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Sunday, May 29, 2011

Restaurant Favorites at Home

See those sliced almonds and crushed cornflakes?
When I was in Chicago, well, more precisely, Oak Park, for Spring Break this March I had breakfast out at a little hole in the wall type place with my hosts--my college roommate, her husband, and one of their daughters.  I had a fairly standard brunch out meal for myself--french toast.  But this french toast had a twist.  It was cornflake crusted french toast.  And I have been thinking about it ever since.  I know I have blogged about french toast before, but it really is one of my favorites and now that I bake it, much less of a hassle to make and always comes out perfectly.

Last night, thinking about eggs I should use and half a loaf of brioche, made this the morning to try this twist on french toast at home and I had an inspired twist on the twist.  I crunched up some sliced almonds with the cornflakes and used almond extract instead of vanilla in the custard.  It was pretty good.  Surely good enough to remember and try again.  I can only imagine making it for guests--it is sure to bring a smile to their faces.

But I am sad to report that the restaurant at which I had this meal is closed.  They have two other locations, but the one I ate at, sat in the window, slipped across the icy Chicago streets to get to, discussed parking meter etiquette with an elementary school student at, has closed.  They have two other locations, but there isn't much to explain why the Berwyn location closed.  Perhaps my college roommate knows.  Surely, it seems, her girls will miss the Berwyn Wishbone.  Maybe it is best that I did not discover this until after I tried making that french toast and declared my twist on their twist good--I am afraid if I knew this I would have tried and likely been disappointed at any recreation I might have attempted.

But as far as ethical eating goes, trying to recreate restaurant favorites is a good plan.  It means you can know more about your ingredients, try different twists yourself (like my almonds), and really wow your friends if they work out well.  For a long time dietitians and those concerned with healthy eating have recommended this approach to reduce fat and calories in restaurant favorites.  It can work just as well for ethical concerns.  And has the same limitations, too.  Somethings cannot be made low fat or more ethical.  Some things just have to go.

As far and french toast goes, it can be made more ethical and also like they do at Wishbone, even if no longer in Berwyn.  Thanks to Mel and family for taking me to brunch.  I'll have a fond memory of good food and friends, even with the restaurant gone.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Third time's the charm?

When I was a kid, we had a rhubarb plant in the backyard.  We, like all kids who have a rhubarb plant in the backyard, we warned not to eat the leaves because they are poisonous.  Honestly, I can't imagine going up to some random jungle looking plant in the backyard and thinking to myself "oh, I think I'll eat this elephant ear sized leaf."  But, whatever.  I guess because parents know that kids do stupid stuff and think that if they know we know we can eat the stalks, we might try a leaf, they dutifully warn us.  For all the food we ate from the garden, I don't remember ever cooking with the rhubarb.  I remember my brother eating it raw, just to say he did and cutting some up and trying to get the cousins to eat "pink celery" as a trick.

Rhubarb-Strawberry Crisp
Since then, though, I have come to love rhubarb.  With a little sugar stewed it is wonderful on vanilla ice cream, with strawberries as a pie, crumble or crisp it is delicious.  And at the farmers market this past Saturday I got a big bunch--it is the closest thing to a fruit available right now.  I took about two-thirds of the bunch sliced it up and made a crisp with the rhubarb and some strawberries I had in the freezer from last summer's "u-pick" at Greenbluff.  (I have a few things still in the freezer from last season that have to be used up to make room for new things and the freezer bowl for the ice cream maker, just in case the weather here ever warms up!)

Roasted Rhubarb Salad
But I still had two large stalks left and I knew just what I was going to do with them.  I had seen a recipe for roasted rhubarb salad.  What a great idea I thought--there aren't too many vegetables for salads even though there is now lettuce.  So, I followed the recipe up--warmed some honey, tossed the rhubarb pieces in it and then roasted in the oven just until soft.

Well, I don't normally consider myself someone who likes really sweet things, but that rhubarb roasted on the salad was so sour I could hardly eat it.  But there was easily two servings more left on that roasting pan.  I tried again--lettuce, mizuna, dried cranberries and roasted rhubarb.  I brought it to school for lunch which meant I really would eat it or else have to get take-out to make it through my three hour afternoon class.  Still it was hard to eat, as valiantly as I tried.  Maybe third time's the charm?

(Note well: this is proof that not all my ethical eating recipes turn out well.  Someone asked if I only blog about my successes, so for you, this is one I would NOT recommend!)

Thursday, May 19, 2011

A Week Into Summer School--The Campus Kitchen Community Garden

I'm a week into the fourth time of teaching ethics of eating.  Class seems to be going well so far.  It is sometimes hard to tell so early in the session.  But I have a handful of students taking the class for philosophy credit and a couple for environmental studies credit--all have been engaging in our discussions.  It is nice to have a mix of ages and ethnic backgrounds as well.

Today we ended our class after reviewing the food forum Alice Waters moderated for The Nation several years back (called "One Thing to Do About Food" which featured short essays by notable folks in the food community like Wendell Berry, Vandana Shiva and Michael Pollan to name just a few) and talking about memorable meals prompted by MFK Fisher's "A Thing Shared" and the musings of one of her husbands, Donald Friede on what eating at home was like, by getting into the new community garden on campus.  It is part of our Campus Kitchens project.  The idea of Campus Kitchen (ours is just one campus of many around the country that participate) is that food served on campus even if the college kids don't eat it, shouldn't be wasted.  If that food can be given to those in need instead of thrown away, that is a good thing.  Food should not be wasted.

And we've now taken it a step further.  During the good weather, we are going to grow some food for our community partners that during the academic year would get food from our cafeteria.  This way, all year round, we can be giving back to the community in which our university makes its home.  Eighteen raised beds were put in this fall and a greenhouse frame has been put up.  There are strawberries and raspberries in, so too are onions, peas and beans.  The tomatoes are ready to go in and there are a few beds to spare.  Good things will be growing soon.

In a more typical year, more things would be lush already, but it has been a cool damp spring and it is just now that the tulips have passed and the lilacs Spokane is known for are just about to bloom, weeks after our "bloomsday" road race.  Hopefully things will catch up a bit or at least the growing season will be long enough for our little garden and for the farmers who make their living off the land here.

So, my class spent some time in the garden today and we will again in the future.  The weather in Spokane is getting better, the sky is blue and the sun is warm.  Time to get my hands dirty and do a little good in the world.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

How was your winter?

Spokane Farmers Market -- 5th and Browne.
I am a college professor so each fall when the new academic year gets underway I ask and am asked a lot "how was your summer?"  But today, the opening day of the Spokane Farmers Market, one of the farmers with whom I have become friendly asked "How was your winter?"  A good reminder that the wax and wane of the year means different things to different people.  They had much to tell as did I.

It has been a cold, wet spring and I have been worried for the region's farmers.  I have heard on the news that the vineyards are weeks behind in flowering and some of the garden starts at the market today were newly out of their greenhouses.  But today, a glorious, sunny and warm spring-turning-to-summer day, the Spokane Farmers Market opened.  There were more stalls and more things for sale than I had expected. 

Golden Morel Mushrooms
I was able to get some really wonderful things.  I got asparagus, spring onions, walnuts cured from last fall, some hard red winter wheat flour, some beautiful eggs and most spectacularly, some golden morel mushrooms.  One pays for those mushrooms dearly, but there is really nothing else like them and here in the inland northwest there are pockets of them that are well-guarded and well-loved.  I am thinking that tomorrow I will make quiche with the eggs, asparagus, mushrooms and onions. 

There were other things for sale, too.  Potatoes, jellies and jams, fresh cheese and bread, radishes, rhubarb, carrots, beef, pork and chicken, and lots and lots of garden starts of many varieties and sizes.

I am back to my late spring/summer/early fall ritual.  Up early on Saturdays and to the Farmers Market, then to the co-op if there is anything I need (although with more meat, cheese and eggs being sold now at the market, trips to the co-op may be fewer this season!), then home and laundry and still some of morning left at that point.  It is a ritual grounded in both the simplicity and necessity of daily life.

 So when my professor friends ask my how my summer was, not my winter, I'll have something both wonderful and ordinary to tell them.  I ate well, talked with those that grew what I ate, enjoyed the city and the country at once, that's how my summer will be.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

It's that time of year again ...

This weekend is the first of the Spokane Farmers Market and I am excited.  It has been a wet, cold spring here in the Inland Northwest so I am not sure what there will be, but whatever it is, I am going to buy some and support my local farmers.  Plus, I am looking forward to meeting the new baby of one of them! I guess that's something being grown and raised!

The spring semester is over and summer school is about to begin.  I am teaching my ethics of food class once again, so will be sure to be blogging more as my thinking turns more readily to food and the values behind it.  Thanks for your patience during my break from blogging!