Festive & Fresh

Arizona foods elevate the holiday table

Written by Gail Collins

As the golden light of autumn waned, the brisk afternoon warmed with the happy chatter of guests. Pecks on the cheek, lingering hugs and the joyous anticipation of time with loved ones set the stage for a holiday gathering. The cook mopped a brow with a dish towel, inhaled the stuffing’s fall fragrance and smiled. Nothing can top the celebratory combination of glorious food, home and company. In fact, it is the melding of elements, both festive and familiar, that creates the greatest happiness.

Gatherings can feel stressful, but serving specialty foods and a showcase bird is worth the planning and preparation. Even professionals, like Logan Webber, executive chef at Brix, utter colorful language when the top of the stuffing chars instead of browns, so relax, home cooks—it’s all part of the process.

Sustainable Serving

When it comes to choosing quality ingredients, local is always better. Even a massive bison creates a smaller carbon footprint when the animal is grazed, processed and eaten regionally. Sustainable farming and ranching guard future land use for all. Environmental preservation—avoiding toxic substances or depleting natural resources—builds an ongoing ecological balance. Sustainable practices consider animal welfare, protect public health and support vibrant communities. The good news is that increasing demand for sustainable living is fueling a robust market of products and producers.

The Colorado Plateau offers a wider variety of proteins and produce than might be expected for a semi- arid land. Some of the sources readily available to Northern Arizona include:  McClendon’s Select, Roots Micro Farm, Black Mesa Ranch, Two Wash Ranch, and of course, the local farmers market. Three generations at McClendon’s Select have cultivated nearly 100 acres of certified, organic farmland in Peoria and Goodyear. Roots is an urban farm in Flagstaff supplying colorful micro-greens—vegetables, herbs and flowers—to local restaurants. Black Mesa Ranch boasts the “flavor of the White Mountains” with farmstead artisan cheeses crafted from registered Nubian goats. Two Wash Ranch, a five-acre poultry farm, raises chickens, ducks, geese and pea fowl in a cage-free environment.  For the easiest downtown shopping however, visit Proper Meats + Provisions, an abundant source of regional, quality fresh and jarred items.

“There are many reasons to use sustainable ingredients,” Chef Webber said. “It’s better for the environment, but there is also the chance to talk to the people, who make the food, about their practices and upcoming farm produce. This offers the chance to change up the menu with seasonal items.” Farmers markets are ideal for this, and he also chats with other chefs, who can help with sourcing. Webber, who entice diners with the unique root vegetables in autumn, added, “Local goods taste so much better and have a longer shelf life that extends recipe opportunities.”

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Gathering Place Up the Creek Bistro Wine Bar offers effortless entertaining in a creekside setting

Up the Creek Bistro Wine Bar offers effortless entertaining in a creekside setting

Written by Gail Collins

The best tip for hosting happy holiday gatherings is planning. Though a spontaneous event suggests an air of que sera sera, the anxious reality is we will lie awake plotting anyway. Skip the bad dreams and start a checklist. Whether it’s a corporate or family affair, deciding the details early will increase joy and attendance. It also creates control.

Things to consider:  Is there a theme? Who is on the guest list—employees or adults only or family fun? When is it best to gather the crowd—day, evening, weekend? How about games or entertainment—live music or quiet carols? What is the budget—be honest? Where is the proper venue—home, office or restaurant? The food—should it be home-cooked or catered? Use the answers to build a list that covers all of the activities from several weeks out to greeting the guests. Then, plot them on the calendar. Add items as needs arise, like fresh batteries for the camera or renting extra chairs. On the day, stay upbeat, elevate your guests, and enjoy the party.

As more people eat out on an almost daily basis, partying at a restaurant could be the seamless solution to most hosting duties. Up the Creek Bistro Wine Bar in Cornville, with fine dining in a rustic space perched above the creek, has served brides and grooms or statesmen, like Sen. John McCain, who regularly rents out the 100-guest space for soirees. A party of 10 or 50 can also choose from the same French-inspired European and American dishes.

Owners Mario Aguilar, Michelle Mebine and chef-owner Jim O’Meally opened the revamped space last fall, and despite an off-the-beaten-path location, its popularity has grown. Fiery leaves and a clear stream make an especially inviting environment in autumn. The split-level building’s low-beamed ceilings with stone fireplaces and lanterns project a cozy, lodge feel.

At Thanksgiving last year, the restaurant presented a buffet with 12 roasted turkeys from a Page Springs farm. The menu featured unique and traditional dishes homemade from fresh ingredients: maple-brined pork roast, braised red cabbage, sweet potato and green bean casseroles, roasted Brussel sprouts, ginger-honey glazed carrots, three kinds of stuffing and gravy, plus pumpkin and buttermilk pies.

“People are our guests and feel relaxed here,” O’Meally said, “Often over dinner, tables meet one another, talk, share wine and become friends.”

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Snappy’s Faithfuls: The Rebuilding of a Beloved Katy Landmark

After extensive damage due to Hurricane Harvey, staff members, friends, and city officials roll up their sleeves to rebuild and re-open the iconic cafe in historic Katy on October 30, 2017.

Katy Magazine, November 2017

Written by Gail G. Collins

When Hurricane Harvey hit Houston on August 25th, it was a double-whammy for Snappy’s Cafe & Grill. The breakfast and lunch spot is a landmark in the original downtown with a wide range of customers from city officials to industry workers and including Katy Magazine.

The flood waters rose to more than four feet, and partners Bobby Katsabas and Alex Tsounakas faced a rigorous recovery. It was the second time in as many years that Snappy’s had suffered flood damage. The first event was Tax Day 2016. Several inches of water saturated the premises then, but Harvey dealt a brutal blow.

“Everything was destroyed,” Bobby says. “We had to throw everything out, start from scratch and rebuild.”  With only the inspections left to complete, the good news is that the go-to place for biscuits and gravy is slated to reopen on October 30, 2017. Once open, Snappy’s would like to let the community to know that the restaurant will now be 100% smoke-free.

Snappy’s regulars to the rescue

In a storm so fraught with destruction, the best of the city responded, especially diners to whom Snappy’s has become as familiar as family.

Mayor Chuck Brawner and wife Marcy were among the first arrive, followed by a steady stream of regulars.  All wanted to check in with the owners, but stayed to dig in with gloves and trash bags in the clean-up effort. “The Katy Train,” a Katy High School Facebook group also showed commitment to Snappy’s in a big way. Katy is a wonderful town, Alex feels, where everybody knows everybody. “Thank you to all for coming and helping,” the partners say. “The support was tremendous.”

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