Scrambled Eggs Tacos

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scrambled eggs tacos

Here’s a recipe that you make up as you go along. So not only are the eggs scrambled, but so is the recipe.

These tacos serendipitously arrived at my table just as Cinco de Mayo is fast approaching. I didn’t plan it. It just happened. The urge hit.

But you can actually plan to make this for breakfast on the 5th. Then the celebration comes to your house, too.

These breakfast tacos (or lunch tacos or dinner tacos or midnight-snack tacos) are taste-buds-popping delicious. And…

You make it up as you go along.

Here’s what I made up:

ingredient uno: scrambled eggs!

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scrambled eggs

ingredient dos: diced scallion mixed into the eggs (along w salt & pepper & a bit of grated cheese)

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scrambled eggs w scallions

ingredient tres: corn tortillas, the smallish 5-6-inch ones, heated in a cast iron pan (I put a teaspoon of oil to start and then don’t add any more oil after that — it makes a little smoke, but cooking will do that) until they get a little golden…brown…or even black in spots.

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heated, browned, oh-so-good tortillas

ingredient cuatro: choose side items, condiments, aromatics, yumful toppings that will pull it all together. I chose: diced fresh grape tomatoes mixed with parsley, a bit of olive oil, & salt…shredded asiago cheese….

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tomatoes & asiago cheese (scallions for the eggs)

…minced pancetta & minced prosciutto sautéed in a little olive oil…

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pancetta & prosciutto

…some fresh baby arugula…

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baby arugula

ingredient cinco: I also made a quick sauce of mayo, lemon juice & horse radish.

To eat: place a tortilla on your plate, pile on some scrambled eggs…

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scrambled eggs

…top with tomatoes, cheese, pancetta-prosciutto, arugula, some sauce…then fold and bite, nibble, and gulp your way to the last bite. Repeat.

The make-it-up-as-you-go part includes flavors that you love; stuff you happen to have in the refrigerator; ingredients you crave so much you’ll travel miles to get them to put in your tortilla, and/or the ones I just suggested (oooh, good ones!).

Brown’s Diner: Where I swing

 

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at the bar at Brown’s

It’s an acquired taste. Brown’s is a Nashville institution. A bar and music joint that used to be a trolley car. Then, fairly new, but still decades ago, they added a large dining room.

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Brown’s Diner’s best beer: Budweiser

It’s a bit dusty. And might be scary if the lights ever came on bright. The bar chairs list to the right and left. Some of them require hanging on.

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Brown’s bar stool

But lived-in and wonder-full is how I see it. The regulars have been coming here for dozens of years. The musicians who play here span Nashville icons and famous favorites, top-notch session players, and everything in between. What kind of music? All and anything.

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David Olney at Brown’s

My partner, Duane Spencer, and I play every first Sunday. We’re Duette.

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Duette at Brown’s

Ron Kimbro is behind the bar. He’s been serving up beers and cheeseburgers for many a year. But the best things he serves are bits of wisdom, snide remarks, jokes, and poker-faced jabs at stupid questions from the other side of the bar.

The small “stage” area, with its ancient PA system, is strewn with old mic stands, half-useful guitar stands, speakers looming & hung lopsided by chains, music stands, and a variety of well-used stools.

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Duette‘s set-up at Brown’s

The window shelf alongside the stage area is a collection of old batteries, ashtrays (altho smoking is not allowed inside), left behind set lists, and indescribably doodads.

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stage window at Brown’s

Christmas lights light the stage. The walls are covered with album covers (Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, and Frank Sinatra are among them), and the yearly “Brown’s Diner group photo,” where all the regulars squeeze into the frame to make their presence known.

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Brown’s stage

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Duette‘s set-up at Brown’s

Yes. Music. And then there’s the food. Brown’s is known best for its cheeseburgers, rated among the best in town year after year. We love them. Order them with “everything:” onion, lettuce, tomato, mayo, ketchup, and pickle.

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Brown’s cheeseburger

 

My other fave order is their grilled cheese sandwich. They have chili. Soup in the winter. Fries. And beer. Those are the highlights and kinda about it. Beer. No wine. No cocktails. And the beer selection is extremely modest. But it suits the patrons JUST FINE. (Get a pitcher and sit outside, you can still hear the music.)

It’s easy to just drive by the place (@21st & Blair). It looks so unassuming. But step inside and you’ll never be the same. Get bit by the Brown’s bug (not a real insect) and you won’t be able to resist coming back and back.

See you there? Right!

*****

Duette doing our “Four Tops Medley” at Brown’s. Ever hear of a video selfie? 🙂

 

Peperonata

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peppers-the rainbow

I was surprised when my mom had no clue about this dish. Where’d I learn it then? Somewhere along the way it snuck into my repertoire… and easily makes a frequent appearance. We’re not in farmer’s market pepper season now, but that doesn’t stop the shops from selling peppers. And I take the bait.

It’s an easy dish and speaks some real Italian. All you do is stem and seed bell peppers and slice them into thick strips. Sauté peppers with sliced onion in some olive oil until the hodgepodge is a bit wilted and, not exactly super-soft, but to the tooth (al dente!).

I reach for the red, yellow, or orange peppers. But I’d guess that green peppers were the original ingredient. Green peppers were the only pepper I knew growing up. And green peppers pop up in Italy a lot, too. I’m just not a big fan of the greens. The flavor is stronger and twists in a direction I don’t always like to go. BUT, by all means. Toss them in.

I fiddle with the classic and also add some chucks of zucchini, and/or a cut-up fresh tomato, a few capers sometimes, and for a bit of punch, a drizzle of a favorite vinegar…and, for a bit of crunch, sometimes I sprinkle with toasted breadcrumb. Oh, and fresh herbs if you’ve got them on hand. Thyme. Basil. Mint. Sage?

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sauteing peperonata

Call it a side dish. Call it a main dish. Call it a pasta sauce. Call it peperonata. (But don’t call it a taxi– I’m still eating.)

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peperonata

Peperonata

3 red & yellow peppers, stems, seeds and membrane discarded

3 small zucchini

2 medium tomatoes

2-3 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium onion, peeled & sliced in half-moons

salt & pepper to taste

1/4 cup capers

2-3 tablespoons favorite vinegar

2-3 sprigs fresh basil or mint, or combination

1/4 cup breadcrumbs, lightly toasted in a pan with a drizzle of olive oil

Cut the peppers into thick slices. Cut the zucchini into inch-thick half-moons. Cut the tomatoes into wedges.

Heat some olive oil in a medium saucepan. Add the onion. Cook for a few minutes until softened, then add the peppers. Cook for about 4-5 minutes until the peppers have softened. Add the zucchini and tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper. Simmer until zucchini is softened and tomatoes break down a bit, about 5-6 minutes. Stir in the capers. Drizzle some vinegar. Tear leaves of basil or mint and add to mixture. Transfer to a serving dish and sprinkle the toasted breadcrumb. Serve hot or at room temperature.

Lobster fra Diavolo

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Lobster fra Diavolo

One of my most favorite things about the Christmas season is Christmas Eve dinner. It’s the best meal of the whole year. And that’s because of the Italian inspiration called: the Night of the Seven Fishes.

Believe me, every year I try to get SEVEN fishes on the menu. But I usually end up with about 5. This year, we felt relaxed and casual and only had 3. But what a THREE.

My mom, sister and I decided to go to Costco on Christmas Eve morning (Duane resisted the Costco Christmas merriment–read: crowds). We knew they would have their impressive holiday fish island, piled with ice, and piled with great seafood. We thought: whatever looks good, we’ll buy it, then figure out our menu.

We rushed our huge carts up the wide-wide aisle to the seafood oasis. (One year, we got there late and watched 2 of the last 3 bags of clams go…arrggh!) We reached the icy array and there was plenty of sea creatures still available. We grabbed a big bag of little neck clams from Cedar Key, FL. We got a big bag of mussels from FL, too. Then we couldn’t resist the freshest, most beautiful lobster tails we’d ever seen. Pale, marbled brown and grey, with specks of orange. These were from Honduras. We got 4 tails, about 1 lb. each. One for each of us.

I’ve always found Costco’s fish & seafood quality to be pretty top-notch. Each of our seafood treasures had the fresh scent of the salty sea. We took it all home, chatting in the car about how we’d cook it up.

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this year’s three fishes

We decided to really keep it simple with favorites we knew well and love more.

We cooked Clams Oreganata…

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baked clams oreganata

…Steamed Mussels with wine, garlic & herbs…

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steamed mussels

…And Lobster Fra Diavolo–the Holy Grail of Italian seafood dishes. I’ve only had it a handful of times in my entire life. I remember my family making it on Long Island one year. I remember something like it in Italy. I may have tried once or twice on my own many years ago but the memory is blurry, watery, like bobbing up and down along the surface of the green-blue Atlantic.

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get me near an ocean and all’s right with the world

Of course, Maine lobster is the only lobster I knew growing up. In NY, our lobsters were from Maine. (Altho, my mom tells stories of family members fishing for lobster off the shores of Brooklyn where the Verrazano Bridge now stands.)

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Verrazano Bridge

In my 30 years of NYC living there were quarterly treks to one of 3 Spanish restaurants in Manhattan that each served special lobster dinners. These started at $12.95 for a pound and a quarter lobster (steamed or broiled) with a salad and side (rice pilaf or sliced roasted potatoes).

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ancient picture I found online of one of our faves on Bleecker Street

I had a circle of girlfriends who drooled on cue when these quarterly adventures came up on our calendars. At the table, over our first glass of wine (or Sangria–it was a Spanish restaurant, remember), we argued for half an hour over steamed or broiled (even tho we had each already decided how we wanted our lobster cooked on the subway ride over). Then we argued, while eating, as to which parts of the lobster should be eaten first. I go for sucking on the legs, then the cracking the claws, then eating any other shreds of meat in the body along with the tomalley, and saving the tail for last (with melted butter). These were 3-hour-long sittings because the other thing on the menu was a large quantity of laughter. Eventually, the dinners would jump in price to $13.95, $15.95, $18.95, until someone moved away, or we started to lose touch, or we just stopped going. (Sad face.)

Friends of Duane–Donna and Mike Dion–who actually live in Maine (and grew up there) treated us to a lobster feast a couple of years ago. They had a huge pot outside for steaming them. (Mike also grilled a few steaks and some corn, & Donna steamed a whole side of salmon, and heated a huge pot bubbling with steamers.) THAT was the best lobster I ever EVER tasted. Just caught that day. Probably from down the road.

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the Dion’s lobster feast

But back to Costco, Honduras, and Christmas Eve. Explosive special moments happen whenever/wherever/however lobster is served.

Fra diavolo means from the devil. Which means the dish is hot and spicy. We use crushed red pepper flakes, but feel free to go crazier with heat. If your eyes water while you bite into the tail that’s okay. We don’t get that hot here, but you’re welcome to do so. We’re afraid of losing any bit of that LOBSTER taste. So we go easy with the hot. It’s more like an elbow poked in your side, and less like an elbow poked in your eye.

Lobster Fra Diavolo (for 4)

4 1 lb. lobster tails

1/4 cup olive oil

2-3 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed

1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon fresh parsley leaves, minced

1/4 cup dry white wine

1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes

1 lb. spaghetti or linguine

salt & black pepper to taste

Put a pasta pot of water on the stove to heat.

Using a good pair of kitchen shears, cut the inner shells of each lobster tail in half, lengthwise. Then cut the outer shells, and the meat, in half lengthwise. Now you have 8 cleanly cut halves of lobster tails (see photo below).

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan till hot. Add the lobster tails. Cook on a lively heat, turning them occasionally, until the meat turns opaque white, about 5-6 minutes. Remove tails to a bowl, and set aside.

Add garlic, red pepper flakes, oregano and parsley to the pan. Cook on a lively heat, stirring, until the garlic begins to soften and turn color lightly, about 2-3 minutes. Add the wine. Let the wine sizzle while you scrape to unstick any bits that have stuck to the pan. When the wine has evaporated by half, add the tomatoes. Stir to combine. Season with salt and pepper. Simmer for 10 minutes.

When the pasta water has come to a boil, season generously with salt. Add the pasta, stir to keep strands from sticking until pasta water boils rapidly. Cook to al dente. Half way through cooking the pasta, add the lobster tails (and any accumulated juices) to the tomato sauce. Cover askew and let simmer 5 minutes.

Drain pasta. Add to a serving bowl. Add tomato sauce to coat. Serve each person 2 halves of lobster tail with a nice serving of pasta. Drizzle some extra sauce on top.

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cutting tails in half

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sautéed tails

lobster fra diavolo

Lobster fra Diavolo

shells

the shells

 

 

 

 

Italian Cooking Party cookbook!

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It was a while in the making but it’s finally here! My new cookbook.

Italian Cooking Party

A Little Bit of Italy at Home

“Italian Cooking Party” captures the spirit and excitement of my Nashville Italian cooking parties. Over 100 authentic Italian recipes to cook at home and inspire your own Italian cooking parties.

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With hints on how to stock your Italian kitchen, recipes for each course of the Italian table, scrumptious menus, how to linger at the table Italian-style, plus taking it on the road to Italy.

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I’ve been leading Italian cooking parties in Nashville since 2009 to an enthusiastic circle of cooking enthusiasts. The intimate parties inspire Italian culture in the kitchen and at the table.

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That authentic Italian touch fills the book with my recipes and tips for everyone to bring a little bit of Italy home: Italian Cooking Party

Alimentum Books

178 pages

$30

Click here for more info.

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Sicily = Home

rainbow at hotel in Ragusa Ibla

rainbow at hotel in Ragusa Ibla

My ancestors are from Sicily. My father’s parents from Ragusa. And my mother’s mother from Palermo.

I’ve been to Italy countless times (really countless, because I have no idea how many times) …but last month was my first time to Sicily.

I was in Ragusa. I went to Palermo. I felt the vibes resonating in my soul. I envisioned distant unseen memories. I met people who mirrored my style and spirit. And my palate…it screamed the loudest: “I know this food!!!”

I was a little nervy. I brought a small group of my cooking class students with me. Usually I lead people to places I’ve been. But this was all open exploration. Luckily, my companions were up for the ride and loved every minute as much as I did.

w our hosts of Uncovered Sicily at Santa Tresa Winery in Vittoria

with our hosts of Uncovered Sicily at Santa Tresa Winery in Vittoria

In Ragusa, we cooked with locals in their homes.

making scacce in Marian di Ragusa

making scacce in Marina di Ragusa

making scacce in Marina di Ragusa

making scacce in Marina di Ragusa

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making scacce in Marina di Ragusa

We ate the food (and I’m telling you the taste was the same!) that I grew up with. Scacce, a kind of thin rolled up pizza with tomato sauce and Ragusano caciocavallo cheese.

scaccia

scaccia

more scaccia

more scaccia

...and more scacce!

…and more scacce!

We cooked and dined on pork braised in tomato sauce with ricotta ravioli and “cavati” (a hand-made cut pasta).

Ragusano pasta

Ragusano pasta

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In Palermo we shopped the Capo market with our hosts…

Capo market shopping

Capo market shopping

Capo market, buying fish

Capo market, buying fish

…and then cooked on a boat. We cleaned and stuffed sardines. We fried tiny fish and ate them whole in one bite. We marinated baby shrimp in lemon for bruschetta, and made almond cookies dipped in pistachios and candied cherry.

cooking in the boat's galley

cooking in the boat’s galley

stuffed sardines

stuffed sardines

shrimp bruschetta

shrimp bruschetta

tiny fried fish with pasta and almond pesto

tiny fried fish with pasta and almond pesto

almond cookies

almond cookies

We were wowed by cathedrals in Ragusa, Modica, and Cefalu…

San Giorgio Cathedral in Ragusa Ibla

San Giorgio Cathedral in Ragusa Ibla

San Giorgio interior w portrait of Saint George

San Giorgio interior w portrait of Saint George

San Pietro in Modica

San Pietro in Modica

San Pietro Cathedral interior

San Pietro Cathedral interior

Cefalu Cathedral

Cefalu Cathedral

Cefalu Cathedral interior

Cefalu Cathedral interior

We were delighted with groves (and city dwelling) cactus plants laden with prickly pears (that we ate at one of our dinners).

cactus in piazza in Ragusa Ibla

cactus in piazza in Ragusa Ibla

peeled prickly pears at one of our dinners -- in Giovanni and Agata's home

peeled prickly pears at Giovanni and Agata’s home

The arancina…

arancina w cappuccino

arancina w cappuccino Ragusa

arancina w cappuccino Cefalu

arancina w cappuccino Cefalu

The special chocolate in Modica hand-made in the aztec-style…

making chocolate in Modica

making chocolate in Modica

The gelato…

Modican chocolate and coconut gelato

Modican chocolate and coconut gelato

The cannoli and pastries (and pastries) (and pastries)…

pastries in Cefalu

pastries in Cefalu

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pastries Palermo

pastries Palermo

cannolo Ragusa

cannolo Ragusa

And the wine. The Sicilian wine. Charming and comforting.

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I’m just back now for a couple of weeks and I’m already scheming about returning. There is a spirit in Sicily like nowhere else in Italy. Its heritage, steeped in many cultures (Arab, Spanish, Norman, Greek) all combine to make such a unique world. I know what that is now. And I’m so happy to be made of the same stuff.

at restaurant Quattro Gatti in Ragusa Ibla

at restaurant Quattro Gatti in Ragusa Ibla

Nashville Favs: A Short Current Roundup

Broadway Nashville

Broadway, Nashville

I’m always running around town. Usually for food. (Will run for food.) Here’s some of my usual stops these days. This list, of course, changes. Six months from now, the frequent-stop list may be different, but today’s favorites will still be favorites. This is a mix of shops and restaurants. Enjoy the tastes found at all. YUM!

Little Gourmand in Green Hills

photo compliments of Little Gourmand

photo courtesy of Little Gourmand

Just entering this charming, entrancing store is reason for a visit. The shelves are full of imports from France: mustards, pates, salts, cookies, beautiful kitchen towels, cheese plates & knives. The freezer is full of imported baguettes, croissants, pane au chocolat. You can float through the aisles and be instantly transported. Guenievre Milliner is the delightful French proprietor, who bakes fresh croissants & pan au chocolate every Saturday morning. Get there early. They fly into the mouths of knowing pastry lovers. (I even hesitate to tell you about it. I want mine!) You can sit at one of the lovely cafe tables and sip an espresso, too. For lunch, yum-full baguette sandwiches!

Jim ‘n Nick’s in West Nashville & Cool Springs

photo courtesy of Jim 'n Nick's

photo courtesy of Jim ‘n Nick’s

I’m lucky to have Jim n’ Nick’s BBQ right in the neighborhood. To be honest, we used to go there a lot. But then Martin’s opened and we ran cross town to Martin’s when the BBQ taste bud was screaming for satisfaction. A few months ago we said, “let’s just go here. it’s in the nab.” Well. We think we have a new favorite. At Jim n’ Nick’s you sit at a table, the server serves you, they bring a basket of those amazing corn biscuits, and the BBQ? Well, as I said, I think have a new favorite. I love the baby backs. My mom the spare ribs. My sister likes both equally. Duane goes for the hot links. And the sides are stellar. Now those BBQ taste buds scream more often.

El Amigo Tacos on Nolensville Road near Elysian Fields

El Amigo on Nolensville Road

El Amigo on Nolensville Road

About 5 years ago, I ran a Nashville tours business with Annakate Tefft Ross. We rented a van and brought Nashvillians on all kinds of food adventures. On our very first tour we tooled up and down Nolensville Road tasting cuisines of the world. Our favorite stop for authentic Mexican tacos was always El Amigo. Duane and I still go there for, usually, a Sunday lunch. The tacos are SUPERB (and only cost $1.50, so get many). The sunny dining room, and the busy kitchen, fills what used to be a gas station. Do not let that deter you. Enjoy!

El Amigo chorizo tacos

El Amigo chorizo tacos

Lazzaroli Pasta Shop in Germantown

photo compliments of Lazzaroli Pasta Shop

photo compliments of Lazzaroli Pasta Shop

It’s the bee’s knees of an Italian food grocery store. But the real star of the show is Tom Lazzaro’s fresh made ravioli and pasta. Ravioli filled with such a variety you’ll stand at the freezer pondering and deciding for a good hour. And then pull several boxes to take home. We last tried the sausage & asiago. Yowsa. Wolfed down to the tune of Mmmmmm & Whoaaaaa. But the gorgonzola still rings in my taste memory. He makes several sauces to bring home, too. He makes fresh mozzarella every Saturday morning. Plus the shelves are full of Italian import wonders. And the refrigerator is stocked with Benton’s bacon and Italian specialty salumi.

Aldi supermarkets, several locations

Photo compliments of Aldi

Photo compliments of Aldi

Yes. A supermarket. I’ve heard so many things about Aldi, but hadn’t been. I also heard it has ties to Trader Joe’s (see my Trader Joe’s posts). Which gives it some pretty high marks. It’s supposedly a German-owned chain. When you walk in you feel shades of a European supermarket. How it’s laid out. How you get a cart (put in a quarter to release the cart, bring it back and pop out your quarter at the end. just like in Italy, only there you use a euro). You need to bring your own bags or they will sell you plastic bags (just like in Italy. cheap bags, but still better to bring your own). Lots of German imported candies, chocolate, etc. Great deals on produce. And meat (my mom says the meat looks exactly like the cuts and quality from Trader Joe’s). And then: sometimes shoes. pots & pans. grilling utensils. I bought a 2-burner cooktop for demonstrations. It’s worth the trip. You’ll exit with bagfuls. And feel ike you’re on a food exploration expedition.

I’m always on the prowl for the new (or new to me). Letting that “gatherer” ancient gene kick in. Stay tuned for more finds!