Monday, February 21, 2011

Little Saigon Cafe

The combination nail salon/restaurant deterred me from trying the Little Saigon Cafe. The neon Pho sign in the window of the nail salon didn't exactly inspire me to slurp noodles.

However, after a few Lawrence chefs recommended the restaurant, I decide to visit Little Saigon Cafe this week. I enjoyed my first experience so much that I returned later in the week. I can't recall the last time I visited a restaurant twice in one week.
I still have a lot to learn about Vietnamese cuisine, but this restaurant is a good place to learn. The staff was extremely helpful and friendly, and I'm eager to return so I can sample the entire menu.

So far I've sampled two soups:

Jjam Bong, which is a Spicy Seafood

and pho

Both soups were amazing. There was tremendous depth of flavor. At this point I would say the pho was my favorite. Its aroma cleared my head and was the perfect aromatheraphy for a stressful day. There were layers and layers of flavor in this soup: salty, citrusy, beefy, minty, and earthy flavors mingled to make a perfect bowl of soup. At the time I had a sore throat, and this soup cured it. Coincidence? Or is this a miracle soup?

Eating soup always changes my state of mind. For me everything slows down when I eat soup, and I find myself living more in the moment. This might sound like New Age mumbo jumbo, but for me it's true. I know I come across as a loon, but I'd have it no other way.

My visit to the Little Saigon Cafe reminded me that this is a big ol' world with a lot to experience. I walked out the doors of the restaurant with a lust for life, which is what good food should inspire.

dancing with thunder,

PS. . . What foods have the power to change your state of mind?

Monday, February 14, 2011


You must know that there is nothing higher and stronger and more wholesome and good for life in the future than some good memory, especially a memory of childhood, of home. People talk to you a great deal about your education, but some good, sacred memory, preserved from childhood, is perhaps the best education. If one carries many such memories into life, one is safe to the end of one's days, and if one has only one good memory left in one's heart, even that may be the means of saving us.

***From The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevsky

I recently fell in love with singer-songwriter Rodney Crowell's book Chinaberry Sidewalks. I knew I was under the book's sway when I found myself reading passages aloud, so that could hear the music of his words. I rationed the last 50 pages of the book, so I could milk the affair. Alas it came to an end, but I plan on revisiting it one a regular basis.

The book is a memoir of Mr. Crowell's experiences growing up in Houston. Much of the book explores the turbulent relationship of his parents. At times it's a heartbreaking book, but it's told with love and grace. The following passage is one such example of the beauty that can be found inside this book:

As a boy my favorite place in the world was my grandmother's apron-covered lap. Her favorite place in the world was the tiny bedroom where she kept her Bible, a wicker rocking chair, and an old tube radio tuned to the hundred-thousand-watt radio station KXEG in Del Rio, Texas. Lost in the scent of her leather-covered Bible and the overheated transformers, we went places, met people, and saw things that would shape the remainder of our lives. Rocking on her lap and listening to a live Carter Family performance, I remember knowing for the first time that I was loved. In time I came to understand the nature of her love as being part of an even greater love, one that loved my grandmother for loving me.

One day I asked if she had anything to do with this God I'd been hearing about. Without pause or condescension she answered, "Why, yes, child, I do, but no more than you or your momma or a rank stranger on the street. Some say God's sittin' up in heaven mad as a hornet 'bout how we actin' down here, but I don't think he's mad at all. Ain't nobody mad coulda ever made somebody half as special as you." She was the enlightened enchantress of my childhood. I was, and still am, very much in love with Grandma Katie.

All these years later, the smell of burning leaves often transports me to the tiny front yard on Avenue P, where on an autumn day in 1954 my grandmother buried me up to the neck in freshly fallen post-oak leaves. Like every great adult playmate, she knew the value of repetition and, for my please alone, spent the entire afternoon re-raking leaves in an attempt to create the perfect pile. More than just that, she created the perfect day. Then, when the daylight and my interest in being buried alive began to wane, she raked the pile high one last time. "Why, I do believe a fine young man like you should do the honors," she said, ceremoniously handing me a lit kitchen match.

From the blaze, sparks sprang like newborn shooting stars in reverse, defying gravity and rising far above our heads. A hoot owl on the telephone pole harrumphed his approval. Trees leaned in for a closer look. house kept a respectful distance. But the wind couldn't resist the urge to see what it could do, hence more sparks. The pyromaniac in me today can be traced to the moment Grandma Katie passed me that match.

Before long, our roaring fire gave way to a smoldering glow, and eventually, the pitch-black darkness of another star-studded witching hour. It was, after all, Halloween season, when the blurred edges of blue shadows, the coolness of day's end, and my encroaching bedtime normally put me in mind of ghosts and their attendant hobgoblins. Not on this evening. Backed by my grandmother's fierce innocence, the chains of my four-year-old imagination refused to be rattled. To be well loved is to be free of the evil lurking around the next darkened corner. Every child should know that feeling.

Later on, after I'd played in the bathtub until my fingers and toes were nearly purple as prunes, she read my favorite Unclue Remus story - the one where Br'er Rabbit gets in a jam with the Tar Baby. I was fast asleep before B'rer Fox could outline, for the hapless Br'er Bear, his plan to snare Br'er Rabbbit. My life since has been ongoing search for the stillness that marked the end of that one perfect day.

This passage reaffirms my belief that love never dies. Even after a loved one passes, the love they created lives in memories and stories. Their love lives in us, and we have an obligation to perpetuate that love by passing our stories on.

dreaming under moonbeams,

Friday, February 11, 2011

Citrus Salad

Here at The Greasy Skillet, our fruit bowl is always teeming with seasonal fruit. Lately our local grocery store has been carrying a variety of apple called Pinata. This is the first time I've ever tried a Pinanata which isn't surprising considering that there are a whopping 7,500 varieties of apples out there. My family likes the Pinata's sweet and tart flavor and crunchiness.

We've also been eating a lot of oranges and grapefruit. Usually we eat our fruit straight up, but sometimes we have our fruit co-star in a recipe like the following:

Citrus Salad

  • 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 2 teaspoons finely grated orange peel
  • 2 teaspoons finely grated grapefruit peel
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

***The key to this dressing is the grated citrus peel. It gives this dressing a bright flavor.

  • 1 bag of mixed greens
  • 2 small pink or ruby grapefruits, all peel and pith cut away, segments cut from between membranes
  • 2 oranges, with peel and pith cut away, segments cut from between membranes
  • 3/4 cup crumbled feta cheese



Whisk vinegar, mustard, citrus peels, and honey in small bowl. gradually whisk in oil. Season vinaigrette with salt and freshly ground black pepper.


Place greens in salad bowl and add a little bit of dressing. Toss. Add more dressing until you have the desired amount. Plate salad and top with orange and grapefruit segments. Sprinkle feta on salad. Enjoy.

take care,


Monday, February 7, 2011

Roasted Vegetables and Pasta

At one time I was a stickler for following recipes. I'd make special trips to the grocery store to track down one ingredient for a recipe. Now I usually allow the ingredients I have on hand to determine the direction of a recipe, and as I get older, I find myself ditching recipes altogether. Some of you know that this is the best way to cook.This approach was handy during this recent bout of winter weather when going to the grocery store wasn't an option. The following is a recipe that I adapt to fit ingredients I might have on hand. I encourage you to do the same:

Roasted Vegetables and Pasta

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Cut up a variety of vegetables. Last week I used mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, onions (cut into wedges), zucchini , yellow squash, and garlic. Place the veggies in a roasting pan.
  3. Mix 1/3 cup olive oil with 1-2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar.
  4. Pour olive oil-balsamic vinegar over the bowl of veggie mixture, season with salt and pepper, and toss to coat.
  5. If you want some meat with your meal, feel free to add it. I used Italian sausage this time. I just removed the casing, and cut the sausage into chunks. You could also use chicken or shrimp. If you use shrimp, I would add it the last 3-4 minutes. If you use meat, simply place it on top of the veggies.
  6. Place roasting pan in the oven and roast for 30 to 45 minutes. I usually stir everything about half way through cooking.
  7. Serve with cooked pasta and some Parmesan cheese.

The aroma of the vegetables roasting will make you very happy, and it might inspire you to knit a scarf. The taste will make you sound a barbaric "yawp over the roofs the world." Even if you choose not to add any meat to the dish, the yawp will be barbaric.

throw the map out the window and drive,


Thursday, February 3, 2011

Culinary Souvenirs from Charleston

My mother collects rocks as travel souvenirs. My mother-in-law prefers acquires little teaspoons when she travels. My wife and daughter collect pressed pennies. I collect bumper stickers that I plaster on filing cabinets in my classroom, but I also seek out recipes as travel souvenirs.

There's no better way to relive a trip than by gathering around the table to enjoy stories and flavors from past travels. Each time my family gathers at the table to enjoy a meal of goulash and knedliky we're strolling down the streets of Prague without leaving Kansas.

While in Charleston, I encountered a lot of great food, so it was easy to pick some flavors that will help me conjure visions of the city's wrought iron fences, beautiful gardens, and eclectic architecture.

The following are five dishes that I'm going to attempt to replicate, so that I can get my Charleston fix without leaving the Sunflower State:
  1. Bacon jam - I know this might seem like a misprint, but bacon jam is real. Go ahead and google it. At McCrady's I was served a small dollop of this jam with a roasted chicken. It's smokey, sweet flavor rocked my world. This is the recipe I'll be trying.

  2. Caramelized pears: At Slighly North of Broad I ordered a salad that came with caramelized pears. The pears had a light candy coating on them à la creme brulee. I've already tried replicating this at home using the broiler in my oven, but I couldn't achieve the crunchy coating. I might need to buy a kitchen torch.

  3. Creamed barley: At SNOB I had the sauteed flounder, and it was served on a bed of creamy barley. I liked the creamy texture and the crunch of the barley. It was more like a risotto.

  4. Grits: Do I need to say more?

  5. Hoppin' John: Hoppin' John is a simple Southern dish consisting of rice and black-eyed peas. About eight years ago, I made this dish, but at the time I didn't know how to cook rice, so it turned out lumpy and glumpy. After eating this dish at Poogan's Porch, I'm ready to prepare it again. I like their Hoppin' John because it contained a tinge of heat to it.

  6. BBQ Au Jus: My flounder at SNOB was also served with a bit of BBQ au jus that paired well with the fish and barley. The au jus was smokey, sweet, and salty. It's convinced me that I need to do more with sauces in my cooking.

  7. keep on the sunny side,