Have Hunger, Will Travel

In Italy, on the corner of a cobblestone street, just below a window box overflowing with the sweet smell of basil, there’s a tiny table reserved for me.

Unfortunately, I’d have to mortgage the house to get there.

So for now, I’m going as far as my wallet will take me. Don’t worry, the food there is good, too!

I love getting in the car and spending every minute inside it talking about what I plan to order wherever it is that I’m going.

The French Bakery in Cowpens (tiny SC town, no Eiffel Tower) got my attention and hopefully yours (see previous blog) a few weeks ago. Last weekend, we made the 20 minute drive to go again.

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I ate a cheese croissant, my partner in cuisine crime had the almond croissant (again), we shared macaroons (no coconut, just chocolate cookies hugging a chocolate ganache) and took home rosemary focaccia.

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Delightful! And yes, the owner said, “Voila!” when she handed us the bag.

On Sunday, good friends took us to Asheville, North Carolina. When we made the plans weeks ago, they told us where we’d be eating. THAT is why we’re friends. If you can’t share a love of food, what can you share?

We left at the crack of dawn, or what felt like it due to the time change, to head to the Early Girl Eatery for breakfast.

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You get coffee at the door – I don’t drink it – but appreciate the offer. We watched guys cutting up Roma tomatoes behind the counter. We walked by 3 or 4 domes guarding cakes on the way to our table.

The servers were fun. I’m talking about their personalities and their clothes. Who doesn’t love knee-high argyle socks?!

I ate the Porky Breakfast Bowl: “Homefries, BBQ pork, scrambled eggs and farmstead cheese smothered in Benton’s smoky bacon gravy.”

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YUM!

Our brilliant friend, Scott, got an order of the banana-nut pancakes (a special) for the table. What a brilliant idea! Share something you know is too much for just one person. These pancakes were ridiculous. I kept waiting for a squirrel to beat me down to get the huge hunks of walnuts in each bite.

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For those of you who don’t know, Asheville is full of character. Every store is neat. The steep streets help you work off what you ate.

After breakfast, we hit up a few of the chocolate shops. Yes, there are several.

In one, we got a box of truffles at French Broad Chocolates. $12 for 6 orbs of pure bliss. These were better than what we had in New York. I don’t admit that easily.

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From left to right:
Row 1: Strawberry-Balsamic, Early Grey, Lavender & Honey
Row 2: Dark Chocolate & Salted Honey Caramel, Thai (coconut, homegrown lemongrass, lime, ginger, and green chile in dark chocolate), Masala Chai

We also visited Chocolate Gems. They let us sample their homemade gelato (delicious) and enticed me with their firecracker truffle – a narrow pyramid of chocolate laced with chiles and Pop Rocks.

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I passed up the explosive offer to have something I’ve always wanted to try, affogato (ah-fo-gah-to). Affogato means ‘drowned’ in Italian. They used their vanilla gelato (or flavor of your choice) and drown it with espresso, whipped cream and chocolate sauce.

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Keep in mind, I really don’t like coffee. This, though, was tasty. It cools down very quickly, but all the flavors and textures married nicely. Go up there and get one!

For lunch, we visited Salsas, a Mexican-Carribean joint.

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We started with the habanero margaritas. We had ours with pineapple. This was a match made in heavenly hell. Sweetness from the fruit soothed the burn of the pepper.
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I ordered one of the paquetez. It’s a packet… or the lovechild of a tequila-enduced romp between a quesadilla and a burrito. Mine had steak onions, goat cheese, roasted veggies (broccoli!), avocado sauce, and coconut-annatto (a seed known for its yellow color and sweet/peppery taste) sauce. On the side, I got habanero mashed potatoes (not as spicy as you’d think) and a salsa infused with dill – great idea! This plate hits you with flavor combinations you’d never expect. I tasted curry undertones, which I adore.

We got home in the late afternoon. Of course, the 75.6 pounds of savory & sweet treats we downed like starving swine wasn’t enough. We’d been in the mood for the portobella and pesto pizza from Whole Foods, which is a good 35 minutes away.

So, we improvised. I used the rosemary focaccia from the French bakery and sauteed some portobellas from the nearby grocery store. I slathered the bread with a mix of pesto & cream cheese. Topped it with provolone cheese, the mushrooms and some slices of roasted red peppers.

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In the same pan that I used to cook the mushrooms, I made a makeshift panini press (I was too lazy to get out the real thing). I put some butter-flavored spray (no calories!) in the pan and on the bread. Put the sandwiches face down and then put another pan on top. I put cans and a 2-liter of Dr. Pepper inside to weigh it down. A few minutes later, I flipped the bread and pressed it again.

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This sandwich was crunchy on the outside and gooey on the inside. We sent our tastebuds on a trip, without ever leaving home.

Don’t be afraid to explore, even if you’re on a budget. Think outside the preservative-packed box and go after what you love. Use your GPS to EAT.

Tip: Go to the produce section of your favorite grocery store and buy something you’ve never had. We were at The Fresh Market over the weekend and they had lemon plums from Chile. When we bought it, it was a bright yellow color (its shape and color account for the name). After it sat on our counter for 2 days, it turned a deep and in some spots, flashy orange color, which means it’s getting ripe. The texture was similar to a typical plum, but the taste was almost a cross between a plum and a peach.

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We got a container of baby heirloom tomatoes (made from seeds passed down from plant-to-plant), too. They’re beautiful and delicious. Look at the colors! The more colorful, the more health benefits… remember that!

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The baby variety is fun, because for the price of 2 of the regular-sized suckers, you can get a box of several kinds. I made a salad (extra virgin olive oil, course sea salt, garlic powder, a few splashes of red wine vinegar and capers) to go with the panini.

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Blood oranges (The Moro version – from Sicily.. sweet, w/hint of raspberry) also made their way into our basket. I can’t wait to use them!

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