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Today I and the hubinator went out to eat at The Piedmont for breakfast. Restored warehouse ambiance for the win, however, I rather expect it'd get noisy quick if it were full. The hub had Farmer's Breakfast, with really excellent homefries (and I don't like homefries, these were really good- crisp on the outside and sooo fluffy on the inside). I splurged and had shrimp and grits. I should not have. The shrimp, bacon, and shallots had been cooked with vinegar, which made for a rather tangy dressing for the grits. Too tangy. And the bacon was in thick tough bits, too thickly cut, the contrast in textures was a bit much, the nice soft grits and then bam, a tough bit of bacon made for more texture than I was looking for. I didn't even finish them, and that's saying all sorts of bad things, because I always clean my plate unless its huge amounts of food. And they left the tails on the shrimp, which is making me work for my food far more than I should before noon. Coffee was all right, service was good (though the skinny water glasses were hard for the waitress to refill and there were little puddles on the floor where she had spilled, poor dear). I'd like to eat there again to try something else on the menu (they had a Croque Madame, which seems to be the thing on the brunch menus around here, I'd like to go out for them everywhere I could and do a comparison of them). I'd even recommend the place, tentatively, but do not get the shrimp and grits unless you want something tangy. The next time I go there if my meal is not so hot again it'll go on my do not eat list though. The Piedmont is on probation.

Then we went to see The Books do a question and answer session at Duke. The event was really poorly attended and the five long winded graduate students asked most of the questions. I kept wanting to say, yeah, your prof made you ask these questions as an assignment, he is sitting in judgment right there in the moderators seat, but talking for several minutes before you pose a question is not disguising your question's simplicity one bit or making you look intellectual, sorry, so shut up and let the artists speak, dammit. I almost felt bad for the grad students, its a rough spot to be in. It was interesting to hear The Books talk, but they didn't have a ton of surprising things to say. They really are classical composers though, more in that tradition than anything else, judging by how they talk and think about their music, which was interesting to have emphasized.

I think I'd like to start a little, ill kept blog reviewing restaurant brunches/all day breakfast. However, I'm stuck thinking of a name. "Brunching" springs to mind, "Miss Mandi Does Brunch" for the irony value (no one calls me Mandi and lives, except a few choice friends of my youth for whom its an in joke and one ex, which is what makes it a good Nom De Plume), "My Favorite Ambiguous Morning/Midday Meal: Reviews and Recipes on the Subject of Brunch" and oh dear godmother have I been in academia too long... Anyway, if anyone has any clever titles for me I'd be much obliged.

Now we are staying in as the Mr. has reached the end of his energy in a big way. I'd like to go out and be social, but no one I know is likely up for the spontaneous social hang outs (though I'm thinking I may push at this a bit in the future- you may receive phone calls, locals). Which at this juncture is okay because I opened a bottle of cheap prosecco and added some apple cider for a simple cocktail which has set me on my tush in a big way. I am not going anywhere at the moment.
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It has been a weekend of good eating.

Tonight I made "succotash" (its more of a corn salad than traditional succotash), from the smitten kitchen recipe. But I varied it a bunch. I made it for two people, so I cut down on the main ingredients but kept the rest roughly the same. I had no sherry vinegar so I used white wine vinegar and reduced the amount slightly. I used canned black beans (heresy, I know, but honestly, they are what my hubby likes) because I couldn't find any fresh beans, or even frozen ones (except limas, which I don't like or edamame, which the hubby doesn't like). I didn't use any arugula, instead I upped the basil a bit because I love basil. And I used a shallot instead of onion. Oh, and when I made the croutons I used some olive oil in the pan too, along with a little dried oregano and garlic. She says the croutons are optional, really, I think they are a vital component.

I think omitting the bacon for a vegetarian dish would work all right, just use some olive oil in the main and in making the croutons so it doesn't lack richness and maybe add a bit more salt.

I like it quite well and may make it again as long as I can get affordable cherry tomatoes (a bit more than a pint at the farmers market was 3 bucks, and I used most of it, but not all- the rest is going into a pad thai variation tomorrow).

Last night we went to Allen and Sons BBQ on Hwy 86 (new 86) on a whim coming back from the station, which is something I've been meaning to do for a very long time. Its fairly close, and I expect we'll be back there. The ambiance was typical rural greezy spoon, which was okay, because it had character (the taxidermy fox added a lot of character). Service was competent and speedy (we were bade to sit down at a table that seated six because it was available, and the two tops were full/uncleaned up, which was cool) The BBQ was succulent, not over dry in the way that I've had around here. The sides were good, especially the hush puppies. My major quibble was with their sauce, really, it could've been a bit more zippy. And I wish they had a variety of sauces, a la Voodoo BBQ in New Orleans or even, if I remember right, Que Shack in Durham. But oh well. I would like to try their BBQ chicken next time and I've heard the ribs are really good too. And I could totally see getting a pound of bbq take out and bringing it home to add my own sauce, which is also fairly economical, the prices were really reasonable, especially for take out. We had Key Lime cake for dessert, which was quite good and tart (and has me inspired to modify my favorite cake recipe to try a variation on it). So thumbs up on Allen and Sons.
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Yesterday was a day that didn't launch well and I ended up falling asleep on the couch for a good part of it- I think I fell asleep after Uruguay scored a goal. I meant to call people, but it didn't happen. Oops. This was probably a necessary thing, I've been sleeping like crap because of leg/foot cramps- horrible leg and foot cramps along the sides and front of my legs where its hard to stretch. Usually they start out waking me up at 3 AM until I finally give up and just get up at around 5 or 6. This early rising business is so out of character for me and I'm finding it tedious.

We went to Brasa for lunch. I was a little disappointed after all the hype, I must admit. The idea is that roasted meat is front and center, Caribbean/soul food sides. The roasted meat was good, but they really needed more cohesion in the menu. And more flavor. The spicing was minimal. It actually reminded us the most of East African food, not Jamaican or soul/southern food per ce. And here was a French quality to it- lots of butter and cream in the sides (I guess to maintain veggie options), where I would have preferred they use the juices from all the meat they are roasting up. Still, a good meal.

I hung out with my friend Michelle in the evening and saw her lovely garden. She was complaining about all the bugs destroying her fruit etc. and how curious it was that her rural family never had such problems in their gardens. It occurred to me that a real problem for urban gardening is the missing bits of the ecosystem, there aren't enough bug eaters. If she had more animals in her garden, eating the bugs, she'd be getting more produce. I also think that's why my mum's garden does pretty well, she makes a large effort to encourage birds to visit. Sometimes I think I should work on my frog habitat project some more- it'd be nice if folks could encourage amphibians in urban spaces, tricky though it may be.

Today we are getting more Mom time in. I need to stop at Syurdyk's and pick up some local beer to bring back to NC too. And get stuff to make a cake. There will be vegan cake on Friday, especially if I keep getting up at 6 AM I'll have time to make it.
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We went to Dale's Indian in Durham last night. I had been migraining and wasn't up for cooking, so out we went. We will not be going back to Dale's.

Here's a hint, Dale's: if you food is not that much better than or different than other Indian places, and your prices are no better than other Indian places, and your location/ambiance is not any better than other restaurant around, then you had better be sure to distinguish yourself by having decent service. And last night, you decidedly did not. Servers on cell phones the whole meal pushing non-English speaking kitchen staff into table service, getting our order wrong and acting like it was our fault, and general inattentiveness are not likely to promote repeat customers. And judging by how dead it was there last night we are not the only ones who have been put off by your poor service and average (barely) food (burnt naan? give me a break). I used to think Dale's was a cut above in terms of food, but no longer and it would never have been worth that poor service.

Med Deli on the other hand just gets better and better. Better food, faster service, the condiment bar (oh my god, free lebneh and that garlic hot sauce is just yum!), locally sourced flour for the pita- Med Deli is always on an upswing, it seems. I went there for lunch today because it was nice out and I had time. I got two 1/4 pound sides and a pita and I couldn't finish my meal and the meal was less than 5 bucks. There was a line nearly out the door and they still had my food ready in five minutes. And such a worth while meal, so tasty.
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So, we went to Merritt's store in Chapel Hill for lunch. It has a great reputation amongst the local foodies, so I was expecting great things. I wasn't blown away, but I was not disappointed either. Reasonable prices for the BLTs, which seemed like the thing to get, and cheap prices for everything else. There were quite a few bread options, but mostly grocery store varieties, so low brow bread. I had a "double" BLT which was double the fillings. I don't know how you would eat a triple, I think the fillings would get out of control. There were cute little picnic tables in back to eat from. Everything was low key and scruffy in ambiance, etc. This was not Foster's cutesy deli, for sure.

I understand how it got its reputation, if there was no Neals, Spotted Dog or other such places around, it would blow everything else out of the water. But since those newer places have hit the scene, I think it isn't quite up to the competition. Heresy! Nonetheless, a good lunch option for sure. It was nice to have a change of pace and go some where new.
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Yesterday was our sixth wedding anniversary so we went for a nice dinner at Vin Rouge, the French Bistro in Durham.

The food, as usual, was lovely. Ample portions (perhaps too ample, I always regret ordering anything but a salad for an entree by the time the entrees come out) and good quality. The hubby had his usual hanger steak in blue cheese butter and I had a special- duck and greens w/roasted tomato vinaigrette over gnocchi. The cheese plate portions were really good and fairly well put together (five cheese - I would've liked a goat's milk cheese among them- but oh well I'll be getting more of that than I want in a couple of weeks when I go to Burgundy).

The problem was with the dining area. We had wanted to eat out side, but it was raining and the porch area was full up. The area next to the bar was awful with traffic and it was cold. And, to top it off, when I took my first bite of cheese I was shocked to discover that it tasted like cigarette smoke. Ah, that wasn't the cheese, that was the guy less than two feet away from me smoking camel straights at the bar. I'm sorry, but even the French don't smoke in dining rooms anymore. They moved us after the hubby went and asked, the back dining room was much better.

But I didn't intend to write a bitch out of Vin Rouge over smoking. I want to alert the locals to a Good Deal. They have a prix fix menu before 6. 4 or 5 courses for 20 or 25 respectively. That's the price of an entree alone most of the time and a good number of their regular entrees are on the prix fix menu (like the hanger steak and frites, the salmon over a bed of marinated lentils, the Gruyere cheese macaroni etc.). This is a fantastic deal and I totally intend to take advantage of it at some point (unfortunately last night we got there at 7 so couldn't).

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