Not your Mama’s Tacos!

Taco Mamacitas

My sister-in-law was the first to introduce me to Taco Mamacita in Chattanooga and I’m the kind of person that once I discover something as wonderful as this, I want to share it with everyone.  Three years consecutively I was able to persuade my staff to take them for team celebrations. (One staff member, went back the following three weekends in a row to introduce others to the Taco Mama glory!) We had many a ‘ladies nights out’ with some of my colleagues, several double dates, and numerous times where it was just the hubby and I escaping at the end of a stressful and tiring week. Not only did we want to visit Taco Mamacita this summer while in town because of the great food, but because it is now a place full of precious memories with friends and family.

Taco Mamacitas

Before you write this off as just another taco place, Taco Mamacita is NOT your average Tex Mex, lettuce-filled-soggy tortilla! Neither is it just the best version of the tastiest standard yummy taco out there (although it is that too). Mama is putting some of your favourite foods into taco form. Love Pulled Pork Sandwiches? Try The Memphis with dry rubbed slow braised pork, onions, pickles, jalapeno slaw and BBQ sauce. OR how about the Loaded Gyro with thinly sliced lamb gyro, baja white sauce, peppers and feta. My personal favourites are the California Club (exactly what you might think-a twist on the classic club sandwich) and the Vegetarian Jerk with sweet, fiery, jerk-seasoned plantains and Mango Salsa.

Taco Mamacitas

As well as offering a great regular menu, they have hidden items and chef’s specials on occasion. While we were visiting they were trying out a new taco with duck confit, goat cheese, and cherry pepper relish which was outstanding.

Taco Mamacitas

And then there’s the seasonal Mojitos (virgin available upon request) like blueberry, strawberry and my absolute favourite, blackberry. All made with fresh fruit and muddled mint leaves. Perfect for hot summer days on the patio.

I don’t know that we will find anywhere quite like Taco Mamacita round here in Texas so if you are reading this and get to pass through Chattanooga (or their Nashville, TN or Charleston, SC locations) stop by and order some Mango salsa on my behalf!

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My 10th USAnniversary!

bilbo quote

August marked 10 years since my arrival in the USA and I have found myself reflecting and reminiscing a lot lately. As a result, today’s post is very different than normal as I set the scene for a week of some of my favourite eateries from our summer vacation.

It is still strange to me sometimes when I think about how this little wandering Greek- Cypriot Londoner finally found her home with a tall southern gentleman at the foot of the Smokey Mountains, in a little town just north of Chattanooga, TN. And, little did I know that I would have to leave that majestic view to graze in the flat lands of Texas, just a few years later, while my husband finishes his doctoral work. That is life my friends. You never know how it is going to unravel as each foot is placed in front of the other.  You just move, hoping, trusting, squinting into the distance and believing somehow that you will look back at the end of your life and feel peace with all you have learned and experienced. Even those who meticulously plan 10 years at a time can never truly know what is ahead. I think somewhere deep down that is my favourite thing about life; the mystery. It’s the peace we find when things aren’t as we imagined. The hope, and knowledge, that things can change means we can focus on present moments that are still positive and draw strength for the patience required as we wait for the up and coming. It is also the hope of all the adventure that is yet to come.

 

Ski Lift

In the summer of 2003, when I was still living in London and a month away from moving to the States, I had the pleasure of attending a conference at the ski resort of Pamporovo in Bulgaria. Being July, we were not there to ski but an afternoon outing had been arranged to ride the ski lifts across the beautiful mountains. I learnt something monumental that day as our journey unfolded. The first ski lift at which we arrived was pretty modern with large cushioned seats, a thick strong safety bar that locked into place, and a short little ride to the first mountain. Being slightly afraid of heights, I felt as safe as possible under the circumstances and decided to move with the flow of people making their way to the lift. It was rather quite pleasant as we smoothly sailed up to the tops of the trees, enjoying the crisp summer air, and landed safely on the other side of the valley.  

However, the next ski lift was not as sturdy-looking and a little older than the first. The view from the mountains was stunning and, despite my trembling knees and the strong desire to go back alone, I decided to hop on this next set of ski lifts and just grip the flimsy bar with all my might. As we bobbed along the line, I could not get enough of the natural beauty around me. I have always loved the mountains and these were stunning.

Once we reached the final ski lift, at the very height of the resort, I was pretty mortified at the sight of the contraption that would be carrying us down. The safety bar was a thin rope of metal that came half way across the body, the entire chair was paint pealed and somewhat rusty, and as each empty seat rolled around the top of that highest mountain, it swung wildly, squeaking and taunting its next victim. Even though I could hear my heart pounding in my head, I somehow managed to muster the courage and rode this lift of death to the bottom of the mountain. The view was silently breathtaking and completely distracting from the fear I had initially experienced. It is an experience I will never forget.

Every moment of the journey that day was only visible as I approached each leg and for that, I am so very thankful. If I had seen that final terrifying lift from the beginning, I would have turned around and mulled on back to the hotel with the few others who did not want to go into the mountains. Instead, each stage was revealed gradually and I managed to find just enough courage and strength to get to the next point and experience some of the most incredible scenery. One month later, I arrived in the States for what was to be two short years and here I am ten years later, with so many hill top moments behind me, and still enjoying the ride!

Why do I tell you all this? Because it seems fitting to celebrate my USAnniversary by highlighting the food in a city that became a very significant mountain top for me during the early years of my life in this country. I will be spending this week focusing on the wonderful eateries we love so much in Chattanooga and I truly hope to inspire you to visit this beloved city. Who knows, maybe one of life’s ski lifts will take you there someday too.

chattanooga

Chocolate Coconut Banana Oat Drops

For the first time in a very long while, I have a regular job. Not that I haven’t been working regularly since I graduated college (and way before) but what I mean is that I have now joined the ranks of the 8-5 masses. The age of shift work, or live-in 24-7 days have passed and I am finally seeing the routine of the ‘others’. Especially after the last three years of no personal/professional divide (as a college Resident Hall Director), it is glorious to know that at 5pm I will get into my car, be funneled into the nearest artery of traffic and arrive home with my lovely hubby to my welcoming comfy soft slippers, time for me and the occasional  glass of wine. It may not sound like much to many of you but at this moment, it is just what I have been craving.

With this foreign routine, I am being challenged to rethink and organize my eating schedule for the day and as a result have been experimenting with new dinner, lunch and snack recipes. To save you all the non-essential details of my daily hunger cycle, I will basically say that I need something mid-afternoon to stave off the embarrassingly ravenous grumblings echoing around my office and capturing the attention of all the passers-by. I have been researching snack options and recipes from Pinterest and found some very helpful suggestions that are all working well. One of these were various kinds of home made granola, oat bar concoctions that all looked and sounded great.  During my latest trip to the store, I had accidently forgotten to identify one recipe and add the necessary ingredients to my shopping list. So, in my usual spontaneous fashion, I decided to create my own version with all the things I love and below are the results.

What I enjoy about these is that the dark cocoa powder makes them really chocolatey without adding too much sweetness and you only need one or two to knock that hunger on it’s head. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get these to photograph well so for now you will have to use your imagination! 🙂

Chocolate Coconut Banana Oat Drops

2 tbsp of natural peanut butter

2 tbsp of honey

1/2 tsp salt

2 cups of oatmeal

1 mashed ripe banana

1/4 cup of dutch processed cocoa powder

1/2 cup of shredded coconut (you can use sweet or unsweetened depending on your preference)

1/2 cup of dark chocolate chips

Method

Melt peanut butter, salt and honey on very low heat in a medium pan. Add the oats and then remove from heat. This mixture will not really thicken or come together until right at the end so don’t worry if you feel like it looks a little dry. Stir in the cocoa, coconut and bananas one at a time making sure that each is mixed well before adding the next ingredient. Finally, pour the chocolate chips over the top and stir until they are melted through. (One important fact to note here is that I used good quality chocolate chips that were 66% cocoa. Semi-sweet don’t produce the same fudgey rich results but if you prefer the extra milky sweetness, by all means go with those.) It is at this point that the batter pulls together and begins to look like goey goodness. Let them cool for a few minutes and then spoon little drops onto a parchment lined baking tray. (Feel free to scoop with your clean fingers- the mess makes it more fun!)  Place in the fridge for a couple of hours until hard. This amount of mix will make around 20 drops.

Here is my favourite part about this recipe, you really can’t mess it up too bad by changing any of the ingredients. For example, if you don’t like coconut, subsitute it for something else like cranberries or raisins. The peanut butter flavour is very mild so you can always add more or any nut butter of your choosing. It may be my recipe but it’s your tastebuds so experiment and have fun.

For now…

Did I mention how much I love baking?

I find myself in an unusual place in life. I lived in a small community in Tennessee for 5 years and was building a good clientele for cake orders. Unfortunately, I was so busy with my 24/7 job the last few years that I didn’t have the time to fill all the orders I was receiving. When we found out we were moving to Texas earlier this year, I was so excited to get a normal 8-5 job and have all these free evenings and weekends to explore my baking passion. Of course, as with most things, now that we are here the reality isn’t quite living up to my idealistic imagination. Baking is expensive, especially when you’re on a tight budget (even more so after exorbitant moving expenses).  Usually, I do my cakes at cost to help the client, to cover any expenses we simply can’t afford on our budget, and because I want an excuse to make things without having the temptation to eat them all! Building a new clientele here is really challenging. I don’t have the same broad circles of interaction as I did in Tennessee and it is proving difficult to find an opportunity to showcase my work.

My life is calmer and quieter than it has been in a few years and I am loving the low stress levels. However, when you have free time, your first instinct is to fill it with all the things you love to do and so I find my desire to bake and decorate  so overwhelming, it’s almost like a physical urge. At work, when things are very quiet in the office (which is often), I have been watching videos about cake decorating and scouring through Pinterest for inspiration. This weekend I finally broke down (almost in floods of tears to be perfectly honest) because of the frustration of not being able to unleash all the creative energy that’s been building up over the last couple of months. Through my budgeting and planning savvy, I was able to save some extra money on groceries and immediately knew how I wanted to spend the money. Cookies and Royal Icing are fairly inexpensive, plus they are easy to give away! In my decorating frenzied research, I became obsessed with cookie decorating and decided that this weekend I would begin a new avenue in my beloved baking hobby. Apart from the odd childish endeavor  I have never actually tried this before, so I found a reliable recipe from one of my books (which I, of course, adapted…hey come on it’s me….when do I ever just follow a recipe?!) and then watched a couple of tutorials from a decorating master, Amber Spiegel, from SweetAmbs.com ( if you haven’t heard of her, you need to check out her blog She is incredible! )

And these are the results:

This brush embroidery is my favourite design (on cakes and cookies alike) and it was my first attempt. (next time I need to use a darker base colour to highlight the brush work and slightly thicker icing to really show the brush effect.)

This was my third attempt! I would have shown you the progression but the hubby wanted some tasters and I only let him eat the mistakes from this cookie batch!!

This was just my experimentation with swirls.

Overall I was very pleased with my first attempt and can’t wait to try them again soon now that I know what I am doing and can rectify some of my novice errors! These were fairly simple to make and I managed to get out all my creative energy… for now!