29 March 2014

2014 MICHIGAN Grand Rapids - Foodie Trip

Recently went to Grand Rapids, Michigan (about an hour drive north from home) to handle some business with our Apple iPad. While we were at the shopping center we stopped by William-Sonoma. 

W-S has a wide variety of specialty spices, beaded honey and infused salts. Porcini mushroom infused salt is my fave so we replenished our supply. I love it on pasta, mashed potatoes, veggies, veggie burgers, popcorn and the like. See that empty spot on the shelf? Well, we got the last jar...again!

While we were at the mall, we also noticed an olive oil store that was going out of business. Peeked in there. Nothing really seemed that on-sale even though the sign said 70% off. But we did buy a sun-dried tomato infused olive oil and a jar of pesto sauce.

We've been hearing about a new downtown Grand Rapids market. It is not a grocery store, but small vendors who have come together to form a co-op style market under one roof. As we were so close we decided to check it out. The facility is brand new and includes a large open building and a covered sidewalk area where in warmer weather farmers will sell their produce. It is fabulous, even without the outdoor market area operating. 

The inside has many vendors that sell mostly food but also kitchenware or kitchen-related items. The first place we stopped was a cheese and wine shop. They have all kinds of cheeses, a cheese oriented lunch bar (great grill cheese sandwiches on the menu), and they offer cheese classes and tastings.

Recently we attended a wine event at Zazio's at the Radisson Hotel in Kalamazoo and purchased a vermouth from La Spinetta Winery (in the Piedmont area of Italy). It is called Contratto Vermouth Bianco and tastes more like a liquor than something to combine with another alcohol to make a cocktail. Silly us, we originally bought it for the label but loved it so much, we were wondering where to buy it in the future. THIS is the place. They have a lot of unusual and new-to-us liquor choices.

Next on the "tour" was a coffee vendor, a produce stand with fresh and organic items, a fish monger with an excellent variety of fresh fish, and a meat market with fresh and frozen options. Here there were some of unusual choices like bison, frog legs, and venison that you don't usually see at the big grocery stores.

At the end of the aisle was a bread baker. They also have a traditional style pizza oven. Not a lot of sweets here, but really great looking breads. Sweets came later in our tour. On the other side of the aisle was a fresh pasta market with spaghetti sauces and other pasta related items. See the fresh pasta drying here.

Next stop was the spice store. We bought another Porcini mushroom infused salt, so we could do a taste test later. Turns out we liked the W-S version better, but both were good. We also bought some chives and Vietnamese cinnamon. They had a nice variety of teas and tea utensils here, too.

Around the corner was a Thai take-out food stand (will go there next time), a florist, and an oil vendor. Mike bought some Mandarin orange infused oil, which he uses in Brownies. At the end of that aisle was a prepared meal store. They had all kinds of pick-up-and-go meals to take home to heat-and-eat. Lots of comfort food type stuff.

Next to that was a Grocer's Daughter chocolate shop. If you recall, we talked about the original location for this store up in Leelanau, Michigan, at the top of the lower peninsula. We discovered this place years ago and always go out of our way to stop there to pick up truffles and dark chocolate bark seasoned with sea salt. We were happy to see a branch here, so close to home. Of course, we bought a bit of chocolate for later.

By that time we were pretty hungry after looking at all the great food options. We decided to have lunch at the next stop, which was a Mexican take-out stand. We both got burritos and rate them one of the best we have had in Michigan. The facility has an area set up with tables and chairs and lots of windows. We enjoyed our hearty lunch there in this warm spot looking out at the freezing cold piles of snow.

We continued down the last few vendors, past a popcorn place with many flavors to choose from. But we opted for the sweet shop next door. Lots of homemade style cookies and pies and other bakery delights. Loved their giant pink mix master. Can't tell by the photo, but it was almost a yard high. And the gals dress in pink aprons. Very cute. We bought Snickerdoodle cookies for our dessert (sugar cookies mostly, but with cinnamon).

On the second level were cooking classrooms, including a miniature sized one for kids. Also, a greenhouse area. It is not fully underway yet, but will be a community garden come spring. In the photo in the background you can see downtown Grand Rapids. So refreshing to have this type of endeavor in the heart of the city.

We really enjoyed our afternoon. Highly recommend it. And we'll be back when the weather gets warmer and the outdoor vendors are in full operation.

03 March 2014

2014 OHIO East Liberty 3 - Orchids and Pearl for K's BD

Woke up to birthday mimosas and coffee and leftover quiche. Still good the second time around. Then headed  southeast for a birthday day in the city of Columbus, Ohio.

Luckily we had another day of good traveling weather. First stop was the Franklin Park Conservatory. To get there the route took us through downtown and we admired the old and new buildings along the way.

From the outside the conservatory does not impress, but inside was warm and wonderful. Today an orchid exhibition was the highlight. So many color combinations and shapes and sizes of orchids. Colors from pale yellow to brilliant pinks and purples. Sizes from thumbnail to clenched fist. Single plants overflowing with hundreds of blossoms. This display was a feast for our winter eyes.

We wandered through the Himalayan Mountain display with its cool atmosphere. Then worked our way to the Palm House which was almost sweaty tropical. There was a Pacific Island Water Garden, warm and lush and included a lovely Chihuly red/orange/yellow glass sculpture. There was a sculpture garden and desert room with many species of cactus.

A Bruce Munro glass and light show was also showcased, but most effective in the evening with lights aglow. Another trip. In the daylight hour, I especially liked the clear glass "flowers" amongst the snow in an outdoor display.

Another display was that of a miniature hamlet with railroad. We recently viewed a TV special on the mastermind, Paul Busse, of these museum quality villages and we were excited to see one in person. We were not let down. All the buildings and landscape are made from natural materials--each so unique. That, intertwined with fern and flowers and greenery, was lovely. One could observe and see something new for hours. Hard to take in every detail and hard to walk away from this one. To read more about this artist, go to:  www.gardendesign.com/ideas/art-botany-Paul-Busse .

We finished browsing and headed to our next stop. We planned a late birthday lunch at the "The Pearl." This was recently rated the best new restaurant in Columbus. And, again, we were not disappointed. We arrived early, so decided to start at the bar.

This is no ordinary bar. Our mixologist was Carly. She said she did not think of herself as a bartender, but more as a alcohol chef. We agree.

First, they serve many classic drinks--Box Car, Grasshopper, Manhattan, several Southern punches, etc. They also make their own specialty mixes in house in an infusion locker, such as their Bloody Mary tomato juice. That's what Mike and Jim ordered. Along with this drink (served in a  mason jar) came a short bottle beer. "Delish," they said.

I ordered a classic ramos fizz. We used to drink these at Sunday brunch at the Moss Beach Distillery near our home in Half Moon Bay, California. Fond memories there. We would sit outside on deck chairs overlooking the blue Pacific. It was often quite breezy and they supplied blankets if you were too cold.

This drink today was made to perfection (raw egg white and all). Carly saw that I really enjoyed it and volunteered to make a new drink she was experimenting with that also included egg white. It was wonderful (and gratis). Citrus inspired and a refreshing treat on a cold winter day. Then came a gratis appetizer of Jalapeno corn spoon bread served in a small cast iron fry pan. It was warm and fluffy light and not too spicy from my "delicate" palate. 

The bar set-up itself is so interesting. Bitters and flavor additives are stored in small medicine type bottles and delivered to drinks with eyedroppers. The place looks more like an chemistry lab than a typical bar. So fun and fascinating to see the various alcoholic concoctions constructed and developed.

Four o'clock rolled around and we were escorted to late lunch. I have been on a weight loss regimen, but not today. It was a tough decision on what to order. Mike and I first thought we would share a Shellfish Tower which included a tall mound of oysters, clams, and shrimp, but came to our senses!!! He ended up with a dozen raw oysters on the half shell and I got a pound of peel-and-eat gulf shrimp (shades of Key West and Charleston).
I also had a spinach salad to be on the healthy side. I think J & K got catch of the day.

My shrimp were the largest I have ever had. Absolutely stupendous in size and taste. The only thing that might have made it better would have been some cheesy grits. It was hard to finish my plate, but the others helped out a bit. Mike was in heaven also with three types of fresh oyster. He slurped those babies down in a frenzy.

For birthday desert we had their fresh pies made daily--cherry and house special brown sugar pie. I don't have such a sweet tooth (salty is usually more my style), but I could have eaten a whole brown sugar pie all by myself. SOOOOOO good! This was a fabulous gastropub and we definitely recommend it. To read more, go to: www.thepearlcolumbus.com .

We finally could not fit in another bite, so we waddled to our car and back to East Liberty. The rest of the evening was pleasantly spent remembering the "old days" backed up with a few more celebration cocktails.

2/17/2014 - To home. Nothing special. Dry roads til about the Ohio-Michigan border. Then the rain-sleet-snow started. Roads slick, so we took our time from there. No ice slip-and-slide til we were a block from home on a side street. Back to reality and back to our sweetie cat Bella.