Saturday, December 31, 2011

My 5 Top Posts in 2011.

I shouldn't be surprised that food was what y'all wanted to read about in this last year -- after all, it does comprise a lot of what you see on this site as well of all of what I talk about over at Eat Arkansas. What I did figure out was that y'all love fair food, ice cream and cruises... or at least, that's what the stats say.

5. Ice Cold Creamy Treats: An Arkansas Tradition.
The fifth most viewed post on Tie Dye Travels this year was actually penned last May, when I finally convinced the folks at Yarnell's in Searcy that I would be a good girl and not reveal any trade secrets if they'd let me bring my camera into the plant for a tour. Turns out I became the only person to ever do what I did, take photos and videos inside the plant and share them with the world. When the plant closed down this past June, folks came out of the woodwork to read about what went on inside. The good part about it is that a new company will reopen it soon and hire back a lot of those workers to make those original recipes. Awesome.

4. A Texas State Fair Primer.
This job calls from some hard and dirty work from time to time. Never is it more apparent than when I hit the state fair circuit. The biggest is the State Fair of Texas, and my photographer and I went down on opening day and spent eight hours chronicling dozens of foods there. Between my post here and over on Serious Eats, I quickly rose to a little internet fame by becoming the Google Image answer to "the girl who ate fried bubblegum." Well, you never know, right?

3. The Best Thing I Ate.
Not an actual post but a collection of different dining delights I have found, it's the best food item I have discovered each month. I am surprised how interested people are to find this.

2. The 2011 Arkansas State Fair Food Preview.
I received thousands of hits on this page in a single day, the day before the start of this year's fair. Mind you, I did pick a bit of a fight with another publication, seeing as how they printed that several items that didn't actually appear at the fair were gonna. I suppose I have become the go-to gal for things you should eat at our largest fair.

1. Dining Aboard The Carnival Triumph.
I didn't realize just how much of a need there was to cover the food aboard a cruise until I went looking for information for my cruise this past January. I found a few menus here and there, but I certainly didn't see any photos (except for the Lava Cake, which is famous). When I returned, I posted my photos containing shots of just about everything myself and my five dining companions consumed -- and it was an instant hit. It even inspired my photographer to photograph all the food on his two week Holland American cruise this year.

Impressive? Maybe. It's heartening to see there's an interest in what I have to say, but I think all blog authors feel a bit that way.

And as far as the non-food posts go, well... I think about that, too. Most of the posts that appear on Tie Dye Travels that aren't food related are either reprinted from their first run in another publication (this year Arkansas Wild, 2njoy Magazine and Sync Weekly) and they've been looked at and read over already. And other posts are continuing to go.

And considering more than a thousand people have already looked at The 50 Best Arkansas Burgers I Tried in 2011 and how close it is to the end of the year, I suspect it may make next year's list.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

The 50 Best Arkansas Burgers I Tried in 2011.

I eat a LOT of burgers.  I write about them, too.  I feature one each week in my Burger Joint of the Week piece for Eat Arkansas, the Arkansas Times blog for food lovers.  I write about burgers inside and outside of Arkansas for Serious Eats:  A Hamburger Today.  And in general, I just like burgers.  They are the quintessential American sandwich.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Burger Joint of the Week: Cheers in the Heights.

What qualifies as an Old Fashioned Cheeseburger? The name graces the menu at several Arkansas eateries, but there seems to be nothing more in common between them all than ground beef, some sort of bread and some sort of cheese accompanied by lettuce, tomato, onion and pickle — which is about the norm for any burger around here.

Still, Cheers in the Heights has a pretty good Old Fashioned with a choice of cheeses. Trouble is finding a seat inside during the lunch hour so you can enjoy one!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Pieday: Grasshopper at The 178 Club.

Great restaurants make stuff from scratch. 178 Club in Bull Shoals makes its sauces, its dressings, its pastries, its rubs and a whole host of other things from scratch, including an ever-changing array of desserts.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Christmas at Moss Mountain Farm

Christmas has come to Moss Mountain Farm. The first winter gusts are frosty coming off the Arkansas River below, rattling the leaves of Big Sister, the largest of seven pin oak trees on the property.

On one’s first visit to Moss Mountain Farm, one is likely struck with the sense of antiquity, a farm meticulously kept over time. This isn’t actually the case. The house itself is just four years old, built with an emphasis on green efforts and on portraying a sense of place, built in the shadow of the largest of the Seven Sisters, the seven pin oak trees that grace the property. They’re all 300 to 350 years old.

Most of the furnishings in the house date back to the 1830s or earlier. Smith is an avid collector of pre-industrialized furniture. The pieces he showcases from that collection are all handcrafted and unique. They lend a feel to this house, aging it considerably. In the front room there’s a Kentucky sugar chest that dates back to 1810. A Maryland sideboard graces the foyer. There’s an 1800s piece from Mason County,

The oldest piece in Smith’s collection is a 1794 corner cabinet made in North Carolina. Smith can give you the stories of most of the pieces. He appears to enjoy sharing the details of these very personal pieces; in a way, the craftsmen that created them live on through their works.

Throughout the house you’ll find a combination of artworks, many of which are changed out with the season. Many of these are sketches and paintings done by Smith himself. There’s a gorgeous oil painting on the wall opposite the fireplace in his front room of the family farm in Tennessee where Smith spent much of his boyhood.

For the holidays, it’s all about two things -- natural and red. This year’s holiday decorations were inspired by the colors in the print of Osage chief Black Dog, a Native American whose image overlooks the den.  George Catlin painted the chief's portrait in 1834.

Smith obtained a postcard at the Old Statehouse Museum in Little Rock when he was younger and was fascinated. He had it blown up just for this particular room, large enough to show Black Dog’s seven feet of stature.

The reds, especially in this room and throughout the house, come back to the red of this print. Smith’s tree is decorated simply and lushly with red glass ornaments and soft white lights, with muted globes of color and bits of red and gold ribbon. The red of nandina berries and crabapples from the farm peeks out from the mantle amidst bundles of cinnamon sticks and branches of evergreen. Simple red and white table settings are accented with the tiny crabapples.

There is this pleasant evergreen scent that permeates the house during the Yuletide… tied into the scent of cinnamon and fresh brewed apple cider. It is a comforting scent.

Slipcovers are used on furniture in the house to change the mood of the room with the season. For instance, right now the formal living and dining space features brown couches (their normal non-slip covered appearance) and other chairs and couches in the house bear reds and golds. The sofa in the den appears to be a burlap-ish sort of cover, but it is very soft. The floors are all pine oiled with tung oil, somehow both ancient and new at the same time.

The holidays are celebrated in the kitchen, too. Smith’s white cupboards, gray marble and nickel-plated fixtures are accented with the fruits of the season. Baskets of nuts, kumquats and red peppers picked on the farm bring deep color amongst the evergreen boughs and berries. Fresh made cookies are just out of reach under a fancy glass dome, an edible work of art.

The back porch connects the outdoors with inside, with muted browns and greens for slipcovers, potted evergreens, tablecloths and burnished lamp fixtures. This is the place to capture the last Southern warmth, those final few mornings before winter sets in for good. I suspect it is also a grand place to bring out a hot cup of coffee or cocoa on a frosty morning to feel the brace of the cold and
see one’s breath form into a foggy lace before oneself.

The foyer is decorated whimsically with pheasants in a variety of poses, sitting atop the Maryland sideboard, perched atop the light fixture and balanced on stair railings. Smith loves the natural beauty of birds like this. The pheasants are whimsical and delightful.

They also tie in the first and second floors of the home, where the stairwell connects the foyer with the library. Here the pheasants have taken roost amidst Smith’s books, shells, fossils and knickknacks. It is here he looks the most comfortable, fielding questions about his home and sharing bits of his knowledge about antiques, gardens and life on the farm.

When it comes to the stuffed pheasants, the animal skulls and the shells, Smith says “I know it’s not PC, but I like it.” There’s an early Victorian ethic and feel to this room, a quiet place for reflection.

Smith’s bedroom sprawls forward from the library, a quiet retreat for the busy gardener and entrepreneur. The bed is the star of the room; it once belonged to the last territorial governor of Arkansas, William Fulton, who served our state from 1836 until his death in 1844. It’s an impressive rosewood bed, built by hand in New Orleans, tall and lavish yet startlingly simple. The pheasants and game birds celebrated elsewhere in the house are evidenced on fat accent pillows.

Even here there is a cele-
bration of the season with fresh seasonal boughs of evergreen from the property. The muted golds in the room are mirrored with simple ribbon. Reading chairs and plenty of reading material are on hand.

Smith’s love of a good book is well known. “I like to read when I can, when I go to bed. Sometimes I read downstairs on the couch. I take a stack of books and have a fire in the fireplace. I have thousands of books at my house in the Quarter.”

The winter months ahead might bring for good reading, if one wasn’t as active as Smith. Currently there’s work downhill from the house on a special Google/YouTube production, where Smith and his crews are building a 1600+ square foot house for $150,000 in just 150 days.

Further along, out towards the back end of the property, we found more livestock… the Dorper sheep that serve as organic lawnmowers for the property. These sheep were quite fat with lambs, and a few very young lambs stood amongst their mothers, bleating softly in the crisp air.

Dorpers are succulent sheep, bred for their excellent flavor. They don’t require shearing like most sheep, and as we discovered crossing the land they do an excellent job of shearing down the grass… and providing fertilizer!

Thanks to the warm Arkansas December, the chickens are still out and about, providing pest control and feeding loose on the lands. These beautiful Buff Orpington chickens are excellent egg layers, and each is fat and happy. The heavy breed chickens tend to be in the eight to nine pound range, and there’s no squeamishness about what they’re around for. We heard about an old rooster that had become coq au vin the previous night.

Moss Mountain Farm is a tranquil place, despite all the business that goes on about it. Even with a large crowd of visitors to the farm we were taken by its pastoral nature. With its mile and a half of Arkansas River shoreline, its 600 acres of rural seclusion and its ancient pin oaks, it feels like something out of antiquity, a perfect retreat for a comfortable holiday observance. I’m looking forward to seeing what it looks like in spring, when thousands of daffodil blossoms will bloom and the first blossoms will appear in the rose garden.

Entranced with the idea of a visit? You can! You can schedule a tour by either joining an existing tour or gathering up a bunch of folks to go out and make a day of it, by visiting the P. Allen Smith Garden Home website. Smith makes sure there’s some good old fashioned Southern hospitality to your visit; those visits are arranged either around lunch or dinner and include dishes in his cookbook, Seasonal Recipes from the Garden. Check out Eat Arkansas for a sampling of what we discovered there.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Burger joint of the week: Sushi Cafe.

A sushi place that does burgers? Really?

Sounds crazy, but Sushi Cafe in the Heights manages to make a pretty mean burger to go with all those pretty sushi creations. Don't believe me? You should give it a shot.

I'll be the first to admit, I didn't think it was possible at first. I love Sushi Cafe — they do some of the best sushi in the state, no doubt. But a burger is a far sight away from a nice maki roll.

I had to give it a go. So I went. I went and ogled the burger menu and gasped a little at the same time. With the exception of the 1/3 pound Texas Style Burger on the lunch menu ($7.50), all of the burgers at Sushi Cafe start at $10. That's a bit pricey. The most expensive burger on the menu is $28! That's... well, that's just out there, even if it is made with Kobe beef.

The basic burger is the Tokyo Cowboy ($10), and then there's a double with bacon and an Italian version. You know me, I like to go for big. So I decided on the Titanic Burger ($12), a purported pound of cow flesh on a bun served up with sweet potato fries. And just so I didn't sit there and get envious of all the folks eating the restaurant's intended dish, I ordered a Rainbow Roll ($10). Because I lack sanity, that's why.

My Rainbow Roll was ready in less than five minutes. It was simple and pretty — salmon, tuna, yellowtail and snapper along with avocado on top of a California roll — and it would have been just enough for lunch. The plan had been to take half of it home with me. That didn't happen. The yellowtail in particular was rather succulent and perfectly soft and just irresistible.

My waiter, who'd seemed a little surprised when he took my gargantuan order, seemed more surprised to discover I had an empty plate when he brought the Titanic Burger out to me. And I was pretty surprised to see just how tall this thing was. It's a triple patty burger, three big medium-well char-grilled Black Angus patties on a toasted and buttered sesame seeded bun. I was offered mustard but declined. There was the barest hint of mayo on the top bun along with some caramelized onion sweet goodness, Swiss cheese melted between each of the patties, all sitting on top of field greens and a thick slice of red tomato and red onion slivers.

It was served up with tempura battered sweet potato fries — which, after trying them, should be how all sweet potato fries should be served: light, savory and perfect with a little soy sauce. They were fantastic.

The burger, though... I have a complaint. Because Black Angus is so lean, there was little room to squish the burger. It was almost impossible to take a bite, even smooshing down the bun and removing the tomato. For one to consume this creation normally, one would have to figure out how to unhinge their jaw.

But it'd be worth it. The nice char from the grill, the buttered buns, the cheese and those caramelized onions, they make for a rather excellent burger. And it's so big, if you get through more than half of it you're in trouble.

I took about two thirds of my burger and half my fries home with me and still felt rather overfilled. It was worth it, though. And now I know where I can send my sushi AND burger loving friends when they want to go hang together.

You'll find Sushi Cafe on Kavanaugh a block east of University, on the opposite corner from Boulevard Bread Company. (501) 663-9888 or check out the website.

Sushi Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Cats at the Crescent.

The 1886 Crescent Hotel in Eureka Springs is well known for many things. It’s been listed by many authorities as the most haunted hotel in America. I’ve taken you to dinner vicariously at the Crystal Dining Room within the hotel. And we’ll talk more soon about the cabins at the Crescent -- Frank Lloyd Wright style constructions built under the eye of David McKee, the protégé to Wright’s Arkansas protégé Faye Jones. But what most folks who haven’t visited the Crescent yet don’t know about -- are the cats.