled on top to adhere. 

Because I chose not to brush the tops with cream, the scones didn't brown very much. I think this is also a result of the gluten free flour. Again, I was lazy and didn't want to have to wash a pastry brush (we don't have a dishwasher). They scones did brown very nicely after a trip to the toaster oven, which I recommend, particularly if you are eating them the day after baking, as we did. The texture of gluten free flour is not the same as of wheat flour. It doesn't have the same springy crumb, and it's also a little, hmm...mushy? Easily squished? I am hard pressed to describe the interior texture accurately. This is why I chose to add almond meal to give the scones a tiny bit more interest. 

Overall, I think these scones were pretty successful. They were simple to make, and delicious with a smear of vegan butter and a dollop of lemon curd. If you try them, please let me know in a comment.

No-Gluten No-Dairy Berry Scones

1 cup canned coconut milk (don't use the "lite" stuff)
1 1/2 cups gluten-free 1-for-1 (cup for cup) flour
3/4 cup almond meal
1/4 cup sugar
2 tsp baking powder
¾ tsp salt
¼ cup dried blueberries, cherries, cranberries, or a mix
grated rind of 1 lemon or half an orange, optional but tasty
1 tsp vanilla
Sugar for the top

Preheat oven to 425F.

Shake the can of coconut milk well, to mix in the cream. (If you don't shake it, you'll find a layer of coconut "cream" on top of a thinner liquid.)

Combine the dry ingredients, including the dried fruit, in a large bowl. Add the citrus rind, if using. Stir in most of the coconut milk to form a somewhat sticky dough. If the dough seems dry, add the rest of the milk. If it seems too sticky/wet, add a little more flour. With damp hands, form the dough into a ball, put it back into the bowl, and refrigerate for 30 minutes. 

Take the dough out of the fridge and divide it into two equal balls. Place them side-by-side on a large, parchment-lined, baking sheet. Using your hand, flatten each ball into a disk about 1-inch thick. Cut each disk into four wedges and pull them apart from each other. 

Bake at 425F for 20-22 minutes, until lightly browned and firm to the touch. (They won't get very dark.) Allow to cool to room temperature before serving with butter-like spread of your choice, jam, and lemon curd. 

Makes 8 scones.

* Any products in this post that are mentioned by name may have been provided to Minxeats by the manufacturer. However, all opinions belong to Minxeats. Amazon links earn me $! Please buy!

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Wednesday, May 03, 2023

Good Intentions

I was pretty gung ho about the blog last fall, when I started posting at least once per week. And now it seems I've run out of steam. Ugh. Let's call it "writer's block," and allow me to take a breather.

I promise I'll be back to writing regularly. I just need a break to gather my thoughts. :)

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Wednesday, April 26, 2023

My Poison Pen

I'm going to come right out and say it: writing positive reviews for good restaurants isn't fun. There are only so many ways of saying a dish works, that it's tasty, fun to eat, well-conceived, yadda yadda. There are myriad ways, however, of saying something is bad. While a meal might be unsatisfying during the eating aspect of it, the glee I get from trashing it verbally can more than make up for shitty food and worse service. The crazy comments a negative review can inspire are also pretty damn amusing. 

The highlighted text below contains links to my original posts, if you are so inclined to read them.

A long-ago visit to The Melting Pot in Towson left us wondering why anyone would pay good money to eat hot garbage. On the upside, the meal provided me with a fun-to-write blog post. Additionally, some unhinged TMP stan left an outrageous comment while posing as a West Coast food journalist. That got its own blog post.

Milan was a restaurant/club that was not well-received by its Little Italy neighbors. We ate there once. The food was actually pretty decent, but our first impression wasn't so great.

"Stepping into the restaurant, I was immediately struck by a smell. No, not of garlic and shellfish, nor of long-simmered tomato sauce, but of bathroom. A nasty chlorine+potty smell. Granted, we were the first people in the restaurant, and possibly when there are more people in the place and the kitchen is in full swing, the smell isn't noticeable. But it's really off-putting for that to be the first sensation encountered. (I eventually got used to it.)

"Once upstairs on the main floor, I saw that the glossy veneer from two years ago, when the restaurant was new, has faded. The black paint on the wood floor is worn off in paths, the paint on the ceiling has bubbled and cracked, and the tables and chairs show wear. One of the high-backed chairs, which doesn't quite match the others, is patched up with white tape. I'm guessing that the intended effect of the stark white decor with touches of scarlet is "modern" and "classy." And I suppose it is. Classy like a strip club with bottle service. It's a place where Pauly D and The Situation would be completely at ease, hanging out one on of the lounges covered with upholstery straight out of a '72 Nova."

From a write-up about a quick trip to NYC, which included dinner at A Voce in Columbus Circle:

"While the first course was successful, the pici that I ordered for my entree was a total disappointment. Pici is a hand-rolled pasta, somewhat like a thick spaghetti. Imagine making a snake of modeling clay by rolling it between your palm and a table top, and you've got pici. Because they're somewhat thick and about  4" long, picking them up with a fork is like wrestling with a bowl of tarantulas. They're not easily twirled, so a fork full had random ends hanging out in each direction, some of which were happy to slap me in the face as I brought the fork to my mouth. Eventually, I used my knife to cut them into shorter bits. In any case, awkwardness was the least of the dish's problems. The sauce was a bolognese in name only. It had an agrodolce (sweet and sour) thing going on that could have been quite delicious had the sauce had any other thing going on, too. The tiny nubbins of ground duck (which could have been any meat - turkey, rattlesnake) served as a textural element only, and I couldn't taste the cocoa in the pasta. After three or four bites, I was bored with the dish. Thankfully, it wasn't a large portion, so I pushed on and finished it, knowing that a doggie bag wouldn't safely survive the three-plus hours it would take me to get home."

Restaurant Week is always a fine opportunity to eat crappy food. I have always thought that the reason for Restaurant Week is to lure in new patrons with a reasonably priced menu, hook them with amazing food, and turn them into repeat customers who are willing to pay full price. Apparently that memo is only in my head. A 2008 RW meal at Tabrizi's had a high point or two, but was otherwise unexceptional.

"This unadorned plate of worms/bran buds/Plah-Doh after a trip through a Fuzzy Pumper play set is actually Mr Minx's chocolate mousse. Or, more accurately, chocolate ganache - melted chocolate whipped with heavy cream. If it was real mousse, with egg in it, I'd be very surprised. It tasted ok, but really wasn't worth the effort of washing out the ricer."
Another fun post to write involved our 2011 meal at Alchemy, in Hampden. It was Restaurant Week, and clearly Alchemy couldn't handle the extra-ness of it all. Though we normally eat on the early side of dinnertime, when the restaurant isn't busy, the kitchen still had a problem getting the courses out on time. The first course took forever, and the entrees came out while we were still eating our apps. Our waiter, who had promised to "take care of us," never gave us a second look, even while we were juggling five plates of food on a tiny table. The food itself was uneven, perhaps too ambitious. Dishes had multiple components that were under-seasoned or improperly cooked, though the proteins were pretty good. My dessert, a cabernet blackberry sorbet, was outstanding, and the only thing that would prompt my return to Alchemy. As it was, we never went back, and the restaurant closed a couple years later. If you check out the post, do read the handful of entertaining comments.

Occasionally, friends rave over a restaurant enough that Mr Minx and I have to try it. Over the years, I've learned that not all of my friends have good taste. One couple in particular loved Silver Spring Mining Company. I suppose lots of people like the place, as the restaurant has multiple locations. We, however, were not impressed. The food we ate was...edible...but not good enough for a return trip. I took umbrage to a mixed-protein creole masquerading as a jambalaya, and a "Reuben" sandwich that had rye bread and thousand island, but not corned beef, sauerkraut, or Swiss. Additionally, it contained a "razor-thin slice of nearly-white supermarket blandness that is a sin even during the Winter, but worthy of eternal damnation during tomato season." I stand by that opinion.

Some people think I'm a food snob, but that's not true at all. I just expect good-tasting food that is properly made and falls within standards that are acceptable to any local health department. My BFF's 50th birthday party was held at the Kentmorr, a seafood restaurant on the Eastern Shore. The only thing I remember about that meal is being served tepid crab soup, one of those half-and-half jobbies that was a mix of Maryland crab and cream of crab. Apparently, someone had accidentally turned off the burner under the pot of cream of crab, which remained on the stove long enough to get cold. Soup with cream and seafood in it. thanks. 

Occasionally an otherwise decent meal has dishes that fall short of expectations. And sometimes those dishes are pretty bad. But that makes them fun to write about.

Barcocina dip
"The Barcocina dip, listed on the menu as "an Oaxaca queso fundido" had a curious fluffy texture studded with odd rubbery and flavorless bits of chorizo, topped with a whole poached egg (not fried, as the menu indicated). While the yolk was runny, the white was very firm and required a knife to cut and distribute through the dip. The accompanying tortilla chips were weeny, as if made from taco-sized tortillas, and not big enough to scoop up a decent amount of dip."

While we adored Jesse Wong's Hong Kong, a restaurant on the lakefront in Columbia, we felt the opposite about his Hunt Valley restaurant. Jesse Wong's Kitchen served various Asian cuisines, including sushi, but wasn't particularly good at any of them. At least not the food we tried on our two visits. After our disastrous first meal, a lunch, I swore I'd never set foot in the place again. Then we received a gift card from my Dad's girlfriend, which made me eat my words. Sadly, they were tastier than the food at Jesse Wong's Kitchen. Turns out the gift card had no balance, and I had to pay for the crap we ate. I was pretty pleased when the restaurant closed, though I was sad that Hong Kong eventually shut down as well.

I'm sure I've written about several more poor restaurant experiences over the years, but I want to include just one more in this post. It's another Restaurant Week meal, this time at Oyster Bay Grille. The problem was not the meal itself (which was pretty good), but the way management handled a situation.  

"In a few moments, the man who had shucked the oysters came by, ostensibly to apologize. Now, let me give some pointers on apologies for restaurants. Restaurant Apologies 101, if you will. The very first thing to do is to say, 'I'm very sorry.' The next thing to do is to offer recompense. 'Let me take the oysters off the check,' or some such. And that's it. Then go away and let the diners finish their meal. Sticking around to make excuses like, 'they were hard to open,' and 'this is why we put oyster forks out' are not acceptable. (Especially when there was only one oyster fork present, and it was jammed into the rind of a lemon. Were we to wrestle it out and then share it?) You work at a damn oyster bar--learn how to shuck a fucking oyster. Bleeding customers are not happy customers, and Mr Minx spent the rest of the meal in a foul humor. Especially when another man, presumably an owner or manager who had been randomly wandering, came around to say he saw something going on at our table. He did not offer an apology or anything else; it seemed that he was there simply out of curiosity. When each of these men returned to our table yet again, individually, to ask 'you ok?' later on during the meal, it must have been the thought of liability niggling them. It just plain annoyed us." 

OBG's chef read my post and, in a comment, offered a free dinner. Because he knows how to treat guests properly. We declined, but I had enjoyed my rockfish entree enough to request the recipe for one of our books. 

Have you had any bad meals or bad service recently? I'd love to hear about leave a comment!

* Any products in this post that are mentioned by name may have been provided to Minxeats by the manufacturer. However, all opinions belong to Minxeats. Amazon links earn me $! Please buy!

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Wednesday, April 19, 2023

100 Best Restaurants in NY 2023

New York Times restaurant critic Pete Wells just dropped his ranked list of the 100 best restaurants in New York City. I was surprised to see that I've eaten in two of the Top Five, but only four overall: Le Bernardin (#3), Via Carota (#4), Empellon (#19), and Mercado Little Spain (#63). 

barely cooked scallop in brown butter dashi, at Le Bernardin
I took Mr Minx to Le Bernardin to celebrate his 50th birthday. That restaurant has maintained a 4-star rating from the Times since it opened in 1986,  has 3 Michelin stars, and is on the list of the World's 50 Best Restaurants (#44 at press time). It is likely the best restaurant the two of us will ever experience, and was featured here back in 1994. Another restaurant I've visited and have written about is Empellon. My experience there (granted, it was only one meal) earned a big fat "meh" from me; I am surprised to see the restaurant on a 100-best list. 

pappardelle with wild boar ragu at Via Carota, the watermelon salad,
and another dish that I do not remember particularly well
I dined in the other two restaurants during the pandemic, when blogging wasn't my focus. After seeing many positive Instagram posts and hearing a friend talk up Via Carota, she and I met up there on my first trip back to NY after a year-plus-long forced hiatus. It was a first stop on our usual Walking Tour of NYC Food Orgy, so we only ordered a few smallish dishes. I do remember that what I tried was delicious and would love to visit again.

morcilla and eggs at Spanish Diner
As for Mercado Little Spain, I've dined there three times so far, twice on my own in Spanish Diner, and once with my BFF at La Barra. (If that seems confusing, I should explain that Mercado is actually a food hall that has both stalls specializing in ice cream or wine and a couple of restaurant spaces with tables.) The convivial Spanish Diner is located in an expansive self-contained space with a long windowed wall that can be opened up onto the street in warm weather. The menu is short and very diner-y, with an emphasis on egg dishes. I enjoyed pork meatballs in a cuttlefish gravy on one occasion, and eggs with morcilla (blood sausage) on another. La Barra is within the main portion of the food hall itself. The menu focuses more on tapas-type items, with a few larger plates. Andree and I were particularly enthused about the pollo Catalana, a dish of chicken stewed with plums. Spanish Diner--a quick walk from the Javits Center--will probably get another visit from me in June when I'll be in the neighborhood for the Summer Fancy Food Show.

pollo Catalana with patatas bravas in the background, at La Barra in Mercado Little Spain
Four out of one hundred restaurants seems a tad pathetic. I think I need to bring my list of personal visits to NY's Top 100 Restaurants up to at least ten. Let's see how many I can achieve! I'd love to go to Tatiana (#1), though I never find myself in that part of town. CheLi (#8) looks incredible, as does Shukette (#20). Yoon Haeundae Galbi (#59) is down the street from where I normally stay when I'm in NY, so that should be do-able. Same for Cho Dang Gol (#40). I'd like also to visit Great NY Noodletown (#37), Dirt Candy (#60), and Casa Mono (#24). Heck, I'd eat pretty much any place on that list!

Have you been to any of Pete's Top 100? Leave a comment and let me know!

* Any products in this post that are mentioned by name may have been provided to Minxeats by the manufacturer. However, all opinions belong to Minxeats. Amazon links earn me $! Please buy!

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Monday, April 10, 2023

Restaurant Review - Golden West Cafe

Golden West Cafe has been around for a long time--I'm going to say at least 25 years. It started in a wee storefront on 36th Street on the Chestnut Avenue end of Hampden's popular strip of shops and eateries popularly know as "The Avenue." The menu was similarly tiny. I can recall my one visit to that location, during which I enjoyed a Thai-ish noodle dish with shrimp, while seated on the front porch with a friend. After a few years, the restaurant moved several blocks down the street with much larger digs and a huge menu of breakfast-all-day options, vegan items, and the flavors of the Southwestern US, plus burgers and a number of gluten-free items.

I'd eat there once in a while until a bajillion new restaurants opened in the neighborhood. Then I sort of forgot about it. Mr Minx and I ventured in a few years back but had a less-than-stellar experience. The dish I ordered was just shy of being too spicy to eat, and Mr Minx bit into a stone that was lurking in his black beans. The manager was very apologetic and comped hubby's meal, but we were wary of returning. 

Recently, however, I've been seeing Golden West get Instagram love for its vegan offerings. While far from vegan, I'm lactose intolerant and appreciate the ability to have a restaurant meal that doesn't require a handful of Lactaids to enjoy. I decided to give the place another chance. It's just down the street from my hair salon, and unlike some other Hampden restaurants that are dinner-only places, Golden West is open all day so I can pop in for lunch before my appointment.

On my first visit, I sat near the bar and ordered an oatmilk latte and the vegan French toast. I'm not sure why I did that, as I mostly eschew wheat bread; I suppose I was feeling indulgent. I was completely satisfied by the mountain of coconutty ciabatta and banana, which didn't even need the accompanying syrup. Unfortunately, I couldn't finish the mammoth portion and didn't want to carry soggy leftovers around for the rest of the day, so I didn't get a doggy bag. 

I did doggy bag about half of my next lunch of chorizo and eggs with hash browns. It's a burrito on the menu, but can be had as a bowl. I requested the spicy chili sauce and salsa on the side, just in case the sauce was too hot for my palate (it was actually pretty mild). I loved the locally made pork chorizo and would definitely order it again.

On another occasion, I was tempted by the El Supremo vegan chicken sandwich. The tofu-based patty is made by Little Fig, a vegan bakery in Rosedale, and has just the right texture and flavor to mimic a battered and fried chicken thigh. It was topped by a vegan mozzarella stick that actually oozed like real mozz. The flavor was more buttery than cheesy, but was a realistic facsimile of dairy cheese. The whole sandwich, which included tomato, lettuce, pickle, and something called "wild island sauce" was rather gigantic (as things tend to be at Golden West) but so good I finished it all. And didn't have to eat for 2 days afterward.

I went Whole Vegan again on my next visit, this time with Mr Minx. We shared the fried green tomatoes with vegan pimento cheese and basil-forward herb aioli. The cheese was pretty impressively cheesy, and I made sure to scrape up and eat every bit of it that fell off the messy tower of tomato onto the plate. 

I also had the "Mission Impossible" burger, which in addition to an Impossible patty included fried brussels sprouts, vegan bleu cheese sauce, lettuce, tomato, and pickle, Additionally, a vegan chicken drumette was impaled atop the whole thing. (Again, a lot of food.) It was delish. Also excellent was Mr Minx's over-the-top Hangover Burger, with 8 ounces of beef, cheddar cheese, guacamole, bacon, and a fried egg. It was messy enough to require a knife and fork, but hubby didn't seem to mind the extra effort.

One might say that I've become quite fond of Golden West Cafe over the past few months. I have a lunch date with a friend later this week and have already been perusing the menu ahead of time. Should I go vegan again, or should I opt for meat this time? Sweet breakfast food, or a savory lunch? I feel like it's hard to make a bad choice there.

Golden West Cafe
1105 W 36th St.
Baltimore, MD 21211
Rating: Recommended

* Any products in this post that are mentioned by name may have been provided to Minxeats by the manufacturer. However, all opinions belong to Minxeats. Amazon links earn me $! Please buy!

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Monday, April 03, 2023

Stuffed Peppers, Kung Pao-style

Kung Pao chicken is commonly found in both Chinese-American and more traditional Sichuan restaurants, and it's the dish that Mr Minx and I use to judge the quality of their food. If their kung pao is to our liking, chances are good we'll enjoy everything else. (The original Szechuan House in Timonium had terrible kung pao. We tried it several times--normally carry-out or delivery--and found we couldn't get past the elephant cage smell. We didn't particularly enjoy anything else from that restaurant, but they had free delivery....) Our favorite version of  kung pao chicken is well-balanced, features chicken thigh rather than breast meat, and is not too sweet or gloppy with sauce. The dish should be spicy but not incendiary, and we prefer it without ma la, the numbing and spicy sensation produced by the combination of chiles and Sichuan peppercorns.

The earliest versions of kung pao chicken that I recall eating were usually cloaked in a thick brown sauce that tasted of hoisin. They also contained cubed celery and sometimes chunks of green bell pepper. I rather enjoyed the celery, but the pepper ruined the dish for me. Unripe bell peppers tend to make everything they touch taste like them. Ripe peppers, on the other hand, are quite delicious and versatile vegetables. I still don't want them on my pizza or in my Chinese food, but I like eating stuffed peppers quite a bit. And of course I love kung pao chicken. Why not combine the two? So I did.

Kung Pao Peppers

6 bell peppers
4 tablespoons hoisin sauce
2 tablespoons hot broad bean paste or sriracha
1 tablespoon black Chinkiang vinegar (balsamic vinegar will do in a pinch)
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 small onion, chopped
4 scallions, white and green parts, chopped (divided use)
1 stalk celery, chopped finely
1 lb ground turkey or chicken
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
1 star anise
2 cups steamed rice, at room temperature
1/4 cup chopped peanuts
Sriracha or chili crunch

Slice the tops off the peppers about half an inch down from the bottom of the stem, forming caps. Scrape out the seeds and rinse and dry the peppers. Place both parts of each pepper on a microwave-safe plate and microwave on high power for 10 minutes. (If your microwave is small, do this in two batches of 3 peppers each.) Set peppers aside until completely cool.

Combine the hoisin, bean paste or sriracha, vinegar, soy, brown sugar, and oyster sauce in a bowl.

In a large skillet, heat the vegetable oil and add the onion and 3/4 of the scallions. Cook over high heat, stirring frequently, for about 2 minutes, then add the ground turkey. Breaking up the turkey with a wooden spoon, cook until meat is no longer pink and any liquid given up by the meat and veg has evaporated. Add the garlic, ginger, and star anise and reduce the heat to medium. Cook, stirring frequently, until the meat and onions are beginning to brown in spots. Add the sauce and a half cup of water and toss to coat. Turn the heat to low, cover the pan, and allow to cook for about 5 minutes, so the meat gets a bit more tender and the sauce is absorbed. Scrape the turkey mixture into a bowl, cover and refrigerate until cold.

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Scoop 2-3 tablespoons of rice into the bottom of each pepper. Fish out the star anise and divide the turkey evenly among the peppers, adding some peanuts as you go. Cover the filled peppers with their tops and place into a 9 x 13 baking dish. If there seems to be too much room around the peppers, roll  up some aluminum foil into balls or snakes and insert these between the peppers so they stay upright. Pour a small amount of water into the bottom of the baking dish and cover tightly with foil.

Bake 30 minutes. Uncover and bake an additional 10 minutes. Serve with additional rice, if desired.

Serves 6.

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Monday, March 20, 2023

Restaurant Review - Tbiliso

Don't let the photos on the web site fool you--Tbiliso isn't a trendy, well-lit, café with hunky, tweezer-wielding chefs in the kitchen. It more resembles granny's living room transported into the shell of a 70's-era bank building. To be honest, I have no idea what the bizarre space with 20' ceilings and partial mezzanine once held, but it functions as a restaurant now, one that has enough space for large parties, live music, and dancing. At Minxeats, we're only interested in the food, which [spoiler alert] is quite good.

I discovered the restaurant whilst randomly perusing Google Maps. (One never knows what one can find!) Tbiliso's online menu lists both new-to-us items like the vegetable stew ajapsandali as well as the more familiar dolma, lula kabob, and olivier salad. Some items have intriguing descriptions, like the kupati, "minced meat and spices in intestines" (yes, it's sausage), and the tbiliso, "fried pork with fajitas and cherry tomatoes" (surely a translation issue). Each item is also spelled out in the delightfully squiggly Georgian alphabet. What caught my eye, however, was the selection of breads stuffed with cheese or meat. I'd always wanted to try Adjarian khachapuri, a bread boat filled with melted cheese and topped with an egg, and I was finally getting my chance.

On our first trip to Tbiliso to enjoy the cheesy bread boat, we also ordered the ajapsandali and kupati, plus the chakapuli, a tasty stew of lamb with sour plums. Eventually we'd like to try everything on the menu, but this was a good start.

kupati with rice
Kupati are fat pork sausages with a nice snappy casing and a garnish of onions and parsley. The online menu offers a side dish choice of fries or rice, and on that first trip we tried the rice. On our second visit, we were served a larger portion of sausage without a choice of starch. More tasty sausage = good, though the slightly oily, vegetable-packed rice was quite delicious. Though everything we ate at Tbiliso was good, the kupati was a standout both times.
We also enjoyed the ajapsandali, a stew of peppers and eggplant somewhat like a Georgian ratatouille. It reminded me a bit of the Indian eggplant dish baingan bharta. The spicing of the ostri, a stew of tender beef in a tomato-y broth with a whiff of coriander and fenugreek also brought to mind the food of the Indian subcontinent.

Though I have recently been cursed with lactose intolerance, I was not deterred from sampling two (so far!) of the ten or so breadlike starches on Tbiliso's menu. Perhaps the most famous Georgian bread, the adjarian khachapuri is a boatlike vessel of white bread filled with a pool of molten cheese and topped with a raw egg. One (carefully) tears off chunks of bread and dips them into the fondue-like pool of melted dairy, repeating the motion until the khachapuri is gone or there are no more Lactaid pills left. It's simple, filling, and very good.

Adjarian khachapuri
The equally mouthwatering Megruli khachapuri is similar, at least in the quantity of cheese it contains. The dairy goodness is both stuffed into and layered on top of this bread, making it quite pizza-like. It's a bit easier to eat than the Adjarian version and just as delicious.

Megruli khachapuri
Tbiliso, or "fried pork with fajitas and cherry tomatoes," came with strips of multicolored bell pepper (but not tomatoes) and was served in a sizzling hot bowl, much like the popular Tex-Mex fajitas. The tender hunks of pork would have seemed right at home nestled into folds of tortilla. I might have tried to wrap it with the khachapuri, but the Megruli style was far too oozy with cheese (not a bad thing).

I can't really find fault with any of the dishes we tried at Tbiliso. Not being familiar with Georgian food at all, I cannot attest to the authenticity of any of it. From what I can tell, however, much of the menu represents the "greatest hits" of  the cuisine. The flavors and seasonings were all pleasing to my palate, and I feel like everything had been prepared lovingly by people who know what they're doing. Even if none of them is wearing a long stripy apron and tweezering microgreens onto every dish. 

Next time we're in the mood for some შემწვარი სოკო კარტოფილით or შქმერული and a boatful of cheese, we're heading back to Tbiliso. Next time, I hope to try some of the many dishes that contain walnuts, a popular ingredient in Georgia.

Church Lane Shopping Center
9926 York Rd,
Cockeysville, MD 21030
Rating - Highly Recommended

* Any products in this post that are mentioned by name may have been provided to Minxeats by the manufacturer. However, all opinions belong to Minxeats. Amazon links earn me $! Please buy!

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Chilis and Stews

When someone says chili, what comes to mind? Ground beef cooked with canned tomatoes, beans, and a packet of chili seasoning? I think that's probably the norm. That's the kind of chili that my Dad used to whip up using Wick Fowler's 2-Alarm Chili kit. My Aunt Stasia, on the other hand, made a loose ground beef sauce that was closer to Coney Island sauce that was meant to be served on a hot dog. I blithely went along with the idea that either one was the Platonic ideal of chili until I picked up a copy of a cookbook that included thirty or so recipes for Texas chili. This type of chili, the book insisted, required chunks of beef and absolutely did not include beans of any sort. Real Texas chili doesn't even have tomatoes in it. Rather, it should include only beef, chile puree, and seasonings. After reading the subtle variations presented in this manual to one of the carnivore's most important dishes, I fell into the Texas chili camp. No more ground beef chili for me! Ok, so that's not entirely true. Ground beef chili definitely has it's place. For one thing, it's a quicker cook than chili made with hunks of pork or beef. And I'm more likely to have ground beef, chicken, or turkey in the freezer. Still, my heart belongs to Texas chili.

Chili isn't the only belly-warming stew-like substance on the menu at Chez Minx. I have tossed together many a supper-in-a-bowl in the fall and winter months. Scroll down to find links to some of my favorite non-chili creations.

Non-Chili Stews

* Any products in this post that are mentioned by name may have been provided to Minxeats by the manufacturer. However, all opinions belong to Minxeats. Amazon links earn me $! Please buy!

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Monday, March 13, 2023

Pot Roast with Korean Flavors - Sponsored Post

I received a box of various globally inspired sauces and seasonings from Serious Foodie and have enjoyed using most of the products. The Moroccan Grill Spice Rub sits close at hand on my kitchen island so I can use it to toss on whatever I feel needs a little oomph--like the tuna salad I made for lunch the other day. I've also added it to chili, sprinkled it on roasted vegetables, and added it to a frittata. It's almost time to procure a replacement jar!

Serious Foodie makes several other products with the word "grill" in the name. We Minxes don't really grill much at all--maybe once or twice a year--so I had to be a little more creative with their offerings. I felt that the Korean Lemon Garlic sauce might work really well in pot roast, even if lemon is not a typical beef flavoring. I had to check it out anyway, and I didn't disappoint myself. 

I don't typically marinate meats before cooking, but I felt that if I was already disobeying the "grill" mandate, I couldn't also avoid the word "marinade" on the label. So I dumped the bottle into a zip top bag and added a chuck roast. The next day, I removed the meat from the sauce and browned it on all sides, careful not to burn the sugary residue from the marinade. Then the marinade went into the pan along with the typical carrots, potatoes, and onions. I upped the Korean flavor profile by adding a lot of garlic and some fresh ginger, and garnished the dish with scallions and sesame seeds. A drizzle of toasted sesame oil would not have been out of place, but I didn't think of it at the time. IMHO, it turned out pretty darn well. The dish tasted like traditional pot roast, but with an Asian twist. I'd definitely make it again, and I might add a few glugs of gochujang (Korean chile paste) or some gochugaru (Korean chile flakes) to add a spicy element to the dish.

Do let me know if you try it.

Pot Roast with Korean Flavors

A 2.5 to 3-pound chuck roast
1 10oz bottle Serious Foodie Korean Lemon Garlic Grill Sauce and Marinade
1 tablespoon neutral cooking oil (canola, vegetable)
1 beef bouillon cube
2 large yellow onions, quartered
1 2-inch knob of fresh ginger, peeled and cut into small dice
4-6 large cloves of garlic
8 ounces of button or cremini mushrooms, wiped clean and halved or quartered if large
2 good handsful of baby carrots
4-6 medium yellow or red potatoes, peeled, halved or quartered if large
Corn starch (optional)
Chopped scallions
Toasted sesame seeds

Place the roast in a zip top bag. Add the entire bottle of Serious Foodie Korean Lemon Garlic Grill Sauce and Marinade. Seal bag and refrigerate 6 - 10 hours or overnight. Fill the empty sauce bottle with water and refrigerate.

When ready to cook, remove roast from bag (reserve marinade), and pat dry. Heat the tablespoon of oil in a large wide skillet or dutch oven with lid. Sear the roast on both sides over medium-high heat until golden, being careful not to burn it (due to the high sugar content of the marinade). Once both sides of the roast have been seared, add the leftover marinade from the bag to the pan. Shake the marinade bottle of water to make sure you have all of the sauce residue and pour that into the pan. Add another bottle of water, the bouillon cube, onion, ginger, and garlic. Bring sauce to a boil and turn down to a simmer. Cover pan and simmer for 90 minutes, then add the mushrooms, carrots, and potatoes. Simmer another 60-90 minutes until the beef is fall-apart tender. 

If the sauce seems too thin, you can turn up the heat, take off the lid, and evaporate some of it. Or you can mix a few teaspoons of cornstarch in warm water until it forms a slurry and drizzle that in. Bring to a boil to activate its thickening action.

On each plate, serve some of the beef, carrots, potato, mushroom, and onion. Garnish with scallions and toasted sesame seeds. 

Serves 8. 

* Any products in this post that are mentioned by name may have been provided to Minxeats by the manufacturer. However, all opinions belong to Minxeats. Amazon links earn me $! Please buy!

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Monday, March 06, 2023

Chili Crisp/Crunch

I like spicy food, though I am not a "chile head" by any stretch of the imagination. Personally, I think the folks who enjoy high Scoville-scorers like bhut jolokia and Carolina Reapers, who are willing to endure the special kind of pain those peppers inflict on their innocent butt-holes, are totally bonkers.

I'm particular about the source of my spice, preferring the mellow palate-singeing heat of dried chiles over the lingering lip-tingling burn of fresh ones. A great way to add that dried pepper zing to dishes, IMHO, is to add a spoonful or two of a condiment known as either chili crisp or chili crunch, depending on the manufacturer. Generally, this is an Asian condiment--made with toasted chile flakes, shallots, garlic, Sichuan peppercorns, fermented soy beans, and sometimes peanuts, in soybean oil--though the Mexican salsa macha, a mix of nuts and chiles in oil, is similar.

Eating chiles can boost dopamine levels, and therefore becomes somewhat addictive. I can't tell whether my now-customary spoonful of chile crisp on my over-easy eggs is a habit or an addiction. What I can tell you is that I enjoy them even more now than I did before, though dippy eggs have been one of my top ten favorite things to eat since childhood. 

It used to be that chili crisp products could only be found in Asian stores in the form of the OG, Lao Gan Ma. Available both with and without peanuts, this sauce might be called the platonic ideal of chili crisps. It's hot, but not too hot, with crispy bits of shallot and garlic for texture and flavor. It's great on dumplings and noodle dishes, and everyone should have a jar in their fridge.  

But wait, there's more! 

Trader Joe's sells a Chili Onion Crunch that is a bit too crunchy for my liking, quite oniony, and somewhat sweet. A little goes a long way for me, so the tiny jar lasted for quite a long time before I determined that I didn't actually like it and gave myself permission to throw the rest away. 

Zindrew Crunchy Garlic Chili Oil  has the perfect amount of crunch, but it has an odd flavor to it that I think of as "fishy." The primary ingredients are oil, chiles, and garlic--no fish--though I wouldn't say the sauce is particularly hot or garlic-y. (They do sell a hotter version they call X Batch.) The only thing I like this particular brand of chili crunch on is over-easy eggs. Somehow egg yolk tempers that fishy quality for me. I feel like I've used this sauce on my weekly eggs for months and months now, and there's still always a little bit left in the jar. It's a pretty big jar, so a good deal for the money (fancy chili crisps are $$$), but I wouldn't buy it again.

Right now, I think my favorite brand of chile crisp is Oomame. The company has received some flak for cultural appropriation--it's run by a white guy--but there's no faulting the flavors of the product. Their chile crisps come in four styles, influenced by the cuisines of Mexico, China, Morocco, and India. My favorites are Mexico and Morocco, with India and China in distant 3rd and 4th places. Not those two aren't good--they are--they just don't tickle my palate in the same way as do Mexico and Morocco. I cook a lot of Mediterranean- and North African-style dishes, and Mexican food is a favorite, so perhaps my palate is just tuned in those directions. In any case, I appreciate the subtle differences in ingredients among the four flavors, including spices native to the countries represented. Also, each of the non-Chinese variants contains a dried fruit which adds subtle sweetness: fig in the Moroccan; mango in the Mexican; papaya in the Indian. The Mexican and Moroccan versions also contain orange peel. You can read more about Oomame in another blog post, which includes a recipe for ice cream made with Mexican Ooomame.

I discovered The Flavor Society via Christopher Kimball's Milk Street shop. They make two flavors, pizza and everything bagel. Considering that (good) pizza is one of my all-time favorite foods, how could I pass up on pizza-flavored chile crunch? I know you're wondering if it actually tastes like its namesake. Yes, it does--it's quite reminiscent of pepperoni or Italian sausage pizza. Fennel and herbs do their magic in this stuff, with mushroom powder adding the umami that comes from the fermented soy beans usually found in more traditional versions. The everything bagel flavor is also delish, swapping out the fennel and herbs for sesame, poppy, caraway, and sunflower seeds. I find both flavors to be eat-off-the-spoon mild, but there is also a spicy pizza version that I have not yet tried. 

Fans of restauranteur/chef/tv personality/podcast host/entrepreneur David Chang swear by his Momofuku brand of chili crunch. I am a regular listener of his podcast (even if I am about 18 months behind) and felt that as a fan of chili crisps, I should give his a try. With coconut sugar as the third ingredient on the label, Momofuku chili crunch is appreciably sweeter than any other brand I've tried. Three kinds of chiles and both garlic and shallots make it spicier and more allium-forward as well. It is good, and I prefer it to both Zindrew and Oomame's Chinese chili crisp, but Lao Gan Ma edges it out by a couple of hairs...and it's much less-expensive!

So far, these are all the chili crisp/crunch condiments I've tried. I know there are plenty more out there, but I'm not that interested in trying more variations on the Chinese chili crisp theme. Lao Gan Ma is great and very affordable, so there's not much reason for me to shell out an additional $8 - $15 for another brand. Point me in the direction of more unusual versions, however, like those from The Flavor Society and Oomame, and I'll fork over the dough. I'd also like to get my hands on a few versions of salsa macha. If any readers have suggestions, I am all, palate. Please leave a comment if you think there's something I should try.

* Any products in this post that are mentioned by name may have been provided to Minxeats by the manufacturer. However, all opinions belong to Minxeats. Amazon links earn me $! Please buy!

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Monday, February 27, 2023

What We Ate for Dinner

"Wow, you're really organized," said my friend Fran, after I explained the process I had recently undertaken to clean up our "junk room." While I do like to complete things in a particular logical-to-me order, having a "junk room" in the first place makes me the opposite of "organized." I think I just like to make lists. I make lists to prepare for trips: clothes to take; restaurants in which to eat; subway directions to places I want to visit. I create a to-do list of goals at the beginning of every year. And in May of  2020, I started a spreadsheet for meal planning. 

We'd been home in COVID lockdown mode for 2 months at that point, eating home cooking most nights. In the Before Times, Mr Minx and I went out to eat 2 or 3 times per week, sometimes more if there were media dinners planned. We had both been working outside the home, full-time, and were not in the habit of cooking very often. That had to change pretty quickly and we soon found it difficult to keep track of what food we had on hand, what we had recently eaten, and what we should eat the next day. So I started a dinner spreadsheet. Three years later, that spreadsheet is still an important part of our daily nutrition experience.

I try to plan a week at a time. On Sunday I usually make something substantial that creates leftovers for at least another dinner--pot roast, chili, black bean soup. Currently, we go out to dinner every Saturday. That leaves five weekday dinners to plot. In the early part of the pandemic, we'd order enough carry-out or delivery from our favorite Chinese or Indian restaurant to eat at least three times. We don't do that as much now because we feel safer going to the grocery store more regularly--masked, of course. There's always a cauliflower in the fridge, canned and dried beans in the pantry, various types of sausages in the freezer, and potatoes, for those nights when I don't want to think too hard. Normally that would be Monday - Wednesday, the days I am expected to show up at the office in person. When I get off the bus in the afternoon, I am not in the mood to do much more than bake a potato and heat up some sausages. With my spreadsheet, I know exactly what I will be doing when I get home, whether it's plopping Italian-style chicken sausage in a skillet with some onions, or heating up the leftover Kung Pao chicken and Sichuan string beans from Saturday. 

We did Whole30 in February '23, so I attempted to plan most of the month at once. Restaurant choices become fairly limited on a diet that disallows grains and dairy, so our Saturday dinners tend to be at places that offer omelets and home fries, or barbecue. We buy more vegetables on our shopping trips so I have more green things to choose from, and we eat more baked potatoes and chicken sausages than usual. But we also add meatloaf and Swedish meatballs to the agenda, as we have favorite recipes for both. A meatloaf is also good for 3 dinners: with mashed potatoes; as a "sandwich" between Trader Joe's hash brown patties; as cottage pie, topped with the leftover mash. All with at least one healthy veg, of course. 

If you've read all of the above, thanks for sticking with me. I know I'm weird, and I embrace my weirdness. Allow me to reward your patience now with some photos of food I've eaten in the past three years. Surprisingly, while I plan every dinner, I don't photograph them all. (Most aren't that photogenic.)

On Saturday, June 27th, 2020, I made pork chops with grapes and leeks, and mashed potatoes for dinner. 

Saturday, September 5th, 2020, we had carry-out sushi from Yama Sushi. Love this place.

On September 11th, 16th, 25th, and 31st, October 14th and 23rd, and November 6th, we dined at La Cuchara. They had recently reopened for outdoor dining, ten concrete tables arranged a dozen feet apart in the parking lot. We wanted them to stay open, so we made sure we gave them our business. On several other occasions, we purchased their chef-prepared foods to heat at home or tuck into the freezer. Happily, La Cuchara survived the pandemic and is currently open for dinner 7 nights per week. 

On Sunday March 14th, 2021, I made a vegetarian curry with white beans and kale. We ate the leftovers on March 19th.

On Sunday, October 3, 2021, I made pot roast with a bottled Korean marinade (recipe coming in a future post). We ate the leftovers on Tuesday 10/5 and Friday 10/8.

On Friday, April 8, 2022, I pulled a Cajun Kate's "Brisket Baum" (roast beef and cheese in puff pastry) out of the freezer and served it with roasted brussels sprouts. 

Uncle, you say? Ok. I won't torture you any more. I know I'm not as interesting as I like to think I am. But hey, in a world that's not as safe to navigate as it was just a few years ago, one needs to find one's joy where one can. And keeping a record of the meals I have eaten (and will eat in the next week) makes me happy.