Remember: The Twinkie is nature's brick

If you don’t laugh out loud while looking at The Greatest Snack Food Stadium Ever Built, you need to be penalized 15 yards for lack of fun. I especially like that there are “helmets” of cheese (too bad Green Bay isn’t playing on Sunday) to protect the Vienna sausage players.

I am now inspired to create a snack food Dean Dome. Stay tuned…

Eat local – it's a bargain, too

We’re all looking to save money right now. Chain restaurants know it, and are touting cheap sandwiches and bargain pizzas. Well, before you succumb to the siren call of a $5 fast-food sandwich, consider locally owned eateries. They don’t have the national ad campaigns and deep pockets of cash to spend on promotion, but many are just as inexpensive, the food tastes much better, and more of the dollars you spend stay in your own community, supporting your neighbors.

Here’s just one example, My husband and I had lunch recently at Neomonde Cafe in Raleigh (less than a 5 minute drive from the fast-food wasteland of Western Boulevard). I eat there because the food is good and healthy, but this time, I looked at the prices. The spinach-feta pie I ordered – a base of flattened pita bread overflowing with spinach, feta cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, pickled peppers, olives, hummus and tahini – came in at just a few cents over a fiver. A wide selection of Middle Eastern sandwiches hovered around the same price.

There are many other low-priced local options. Great chicken salad at Tookie’s Grill. A creative dinner on par with any fine-dining restaurant at 18 Seaboard (we ate there on a recent weekend for, minus the two mixed drinks, a total of under $60).

We all have to stick together through this downturn, and many restaurants are doing the best they can to hold down prices. When you do want to dine out, think local.

Sweet dreams

I had several kinds of honey to choose from to sweeten my cup of ginger-mint tea this afternoon. Yet another great thing about farmers markets is the variety of locally made honey available there in ever-growing numbers. And they offer single-flower honeys, allowing you to appreciate them like fine wines and use their distinct flavors to accent foods.

Tulip poplar honey is a longtime favorite of mine. It’s dark brownish-gold and has the rich flavor of caramel – it’s not just a burst-of-sweetness honey. You have to be careful with this one, so that its own strong flavor doesn’t dominate. But I love it for just about all uses.

I also have some locust flower honey, which was a new variety for me when I purchased it a few weeks aso. The aroma of the pale golden honey is strongly flowery. It tastes very sweet, almost like candy, with little of the bitter edge that honey often has. It’s not as interesting as the tulip poplar, but for straightforward sweetening, this is your honey.

For Christmas, I received a jar of white clover honey. This reddish honey smells like a field on a hot summer day – the clover is definitely there. It tastes of an open field, too, with grassy and bitter flavors among the sweet. Interesting.

A yeasty new year

We started off 2009 with fresh bread. I should say my husband did all the work and I merely reaped the fragrant rewards. He doesn’t make bread often, but when he does, he wants to be traditional – with all the kneading, flouring and time that approach requires. He likes to feel the life in the dough; to do something far from the techy computers he works with all day.

The recipe he uses, from “Bread Alone” by Daniel Leader, takes most of a day, sometimes starting the night before. The bread, containing a combination of white and wheat flours, requires 20 minutes of vigorous kneading after the initial rising. My husband has never even considered the dough hook on the mixer. The end result of those minutes of rhythmic thunk, flap, thunk; thunk, flap, thunk is a dough as smooth as glass. A dough that creates a fine-textured, dense bread with just a hint of sourdough flavor (not too much; I don’t like to go overboard on the sourdough taste).

As the dough rose and, later, baked, I realized I’d forgotten the enchantment that the aroma of bread brings to the house. Like a roaring fire on a dreary day, the scent warms and comforts, and boosts the spirit. It eased that little down feeling I get when removing the holiday decorations for another year. And you get something great to eat, too. Makes me think, maybe, 2009 won’t be so bad.