But, y’know, things change. For many reasons, I’m looking for dairy alternatives. There are some great soy-based ice creams and treats as well as a good sour cream and faux cream cheese. There are even good faux mozzarellas and cheddars that actually melt. But what about a nice brie? A Stilton? Something to eat with your favorite wine or with have with a group of friends? That’s when you go to Door 86.
Door 86 started as a small operation (get it?) in Denver a few years ago. Daphne Medina began making cashew-based vegan cheeses from the popular book, Artisan Vegan Cheese, and then experimented with her own flavors and recipes inspired by the great cheeses she’d enjoyed from travels around the world. Soon, though, the enterprise became really popular and word of Door 86’s delicious cheeses spread all over the country. What started out as a hobby became a legitimate business.
Earlier this year, Daphne and her husband Manuel relocated to the Nashville area and brought Door 86 with them. Daphne, a Middle Tennessee native, wanted to be closer to family after Manuel retired from the military. Shortly after arriving, things just started falling into place. In Springfield, Tenn., they met with the owner of The Depot, who wanted to sell their cheeses in the restaurant. Then more mail orders from around the country began rolling in. It was becoming clear that a bigger production space was needed, and after a short search, they met Pam Daley of Spark of Life, who invited them to share her business’s kitchen. The partnership is perfect: both businesses feature gluten-free, plant-based foods that are good and good for you.
But Door 86 cheeses aren’t exactly health foods; they are not low-fat or low-calorie. Though they’re dairy-free, gluten-free and made from all-natural, non-GMO and organic ingredients, the cheeses (made from a cashew base) are decadent (and delicious). But they're certainly no more fattening than a dairy cheese. I stopped in last week to sample from the menu, which includes brie, Sriracha cheddar, lemon Stilton, pepper jack, gruyere, white cheddar, smoked cheddar, and a cheese ball (see their website for more mouth-watering descriptions).
This year, however, I've discovered something new. Something the squirrels don't seem to be interested in (which is somewhat alarming). Something that is available in Nashville. Something that should not be eaten if ripe. But may be tasty if green. It is the creeping cucumber: melothria pendula. An awfully sinister name for a tiny cucumber, right?
First, some background. I actually first discovered this little cuke along the fence line with my neighbor last year. There wasn't a whole lot to it; a delicate vine of leaves, flowers and fruits that were all quite dainty. The leaves resemble English ivy, but were only about two inches wide and very thin. The flowers looked a bit like tomato flowers in size but resembled cucumber blossoms. And the fruit looked like teeny-tiny watermelons, only about three-quarters of an inch long. But when I opened up a fruit, it had a distinct cucumber smell and texture and large (for its size) seeds. I did my best to Google it, but found nothing.
This year, the vines came back and were much more prolific. I started to notice them about a month ago, and they've been fruiting quite a bit.
First a little disclosure and background. When he was a high-schooler, Tom Bailey worked at Clayton Blackmon, the beloved caterer/lunch destination at Green Hills that pretty much provided the snacks for every party in the '05 and '15 zip codes for a decade. The disclosure part is that Tom was in my class at University School, and we could always count on him to provide a slab of leftover goat cheese torta for any party. (We were definitely spoiled having Clayton Blackmon food alongside the Rotel dip and Bush kegs.)
One of Tom's jobs was making up the popular pimento cheese and another was working the counter. Country crooner Conway Twitty was a daily visitor, and he always picked up a container of that delicious pimento cheese every day for months. Before leaving on a tour in 1993, he came into the store and bought 6 pounds of cheese for the trip. A few days later, Twitty fell ill on his tour bus, supposedly with a tub of pimento cheese within arm's reach, and passed away. At least he was hopefully happy and sated when he went.
Now Bailey has partnered with Mary Coleman Palmer, (formerly Mary Coleman Blackmon) to revive a version of that popular recipe under the brand name of Professor Bailey's Spicy Pimento Cheese. While living in Texas 15 years after leaving Clayton Blackmon, Bailey started making pimento cheese again. He was reading an issue of Gourmet that included an article about putting dollops of pimento cheese on baguette slices and then sticking them under the broiler for a few minutes. Tom didn't really like the pimento cheese recipe they put in the magazine, but he couldn't remember exactly how he made it at Clayton Blackmon. He started playing around and came up with a pretty good version, and then accidentally doubled the spices and found a winner of a recipe. This is where he came up with the name for the LLC that distributes his product: Accidental Spices.
Tom has spent the past few years making up small batches of his creamy treat for friends and family, and Tom Lazzaro began to buy larger quantities to make a very popular Pimento Cheese Ravioli at his Germantown store Lazzaroli Pasta. Bouyed by his first commercial success, Bailey quit his day gig and decided to go into the cheese business full time.
One problem about getting the business was that he wasn't sure how to balance demand and supply, especially since pimento cheese is a perishable product. He wanted to come up with some way of avoiding food waste and started thinking about cheese biscuits. Tom took a basic biscuit recipe and played around with the proportions until it could be made with the pimento cheese fully integrated into the dough, and people went nuts for them. Pretty soon, instead of using the biscuits as a way of not wasting excess pimento cheese, he began making extra batches of the pimento cheese just so he could make more biscuits. There is actually more pimento cheese in the biscuit than flour, and they are really addictive.
Anyway, a few weeks ago, I visited the Nashville Farmers' Market on a pleasant Friday and stumbled upon Common Ground. Set up in the rear section of the farm shed, they had a variety of baked goods for sale, including a gluten-free sandwich bread.
The folks who make Common Ground breads operate from a bakery and cafe in Pulaski, Tenn., where they live on what is, essentially, a small religion-based commune. They eagerly offer samples of their fruit breads and other baked goods as well as something they call a “green drink” which has yerba mate harvested from a sister community in Brazil. But I was interested in the gluten-free bread, which looked pretty good.
The bread is made from a combination of garbanzo bean (aka chickpea) flour, other bean flours, potato starch and a number of other natural ingredients to give it the shape and mouthfeel of a standard wheat bread. It’s a small loaf, but weighs nearly 2 pounds. The taste is good, albeit tangy (from the garbanzo beans and apple cider vinegar, I assume), but isn’t exactly like standard bread. Its taste is stronger than a regular bread, so it may not be right for your PB&J, but is perfectly suited for cold cuts, tomatoes, lettuce and other standard sandwich filling. I had Swiss cheese, tomato and arugula on mine, and it was delicious.
I note the weight, though, because it is rather heavy. The texture is quite coarse, and it’s filling. Not a bad thing; just worth noting. There were a couple of pieces that were a bit gummy at the bottom, but they tasted just fine. Because it is free of artificial preservatives, I kept it in a sealed plastic bag in the refrigerator to prevent it from getting stale or moldy, so I toasted it for my sandwich (which helped the gumminess issue). However, it doesn’t brown like traditional sandwich bread because of the lack of added sugar. But it does crisp nicely.
Overall, the bread is a great choice for those who want/need a certified gluten-free sandwich bread. At $5 per loaf (I think), it’s a bit pricey, but sometimes you just want a sandwich. And if you keep it in the refrigerator or freezer, it will last for quite a while as an occasional treat.
You can find a variety of items from Common Ground, including the yerba mate and energy bars along with gluten-free and specialty breads every Friday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the farm shed at the Nashville Farmers Market. For more information about their cafe, visit their Facebook page.
For your first-course enjoyment, we've curated a shortlist of some of the appetizers and sides in town that threaten to outshine the main course — which is always a good problem to have. From the rolled to the chopped, the sumptuously roasted to the flash-, deep- and pan-fried, there's a little bit of everything — even a menu of pre-meal cocktails to wet your whistle while you whet your appetite.
For many dining fans, their love for starters and side dishes eclipses any desire for standard big-hunk-of-meat entrees. That's what makes the Scene's list so delightfully welcome. There were so many choices we had to include "Honorable Mentions" and still had to leave good things out.
Check out the story here, Bites folk, and let us know what you like and what we missed.
When Sostrin lived in New York, she bought challah for her Friday night family dinners. Or, she did until one year during a wheat shortage when prices skyrocketed. She figured it had to be cheaper to make it on her own, and learned that she found the process of baking bread therapeutic. Sostrin started braiding and baking every week. When she moved to Franklin she kept on baking, and later started Sweets Melissa, which cooks out of the kosher kitchen at the Thyme Cafe at the Genesis Campus for Jewish Life in Bellevue.
After Alpha shuttered its doors, demand for Sweets Melissa’s challah grew, both in the local Jewish community but also among customers who just wanted a loaf to make tasty French toast on the weekends. Sostrin bought 1,000 bread bags, enlisted her son to help with deliveries and started baking. Customers order the braided bread by e-mail (email@example.com) or phone (752-0639). She bakes on Thursday nights and delivers the $6 loaves on Friday (before the Sabbath) and for Jewish holidays. Sweets Melissa is in the market for a used industrial mixer. When Sostrin finds one in her budget, she’ll expand her offerings and capacity.
Until then, she’s sticking to the basics: “I think in this 24-7 kind of world, it is nice to stop and have a tradition you can look forward to,” Sostrin says. “There’s something about the magic of bread. It is flour and yeast and salt and becomes something else.”
It was sublime. A real king cake from some famous New Orleans bakery. I went back for another piece. And then another. And another. Within a couple of hours, I’d eaten three-quarters of this very large cake. Filled with custard. As I stepped over to check out the last bit, I hit "the wall." And then I hit the floor. Doubled over in pain from a belly too full of custard, flour and sugar. My co-workers thought I was kidding around until they looked in the box and realized what I’d done. It’s among their favorite stories to tell about me to this day. And, unsurprisingly, I have not had a bite of king cake since. However, I am reconsidering my boycott this Mardi Gras season.
City Paper food columnist (and Bitester emerita) Nicki Pendleton Wood alerted me of the king cakes made by Wolfe Gourmet Cakes, and a little research indicated that some of my East Side friends have been fans for a while. Baker Nicole Wolfe — a New Orleans native — makes the cakes from scratch, using premium ingredients, including naturally dyed sugars. Small and large sizes are available in plain (cinnamon brioche) or with blueberry, raspberry, lemon curd (my weakness), or cream cheese fillings.
The best plan is to order a cake directly from Wolfe (see the website for details; a 48-hour notice is generally required), but a limited number of cakes are available at Porter Road Butcher in East Nashville and at The Food Company (the cafe next to the Greenhouse bar) in Green Hills.
If you aren’t able to get one of Wolfe’s cakes, I hear from a trusted source that the cakes available at The Turnip Truck are delicious. They are also made with naturally-dyed sugars and premium ingredients. Wherever you choose to get your cake, do it soon. Mardi Gras is this Tuesday, February 12 and the king cakes will disappear as quickly as a lemon-curd-filled cake anywhere within my reach.
If you don't already know what Tofurky is, it's a fairly large product line of vegan meat alternatives. The most recognizable is the Tofurky Roast, a popular alternative for veg*ns for holiday meals. But there are also deli slices, ground Tofurky, "not dogs" and sausages as well. Turtle Island also makes tempeh, a product made of fermented soybeans. The smoky maple bacon is a delicious bacon substitute for BLTs.
Generally speaking, I'm not a huge fan of fake meats. Some products end up having a ridiculously long list of barely pronounceable (or understandable) ingredients in order to mimic the texture and flavor of meats. To me, that's a bit creepy. But Tofurky uses organic, non-GMO soybeans and environmentally safe processes to turn those beans into tofu and tempeh. And the lists of ingredients are a lot more straightforward than even a lot of actual processed meats. Plus, they're really good. They're an excellent source of lean, cholesterol-free protein.
Even better, Turtle Island Foods is one of a shrinking number of independently owned, but widely available health food product makers (Amy's Kitchen and Daiya are other notable large, independent food-producing companies). It’s frightening and disappointing to find out that so many vegetarian and “organic” food makers are owned by huge conglomerates that can make one wonder about the veracity of their claims and exactly what their profits are supporting. The Cornucopia Institute has a graphic that shows the ownership of the popular “organic” food companies.
So, if you’re thinking about adding Tofurky Tuesdays, you can sign up for a “care package” on their website to get you started. They've also got some great recipes for getting creative with Tofurky. Me? I’ve already got a Tofurky roast and gravy thawing in the fridge for tonight’s dinner.
So my curiosity was piqued when I heard about Leap Year Lumpia, a small operation formed by some folks of Filipino ancestry who recognized the clear need to fill this void in the local food scene. (Aside: still need a Venezuelan place, please. Arepas!) Unsurprisingly, they quickly discovered that people really like lumpia.
And then I heard the best part: they make vegan lumpia! They offer both vegan and beef lumpia (with shrimp and pork in the works), which you can order directly from them in 24-piece packs. The Local Taco in Sylvan Park has been featuring the vegan lumpia as a special, and The Corner Pub in Green Hills is stocking the beef version. I'll be checking The Local Taco's Facebook page frequently to see if I can get some of those vegan lumpia. A couple of people have left positive comments, so perhaps they can find a permanent place on the menu.
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