Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Thanksgiving in Charlotte and Fern Restaurant Review

Even with the drought and the wildfires in the southeast, it was still quite beautiful.
 We drove through several states with wildfires. We only saw a few fires ourselves and they appeared to be intentionally set to "back burn" and the smoke was only an issue for a short time, but we know several people who live in these states who have been dealing with the drought and fire issues for weeks.
Josie's wii bowling looks a lot like yoga poses.
I wish I had taken a picture of the kids playing wii bowling with Rob's dad. It was pretty cool. Their paternal grandfather can't get around very well these days, but he can still play a mean game of bowling with help from the wii. They played for hours and it was great bonding time for all of them. 
Gracie absolutely loves North Carolina in the fall and she makes herself right at home.
 We've had a really mild fall so far, but the day before we left the weather turned more seasonably chilly. Autumn in NC is perfect weather for Gracie and she enjoyed so many walks in my in-laws neighborhood. I love the rolling hills since our part of the world is the definition of flat. I wish they had sidewalks where they live and it made me sad to see people wasting water on their lawns during a drought in late November, but it is still pretty walking.
Cousin Charley in his holiday sweater.
 Charley was a crazy puppy on our last visit and now he's a relaxed young man and a huge snuggle bug.
Charley likes to sit on one step and put his front paws on another and take in the goings on in the house.
 Charley is such a cutie!
Parker and Gracie chilling.
Parker hasn't been to his cousin's house for a couple years, but now she's 15 and he's 16 which means they hardly spoke two words to each other, but spent most of the week on their phones. Sigh.
Josie and Rob playing some combo of ping pong minus the table and gymnastics.
 My in-laws have a fun sun room with a ping pong table that folds up easily and gymnastics mats. This is Josie's favorite place to hang out when the weather is too cold for the pool. Rob worked more of the week, but he would take short breaks to play a little pong.
Josie showing Dema how to do some acro-yoga.
 Josie took a homeschool acro-yoga class last fall and she loved it. Rob's much better at being a base than I am. 
Dema trying out the acro-yoga moves.
 Dema missed out on the class since he went to private school last school year so Josie tries to teach him everything she learned.
Dema and Josie with their cousin, Lillian, playing "death pong".
 Years ago the kids and cousin, Lillian, came up with a game they named "death pong" because ping pong was too boring and had too many rules. It gets totally crazy in there and a lot of balls get smashed in the process. I'm just glad the sun room has doors to keep the rest of the house insulated from the noise and crazy.
Parker chillin'.
 Parker hardly ever just sits in a chair, it has to be somewhat challenging.
Parker and Josie playing "death pong".
 The death pong never ends.
Josie excited to try Fern's Peanut Glazed Brussels.
 Rob's family had a clam bake to attend so we took advantage of our smaller numbers to check out Fern. I can't believe we had never eaten there before! It is a smallish restaurant, especially in the cooler months when the outside patio is closed, so it would have been a little harder for us to seat nine quickly. Five was quite doable and the wait staff was amazing. We never waited for water and they seemed to perfectly time all the food and taking away dishes. The feel of the restaurant is homey, but also a bit upscale, but not so much so that we felt bad about wearing jeans. You see the kitchen as it is open to the rest of the restaurant, just behind a partial wall. We were there on a Wednesday evening and we were amazed to see so many families dining. It is an all vegetarian restaurant and almost every menu item has a vegan option.

The brussel sprouts were divine. They were perfectly cooked, not tough, but not soft. The peanut glaze complimented the natural taste of the brussels instead of overpowering them. Brussel sprouts are one of Josie's favorite vegetables. I can't wait to try this at home!
The Pimiento Cheese before it was completely inhaled by the kids.
 Vegan pimiento cheese is not something we see on menus often so we knew we had to try this appetizer. Rob's favorite cheese growing up was pimiento and he quite enjoyed this dish, but the kids didn't leave us much. The slices apples with time and agave went perfectly with the slightly spicy cheese.
Josie tempting me with her Butternut Squash Bisque and her Pesto Panini.
Josie loves pesto pasta and was excited to see what we normally put in pesto pasta in a panini form. It was a satisfying sandwich filled with roasted veggies and Chao vegan cheese. The Butternut Bisque side was perfectly spices and was Josie's favorite part of her meal. She was sweet enough to share. I love the pumpkin seed garnish on the soup since this is something I do at home. As the soup cooled, it was not quite as delicious so eat it hot.
Dema was super happy with his Seitan Steak.
 Dema ordered the seitan steak and I was a skeptical. A big slab of seitan sounded heavy and chewy. I was so incredibly wrong. I wish I had a picture of the seitan steak after he cut it open because it was so meat like that I had to double check that everything was vegetarian. Somehow they know some seitan magic at Fern that makes seitan juicy and tender. Crazy good! I only enjoyed a small last because Dema ate this quite quickly, but it was enough to know I should order this dish in the future.
Rob's Laughing Buddha Bowl.
 I would say Rob's Buddha bowl was the only meal that looked ho hum. He enjoyed it and I was impressed with the black rice, but a Buddha bowl is a pretty standard menu item these days. He said it was goo and not too heavy, but I wasn't paying much attention because I was eating...
Parker and I both ordered the Coconut Tofu.
Coconut encrusted tofu over fried rice with roasted broccolini topped with a red curry sauce. Otherwise known as heaven. Parker and I loved everything about this dish. At first I thought it could use more curry sauce, but it was just the right amount. The tofu was firm and perfectly breaded with coconut and the broccolini was roasted just to the point of bringing out the full flavor of this lovely vegetable. The fried rice reminded me of my mom's rice pilaf. The red curry sauce was understated spice-wise, but still really flavorful. If I had any complaint about this dish, it would be the lack of a sharp knife to cut the broccolini.

Although we all had eaten our fill, we had to try the desserts. We ordered one of all three dessert options; chocolate pots de creme, carrot cake, and apple bread pudding. I, sadly, did not take a picture, but we split all three desserts five ways. We unanimously voted the apple bread pudding as our favorite. That was a huge surprise because none of us are bread pudding fans, but this was special. It was almost cobbler like with vanilla vegan ice cream on top. Rob and I didn't get any of the ice cream, but even without it was a treat. The carrot cake with chai frosting was my second favorite. 
The cake was dense, but still very moist and the chai frosting did not disappoint. Rob and I used to make carrot cake for dessert for every occasion and I have now vowed to revive that tradition. The chocolate pots de creme is made with cashews which made it have a bit of a grainy texture. The taste was wonderful, but the texture just threw me off a bit, but we still enjoyed every bite.

I will not go back to Charlotte, NC without dining at Fern. It is now my must go-to restaurant. I would put it up there with Karyn's Cooked in Chicago and Plant in Asheville, NC as my favorite restaurants.

Parker and Josie on Thanksgiving Day.
 I didn't get many picture of Thanksgiving day since we were busy preparing for guests, socializing with my sister-in-laws family, and then cleaning up or napping. All in all it was a great visit and relaxing vacation.
The dining areas ready for guests to arrive.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

What We Did Over the Summer - Help Ethan Web Series Episode 2

The second episode of the Help Ethan web series, staring Parker as Jackson. Some language might not be suitable for the workplace or for a younger audience. Enjoy!

 *Spoiler* - as the series goes on, Jackson might touch on food related topics. 

Monday, November 14, 2016

Parker Cooks - Tofu Scramble

Parker's Roasted Red Pepper Tofu Scramble and oven baked onion rings in a beautiful blue bowl made by Parker.

Parker (16) is cooking more and more lately. The kids all woke up later than usual this morning so Parker decided to cook brunch for us. He found some black salt I bought a while ago and never used so he had fun experimenting with that. From what I remember, he mashed up the tofu in a bowl while he heated the cast iron pan with some olive oil. I suggested he add the spices he wanted to the bowl before cooking the tofu. He added black salt, iodized sea salt, parsley, oregano, black pepper, yellow sprinkle, turmeric, garlic salt, and probably something else I didn't notice. He mixed it all up with his hands and added it to the cast iron pan while he cut up some roasted red peppers and lightly sautéed them in another pan. We didn't have any onions for him to add so we baked some frozen onion rings. His siblings barely left any for us. I like Parker's minimalistic approach. I tend to add as much as I can to my scrambles to get as much nutrients, but it can sometimes turn out heavy. This dish was fresh and light, but filling enough to keep us satisfied until dinner. I usually add hot sauce to scrambles, but his didn't need any other flavors. Parker said he would change a few things, but I thought it was perfect for this sleepy fall morning.

While he was cooking, we discussed the cooking show he's been thinking about. He's getting closer to making it a reality. I'll keep you all posted.

Chicago - Quick Trips

We needed to get away for a bit, my birthday was last week, and Rob wanted to look at a sailboat on Lake Michigan so we went up to Chicago to visit our friends in the city. I thought I'd use the birthday card to try a new restaurant. The kids are pretty loyal to Chicago Diner, but we promised to go at least once while we were in town so they reluctantly tried Arya Bhavan, "healthy" vegan Indian place
Josie and a vegan mango lassi!
 They were won over pretty quickly by the mango lassi. It was a big treat since lassi usually is made with cow's milk. I tried a sip and was a bit sad I didn't order one myself. The drink was cloyingly sweet and velvety smooth with fresh mango flavor, not mango juice or imitation. Heavenly! Then the appetizers appeared and I was distracted.
We ordered the Mixed Basket appetizer with samosas, aloo tikki, vegetable cutlet, mirch pakora, dalvada, potato vada, and lilwa ni kachori.
 I didn't get anymore pictures of the meal because we were too busy eating and talking. I may be ruined for any Indian restaurant food because I felt so good after this meal. Indian can be pretty greasy, but not at Arya Bhavan. Even the fried foods were perfect, which made we wonder if they use an air fryer that is all the rage on vegan blogs these days. My only complaint was the lack of spice. We love spicy food and the spices is what made Indian food my favorite for many years. The food was still flavorful, not bland, so if hot foods intimidate you, try Arya Bhavan. The waitress was very sweet and even gave the kids dessert samples to go. 
Josie sharing the vegan mango ice cream sample which didn't even make it out the door. 
I'm so grateful they gave us the dessert bites because I mistakenly told the kids to pass on the healthy desserts and wait for Chicago Diner the next day. I think the kids would eat at Arya Bhavan again just to eat the lassi and ice cream. Everything on the menu is easily identified as vegan and many items are labeled as gluten free. I would definitely go there again and it is conveniently located about ten minutes from our friends' house. I would love to try the buffet on Saturdays, they deliver, and also cater.

After dinner we hung out with our friends and their kids talking about the election. It was good to commiserate and interesting to see hear the kids' views. My kids are 9, 12, and 16 and our friends' kids are almost 5 and 7. They are all very politically aware and very concerned about the future of the planet, their friends/family, and so many other issues. 
Josie went with me to vote early. The kids always go with me to vote, but she was extra excited this time since she was very interested in the presidential race.
We had fun and we were full of hope.
Rob, Todd (our friend), and Parker all went to a black and white showing of the latest Mad Max film, while the rest of the kids and Todd's wife, Katherine, and I talked more about world events, travel, watched the kids put on a magic show, and the adults drank a bit of wine. This was just what I needed after the week of doom and depression.

The next morning, Rob went out early to check out the sailboat while I slept in for the first time in a long time. We all, except Katherine, went out to Chicago Diner for brunch. I always prefer the newest location since it has more room and we could more easily sit eight people together.

Vegan poutine with the optional vegan bacon bits and jalepenos, which shouldn't be optional because it makes the dish. 
 Parker and I knew we had to order the poutine as a nod to Canada, where we hope to live the next four years. It was so good and I really need to make a version at home.
Dema enthusiastically digging into his cinimon roll french toast.
Josie coveting Dema's dish.
Josie's country benedict.
 Josie (and Parker) is obsessed with the cooking shows on Netflix, which influenced her menu choice of Country Benedict. She really enjoyed it, but she was also sad to miss out on her big brothers' sweet dishes. This worked out well since halfway through his french toast, Parker was wishing he had picked savory. They switched plates and problem solved. We'll have to order accordingly next time so they both get a bit of sweet and some savory. I was very happy with my pierogi quesadilla. I didn't get a picture, but it was filled with perfectly sautéed mushrooms, just enough sauerkraut to add tanginess without overpowering the dish. I fished my food satisfied without being uncomfortably full, but then the kids wanted to order their famous shakes to go.
Josie went with the vanilla chai vegan milkshake which was my preferred choice over the the rest of the kids' chocolate chip cookie dough flavor, which was way too sweet.
As I predicted, the kids couldn't finish their shakes and I ended up feeling more than slightly sick since I didn't want them to go to waste. Good and a very rare treat, but next time maybe one shake to go for the entire family.

We were able to walk off the brunch a bit at Katherine's event. She owns two toy stores in Chicago and she was helping out a friend who is opening an online business and musicians, tattoos, a bouncy house, a magician, etc. to promote it. The kids were most interested in the fancy tattoos.
Josie's first tattoo of the day, a gymnast. Very fitting. 
Dema got a green darth vader, Parker went for a rainbow peace sign, and Josie had a second tattoo of a rainbow heart with an arrow. Very telling for all of their personalities.
Josie loved the tattoos so much, I think she might have some real tattoos in her future.
We were sad to have to leave so quickly, but Parker had to get shot the next day in a short film and my sister was sweetly taking care of the dogs and we didn't want to put her out. We vowed to take more short trips since all three kids are homeschooling this year so we have more flexibility.
Parker's movie magic gunshot wound.