Thursday, April 10, 2014

Lions and Tigers and Blueberries, Oh My!

There aren't lions and tigers on the menu, of course, but there are blueberries.

And pumpkin, and pear and . . .  various other adjuncts to yeast, hops, barley and water.

Have you tried Sweetwater Blue? A Georgia-made IPA with a distinct but not cloying hint of blueberry. Or Pumpking Ale, an Oktoberfest with a festive spike of pumpkin flavor.

Maybe bourbon's more your style and you'd enjoy a strong ale like the Kentucky Bourbon?

While certain meats aren't on the Taco Mac Sports Grill menu (for those of you not familiar, TMac is an Alpharetta-based company whose original location is in Atlanta's VaHi neighborhood, and with which my Atlanta friends are no doubt familiar; Chattanooga is the only TN outpost so far) - of course we do have plenty of chicken in the form of all kinds of tasty wings, and cow in the American classic form of burgers - we also have over 150 beers, between tap and bottle, at any given time. We have a list updated daily of the "new, gone and running out" options, monthly specials (this month it's a quartet of  three Sweetwater picks and a Road Trip IPA; for Final Four fun we had four Oktoberfests reserved for a thematic occasion).

We've got your lambics, pilsners (did you know they are Czech in origin?), and stouts; your ciders, saisons and bocks.

And I had to learn all about it. Got a 100 on that particular bar test, too.

Menus have typically been easy for me when I've started at a new restaurant. I like food, pay attention to detail and have a focused, borderline didactic approach to mastering the good stuff I'm going to sell and serve to you.

Beer, not so much! Never something I really drank, or cared for - certainly not something I ever thought I'd have to learn so much about. Do you know that the ancient Egyptians had gods of beer? Indeed, the Romans weren't the only ones with gods of adult beverages. In the present day, Belgians are the only ones that use wild yeast (spontaneously fermented in the air) in their beer making. And on and on the knowledge goes . . .

I am now a student at Brewniversity (yes, this is a real thing), TMac's branded beer program. It's free to join and you can check it out online if you're a beer aficionado, or just a frequent beer drinker (see for details, to join and for the online app that tells you what's new daily and weekly; perks like a running kept list of your choices and a free extra 25% pour (20oz vs. 16oz) for life once you sample 125 beers, and more.

I have been impressed and, frankly, a little amazed at how many people love this program. And come in, particularly on Thursday nights, with phones loaded to the app and eager for the newest selection - and the keeper stein qualifying students get from 5pm on . . .

So, if you're in Chattanooga, come check it out - all TMac's have extensive beer choices, but thanks to different state laws, we can offer some choices unlike those in our home state. Michigan picks and other local-to-new-states brews coming soon!

I may not be a beer drinker, but I'll tell you all about it!

Love Bites,
Carrie Neal

Saturday, March 29, 2014

36-28-26 (ps 37 1/2)

I'm feeling a bit out of proportion. For multiple reasons.

See, I think I got  - um -  shod from my last job because I wasn't cute enough or . . . thin enough. Or young enough. That may be a heavy charge to level, but based on what I was told after a month's worth of awesome work - who climbs a ladder to the fourth level to reach the most schmancy, expensive liquors and gets asked out four (five?) times by a customer if she has a fat ass? Who averages a 22-25% tip score between cash and card (measured on every check out slip so that isn't just me guesstimating it) if she's not good at her job - and gets canned after her three week bar tenure? I am calling BS.

The title to this post: my approximate measurements. Based on, yes, bra size (36D), ('spensive) jean size (27-28) and hip size (guesstimating here because my hips are smaller than my waist these days, which does bug me). Oh, and my age.

Me, last fall (too skinny, though I liked it) -

Stress non-eating phase . . .

This was me, last November with my Lucas Dog -

And just before moving to Chattavegas (apparently, that name has more import than I thought when I copped it from my first and dearest childhood friend as a silly joke) -

Forget him (I did) - the point here is how I look.

Getting ready for a date night (sorry for the selfie, y'all but it makes a point here)

(btw, these were actually 26's so I am moving "up" from there)

And this is me, today (literally) -

Pretty hairs, pretty girl - right??

So, you can't see the rest of me, but hopefully you'll run with what I am saying based on my face. (I'd show you a pic of the rest if someone had taken one...)

Fired for not being cute enough or thin enough? Hell, the old part - well, I'm not 22. I'm 37. But the rest of it?

I have struggled with body, food, image, whatever you want to call it for so many years.

I have discovered that while the restaurant world was an unintentional, unexpected and sometimes. . . un-fun (who wants to wait on, whether bartender or server, the parents of your friends from Westminster, deb balls, college . . .in your 30s . . .) - I am really good at it! My personality, my charm - my ability to read people (trust me, I know when she wants the dressing on the side or has 12 more questions about how something is prepared, and he wants his Woodford on the rocks or . . .) and I am good at what I do, right now. Really good at it.

But one thing I have worked on is looking at myself through someone else's mirror - because I still can't completely trust my own. My stomach is not as flat as I would like - but I wear a jean size that is smaller than so many women, so logically I cannot be fat. My legs are proportionate to my body, but long and lean - can I pass the "thigh" test like my crazy-skinny-body-mind wants? Not really, but they are small enough. Do I still think (big) boobs make me fat? Yeah, kinda. These are my issues.

When they enter the workplace - and they cost me a job at which I am damn good - I say NO.

A woman of 37, whom you hired, who is pretty, way more than capable, fit and more than physically acceptable . . . well, here is what I say:

Your loss.

Not mine.

And I find another place, that welcomes me - as I did the very next day. Will I have a bigger stomach than I'd like when I first start? Yep, but that's my issue - not yours. Will I do a fantastic job for you?

You bet your ass off I will.

Come see me in Chattavegas and see what you think for yourself.

Love Bites,
Carrie Neal

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Mom, Mt. Vernon and Me

If the mountain won't come to Mohammed, Mom-hammed has to come to the Mount. Mt. Vernon, that is.

This week, there was a bit of a significant event. In many families, perhaps, such wouldn't even warrant a comment, because it is so common. In ours, though, it was pretty - notable, and awesome.

The thing is this: I love my mother very much, and she loves me as much, or probably more given I am of her. But our relationship is, to say the least, complicated. 

But Monday, we were able to have an absolutely beautiful, loving and kind experience. Ok, first we moved stuff into my new place (Dad spearheaded this so don't think I am leaving him out) then we had to go to Bi-Lo and...but it's one part of the day, and a dinner, of which I write.

Chattanooga is a town filled with nearly all warm memories for my family.

When we lived here, for a bit when I was a little thing, we had our routines - much like those we would develop in Atlanta - about people, places and practices. And a particularly dear one we had was eating Sunday lunch after church every week at Mt. Vernon.

So when we trekked towards Lookout Mtn to get to the grocery etc (ok, living in Atlanta forever, I am used to calculating distance a bit differently than I have to now in Chattavegas - Lookout and Signal really aren't that far from downtown!), and passed Mt. Vernon, a bastion of my youth and our early family life - all it took was a glance between us and we knew where we'd be having dinner.

This is one of my favorite pictures of my mom and me, ever - 

With my pretty mama, at the Amanas, 2002 (yeah, we favor)

In this picture, we look happy and close. And we were. But belying the pretty (and similar, no?) smiles, there was a lot of tension. Not between us, at the time, but with our surroundings and others with us (this picture was taken the weekend my parents first met my former in-laws - enough said...). And the same things could apply to last Monday as well as to our recent collective family life.

It has been a rough - while - for my family. In all directions between family members, for various reasons on various levels, for . . .well, you get the idea.

But this week, God looked on us with favor, the stars aligned, the moods were right . . . whatever you call it, we had goodness. Moving someone's stuff from storage to a new place once again, driving back and forth a few hours, discussing jobs and rent and . . . all of that took a back seat to a mother-daughter moment that we don't come across often enough.

A meal, taken at a leisurely pace, and without worry of waistlines or calories, Important Topics of Discussion, checking cell phones, or any of the stuff that can easily overtake time together.

And, it was good. So very good. The company was mutually perfect - not a cross word, not a bit of tension (at least to my reticular activating system, as my daddy always calls it, and I hope not to hers), not anything but enjoying each other's company. This, my friends and readers, was a great blessing.

Oh, and the food? Well . . . 

A Southern Chattanooga classic gets modern with a kale salad- yum!!

Homemade pimento cheese (and I just realized - that's the same shirt my mom was
wearing in that pic from 2002! Cute thin woman!)

Meat and Three (er, two) - Ribeye, fried green 'maters and mac and cheese!

STFD, y'all! Not a bite left of their famous Amaretto pie after we tackled it!!

See - I was right, again (hee!). Sometimes, food is love. Or the communion you have over food is love. A place you walk into and immediately become the happy, delightful child you once were, and your mama becomes the wonderful, thoughtful young mother she once was - that is the Magic Kingdom, y'all.

My mother was my age now, the last time I remember being at Mt. Vernon. To say it was a treat to have come back there, together, under loving and happy manner - well, that just makes me think this:

“Ah, how quickly the hands on the clock circle toward the future we thought was far away! And how soon we become our mothers.” ― Peggy Toney Horton

And, more importantly, this: if I am becoming my mother, that is more than fine with me - it is a blessing.

Love, food, family. Blessings, all.

Love Bites,
Carrie Neal

Monday, March 10, 2014

When There Are No Bites Left

What do you do?

That great sandwich - even that last Best Bite that you left to completely savor.

The final bite of the most delicate filet you've ever had, that you almost didn't want to eat because the sensation of it melting in your mouth was so delightful it stopped all thoughts of anything else.

A final spooning of the chocolate chip ice cream you ordered on bottom of the mint chocolate chip in your double cup, because you like it the very best just as you did when you were four.

. . . That - goodbye kiss. The one you may know is just that - or may not. Which is better or worse? And how are food and love so different, really?

The bittersweetness of knowing it's the last, or the thought of how long till you'll have another, bite or kiss - the tenderness of a goodbye touch that you don't expect to be the final one, or the forkful of goodness you think you'll have again very soon . . . 

What's left?

Well, sometimes, you try to make more. Surely, there's another recipe in your self-made cookbook compilation that you haven't tried, and it's bound to be delicious. Whether microwaved or oven-made, hastily put together or well thought-out. Another boy to kiss after a first date - or maybe just because you want to. Whether out of boredom, or out of hope or real interest.

Or not.

Maybe, the groceries or the energy to try aren't . . . there. Or maybe you try and it's not so tasty, or the attempt falls flat.

Do you put your apron back on, or fix your lipstick, and try again? 

Food for thought.

Love Bites,
Carrie Neal

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Feed Me, Chattanooga!

Feed Me, Chattanooga! 

[Note: I am writing this with one of my Jupiter Coyote faves, "Crazy Women" in the background. Seems apt.]

Spending a little time in this lovely town - boy has it changed since the years I was here as a little girl! - has so far been quite interesting.

Let's stick to the topic of food, for now. Y'all know I love to dish about that!

Since I've been here, I've been exposed to the bad (actually, the absolute worst) of "cuisine" here - refer to my last post, *shudder* - so let's move on from that. The good news is that I've subsequently found some good, great even, eats as I've explored the city, especially downtown, whether for my own sustenance, just out of curiosity to observe, or eating some place where I might want to work (the restaurant world may lure me back again during my time in TN...). Examples (in no particular order except yumminess):

The awesome (and huge) club salad I got Tues and was able to re-chef ingreds into an omelet Wed!

Egg-in-a-hole at my current awesome digs, Crash Pad Chattanooga!

Delicious "Russian schachi" soup at my  new fave food store, Enzo's!

Grilled pimento cheese with bacon. Enough said.

And of course, the grilled cheese truck of love!

MMM, good, as Campbell's would say. Speaking of which - 

It's actually copied from Progresso, but I adore stoving up Chickarina soup, adding spinach....

Oh, and have you ever had duck prosciutto? I hadn't till the other night - 

With a little arugula, crostini and a sharp, grainy mustard? Awesome.

So, my culinary adventures are on the upswing. I've learned there are a lot of yummy options here in Chattanooga; I've also learned to get by when just a fridge and microwave are at my disposal (I will never, I repeat never, eat in a cafeteria like *that* one again, so I'll work with what I have). I've also gotten even better at observing other people's dishes when I am not partaking myself, which actually adds a new third-person type view of the dining landscape.

Food - good, necessary, interesting. As I'm getting wiser on my little relo time, my stomach is finding a way to stay happy.

Love Bites,
Carrie Neal

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Grilled Cheese, Microwaved Eggs, and Snow Days

Grilled Cheese, Microwaved Eggs, and Snow Days


Vegetables? Not much luck.

Healthy food. Pretty much ix-nay on that, either.

Scrambled eggs made in the microwave?? Yep.

I simply hate being cooped up and this damn weather is driving me nuts. Peanut M&M's bought for Valentine's Day in hopes of fun days ahead (ok, at least more pleasant days) eaten before lunch because I am so bored, do not a healthy diet make.

So far, my little jaunt to Chattanooga is really turning out not to be so fun. That darling little food truck with glorious grilled cheeses of all kinds that I found the other day? Definitely down for the count during this weather. A microwaved grilled cheese just isn't the same as one from here - 

Super William's awesome grilled cheese truck in downtown Chattavegas.

Forget the amazing frozen yogurt I got the other day, too. Too cold for it to even wander downtown to see if my favorite spot is open (guessing that would be a wild longshot, anyway).

I was back on the track of eating so healthily before I left home, and really can't put into words fit for print the misery that has been my edible options here. Sharing a fridge, too, is for the birds. It's not for this bird, at least.

I am writing this from the nearby Whole Foods - I braved the sunny but iced and snowed over and simply frigid weather to get to the closest WiFi - and, frankly, it's almost worse looking at all the healthy (hell, at this point the not-as-healthy options sound better since comfort food is all I am craving, honestly) things I can't cook (no stove or even toaster) when I stroll around one of my typical happy places when I have a real kitchen with which to work.

Do I sound really cranky yet? Indeed I am.

This is what I am dealing with, weather wise:

Yes, Atlantans, I feel your pain - except there are NO salt trucks here and Chattanoogans are worse than Atlantans when this kind of weather hits . . .

And this is the kind of stuff the cafe in my building serves on any given day:

Seriously? Not a chance this is passing these lips.

Which makes me feel hangry and like this:

Never thought I'd relate to South Park quite like this...

As I try not to throw a complete, juvenile (even if mostly warranted) tantrum, I ponder what kind of healthy soup I can concoct in my microwave . . .While dreaming of a meal like this:

Ahh, arugula salad with Parmesan and my lemon and olive oil vinaigrette . . .

Oh, the sweet thought- and many things  I could do - with a rotisserie chicken . . .


Can I please go home now?

Sigh. I should sign this "Angry Carrie Neal." I will show some restraint - for now at least and say . . .

Love (really) Bites,
Carrie Neal

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Get Toasted

This time of year is perfect for true comfort food. Sure, fresh berries and light, flavorful salads are lovely in summer, but in winter, who (if they're honest) doesn't often want something a little . . .heartier, warmer, or otherwise heart pleasing?

My latest version of comfort food, breakfast addition, cold-weather fortification is something a good friend taught me about: salted, buttered toast. So simple yet so very delicious. Mine looks like this:

A piece of this yumminess with yogurt and a banana - perfect breakfast!

If you want to try this at home, here's how I do it (she uses a toaster but I like to use a pan on the stove): Heat the correct size pan (I use my smallest one for one piece and a larger for two) on medium; add butter and swirl to melt. Sprinkle a little salt (I've been using lite Morton's but sea salt or a flavored specialty salt would also be good!) then lay the bread on top. Let it "brown" to golden, a few minutes, add a little salt to the side that's up, then flip over and repeat with the other side. A few minutes more, and voila! Only takes a few minutes on each side to get a nice "toasted" look so leave it longer if you want it more done. And don't worry if you have to flip a couple of times- this won't bother it like when you flip a grilled cheese too much!

My tummy is always happy with this treat, and I feel good about the whole breakfast when I add yogurt, a banana, or maybe scrambled eggs to round it out.

Sometimes, especially on a cold rainy Saturday like today, this comfort is just what I need.

Love Bites,
Carrie Neal