Monthly Archives: November 2015

Watch Forged, a new documentary

Very pleased to share with you a new documentary directed and produced by a friend of mine, Grant Howard. Forged is the fascinating story of an aging coppersmith and his son who are brought together by the father’s final sculpture. The film impressed me particularly with its beautiful photography, the original score reminiscent of Wagner, and its reflections on the value of art, beauty, and family.

Major kudos to Grant! Congratulations!



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I think I just had the best Ethiopian food ever…

Among the many perks of working with a food magazine is the excuse (assuming I needed one) to try out new restaurants. I’m in the process of writing a piece on international coffee spots in town and, as part of this quest, I decided to try Awash Ethiopian, a hole-in-the wall gem where I think–I think–I may have just enjoyed the tastiest Ethiopian food of my life, and certainly the most authentic.

Before going, I had read that the little cafe was run entirely by one woman who begins prepping your food as soon as you walk in the door. Reviewers described the space is tiny, only enough room for a few tables, and over all very bare bones. It is also located in a neighborhood that would be considered obscure by many Nashvillians. Even so, every review glowed with praise when it came to the food and the hospitality of the hostess/server/chef, Zi*.

When we walked in Zi jumped up and immediately started moving toward the kitchen. She paused and smiled and asked us if we had had Ethiopian food before. “Oh yes! We love it!” She smiled again and started pulling out pans and ingredients. She didn’t take an order. She just went to work. We took a seat and watched her cook. The room was a little smokey, and we found out later why. We looked around at the Ethiopian tourism posters that lined the walls, and watched a little bit of the Ethiopian channel on the TV.

When she brought out the platter of yumminess I felt the grin stretch across my face. The stewed dishes were piled high on top of the injera, and the aromatic steam filled our nostrils. We tore off pieces of injera and started digging in, each bite better than the last. We had stewed beef in a mild berbere, yellow lentils, cabbage with carrots, fresh cheese, and greens. The greens in particular shocked me with their powerful flavor. I literally twitched with the fireworks going off in my mouth. It was just like that scene from Ratatouille.


Zi wasn’t finished with her magic yet. We came for the coffee, but what I didn’t expect was that she would roast the coffee to order. I watched her as she scooped raw Ethiopian Coffee beans into a pan and shook them over the flame. When they were finished she brought the smoking pan over to us so we could smell up close. “This is Ethiopian culture,” said the older gentleman sitting next to us. She took the pan back and set to grinding the beans to a fine powder. She then put the powder in a clay pot with a high spout and boiled the coffee over the fire. She brought out the pot on a platter with a bowl of sugar and two dainty coffee cups. Though I feared the coffee would be very smokey and burnt, given the method of roasting, I couldn’t have been more wrong. The flavor was wonderfully smooth and not overly bitter. The coffee was strong and earthy, and with the sugar added it reminded me of chocolate and cinnamon, even though neither were present.


Raw Ethiopian Coffee Beans


Zi roasting the beans over the stove

ethiopian pouring 2

Ethiopian cup

I just sat there shaking my head and smiling. That might have just been the best Ethiopian food I’ve ever had.

Go figure…Nashville, of all places.



*Zi is her name, but I don’t know if that is how it is spelled. 😦



Filed under Food!, Inspiration and Creativity, Life is good and here's why, Photography, True Stories

Story Time!

I finally wrote a short story! Woo hoo!

This is a big deal for me for a number of reasons. To begin, I have been reading a lot over the last few years about what makes a story a story. If you think about it, the craft is incredibly complex, as are many processes that try to yield simple outcomes. I will be sharing more about my findings in the future. But as to writing my own stories, I had let my own over-analysis inhibit my creativity. I also carried some particularly hurtful negative feedback around with me for years before realizing I didn’t have to believe it. I decided I needed some structure if I wanted to get back into creative writing, so for the last few weeks I have been following along with a fiction writing MOOC (massive online open course). The prompt for the story below was ‘A lady gets on a bus with a dog in her purse; the dog is wearing a bow that matches the lady’s sweater.’

Enjoy! Happy Friday!

One Day on the CTA

A CTA bus is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.

I clambered onto the bus at Clybourne and Armitage on my way to visit a friend who lived in a western neighborhood. I beeped my bus pass and made my way down the aisle, dodging a lady toting her groceries. I found a seat toward the back near a hipster girl in the requisite flannel, her head encased in grapefruit-sized headphones.

After realizing I had forgotten my own headphones, I let my gaze drift from the window to the other passengers. A yuppy father cooed to the baby strapped to his chest. Further up, a young African American woman with a textbook in her lap struggled to concentrate under the uncomfortably steady glare of the tall, hulking man sitting next to her. The man’s eyes looked out in different directions. He breathed heavily, his lips twitching as if he wanted to say something. The woman glanced up at him several times before making up her mind to change seats.

The bus stopped and did the pneumatic kneeling thing it does when letting on disabled passengers. Up stepped an itty bitty woman with bright white hair that swooshed just so around a leopard-print poof hat. I noticed I was not the only one eying her as she fussed through her voluminous purse digging for her bus pass. Her bracelets jangled loudly as she searched, and each time her round glasses slipped down her nose she pointed her face upward, sniffed, and slid the bridge of the glasses up her long nose with hyper extended fingers. To add to the spectacle, the fluffy face of a Pekingese popped out of the lady’s bag and began yapping. The animal wore a red bow on its head that matched the sweater on his back that matched the booties on his feet that matched the sweater worn by its mistress. At last, the woman located her pass, beeped it, and settled herself down in the seat the African American lady had just vacated, next to the man with the crazy eyes.

The woman seemed not to notice or care that she held a captivated audience. She was too busy speaking sweet nothings to the dog in her bag. She bounced the dog on her lap and stroked its head and fed it treats. “Oooo what a good little boy you are, yes you are, yes you are!” she gushed. Nearby, Mr. Crazy Eyes stared fixedly at her, his chest heaving and his face issuing a look of deepest disgust. She continued to praise the dog and produce treats for him to guzzle. “Oooo you make mummy so proud, yes you do, yes you do! My little baby boy, such a good boy, yes you are, yes you are!”

With every handful of treats she produced, Mr. Crazy Eyes fumed more vehemently. His body twitched and his lips spasmed liked he was practicing ventriloquism. The lady still took no notice. Then, out of her bag, she pulled a huge hunk of steak and held it up to the pup who swiftly sunk his teeth into the meat. This was too much for the man.

“WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE?” yelled Mr. Crazy Eyes, getting to his feet and leaning over the lady and her dog. “HUH? WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE? Feeding perfectly good steak to a dog when there are children dying of hunger on the streets of this very city! Ever think to look around you? Huh? Ever think there might be real children to care for? NOooooo! Of course not! You think this DOG is your child! You blithering old freak! You snobbish, dog-crazed piece of…Oh!”

He stopped his rant suddenly and looked up, his demeanor completely altered. He yanked on the stop wire. Hurrying to the back door he waited for the bus to come to a complete stop. He wore a serene expression, seemingly unaware of the stunned onlookers. Everyone on the bus watched him disembark and trot eagerly toward the building on the corner and go inside. As the bus pulled away, we could all read the sign on the building.

“West Side Shelter for Cats.”

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Emily’s Etouffée

I want to share with you one of my favorite recipes of all time.

My dad grew up in New Orleans. This means he comes complete with impossibly high standards for Crescent City cuisine, nurtured by nostalgia for gumbos gone by. He remembers rich, buttery stews seasoned with just the right amount of peppery heat and that gush with fresh, juicy shrimp and crawdads and oysters. Such strong food memories color his opinions of any and every dish put in front of him, which makes him a tough cookie to impress.

Despite this uphill battle, I remain determined: I will get him to smack his lips in ravenous delight, so help me! I am already very, very close with this étouffée recipe.

Many étouffée recipes look very similar, at least to begin with. They all start (or should start) with a roux and incorporate the New Orleans Holy Trinity of onions, peppers, and celery. After that, recipes begin to differ. I’ve found a happy medium starting with this recipe from Emeril Legasse*, but I add a few of my own tricks.

My first trick is the use of Zatarain’s Shrimp and Crab Boil CONCENTRATE. Many grocery stores carry Zatarain’s as a single-use spice pouch, but this is NOT what you want. You want the little bottle of golden liquid concentrate. There is no point in going forward if you don’t have this. Order it online if you have to. It will last you a long time, and it’s one of the best pantry investments you can make. Be careful when you open it as just a few drops go a long way. Definitely avoid touching your eyes with this stuff. This golden gem is so powerfully packed with flavor that just a teaspoon added to a few cups of water creates a fast and cheap substitute for seafood stock in your Creole dishes. Don’t believe me? Give it a try and prepare to be impressed.

My next trick is to add several ingredients right at the end of cooking. As soon as the shrimp finishes cooking, remove the dutch oven from the heat and add a generous splash of fresh lemon juice, parsley, green onions, and most importantly, powdered Gumbo File. The file, or ground sassafras root, adds this savory, earthy, delectable je ne sais quoi you won’t be able to live without. The lemon juice, my most recent discovery, somehow rounds out the saltiness and spiciness of the dish and keeps guests going back for seconds.

I am pleased to report that even guests who have never had étouffée before–and look at it quizzically when it is set before them–find themselves licking the bowls.


Emily’s Etouffée

5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
3 cups chopped onions
2 cups chopped green bell peppers
2 cups chopped celery
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes
2 bay leaves
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp thyme
1 tsp paprika
5 cups water
1/2 teaspoon Zatarain’s Shrimp and Crab Boil Concentrate
2 pounds shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/4 cup chopped parsley leaves
1 tbs lemon juice
Steamed white rice, for serving
Gumbo File, to taste
1/2 cup thinly sliced green onion tops, for garnish

Melt the butter in a large Dutch oven set over medium-low heat. Add the flour and stir continuously to make a roux. Stir the roux over medium heat until the color of peanut butter, 5 to 7 minutes.

Add the onions, bell peppers, celery, and garlic to the roux, and cook, stirring often, for about 10 minutes, until the onions are translucent. Add the tomatoes to the pot and season with the bay leaves, salt, cayenne, oregano, paprika, and thyme. Cook the tomatoes for 2 to 3 minutes and then whisk in the water and Zatarain’s concentrate.

Bring the mixture to a boil, and reduce to a simmer. Cook the etouffee, stirring occasionally, for 45 minutes. Add the shrimp to the pot, stirring to evenly distribute. Cook the shrimp for 3 to 6 minutes, or until they are cooked through. Remove from heat before the shrimp overcook. Add the chopped parsley to the pot and stir to combine. Add gumbo file to taste, or let your guests add file themselves.

Serve immediately over steamed white rice and garnish with sliced green onion tops. If you feel like being super fancy, serve étouffée in puffed pastry bowls.


*Emeril uses a spice mixture called Essence of Emeril. Is it just me or does the “essence” of a sweaty Italian guy NOT sound delicious? Just saying…

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Halloween ReHash: It’s all in the details!

Happy Tuesday! I hope your Halloween weekend was appropriately outlandish.

After reflecting on last weekend’s festivities and wicked-good costumes, I have had an epiphany: costumes are like dancing–it’s all about the confidence. Just like you can’t just to bop your head to a tune and call it dancing, you need to be all in with a costume for it to work.

This Halloween our friends had two parties, a Lord of the Rings Marathon during the day and a Harry Potter party at night (I know; nerds and proud!). I am exceptionally proud of my friends for the effort they put into their outfits. They really went all out with their costumes and incorporated some excellent details. Best of all, they strut their stuff with attitudes befitting the characters they impersonated.

Here are some photos with the details highlighted. Enjoy!


bella harry


dark mark

elf hobbit


not tell lies

trelawney and slytherin


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Filed under Inspiration and Creativity, Life is good and here's why, Running Commentary on whatever tickles the fancy