Hi! We're Gina and Amber. Two moms who love food and the community that can be built around it. Gina is a culinary goddess and Amber likes to eat. Together we give you an honest and witty perspective on all things food related. We won't stop with taste bud tantalizing pics or recipe sharing, NO! We're fascinated by the people, places, conversation and community that surround food. We welcome you to follow, eat, and explore with us!

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Amber here.

I was in Wisconsin this past weekend for a Yoga training with Deborah Williamson.  Most all the teachers from the studio where I teach came along for the training.  It was the first road trip I had taken in a very looong time.  I sat in the back (no responsibilities back there ;), enjoying the scenery (i.e. farmland) and conversation with new friends for the seven hour ride.

We were in the studio for nearly 8 hrs a day.  Moving, breathing and sweating.  Needless to say, working up a massive appetite!  The first chance we got to indulge in a meal of colossal proportions was on Saturday night (we were too exhausted from the car ride and training to go out Friday night).  It had been 36 hours of surviving on trail mix, dried fruit and Starbucks. We were ready for sustenance and we found it at 5 Generations Sport Bar and grill in Neenah, WI.

Sometimes there is just nothing better than a burger, fries and beer!  Especially when that burger is made with 5 Generations Meat. A family recipe for over 15 years! It’s 100% Angus Beef, seasoned with a special blend of spices. The spices are ground into the meat and then hand worked into 7.5 oz patties.  I don’t know what they did to this burger, but it almost literally melted in my mouth.  It was so tender, juicy and it washed down perfectly with my Fat Tire.   Hello salivary glands!  Just what this mama needed!

    

Amber. Out.

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Gina. Here.

On any given day, on any given channel there is a reality show about someone surviving. Someone on a desert island eating insects and rodents or another person instructing just what to eat while in Thailand or Bali. And the list goes on.

My point is that there is no guidance as to where to eat when in the suburbs of a city when you are surrounded by chain food restaurants. Just recently this subject became all too important as our family moved from the city to the suburbs. Now as a vegetarian, chef and mom I must survive surrounded by Applebee’s, Chile’s and Outback.

The simple answer is: just don’t eat out or just drive back into the old neighborhood and get sustenance from one of my favorite family owned and operated joints.The problem is that my life is far from simple and I would love nothing more than to cook for my family at every meal. The reality is that there are times when a phone call in for take out can mean the difference between chaos and peace.

So far this is what I have discovered.

The other night Tim and I pulled into a strip mall and gazed at a sign : Mediterranean Grills.

I took a deep breath.

Inside there were long drapes, faked potted olive trees and a lovely woman and baby. They welcomed us in and I looked around. No one else in the place.

After being seated, a boisterous man greeted us with menus. He was the owner, the chef and waiter named Ashtin. He took our drink orders and gave us a few minutes. Upon deciding he came back to take our orders and after trying to order Ashtin asked me if I was a vegetarian and I confirmed I was. He then proceeded to tell me what I should be ordering. And so I did. Tim followed suit.

We sat and admired the mural on the wall of a Lebanese landmark. Within a few minutes, Ashtin returned and stated that he had something even better for us and changed our order.

When the food finally arrived it was amazing, although I am still unsure as to what was ordered for us. The hummus and baba were divine as was the tadziki and the fattoush. The falafel was hot, crunchy and wrapped in warm grilled pita and the grape leaves complimented it well.

We left well fed and assured that we would be remembered when we return.

All in all I felt comforted in my new neighborhood, as though I can survive the burbs. It will take some true sleuthing to find the strip mall gems but I am up for the challenge.

Gina.Out.

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OUR FIRST GUEST BLOGGER!!!!  I am SO proud to introduce my brother, Alex Zidarevich!  Alex, take it away….

Hot on the heels of a post that hints towards my existence and the countless hours spent in the kitchen with my sister, I have been asked to guest blog for Big Food Little Mamas. This was a request that I graciously accepted, but wondered what I could offer to BFLM? Going back to the hours spent under our family’s table that somehow served double duty as a gateway for all of our wildest dreams and the imaginations of two little children, I started thinking about a recent birthday gift and all the time that I have been spending in my own kitchen now. On the eve of my 27th birthday (bear in mind I am no less imaginative now, then when I was creating an underwater world from the safety found in our submarine/table) I arrived home to discover some very sizeable and gift wrapped packages with my name on them. Excited about the possibilities, I dove in! It quickly dawned on me that I was soon going to be transforming our kitchen into……Bottom Bracket Brewery!

Before I take you on a brief journey through my first batch of beer I should point out that I am not your average beer drinker, I am more of a self proclaimed beer connoisseur. I appreciate the complexity of a good beer the same way that someone might look at a $200 bottle of wine. As a young man (still of legal drinking age J) I couldn’t stand beer, it literally made my stomach turn. The switch flipped inside of me at a NASCAR race (sad I know) where scotch was not an option, and I soon blossomed into the beer snob that I am today. It’s this switch that helped to catapult a home brewing kit to the top of my ‘Best Birthday Gifts Ever’ list. Now let’s get in the kitchen!

My first beer is going to be a high ABV American IPA (similar to a Bell’s Two Hearted, or a Surly Furious). The first step to create this is the steeping of the grains. Just like a giant bag of tea, the cracked brewing grains go into the brewing pot for a 20 minute bath at 155 degrees. This step always reminds me of the jr. high cafeteria, it makes the whole house smell like a cozy bowl of soup.

After the steeping is done you will remove the muslin bag of grains (just like a giant tea bag) and crank up the heat to bring the steeping water up to a boil. Once boiling is achieved remove from heat and get ready to add your Malt Extract. Malt extract is what starts to turn your water into beer because it’s high in sugar and that means it will turn into alcohol….everyone loves that right!!! There are several different types of Malt extract ranging from liquid to powder and light to very dark, all of which serve the same purpose, just for different styles of beer.

Once the malt extract is added and completely stirred in you will return it to the heat and bring to a rolling boil. Once the boil is rolling it’s time to add the hops! Hops are what I consider to be the heart of the beer, they add that unique bitterness and balance all of the sugar that was just added, and in an American IPA the Hops are beyond the most noticeable characteristic of the finished product.  The hops are added to the boil using a muslin bag to keep the final product from being too cloudy. For this beer I used six ounces of hops in the boil (added in 3 stages of 2oz’s each) for a total boil of 90 minutes. Once the boil was finished you are left with two things: Wort (pronounced WERT) and a house that smells like a campus bar on Sunday morning (my wife loves this part the most). As soon as the boil is completed you need to rapidly cool the wort to less than 80 degrees in order to add the yeast.  Anything hotter will shock the yeast and you will be left with a non fermented beer flavored drink. There are several specialty brewing tools that are designed to help you cool the wort but I use a simple cost effective method….Ice Cold water!

Once the wort is cooled to less than 80 degrees it’s ready to transfer from the boiling pot, into the sanitized primary fermentation bucket. I must stress the importance of sanitizing everything that will touch the wort after the boil. You know how your mother always told you to wash behind your ears or they’ll start to grow potatoes? Well, this is even more important with beer as the fermenter is the perfect place for bacteria to ruin all of your brewing efforts and destroy the taste of your beer. Although it’s not necessary to strain your wort, I always do this while pouring into the primary, as it will help to catch any small particles left over from the grains or hops.

After the wort is in the primary it’s time to aerate (yeast cells love oxygen) the wort and add the yeast.

Yeast is full of living bacteria that is intentionally added to the wort so that they can wage war with all of the fermentable ingredients, thus creating alcohol! I like to imagine something like this:

                                                                                                                                                                                              

Once the battle begins, it’s time to cap the primary and add the airlock (yes, I’m a little cheesey):

Now we wait. Sometimes the beer will be ready to bottle in as little as 2-3 weeks, other styles will need to age for 3 months to over a year. I’ll write a follow up for BFLM in the future to let you all know how it turns out.

Thanks for taking a look at the birth of Bottom Bracket Brewery with me…..my wife says it’s the birth of a monster, but she has fun brewing with me too….I can’t wait until little Henri can have a drink with me around the very table that Amber and I spent so much time under as children and best friends.

Alex. Out.

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My husband and I often dream of moving to far away lands, tropical climates, off the beaten path.  We’ll fantasize about owning a small breakfast shop, serving a limited menu, featuring the best of local, fresh ingredients.  As we dream these dreams we think of what we would take from our current home to transplant into our tropical setting. We make the arbitrary rule that ‘we’re allowed to only take five pieces of furniture.’  Of these five pieces, at the top of the list is our kitchen table.

    

This table was handed down to me from my mother.  It was given to her by her mother and owned by her mother’s mother before that. It’s the closest thing I have to a family heirloom.  Lineage aside, this table holds a very special place in my heart. It is where I would sit and do homework, it’s where my mother and I had our first heart to heart conversation, and it’s where my mom, dad, brother and I gathered nearly every night for dinner.  It also served as a submarine, a cave, a space ship and numerous other imaginative places as my brother and I played under, on and around it growing up.

Scribbles.  Undoubtedly from when my brother and I would play underneath.

(These scribbles are undoubtedly from when my brother and I played underneath.)

Now, it’s where Ryan, Henri and I sit as our little family.  It serves as a dinner table, a tunnel for Henri to chase our pets through, a laundry folding table, and a literal catch-all when we’re in a hurry and have no time to put things in their proper place.

I love this table.  I love that I get to continue creating memories around it.  I love that my family will grow with it and I love the idea of Henri’s family growing up around it someday.

Sentimentally yours. Amber. Out.

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Gina.Here.

As a mother of three I often wonder when I lost my edge. I wonder if am I too old for that college punk girl of my youth, the one with white hair, tattoos and black nail polish? The one that ate way too much meat and drank way too much beer? And while there is no simple way to answer this, I like to think that I may have simply refined my edge a bit.

After all I did recently start a tattoo sleeve that will symbolize the growth that has happened since I became a wife almost nine years ago.

There is also a Grand Rapids establishment that feeds that need not only for my Chicago past, punk rock youth but my belly as well. And now that I am of a certain age I can appreciate the younger hipper crowd that flocks to Stella’s and ignore them.

Last night was date night and Tim and I were craving the bad stuff. So we headed to Stella’s  where we were served (by a most lovely waitress with dreads to envy) the Vegan Dogs smothered in a Russian dressing and sauerkraut, with sides of fries and onion rings (I would have taken pics but there was no time).

After to wolfing them down because they were just what we needed, we drank a few drinks. And by few I mean I had a Fireball Whisky on ice (just one) and Tim downed a couple mason jars of Short’s Huma-Lupa-Licious. Following that we played some pinball and enjoyed each others company in the glow of Ms. Pac-Man, Tetris and Joust while listening to the Talking Heads.

All this to say we were home and in bed by 10:00 p.m.

So the lesson is that you are never too old to rock. But not like the legend you used to be and maybe that’s a good thing.

Gina. Out.

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Meet Erin.  A busy mom of three who is not only committed to the health of her family, but who is damn crafty too!  Check out this awesome Family Food Chart she created.

The idea of the chart is to track the types of food she and her family eat each day (i.e. fruits, veggies, you get it). This way, if little Caleb asks, ‘mom can I have a cookie?’ Erin can consult the chart to see what Caleb’s eating habits have been that day. Another great thing about this chart - it gets kids excited about tracking their meals and eating healthy foods! (Plus, it makes for a pretty cool piece if kitchen art ;).

Here are the specifics if you’re interested in making your own!

Erin used Microsoft Digital Image Pro to create the chart. Then, she had it printed as a 12x18 matte photo (Erin went to Costco, but you could likely have a photo of this size printed at any photo-lab).

To make the magnets, she bought a 1 inch whole punch from a craft store and printed photos of herself and her kiddos.  She then punched the pics in 1inch diameter. After that, she glued each picture to the inside of a bottle cap.  Using super glue, she added a magnet to the back side of each bottle cap.  Viola!  Personally crafted family magnets!!


"The way the system works, is that we move the "Today" magnet to the right day and put everyone’s magnets in their "home" to begin. When someone has eaten a qualifying "veggie" or whatever food, they are responsible for showing me and I move one of their magnets into their "Veggie" spot. They need to eat something from every category before they are allowed to have a sweet and once they’ve had their sweets, they’re done for the day, says Erin."  She has also thought about adding a  "tried something new" category to the chart. 

A big THANK YOU to Erin for sharing this with Big Food Little Mamas. We hereby declare you an honorary Little Mama ;)

Amber. Out.

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Gina. Here.

For the past 48 days I have not ingested any red meat or chicken (with the exception of the beef pasty in dah U.P. ). And so far so good, next to zero cravings except bacon which has been proven to be a gate-way meat for vegetarians.

I have indulged in fish, shellfish, and eggs. Reason being I can not give up sushi or oysters. Not to mention the benefits of sardines and other small fish as a source of fish oil.

This from a classically trained chef who adored the occasional bone marrow spread on toast and a bloody slab of prime rib.

I have to say that I used to be a skeptic, in fact I made fun of my sister and even taunted her with meat.

But truth be told, I feel better. I have more energy and don’t feel the bog down after a meal. Also I have become a better chef and been forced to make mindful decisions at the grocery store. Now if I could convince my two year old I’d be all set. That’s not to say that I someday I may again reintroduce meat at some point. But now I am good.

All this to say, change doesn’t have to be a big commitment. It can be something small, like drinking tea instead of coffee. Or eating a banana every day.

The fact is that only you can take care of you. And why not do something healthy that will make you feel better.

I’ll get off my soap box now.

Just know that you are important to someone and even more than that yourself.

All the best from one big “little” mama,

Gina. Out.

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As if a magnificent weekend in the love capital of Southwest Michigan weren’t enough, tonight after coming home from an extracurricular work function, Ryan surprised me with chocolate almond butter filled crepes!  With a glass of red wine on the side - these crepes are the perfect way to settle in for a romantic Valentine’s evening.

Ryan even made an extra crepe for Henri’s breakfast tomorrow.  Now if that doesn’t ooze romance I don’t know what does ;)

Ryan’s Special Valentine’s Evening Crepe:

1 cup flour
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup water
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar

Beat eggs with melted butter, milk and water.  Add flour and salt and mix until smooth.  Pour batter into greased fry pan in pancake size ovals.  Cook on medium heat for 2-3 minutes and flip.

Meanwhile scoop 2 heaping tablespoons of organic almond butter into a small saucepan over low heat.  Add semi-sweet chocolate chips to taste.

When crepes are finished, transfer to a plate and drizzle with melted almond butter-chocolate sauce.  Fold into thirds and sprinkle with confectioners sugar.

Amber. Out.

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This weekend Gina and I spent two magical days with our hubbies in Saugatuck, MI. We began our weekend by checking into the Victorian Inn Bed and Breakfast. Jane, the Innkeeper (who is also Mayor of Saugatuck) and her canine companion (Winnie) greeted us on the front porch and then showed us to our quaint rooms tucked in the furthest corner of the second story of the Inn.  Our rooms each had their own fireplaces, rose bouquets sitting on the desk, and a plate of hand-dipped chocolate covered strawberries!!!

After settling into our rooms we set afoot downtown.  First stop, Phil’s Bar and Grille.  (At this point I should pause to say that this blog is not much at all about the food we ate.  Quite honestly, the food was not a highlight of our experience. However, it was the coming together over meals and drinks that served as a catalyst for all the fun that was to come).  Once we finished two rounds of drinks, our baked Gorgonzola dip, and seared ahi we were off to Lakeview Lanes in Douglas, MI, an unassuming yet thriving art town just 2 minutes from Saugatuck across the Kalamazoo River.

  

Lakeview Lanes, as their website will tell you,  is ‘redefining the American bowling alley.’  Ain’t that the truth!!!  This bowling alley is more restaurant and lounge than it is alley.  In fact, it is so thoughtfully designed that you can sit in the lounge area, sipping your dirty martini and hardly notice the pins being knocked around behind you.  We came to Lakeview Lanes that evening to enjoy fresh rolled sushi courtesy of the Nakajima’s, a husband a wife sushi duo from Holland, MI.  Every Saturday LL invites the Nakajima’s to prepare sushi from 6-9pm (or until it’s gone).  As we waited for a lane to open we dined on the deliciousness below.

  

After 3 games, it was getting late and we were all growing tired.  Mainly, we were tired of being reminded how bad we are at bowling.  Except for Ryan who consistently bowled near 200 and even had a five bagger (5 strikes in a row). 
It was back to the Inn for us.

The next morning we ate a traditional American breakfast of fresh fruit, blueberry pancakes, sweet cakes and coffee.  All prepared by Jane.  We sat around a table in the four season addition on the back of the Inn.  We were joined by Carol and Jim, a couple staying in Saugatuck from the Chicago area. 

     

As we sipped coffee, nursed hangovers and made small talk around the table, we grew increasingly aware of how truly connected we all were.

First, Jane coordinates tours to South Africa.  I spent a month volunteering in South Africa in 2008. 
Second, On one of these tours Jane was accompanied by Watercolor Artist, Nita Engle.  In the summers, Nita resides in a cottage in Marquette, MI.  Her cottage just happens to be down the road from Gina’s family cottage!
Third, Jim is an Internist and Carol is a Physical Therapist.  Two practices Tim and Gina are very familiar with.
Finally, Jim shared a story with us about an elderly patient with a broken hip.  Ryan’s Oma is dealing with recent complications from a hip she broke last year. As Jim concluded his story he added, “make sure you’re getting enough calcium.” A lightbulb went off for me when he said this.  At that point, I couldn’t remember the last time I’d had a glass of milk, a slice of cheese or anything that contained my recommended dietary allowance of calcium.  (I have since started taking a calcium supplement :). Could this conversation have saved me from my own fractured hip at age 90????

After a breakfast that turned into much more than just 6 people around the same table making small talk; Gina, Tim, Ryan and I set off for adventure.  We found it in Saugatuck Dunes State Park.

We wandered through cedar forest.

     

Tim and Ryan invented a new form of sledding.

And we ended our hike at the frozen shoreline of Lake Michigan.


On this Valentine’s Day may you find beauty in your surroundings, your partner, and most importantly yourself.  May you also be blessed enough to share stories, laughter and memories like those we were able to create on our weekend retreat to Saugatuck.

With love.  Amber. Out.

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Still wondering what to get for your Valentine?  Well, wonder no more! The crew at 5/3 Ball Park has adapted their world renowned, 4000 calorie, 4lb burger for Valentine’s Day.

What better way to show your affection than to clog the arteries of the one you love.  ;)

Watch the piece from Fox 17 news below

 

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