Best Online Foodie Gifts for the Long-Distance Mama

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Photo courtesy of Will Pilson.
Mother's Day Sweets Box from Harry & David.

On Sunday, May 10, many of you will have the opportunity to treat your mother/maternal figure to a lovely meal (and, for the love of God, don't confine it to brunch). Some of us, however, won't get that chance. I'm not referring to those who don't have a relationship with their moms or those whose mothers are no longer with us (though my heart goes out to you).

I'm referring to myself, actually, and everyone else who loves his or her mother dearly but just happens to live 300+ miles from her (in my case, 1,463.1 miles). Meeting up for drinks and dinner is not an option; a Skype session doesn't seem quite special; and a generic card is not going to cut it.

Flowers, of course, are the conventional gift for the long-distance mama on Mother's Day, but if 1) you're looking for something more creative, 2) your green-thumb mom grows her own friggin' tulips and 3) food not flora is the way to your mother's heart, then consider sending one of these terrific Mother's Day foodie gifts from online vendors.

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Whole Foods Post Oak Continues to Produce Quality in Its Beer Dinner Series, Though With Some Growing Pains

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Photo by Carolyn McBride
The green curry with shrimp and clam, paired with the Got Lemons? Belgian blonde ale, was the second course at the April WFM Post Oak Beer Dinner.

I attended and wrote about the first in the monthly Beer Dinner series at the Whole Foods Market Post Oak location, where the WFM Brewery is located. WFM Brewmaster Dave Ohmer and Post Oak Executive Chef Josh Shobe collaborated for a five-course meal of food and beer pairings, and I enjoyed it enough that I jumped when offered the opportunity to attend the April dinner as well. (Dinners take place the first Thursday of every month, if you're interested in attending.)

While other of the Beer Dinners will have Ohmer selecting beers from local breweries, the two I attended featured the WFM lineup of Ohmer's own creations, to which Shobe created menu items for pairing.

I continue to be impressed with WFM Brewery's output. Only two months later, Ohmer has a completely different lineup of beers from the February dinner, and he continues to not only keep up the quality but in some cases improve on previous recipes. Shobe's choices of dishes, quality and presentation were up to the standards set by the first dinner, as well. Once again, both the beers and the food were well-made and the pairings well-chosen.

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Deli Man Movie Examines an Endangered Dining Tradition

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Photo by Phaedra Cook
Ziggy Gruber of Kenny & Ziggy's deli in Houston has a prominent role in the new documentary, Deli Man.

According to David Sax, author of Save the Deli: In Search of Perfect Pastrami, Crusty Rye, and the Heart of Jewish Delicatessen, in 1930, there were more than 3,000 Jewish delicatessens in New York City in 1930. In 2009, that number had dwindled to a few dozen.

The numbers haven't just been dwindling in New York. The new movie Deli Man says that there are now only a few hundred Jewish delis nationwide.

Ziggy Gruber, chef and co-owner of Kenny & Ziggy's in Houston, is one of the few "deli men" holding the line and ensuring these repositories of food, culture and tradition survive. He has a prominent role in Deli Man and his scenes with his dad, girlfriend (now wife), and brother are emotional focal points that give the film a whole lot of heart and soul.

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Cater2.me Wants to Connect Houston Food Vendors With Local Businesses

Categories: Food Nation

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Photo by Alex via flickr
Houston is filled with office buildings that would book a creative catered event.
How many times have you been in an office lunch meeting or social gathering at work and the food is just sub-par? I'm guessing that's a lot, right? Usually the assortment of food is sandwiches, chips and dip, fruit trays and a selection of drinks. It would be incredible to serve some of Houston's local food during your office gatherings or meetings, but unfortunately not every mom-and-pop shop offers a catering service or knows how to establish that sort of an amenity. Fortunately, there's a start-up company, Cater2.me, that will connect local restaurant vendors with clients, such as businesses and companies, to cater large group events anywhere from ten people to over a thousand.

Cater2.me started in San Francisco in 2010 and has expanded throughout the country to Washington D.C., Chicago, New York City, Boston and more recently Austin. Co-founder of Cater2.me Zach Yungst, heard a lot about the diverse cuisine offerings in Houston and decided our grand old city would be the company's next market expansion.

"We have had an office in Austin since the beginning of the year and we just heard a lot about Houston, did a lot of reading," Yungst says. "I'm particularly excited about it given how diverse the food community is and it sounds like a lot of interesting things going on there where people have different backgrounds [and they can] kind of explore things that may not be native to their heritage. [It's] a pretty cool opportunity for us to experience and bring some of those concepts to other markets that we work in."

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Ramen: Where to Get the Trendy Dish in Houston and What's Next

Categories: Food Nation

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Photo by Mai Pham
This ramen from Soma Sushi contains sous vide pork belly, a parboiled egg and shiitake mushrooms.
For every one person in Houston who complains that the ramen fad is over, there are ten more people who get really excited about every new ramen joint opening and every bowl they have yet to try. Like the cupcake, ramen refuses to die.

Fortunately, as Houston's ramen universe continues to expand, the offerings get better and better. Soma Sushi's chef Gabe Medina has made a point of testing new ramen recipes to keep the menu evolving, while Goro & Gun recently experimented with a crawfish ramen that was somewhere between the traditional Japanese soup and gumbo. Whatever you call it, it was mighty tasty. Newcomer Ninja Ramen is already getting positive reviews, while Kata Robata continues to impress with the spicy soy ramen, which regularly sells out.

Whatever sort of ramen you find yourself craving, chances are there's a Houston restaurant that can satisfy. It might not be quite what you'd get in Japan, but as far as comfort food goes, it's hard to beat.

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Viral Craigslist Post Says Smartphones Are Ruining Dining Out...But Are They?

Categories: Food Nation

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Photo by Jacob Davies
Put your phone away and eat, for God's sake!
About two weeks ago, an anonymous commenter posted a diatribe to the Craigslist "Rants and Raves" section that has actually made people pay attention (as opposed to recent Houston posts about kids at Starbucks and the stupidity of Craigslist readers).

"We are a popular restaurant for both locals and tourists alike," the post reads. "One of the most common complaints on review sites against us and many restaurants in the area is that the service was slow and or they needed to wait a bit long for a table."

In order to determine why service was slower than in the past in spite of adding more staff and training the staff better, this restaurant supposedly located some surveillance footage from 2004 and compared it with recent surveillance footage from the same day of the week approximately ten years later. The result? According to the post, diners spend an average of 50 minutes more now than they did ten years ago, and smartphones are the culprit.

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Restaurant Managers and Servers Move Toward a Friendlier, Less Formal Environment

Categories: Food Nation

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Photo by Ralph Daily
Waiters are becoming less of a blur and more an actual element in the dining experience.
"Treat celebrities like locals, and locals like celebrities, because everyone loves to be made to feel special."

That's the mantra of Gabriel Stulman, owner of six restaurants in Manhattan and featured speaker at the inaugural Welcome Conference on hospitality held in New York earlier this month. He's just one person trying to revolutionize the notion of front-of-house service in upscale restaurants often more known for their stuffy waitstaff than their welcoming environment.

It's part of a trend toward drawing focus to the important work of managers, servers, bartenders and other waitstaff in addition to the food a restaurant serves. Of course, here in Texas where friendliness is a way of life, it's not so much a trend as a return to a more natural approach to customer service.

"I'm glad it's going this way," says Shawn Virene, general manager at Brasserie 19, often considered one of Houston's more upscale restaurants due to its River Oaks clientele. "It's making dining more fun. Some people just want to be served. Others want an experience."

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Using Google Trend Reports to Predict Future Food Trends

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Photo by Pamela
Will anything trump cupcakes?
We recently came across an article on the Huffington Post food section (you know, an ideal source for incredibly accurate news), and found an article entitled "According To Google, Nothing Is Ever Going To Trump The Cupcake."

That can't be right, we thought, weary of the cupcake. It's been a very trendy food item for years now, and while most food writers and chefs admit to being so over the cupcake, the Huffington Post claims that Google Trends shows the cupcake's popularity isn't in decline. Unfortunately.

The image above shows the comparisons the HuffPo author made to prove that the cupcake is still going strong.

Disheartened, we made our own chart showing the rise of the cupcake and other similar baked goods.

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The United States of Desserts: New York Cheesecake

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Photo by James Yu
Cheesecake from the Carnegie Deli in New York

In this series, we examine the history and origins of famous sweets, confections and desserts associated with American states.

Cheesecake, like everything else of merit in this world, was invented in America, specifically, New York City.

NOT. (I bet I had you there for a second. Relax (for now) and read on.)

Cheesecake, though not the modern form many of us have come to love, can be traced back to ancient Greece where renowned physician Aegimus wrote a book about proper cheesecake cookery. His confections made use of soft cheeses, were less sweet, and did not always contain a crust.

Later, European versions of cheesecake emerged in Italy and France, which often use ricotta and neufch√Ętel cheese, respectively to construct the cake's hallmark dense, soft dairy interior. A German variation, also still produced today, uses dough for a crust and quark in the filling--no, the elementary matter particle but rather the sour milk spread.

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The United States of Desserts: Hoosier Sugar Cream Pie

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Photo by Robyn Anderson
Sugar Cream Pie

In this series, we examine the history and origins of famous sweets, confections and desserts associated with American states.

Sugar. Cream. Pie. What's not to like about a dessert that combines all three elements?

Residents of Indiana, aka "Hoosiers," have a particular penchant for this amalgamate confection that dates back to the nineteenth century. Quakers from North Carolina who settled in the state made desserts that hearkened back to their European roots such as treacle tarts and cream pies. The sugar cream pie was in a way an American derivative of these British confections and gained popularity among settlers due to its straightforward preparation and simple ingredients. A butter crust shell is filled with a mixture of flour, cream, sugar, and vanilla, then baked until a slightly brown glaze forms on the surface.


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