It’s a blessed mess of green back there. I’ve been moving some of the twistier tomatoes to beside the chain link fence, to see if they’ll grow into it. 11 tomatoes still sit on the deck. Some of them even have fruits.

I had four boonies sprout, of which one died, one was cut off by some worm before it could get anywhere (still alive though), and the other two look pretty healthy. This photo is of the best of the new year’s boonie peppers. I don’t expect any crop until late fall.

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You know, the Japanese do not eat sushi or tempura routinely. Those dishes are reserved for special occasions.
Japanese guest, at my brother-in-law’s Thanksgiving party.

The Chamorros have a few dishes that are signatures, and as my family encountered them a number of times during the Thanksgiving holidays, I thought it appropriate to introduce these dishes in context. In almost all cases where we were served food, the centerpiece of the meal, the first thing on the table was a finadene sauce. I’ve spoken of finadene before. It’s a sauce based on soy sauce, lemon juice (or vinegar), scallions, and boonie peppers. Finadene is a ubiquitous flavoring component in the Marianas, found even in the local Kentucky Fried Chickens. In the absence of boonies, my wife has had good luck with Thai (bird) peppers. But Thais can be 50,000-100,000 Scoville units in heat, while Professor Marutani of the University of Guam has shown me quotes that place the heat of the boonies in roughly the same range as jalapeno peppers, or about 4000 Scoville units. To note, my wife usually freezes her Thai peppers first.

Home made Finadene sauce.

Kelaguen is a Micronesean version of ceviche. However, instead of being applied largely to fish, the most common forms of kelaguen are chicken kelaguen (recipes here and here) and beef kelaguen(recipes here and here). This is not a staple, but a side dish and used for special occasions.

Chicken kelaguen

Red rice is a staple Chamorro dish, and the rice is colored with the red pigment of the achiote bean. The blog Scent of Green Bananas has an excellent article on Chamorro red rice. The bean imparts a subtly different flavor to the rice, which I can only describe as “duskier” or “darker”. This kind of red rice is not the same as Japanese red rice, which is sweeter and more a dessert. Achiote (or achote) can usually be purchased at places with a strong Hispanic influence, such as Atlanta’s international markets.

Chamorro red rice.

A Micronesian cultural resource I’ve recently encountered is the Guampedia. They have placed online dozens of recipes. Among other things, more exotic forms of kelaguen (venison, yellowfin) are presented among the recipes.

Boonies:

I had long moved my heating strip to the row of coke bottle greenhouses, and yet a couple weeks later, another boonie pepper seed from floralys sprouted. This makes a germination rate of 6/12 from floralys and 5/12 from pepper pilot.  I don’t know how statistically significant these germination rates are. I was a raw beginner when I started this boonie pepper project, and I’d say sheer inexperience was a bigger factor than vendor.

Blog focus:

The focus of this blog, from the beginning, has been food *near* Snellville. The range of the restaurants has been creeping outward, usually to spots reasonably close by, such as Zapatas or Mojitos in downtown Norcross, or Quoc Huong on Buford Highway, or to the wonderful French restaurant in Suwanee, Cafe Gourmandises (really, just a slight detour on the way to Mall of Georgia). What I’m discovering is that to be taken seriously by certain rating systems, I’m going to occasionally go out and rate restaurants these particular ratings agencies think are hot, because the ratings of my blog are affected by this. It is disappointing to some extent, but I don’t intend the main focus of the blog to change. Just, I’m wanting readers of this blog to understand that when I review that 4.5 star restaurant south of the airport, two hours from Snellville, I’m doing it to prevent this blog from being treated as a backwater.

For those who wonder about my Snellville commitment, it comes from trying to give Snellville Eats, the original Snellville food blog, their due when they post reviews. It comes from making sure I have Snellville reviews on a regular basis.  I have three reviews already written of restaurants in or very near Snellville. I’m waiting for Urban Spoon to post one of the restaurants on their Snellville page before putting them up on my web page.

Urban Spoon:

To talk a little about Urban Spo0n: the reason I added their links to my reviews is that they are a portal to iPhone and Android users (evidently, the app can be hosted on blogs as well). Urban Spoon is a startup that launched without venture capital, was recently purchased by IAC, and is an ad-driven enterprise (i.e. they make their money by people placing ads with them). Their iPhone app, is, as they describe:

Urbanspoon on the iPhone is part Magic 8 Ball, part slot machine. You shake your phone and it finds a good nearby restaurant for you. Keep shaking it until it comes back with something you want to try. We use the iPhone’s accelerometers to pick up the “shake”, find restaurants near you through GPS, and then skew the results towards restaurants that are highly regarded on Urbanspoon.

To note, there are over 2 million copies of this application downloaded currently. And 2 million potential viewers is too much to ignore.

Best of Snellville

It has been close to four months since I started this blog, and I thought I would speak about the most interesting and best things I’ve found so far in and around Snellville.

Best restaurant in Snellville is Benny’s Bar and Grill, and it’s not close. Benny’s is one of a kind, and the next best sets of restaurants are chains. And though I haven’t reviewed City Slickers (chain) and Provinos (chain), yes, I have eaten at both places. Benny’s is far and above better than the others I’ve been to.

The best four restaurants I’ve eaten at while blogging are covered in the Exceptional category on this blog. To name them, they are Haru Ichiban, Lady and Sons in Savannah, Benny’s and Cafe Gourmandises.

Best casual dining in Snellville, with an emphasis on beer and wine is probably Urban Flats. My family went there recently on a busy Saturday afternoon, and the food was good, and the service was notably good.

Best new shopping has to be Mother Nature’s Market in Snellville. Best place nearby to buy inexpensive meats is probably Lilburn International Farmer’s Market. Best place for fine wines and beers is Niko’s.

This is a period of coupons and bargains, and the best buys in prepared food are probably in the various fast food restaurants around town. For the time being concentrating on restaurants I’ve reviewed, then I’d suggest the best buy in food near Snellville are the tacos at Tacqueria Los Hermanos in Lilburn, and the patties at Tastees and Golden Krust. Otherwise, notable is the inexpensive single at Carvel Ice Cream, perhaps a dollar cheaper than other premium ice cream vendors. Outside the general Snellville area, the various shops that serve banh mi (such as Quoc Huong) on Buford Highway are a good prepared food buy. For $2.50 a sandwich, and discounts starting when you buy three of them,  and a six for 5 price special everywhere, you can feed a family of 6 for $12.50. You might also check out the small shops that abound in the various International Farmer’s Markets in town.

The best food buy, period, are peas, beans, and whole grains. These are inexpensive and available many places. You can get a pound of pearled barley (not really whole, but easy to cook) at Publix for less than a dollar, and steel cut oatmeal many places. The best general purpose source of whole grains in Snellville is Mother Nature’s Market. Other resources are noted in my “Shopping” tab, which focuses on whole grains.

As far as opinions go, I’ll state mine, but I’m not wedded to them. If you wish to add your choices below, feel free.

This is going to be a jambalaya of a post, so bear with me. In cookbooks, “Real Cajun”, by Donald Link, is out. This was a book inspired by Donald’s upbringing in southern Louisiana, and his interest in Cajun (as opposed to Creole) dishes.  And on both the cover and inside, it is one pretty cookbook:

real_cajun

The recipes inside are just delicious looking. It makes me want to go out and buy a few pounds of crawfish right away. In the boonie pepper department, the seeds from Reimer have arrived, in nice neat packages.  So in the end, all three sources of boonie pepper seeds delivered a product. My boonies are growing slowly on the windowsill, perhaps because this has been a cool wet April. I suspect I need some kind of greenhouse factor to improve the odds (one technique, called pop cloches, has been posted on the site You Grow Girl. Another resource for pop bottle greenhouses is the blog  Mr Brown Thumb. Finally the Instructables site has some blow by blow instructions for pop bottle greenhouses). In the meantime, I’m planning to plant some of the seeds from floralys.

As part of Earth Day, Jo and Sara of Innocent Primate have posted a link where if you click and look at some ads, you help feed a dog.

A lot of good food is simply a riff off the salsa base of diced tomatoes, diced onions, and citrus juice, such as most common black bean and corn salsas. One critical advantage this blend has is that it’s low calorie. In one case I believe I estimated a pint of one black bean and corn salsa to have less than 400 calories. In this recipe from Men’s Health, it’s about 180 calories a serving and they’re using olive oil to boot. We reviewed a bunch of black bean and corn salsa recipes here.

It’s encouraging enough that I think salsas deserve a higher place on the menu than simply a condiment. They should be treated as a side or perhaps the main component of a meal, perhaps lunch. One place that is thinking along those terms, but hasn’t quite got there yet, is the restaurant Fresh Mexi-Cali. They offer good, inexpensive border cuisine, but they also have a salsa bar that is pretty much all-you-can-eat. They serve at least 5 salsas by my count, a mango salsa, pico de gallo, a salsa verde, a moderately hot chipotle salsa and a very hot salsa. The restaurant I’ve been to is a little out of my blog’s normal range, in Sandy Springs, but they offer other interesting dishes, such as their bowl (black beans, rice, pico) that could be turned, with a little work, into something more calorie free, lightweight, salsa-centric, vegan and fresh. They could have people gushing about Mexi-Cali Grill the way this place gets the love.

Fresh Mexi-Cali Grill
6631 Roswell Road, Suite J
Publix Shopping Center
Sandy Springs, GA
(404) 256-6394

Fresh Mexi-Cali Grill on Urbanspoon

For a good introduction to salsas, this article by Mexican Food World is useful. For those who have never made their own salsa, a good salsa recipe is on the blog Wicked Good Dinner. Another easy salsa is the one posted by My Vegan Planet, called an Argentinian BBQ salsa.

A nice use of salsa is by Just a Taste, who mixes a pureed salsa with fresh pita chips. On the blog Blue Kitchen, there is a nice tomato-basil salsa over pasta recipe that looks wonderfully delicious. The blogger The Friendly Kitchen has a salsa recipe that also looks top notch. Hers is blended, so it isn’t quite as easy as a salsa cruda.

Finally, the blogger Cat Scratch Fever was looking for good salsa suggestions in her article, “In search of the perfect salsa” Too bad the comments are closed, else I’d have answered.

We’ve been traveling a bit – the first vacation devoted to something other than relatives in some years, mostly up and down the Atlantic Coast. The best of the restaurants we ate at was Paula Deen’s Lady and Sons, but I’ll reserve that for a separate review. The others I’ll concatenate here, and also update the boonie pepper status, as they have sprouted.

boonie pepper sprouts.

boonie pepper sprouts.

The details:  The seeds were soaked overnight in water, and the Jiffy Peat pellets were watered with warm water with a little hydrogen peroxide. I added a tablespoon of 3% to 370 ml of water, but I suspect that’s really too much (I’ve seen a teaspoon in a pint or quart recommended). The seeds have been incubating 13 days in a 12 pellet Jiffy peat container, sometimes in the sun, but the last 5 days just near a window, no direct sunlight, using Park Seed’s windowsill heating strip.  The window sill was getting so cold it was counterproductive, whereas warm and near some sun seemed to make more sense to me. If I can get 4 good plants fully grown, I’m in business.

We went up and down the coast the past few days, going as far north as Myrtle Beach, SC and as far south as Tybee Island, GA. We touched on a number of interesting places to eat, but as we’re largely a Atlanta area blog these will be minireviews.

Myrtle Beach

Myrtle is not a pure white sand beach, but a light brown beach. It’s long and large, with hotels as far as the eye can see both north and south. Hotels were advertising prices as low as $27.00 a day. There is a lot to see and do, but mostly my wife wanted to watch waves. There was a restaurant near our hotel, called the Pier. If you walked to the pier just north of this one, there was another restaurant there named Pier 14 (getting original here). My wife ate at the Pier. There were decent shrimp in her po boy but the bread was spongy.

A balcony view of Myrtle Beach.

A balcony view of Myrtle Beach.

South Carolina Ginger Ales

I’ve been fascinated by spicy ginger ales ever since I saw a special by Charles Kuralt where he visited a ginger ale manufacturer in Blenheim SC. I know now that Vernor’s has a bit more bite than generic ginger ale, and that if I can get Stewart’s ginger beer (also described here and here), then I can have a nice spicy treat. But what I ran into in a Piggly Wiggly in Myrtle Beach is Blenheim’s Ginger Ale, which in the version I had started smooth and ended with a really nice kick (I wonder what C. Kuralt drank?). For those interested in the comparison between the various ginger ales, there is some discussion of it on Yelp.

This ginger ale has some kick to it. Now if I could find the red cap version..

This ginger ale has some kick to it. Now if I could find the red cap version..

Crabby Mike’s Calabash Buffet, 290 Highway 17 N, Surfside Beach, SC

The nicest thing about Crabby Mike’s buffet is the way they treat people while waiting to get into the buffet. The DJ outside, along with a stack of hula hoops, is really a nice touch. It allowed impatient children of all ages to burn off energy and enjoy themselves while waiting for their meal. Once inside, the menu has no price for the buffet, other than “market price”, so I suspect their prices go up and down as crab and fish become more or less expensive. We were charged $23.99 each for our buffet.

Crabby Mike’s is really big, with three or four step tiers to the restaurant, and in the middle, 7 large islands with food on them, a wall side kiosk where you can get all kinds of fried and grilled fish, and then desserts along one wall. There was a lot of space devoted to snow crab legs and crab clusters, and one section devoted entirely to crab claws. Crab legs and clams seemed to go really fast. They had a mixed collection of clams and mussels and the mussels were enormous.

The food? Mostly good. The snow crabs were saltier than I expected, but certainly edible. My wife went back for seconds on crab. My daughter stuck to the crab claws when she could, because it wasn’t as crowded. There was a lot more seafood, a lot more southern style vegetables than the typical Atlanta based Chinese and crab buffets, but in some respects, the ambience isn’t any different. Some people were in there eating nothing but crab (and throwing half of that away).

The most surprising items I had at Crabby Mike’s were their apple stix. I wasn’t expecting the rush of cinnamon when I bit into those at all. I enjoyed those a lot.

Verdict: Recommended. The food is good, and Crabby Mike’s will make your wait painless.

Crabby Mike's Calabash on Urbanspoon

Sticky Fingers, 341 Johnny Dodds Road, Mt. Pleasant, SC

We knew about this restaurant before we ever saw one, due to their excellent Habanero Hot sauce, which partly replaced our use of the Texas based Stubbs BBQ sauce. We had eaten there once, while staying in Charleston, and we ate there again while driving south along highway 17. This section of highway 17 is just south of the land of the sea grass baskets, little kiosks littering the road selling hand made woven baskets.

The food at Sticky Fingers was good. They have excellent sauces, their chicken fingers are more fist sized than finger sized. Sticky Finger’s ribs are tender but there really is little if any smoke in them. There are better ribs at Mad Dogs in Conyers.

Verdict: Recommended. Meats are good, but the excellent sauces are really the star of Sticky Fingers.

Sticky Fingers - Mount Pleasant on Urbanspoon

Tybee Island

We had climbed the lighthouse before, but never really found the beaches, until this trip. It’s not as developed as Myrtle Beach, not as many things to see and do, but the beach is whiter, if smaller, and when we were there, the waves weren’t as bad and the weather was warmer.

AJ”s Dockside Restaurant, 1315 Chatham Ave, Tybee Island, GA

If you get far enough south on Tybee, this restaurant can be found by driving as west as you can. That’s how I found it, that and a peek at their Urban Spoon page.  The Urban spoon reviews recommended arriving just before sunset, as the view is excellent, but we had no such luck.  AJ’s has inside and outside seating, and I suspect during the spring and fall that the outside seating is the way to go. AJ’s is an honest to god hole-in-the-wall restaurant, as the inside seating is in line with their bar, while outside seating spills off onto a pier nearby.

My daughter and my wife had AJ’s po boy. I had a cup of their crab stew, and a crab burger, where instead of beef or chicken, you get eight ounces of crab meat patty on your burger bun. My wife substituted a house salad for her fries. That substitution came at no cost.

The short of it? Everything was good, but while I liked my crab burger (the patty was twice the size of my bun), I loved the crab stew. It was thick with crab meat, rich with cream. I told my wife if we come back, I’m getting a bowl of the stew. The salad had perfectly ripe tomatoes, the shrimp on the po boys were good, and the bread on the po boys was both fresh and a little toasted, as opposed to spongy.

The menu for AJ’s is available on their web site.

Verdict: Recommended, good to very good. We’ll have to get a bowl of the crab stew when we come back.

Aj's Dockside Restaurant on Urbanspoon

I’ve bought at least 3 new cookbooks over the short term, and I thought I would mention them briefly. “Whole Grains for Busy People“, by Lorna Sass I found to be a fun read, though not as clued into “pure” whole grains as I had originally anticipated. That’s not necessary a bad thing. Foods like couscous and bulgur cook quickly, and everyone can use a recipe or two that is fast to the table. Second is Mark Miller’s “The Great Chile Book“, which is a paperback that is roughly 3″ by 9” and his nice long color pictures of the peppers that he speaks about. It’s not much of a cookbook, though there are recipes in the back. Better is Mark Miller’s “The Great Salsa Book“, also in 3 by 9 format. The salsa recipes he publishes all look fantastic. Some look to be doable even with modest kitchen skills, such as mine.

In terms of my grandmother’s holiday lizzies, I wrote Barry Popik on the matter and he replied that he had posted an article on lizzies about a year ago. His understanding is the origin of the phrase is unknown, but in a Dallas Morning News article (dated 21 November 1952) that he quotes, you see the following:

…and if you’ve lost your grandmother’s recipe for Brown Lizzies, those rich Christmasy cookies, you’ll find it on Page 67….

My point simply is that if lizzies were a “grandmother’s recipe” in 1952, they must have been decades old at the time.

In terms of the Guam boonie pepper, seeds from both eBay sellers (rightbbq and floralys) have arrived. Seeds from Reimer Nurseries have yet to appear. I’ve planted some of pepper pilot’s (aka rightbbq; they’re the same) seeds and we’ll see how they do. I’ll also note the site Garden Web, which I have joined. There are a number of gardeners seriously growing (or attempting to grow) boonies there and you can get a host of good advice on Garden Web on getting your peppers off the ground. I started mine in Jiffy peat pellets because Garden Web regulars have had good luck with peat pellets and boonies. We’ll see how they go. I planted some jubilee tomato seeds at the same time as the peppers, using the same method, and they have already sprouted. Speaking of jubilee tomatoes, the blogger Out of the Garden has a good looking tomato chutney that uses jubilees.

boonie seeds in jiffy peat pots

boonie seeds in jiffy peat pots

Last but not least, let’s post this link to Haley Suzanne’s salsa criolla. It just looks fantastic.

Update: from this post on cheftalk, JonK notes that Cross Country Nurseries will sometimes sell boonie pepper plants. I have verified that they do. Be warned there is a minimum purchase of 12 plants from them and shipping is not cheap.