I first noticed the sign earlier this year, but it seemed I never had the time to stop in; some other errand was always more pressing. But when I was the one in charge of picking up a Jet’s pizza recently, I decided to stop in and see what it was all about.
First things first, I asked about the sign, which simply reads, “TEA SPICES BEADS.” Turns out, the store began as a bead store (and the sign just read, “BEADS”), which served the needs of people who make jewelry and crafts. Then the owners, Phillip and Mitzi McCartha, decided to expand the business to include loose-leaf teas, herbs, and spices for sale. The back rooms of the store still carry the beads and jewelry, but the front is devoted to edible gems.
On one side is a large selection (more than 60 types) of teas — black, green, white, rooibos, chai, yerba maté, herbal and so on — and on the other is a large selection of spices (more than 100!); a wall at the back has a selection of herbs. The spices include a variety of salts, peppers, cinnamon (including Vietnamese cinnamon) and spice blends (such as curries). And all are housed in easily opened sealed containers so you can sniff and test as you like. You can buy in bulk by the ounce or choose one ounce pre-packaged bags.
However, Stewart has released a new product under the Mountain Jim’s umbrella that would make a very appropriate gift. Like many of us, Stewart remembered Tennessee T-Cakes, a local product that blew up crazy-large after Oprah included them in her list of Favorite Things in 2006. Unfortunately, Tennessee T-Cakes was a one-woman operation, and when Frances Ann Barkley passed away a few years back, she took the recipe and the operation with her.
So Stewart took to his kitchen and started to experiment with recipes to re-create the flavors of the beloved little confections. After a lot of trial and error, he has developed Mountain Jim’s Tennessee Tea Cakes, which if my palate has a decent memory, are pretty darned close to the original. Crafted in small batches from natural ingredients and no preservatives, Mountain Jim’s Tennessee Teacakes come in four varieties: Original, Lemon, Key Lime and Chocolate Truffle.
More accurately, the base of all the varieties is the Original, a vanilla-flavored cake dusted with powdered sugar that has a delightful texture somewhere between a brownie and a cupcake. The other varieties are made bay adding glazes or a big chunk of chocolate on top.
The teacakes are available in two-packs at The Produce Place if you want to try some out, or if you want to send them in bulk in boxes or decorative tins, you can email orders to firstname.lastname@example.org or call (615) 485-9335. For corporate orders, Stewart can even personalize your tin with a company logo, or you can just pick one of his standard white or black containers. Here’s his pricing:
As we mentioned last week, Third Man Records and Bang Candy Company have teamed up to offer uniquely flavored marshmallows, Electrified Peppermint Bark, and Smoked Spiced Orange Syrup. All are available exclusively at Third Man's store starting this Friday and only while supplies last. More details are available on the Third Man website.
While not local, it's unlikely anyone will complain if you send the gift of Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams. They have an incredible selection of gifts featuring their ice cream and other specialties available for home delivery.
Looking to give the gift of cookies? Jake's Bakes delivers hot, fresh cookies for a nice surprise all over the city. Coming soon: gluten-free options. Of course, if you need to send cookies anywhere else, Christie Cookies delivers all over the United States. They also have a local courier or you can pick the cookies up directly from the bakery office in Germantown. Check out their Cookie Gift Club for monthly deliveries as well as their brownies, candies, and coffee.
And don't forget Walker Creek Toffee (try their caramels, too) Nashville Toffee Co., Olive and Sinclair (vegan, dairy-free, and soy-free) chocolate, Colt’s Bolts, Goo Goo Clusters, gift tins from The Peanut Shop, Pralines by Leon, and Brittle Brothers. More deliciousness can be purchased from Tennessee Cheesecake, The Nashville Jam Company, Perl Catering's jams and preserves, and award-winning Bathtub Gin Organic Artisan Jam.
You don’t have to tell me to get tater tots, but I was thankful to get the tip for the ketchup. I liked it so much, that I packed up my little container and brought it home to re-create it. No luck; though I have both red and yellow curry powders, I couldn’t get the same flavor at home. I may have lacked some smoky flavoring; I’m not sure, but it just wasn’t right.
So I was delighted to find Burkhardt Curry Ketchup in the international foods section at Publix. It’s not quite as good as The Pharmacy’s ketchup, but it’s much better than my own. It’s also authentic; it’s imported directly from Germany.
While curry ketchup may not sound very German, it actually is. Its popularity there can be traced back to Herta Heuwer, a German woman who in 1949 combined Worcestershire sauce, curry powder and ketchup —which she got from British soldiers — with other spices to create a curry ketchup she later named Chillup. She poured the sauce over pork sausages to create the beloved German street food popularly known as currywurst. It’s also a popular topping for frites.
Luckily for me as a vegetarian, the Burkhardt ketchup includes no anchovy-containing Worcestershire sauce (it's vegan, actually). At four bucks and change, it’s a bit pricey as ketchups go, but it’s delicious and a great way to add a little kick to burgers and fries. I particularly like to put it on the Vegetable Masala Burgers from Trader Joe’s.
Last year, I wrote about Tofurky’s parent company, Turtle Island Foods (still independent!) and their line of great vegetarian and vegan meat alternatives (most under the Tofurky brand name). This year, they’ve expanded their line to include some new convenience meals: “chick’n” pot pie, eggless quiche, and hot sandwich pockets.
They graciously sent me a sample of several of the new products to try out. I have to say, I was a bit dubious about a vegan pot pie. Not the filling so much, but the crust. Gotta have a rich, buttery crust on a pot pie; otherwise, what’s the point? But this pot pie (including the crust) was delicious. It was actually better than the pot pies I remember eating when I was a kid (and my husband agreed). I was hoping that my daughter (a picky eater) would like it, but once she finished the top crust and was just left with mostly filling, she pushed it aside. But we gladly finished it for her.
The quiche was also quite tasty. I’m not a big fan of really eggy quiches, so because this one is egg-free, I liked it quite a bit. But if eggy quiches are your preference, this version isn’t going to do much for you. The pockets were also quite good and easy to prepare. The pepperoni pizza (with an herbed crust) was my favorite. I didn’t even let my husband have the second pocket in the package. And I feel no remorse.
Now, just because these are vegan foods, don’t think they are “health food.” The pot pie has about as much fat and calories (and sodium) as a standard pot pie of a similar size. Which is why it tastes so good. The pockets, however, are definitely more diet-friendly, with each at 300 calories or fewer per pocket.
How they got to their initial list of 1,400-ish from the estimated 6,000 or so bakeries in this country, I’m not sure, though at least some bakeries were considered due to a nomination from a panel of experts. These experts (some of whom have bakeries that made the list) contributed additional criteria, including atmosphere, technique, consistency, service, what their “standout specialties” are, and if they can make a good croissant.
Unsurprisingly, New York tops the list with nine bakeries. Massachusetts, Pennsylvaina, and Oregon each have four; California, Florida, and Washington state each have three bakeries on the list. Ultimately, bakeries in just 24 states made it, including a single bakery right here in Middle Tennessee.
I stopped in around noon and to my surprise, there were still kolaches available, so I got a cherry kolache. But my eyes were immediately drawn to a rolled loaf of bread that had hints of bright reddish-orange peeking through. What is that? Sriracha cheese bread.
Yes, Sriracha cheese bread. As it appeared to me, it was, at first, pizza dough. But then it was lovingly coated with Sriracha hot sauce and very lightly sprinkled with cheese and, finally, rolled into a log and baked. I had to have it. Though I really expected it to be too hot for me, I knew my husband would love it.
Once I got home, I tried it. Delicious. The bread was crispy on the outside and chewy inside like a perfect pizza crust. And then the heat kicked in. Not burn-your-lips heat, but enough to make you aware of what you’re eating (and enjoy it). After several more bites, I set it aside and set about figuring out what to serve for dinner that would go with it.
The Red’s product line — frozen burritos and quesadillas — is geared more toward omnivores than vegetarians like myself, but offers two options (a bean and rice burrito and a bean and cheese quesadilla) for those who don't eat meat. My challenge, however, was actually finding the meat-free versions locally. Though Red's products are widely available, the nearby Publix and Target didn't carry any of the vegetarian versions. Fortunately, I finally found the burrito at the Harris Teeter in Belle Meade. I also picked up steak and pulled pork quesadillas for my husband to try.
The first thing I noticed about this frozen burrito was its heft. It weighed in at nearly three-quarters of a pound. (The company is in the process of introducing a smaller burrito that weighs 6 ounces). I cooked it according to the directions (microwave some; oven to finish) and dug in. I have a pretty healthy appetite, but I couldn’t finish it. My husband had just one of the two quesadillas in the package and was satisfied (which is a big deal). He did finish my burrito, though. The verdict? This is a damn good burrito. The kind you’d make at home if you felt like putting in all the work of dicing and chopping and cooking rice and so on. Delicious and better than most frozen burritos. More in line with what you get at Baja Burrito or Blue Coast Burrito. My husband loved his quesadillas, too (both flavors).
Recently, Alexandra of Sweet Betweens wrote about her visit as did Kira over at Cook, Pray Love and Adrien at Food is a Good Thing. And frequent Bites commenter Tracey, too. Sheesh! I have other friends who’ve been as well, so I have it on good authority that great things come from there.
So obviously, I was interested in trying out Roots Organic's products. I figured I'd get a coupon or two, but no, they sent me their entire line of hummus to try. Eight different flavors! Granted, it's really easy to make a good hummus at home, but I rarely do. Usually only for parties because most recipes have a large yield. A lot of commercial hummus is rather bland, though. Not Roots Organic. They consider themselves “the microbrew of hummus” because it's made in small batches with care. And it’s evident from the taste.
The first I tried was the one that was most unusual: Thai coconut curry. I was dubious, but holy cow, that stuff was good. I took it (and a few other flavors) with me to “tailgate” before a recent show at the amphitheater at Fontanel, and though all flavors got the thumbs-up, the unanimous favorite was the Thai coconut curry. The flavor is not bold, but not subtle either, and the coconut really comes through. It’s not spicy; it had just the right amount of curry. I checked with the company and it’s available at both Whole Foods locations (Green Hills and on McEwen in Franklin). The Turnip Truck also carries this brand, but you might want to request this flavor next time you stop in if you’re on the East Side.
Other flavors were the plain, oil-free (half the fat!), spinach, roasted garlic, black bean, roasted red pepper, extra hot chipotle. Every flavor was better than just about any store-bought hummus I’ve had. I even liked the chipotle, which had a real kick to it from the pepper, but still a really great taste.
As indicated by their name, the most of the hummus ingredients (including the primary ingredients of each) are organic. All are also vegan and gluten-free. Roots Organic products are available locally at Whole Foods, The Turnip Truck, and Sunshine Nutrition Center.
But sales at all locations have apparently been good enough to keep them open, and their customer base is fiercely loyal. The news of the planned purchase (awaiting SEC approval) was met with less than positive response in the Twitterverse. The aesthetics, product selection and quality are all very different between the two brands. And Harris Teeter shoppers are unlikely to shop at Kroger and will certainly be keeping a close eye on the quality and selection to which they've become accustomed.
Me? Eh, I'm a Publix shopper. I do, on occasion shop at Harris Teeter when I'm interested in a different shopping experience (it really is a lovely store) or looking for something I can't find at Publix. I'm not anti-Kroger, though. However, the store could definitely stand an Extreme Grocery Makeover. Even after two sets of renovations at the Belle Meade location in recent years, it still feels dingy and cramped. Attempts to make it more upscale seemed to fall flat. So I tend to go to another Kroger instead.
And I do shop at Kroger. There are just certain items that are significantly cheaper there (Dill Pickle Lay's potato chips, for example: $4.29 at Publix; $2.99 at Kroger), and there are some private-label items I prefer as well. The Kroger brand fajita seasoning is the secret to my fajitas and bean burritos, and the Kroger brand of gummy snacks (I prefer the dinosaurs to the sharks) are gelatin-free, unlike name-brand fruit snacks.
See? Kroger's not so bad. Kroger shoppers have, for years, even been nicknaming their Krogers. Though the nicknames I've heard for the East Nashville Kroger aren't very kind.
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