Friday, September 5, 2008

Missing summer's produce

I love fresh fruits and vegetables. They truly taste better when they don't travel across the country in a truck, instead coming from your own backyard or local market. Though I enjoy the salads from Top Dog, the one I had the other day was full of sad looking veggies.

Do we have other options in Harrisonburg? Yes.

The Downtown Harrisonburg Farmer's Market offers fresh, local produce, baked goods, and craft items twice a week. Often grown without sprays or other chemicals, these items are healthier and tastier.

I am currently working on a story about the market for The Breeze, but am running into a dilemma. Do students even know this exists? I don't want to create an article that features locals but no one from JMU, because I don't know if readers will care. But then again, maybe this is my chance to inform our peers about the valley's gem and encourage them to think locally. I'm sure that this market will interest more upperclassmen who don't have a tight meal plan and who also have their own transportation.

I wish that everyone would be able to see the value in buying juicy green pears, picked-last-night peaches, and dirt's-still-on potatoes. They aren't picture-perfect like that out-of-season items you might find at Wal-mart, but they are so much beter.

Do you ever visit Harrisonburg's Farmer's Market? Did you know we had one? Let me know!

Check out The Breeze on Monday for this story.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

the best form of potato at D-Hall

On Saturday and Sunday mornings, we go to D-Hall just for the tater-tots. My friends and I pass over the other breakfast items like eggs, pancakes, and bacon, and load our plates with these hot, crisp, bite-sized potatoes. There's something about these that I can't resist - even though I never eat tater-tots anywhere else. Add a side of ketchup and you've got a great start to the meal. (I don't want to know the nutrition facts though!)

We're not the only ones who love these salty treat - lots of other students have the same attachment to their weekend brunches. How do you feel about D-Halls tots - love 'em, hate 'em - let me know!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Goodbye Trays

D-Hall's trays are a thing of the past. No longer will one of the top things to do before graduating be to drop your tray loaded with dishes - now we'll have to drop each plate individually.

Over the summer, Dining Services removed trays from D-Hall and Mrs. Green's in order to improve the campus' ecological footprint. An estimated 320,000 gallons of water will be saved each semester, along with money and our own time. The tray returns have been renovated - I haven't seen the one in Mrs. Green's yet, but D-Hall's is a shelf-style system on the existing conveyor belt.

I've heard mixed opinions about the changes - some students love JMU's move towards environmental responsibility, but others fear that their dining experiences will deteriorate.

What do you think about these changes? Think that it really helps our struggling environment, or is just a nuisance during your dinnertime? Leave a comment and let me know!

Monday, August 25, 2008

El Bows, penne, bow-ties and more

We ventured across campus last night to Festival, because my friend, an RA, is already tired of D-hall. My friends went for the usual - salad or Cranberry Farms, but when I saw the new El Bows in the former location of the Asian place, I knew that I had to try it.

The menu looked promising - different styles of pasta cooked-to-order with sauces and fresh vegetables. I was torn choosing what to order: Japanese Pan Noodles with a sweet sesame sauce topped with sesame seeds? Pasta Fresca made with bow-ties, tomatoes, spinach, a balsamic vinaigrette and feta? Traditional macaroni and cheese? Pad Thai with peanuts, bean sprouts and lime? So many choices - I'll try to taste them all in the coming weeks and months.

I finally chose Penne Rosa, a combination of penne (ask for whole wheat!), tomato cream sauce, spinach, tomatoes, and mushrooms, topped with grated Parmesan cheese. Since many of the other students in line ordered this, I figured it would be good.

And it was. I loved having all the liberal amounts of fresh vegetables mixed in with the pasta - it reminded me of how I usually cook noodles at home. I basically devoured the whole container...

I was hungry after waiting in line for at least 20 minutes! The one problem with El Bows was the wait - since they do prepare each dish as it's ordered, the wait-time is long. MThe line also wrapped back-and-forth with other students curious about their new food choice. y friends had already finished with their meals as I finally sprinted to our table. I would recommend trying it out at an off-time when the line is shorter.

At least it's better than the pasta at Dukes - try it now and let me know what you think!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

summer's over...time for campus food

Tomorrow my summer officially ends. After packing up the mini-van and my Camry, my dad and I will drive up 81 to Harrisonburg. I'll begin my sophomore year with a smaller room, more stuff, and a longing for the fresh foods back home.

For my last dinner at home for the summer, we made grilled pizzas. One of my favorite meals, they are easy and fun to make. Simply grill pizza dough till mostly done on one side, then flip and grill the other side just till is sets up. Top the more-cooked side with anything, then put back on the grill until the cheese melts. Tonight's toppings included tomato sauce or garlic oil, zucchini (of course!), tomatoes, basil and cheese - in various combinations.

It's meals like this that I miss.

Will the food really be that bad at school? I don't know. Last year, it was often hit-or-miss, though JMU's food is often cited with an impressive #3 ranking (compared to what schools? and how do they make these rankings? and who does them?). Anyways, it didn't seem that bad last year - even for a vegetarian, I had several favorites. Yet, after being home to cook good food all summer, I don't want to have all my food prepared for me at school. Living on-campus requires me to have a meal plan - I would rather have the option of buying fresh items and then cooking with friends in the dorm.

But since I can't do that until next year when I move off campus, I'll have to deal with what I'm served this year. Maybe it really won't be as bad as I think.

Here are some of my favorite meals that I found last year at JMU's more than 15 dining locations (and I can't remember all the names!):

*Top Dog: Asian salad, salads from the panini place, or the tofu panini

*Festival: the salad place, bread from Cranberry Farms, egg & veggies from the breakfast place

*Market One: the wraps are good, and so is Sbarro

*Dukes: the peanut butter place!

*D-hall: the veggie station's make-your-own stir-fry, brunch tater tots, or salad

*Einstein Bros. Bagels: yum! always a good time to treat yourself to a sweet bagel!

*Mrs. Greens: salad of course, and delicious bread!

What are some of your favorite things to eat on campus? Do you think JMU deserves its #3 ranking? Leave a comment and let me know what you think!!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Back from the beach

After a week of tanning, reading, biking, kayaking, and eating lots of good food, I'm back from the Eastern Shore.

The highlight of our annual family trip is always fresh blue crabs - my dad and uncle put several crab pots out in the bay, and then check them everyday for crabs. After cooking them in a large pot, it's time to "process." They take the shells apart, and then it's time to pick out the meat, which is a lot of work. My uncle picks and eats the entire time, but the rest of the family wants to make something with the crab - crabcakes! I hadn't eaten any meat or seafood for the past year and a half, but I knew I would eat seafood at the beach. The crabcakes were so good - and so was the crab soup we made back at home with the rest of the meat!!

The little town of Eastville, VA only has one restaurant that I know of - The Eastville Inn. Despite its high prices, they have amazing seafood and other dishes. Each of the four members of my family ordered a different dish: rich shrimp scampi, sea scallops with crab and lots of butter, flounder with roasted red peppers and shrimp, and my salmon with asparagus, crab, and dill hollandaise. YUM! Everything was delicious! We also had crab bisque, amazing sweet potato biscuits, and the final touch - a creamy and sweet creme brulee (when we went last time at the beach, my cousin basically inhaled one, and then ordered a second!).

Compare this restaurant to our other favorite stop in the nearby town of Cape Charles - Rayfield's Pharmacy. With an old-fashioned soda bar and grill, this lunch stop is a classic. For years, our favorite treat there has been limeades - they squeeze the limes right in front of you and mix in the sugar syrup and seltzer water. Their menu offers a little of everything. I remember being younger and loving the hot dogs because they slit them lengthwise to grill on both sides.

What good restaurants have you found on your travels? Anything memorable that you go back for year after year?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

I Scream, You Scream, We all Scream...

...for Ice Cream!

Summer is the perfect time to enjoy a bowl or cone full of a sweet, frozen treat (well, I like it in the middle of the winter too!).

Roanoke offers ice-cream-lovers numerous choices, each with its own specialties:
  • The Homestead Creamery Ice Cream truck, which comes from a local dairy, pulled up in front of where I'm interning downtown to treat employees yesterday afternoon. Their ice cream is also served at Pop's on Memorial, around the corner from the Grandin Theater.
  • Bruster's, a relatively newcomer to the area, makes its ice cream each morning. A waffle cone is huge - basically a double scoop. One of their promotions occurs every Thursday - bring your own banana and get half-off a banana split! My friend and I went there a few weeks ago, and never having had a real banana split, enjoyed every bite together. (Except my friend needs to work on her banana-cutting technique!!)
  • When I was little, I always hoped to get free ice cream at Katie's Ice Cream and Chocolates, located on 419 (its Towers location closed earlier this year). They have typical ice cream, but also soft serve frozen yogurt, which I love swirled with chocolate and vanilla.
  • Maggie Moo's offers rich ice cream with customized mix-ins. The flavors are endless - cheesecake with fresh strawberries, coffee with peanut butter cups, "better batter" with gummi bears, or chocolate with brownies. Everything is good - but it's so heavy that the kids size is the perfect amount (and a better price).
And I can't forget Harrisonburg:
  • Chocolate, vanilla, and flavor-of-the-week are the only flavor choices at Kline's Dairy Bar, a historic ice cream stand in Harrisonburg that everyone seems to know about. On a nice day, it's a great walk from campus, and there are benches out front to relax on. Besides these basic creamy flavors, there is an extensive menu with milkshakes, floats, sundaes, and coffees.
  • Jess' Quick Lunch doesn't really have ice cream - just old fashioned milkshakes served in metal cups. My sister and I loved stopping here on road trips as my parents reminisced their college days, and we sipped on frozen chocolatey deliciousness.
With all these choices, where is your favorite place to get ice cream, and what makes it special for you?

Monday, July 21, 2008

The Next Food Network Star

Even when I was halfway across the world, walking around Greece in May, my mom still texted me about the new season of The Next Food Network Star. We had watched it last summer occasionally as re-runs, but knew we would be hooked for the new season. Every Sunday at 10 pm our TV stays on channel 43 as we cheer on our favorites during their cooking competitions. Different Food Network personalities present a challenge for the episode, and the contestants then strive to make good food and show off their television skills. The final winner will host his or her own show.

Recently, my mom and I have been surprised by the judges' decisions on who to send home. A few weeks ago, I had hoped that Kelsey and Shane would be the ultimate winners, possibly hosting a show together. Now they are both gone.

The judges threw us again last night when they couldn't choose who to send home: Aaron, Adam, or Lisa? Instead they're bringing all three to the final competition. It'll be a tough decision next week - each cook has strengths and weaknesses. I don't know who I like the best either - I just can't envision any of them hosting a successful and popular show on Food Network.

For more about the show, check out The Next Food Network Star.

Don't forget to watch next Sunday!


Saturday, July 19, 2008

Girl Scout Cookies in the summer

For the past month, Dairy Queen has aired commercials for their new Thin Mint Blizzard. I was a little hesitant at first - it looked delicious since it was a combination of two of my favorite sweets: ice cream and Thin Mints. But what if it was too sweet, or had a bad mint flavor? Would it ruin the cookies?

But no, the Blizzard was perfect. The sweet mixture of soft serve and mint with the infamous Girl Scout cookies was an instant hit with everyone in my car. The only issue we had was the price - $15 for 4 smalls.

My friend works for a competing ice cream shop, and she wants to suggest they create a Girl Scout drink for next summer - she was thinking Peanut Butter Patties, but I think Caramel deLites would be amazing as well. All that caramel, coconut, and chocolate -- mmm! Maybe I'm a little biased, having been a Girl Scout for 12 years, but these cookies are delicious.

The Dairy Queen Blizzards will only be in stores through the end of the month - or as long as their supplies last. Everyone should hurry out there to savor this treat - how else can you have Girl Scout cookies in the summer (unless you have them stored in your freezer!)?

I wonder how many boxes and cases of cookies DQ purchased from the Girl Scouts earlier this year?!

For more information, check out this recent story in The Roanoke Times about the origins of the Blizzard.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Craving broccoli

This afternoon I started craving broccoli. Not just any broccoli though – I wanted it with an Asian-style peanut sauce. I found this recipe earlier this year in Vegetarian Times, and have made it several times. It’s easy and includes two of my favorite things – peanut butter and vegetables. What could be better?

Starting with a fresh head of broccoli we found yesterday at Jamison’s Orchard, I cut some pieces off and dropped them in a pot of boiling water for about two minutes. These went into a bowl of ice water until the dip was ready:

Whisk together 1 cup peanut butter and 1 cup hot water. Then add: ¼ cup chopped cilantro 3 Tbs. sugar, 2 Tbs. low-sodium soy sauce, 2 tsp. cider vinegar, 2 cloves minced garlic, a pinch of cayenne pepper (or more), and salt to taste. And that’s all there is to it.

Besides broccoli, it’s great with bell peppers and snap or snow peas. I think I also used it with noodles once too.

Once you’ve tried it you might crave broccoli too. And that doesn’t happen to many people.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Too many zucchini?

My family expanded our backyard garden this summer and started 3 zucchini plants besides the typical tomatoes and herbs. As one of my favorite vegetables, I couldn't wait to start picking them. And picking some more. And even more.

Now our whole counter seems to be covered with these green squash - and there's no end in sight. We've eaten it sauteed and stuffed, roasted and grilled, in sandwiches and with chocolate. All of these have been delicious in a different way.

I'm hoping to make zucchini bread, like banana bread, tomorrow, while my mom has plans for another (yes, she already made one) chocolate zucchini cake.

Even with the added chocolate chips and walnuts, I bet that this unique dessert has some nutritional value (or maybe I should keep wishing?). According to wikipedia, zucchini are low in calories while providing folate, potassium, vitamin A, and manganese.

Tomorrow I'll add photos of my plants to see how they look on this blog site.

Welcome to my new blog all about food – Dine With a Duke!

Over the past year, both at my school James Madison University and at home, I have fallen in love with all aspects of food. Whether watching Food Network, cooking in my kitchen, or dining out at local restaurants, I look forward to everything that food can give us.

While my friends discuss Bagel Bites and chicken nuggets, I think about garden-fresh zucchini and salty feta cheese. I’m sure they’ve grown tired of my constant chatter about our next meal or my most recent cooking endeavor. Writing a blog dedicated to this growing passion will give me an outlet to share my thoughts, while also helping me improve my writing (my goal is to be a journalist in the next few years).

As the summer comes to an end, I will focus on food at home. Once school begins in August, my blog will be centered on food for college students: dorm cooking, dining facilities (the good and the bad), and restaurants in Harrisonburg. I hope to include recipes, photos, and reviews throughout this blog.

Please share your thoughts and suggestions as I begin this journey – and I hope to hear about all the great food you’ve had!