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Saturday, April 28, 2007


Cafe Gratitude

A friend of mine periodically "goes raw:" she goes onto a raw vegetarian or vegan foods diet. Raw foodism has been around... well, literally forever, since people have eaten fresh and natural foods since the most ancient times.

What makes "going raw" novel is largely the extent to which modern Americans eat heavily processed foods which are sometimes cooked repeatedly. (That frozen dinner you just popped into the microwave has been cooked more than once, and some of its components have been cooked separately, then assembled, then cooked, then frozen, and now will be heated by you again.) When you look at some of the alarmingly-non-food-like dishes that most people consider normal, breaking out of your routine to eat something you recognize in its original form seems completely sensible. Eating ultra-fresh foods has an obvious appeal.

Eating GOURMET ultra-fresh foods has even more appeal, and so my friend gathered a group of us, and we went out to Cafe Gratitude (, at their location on 9th Avenue near Irving.

This is a fabulous, fabulous, fancy-food place. The level of skill and complexity of presentation of raw ingredients is really stellar; the dishes we sampled were all delicious and subtly novel in some respect; the desserts were heavenly; and I left feeling full, cozy, completely satisfied, and believed that the folks who work there shared a very pleasant affection with us and everyone else present.


The restaurant is about positive living, and so the menu items all have positive affirmations as names. (Before you begin to fuss, note that you didn't carry on when the place down the block from you made you order in faux-Italian, you probably don't flinch when that junk food place you go to makes up fake not-Mexican snack names, and you probably use made-up names when you order coffee, so just relax and run with this.) It's not just the names, of course: the workers are pleasant and welcoming, and the food is made with affection and is amazingly good for you.

On this visit, I had the delicious "I am inspired," a delicious chai tea, served hot, with a lovely aroma and even better flavor. As appetizers, we had "I am bountiful," a collection of delicious spreads on seeded crackers, which we could happily have eaten all evening; "I am happy," a tasty hummus; and "I am generous," a smooth and flavorful guacamole. My entree was the enchilada of the day, which includes the daily special as a filling: it's called "I am elated," and of course I was. (Especially because of the fabulous rice that came with it, which inspired another adventure at home.) We also shared desserts, all of which were divine.

Aside from the obvious freshness that came out in all of the dishes, there was nothing about them that was so far removed from ordinary experience that the cooked-food-eating omnivores at the table couldn't handle. They knew what enchiladas are, and hummus, and guacamole; the sure as heck recognized cheesecake in its special incarnation here! Though there was some wide-eyed alarm upon our arrival, that faded once we settled in and started eating.

Actually, one of the entertaining aspects of this was seeing the omnivores in the group struggle conceptually with the very idea of uncooked foods. For example, lemonade was on the menu, but the whole 'raw' idea was so alien that one friend asked if it was going to be like NORMAL lemonade. To which I asked, "So, you COOK your lemonade??" I also had the privilege of explaining that guacamole, which was familiar to everyone at the table, is traditionally not cooked, and thus should be no surprise to anyone present. (I think being afraid of new things is like that: you try to view them through a filter of new-ness that obscures how familiar they are to you.)

Wait... hot tea? Enchiladas with rice? This isn't like that other raw food place you went to with us, is it? No, it isn't. According to my friend, there are a variety of approaches to the use of heat, and she subscribes to a theory that involves heating foods up to a point (103??) which provides warmth without destroying certain nutritious enzymes. This was that kind of place, so everything I expected to be warm was warm.

It's a great place, and I'll be taking friends there. You do pay for quality, and this is a quality place, but the cost is reasonable for the skill with which the dishes are prepared.

(Mmmmm: enchiladas!)

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posted by Arlene (Beth)8:55 PM

Monday, April 16, 2007


Bonus material: Family Dinner Traditions/Unlike Mom Used to Make, Part VIII: An Interview with my Mother about an Eastern European Delicatessen, Polish Food, and Additional Foods Eaten in Childhood.

While I was interviewing my father for Part VII of this series, I was also plying my mother with information about Polish foods that I had acquired from Wikipedia's entry on Polish cuisine, to see if I could learn a bit about the traditions that the relatives she visited while she was growing up might have followed. The printout I brought along with me inspired quite a few recollections, which I'll share here.

The Bakery/Deli/General Store. My mother said that the 42nd Ward of Branford Connecticut where she lived was almost entirely Polish when she was a kid, and accordingly, there was a specialty bakery and general store that was set up to meet their cultural demands. She remembers the store as having a wooden floor, with sawdust scattered on it. The store's bakery produced fresh breads in European styles: breads like rye, sour rye, and caraway. My mother notes that these were hard breads, much firmer than common American breads today. [Did I ever write about having a German visitor last year, and how I had to break his heart by explaining that, while we do have a break here called pumpernickel, it's not REAL pumpernickel, but is instead a soft bread that sometimes has coloring added to make it look more wholesome? Poor man! I felt so bad for telling him, but I didn't want him to try it and be disappointed...] The store also made pickles, and had a butcher present who was able to sell both regular and kosher meats.

Recollections of Polish foods. While my Mom had the list in front of her, she also recalled eating some of the foods on the list, and a few other items that she may not have mentioned previously. Some of these items were likely things she ate less often, or didn't eat at dinner with her family, which is why they didn't come to mind in the previous interview. (I'm going to send her a written copy of both that interview and this one, so she'll be able to provide additional comments.) Items specifically from Wikipedia's list are marked with an asterisk.

-beetroot soup*
-clam chowder
-egg drop-style chicken soup
-pea soup

Meat/Savory dishes:
-blood sausages
-crab, boiled or in crab salad
-eggs, poached or soft boiled
-golumpki (meat-stuffed cabbage)*
-klusky (round dumplings)*
-omelets, with cheese or mushrooms
-pot roast
-sliced cucumbers with sour cream
-wild mushrooms, fried in butter

-apple cake (like streusel)*
-cakes, with candied ("citronated"?) fruit, cinnamon, nutmeg, and raisins
-cheese made of sheep milk
-desserts of layered wafers with creamy fillings*
-Easter bread, a crescent-shaped raisin bread
-fruit compotes (boiled fruit and cinnamon)
-krowki - soft milk toffee candies*
-pie, blueberry or blueberry cream
-sernik - cheesecake (made with quark, a type of fresh cheese)*

If she recalls more, I'll report about it in another installment.

Mmmmm, apple cake...


posted by Arlene (Beth)11:50 PM

Thursday, April 12, 2007


Family Dinner Traditions: My Dad! From the continuing interview series Unlike Mom Used to Make, Continued. Part VII.

Last spring I began interviewing friends and relatives about what their families ate for dinner as a child, to learn which food traditions people follow, and which they choose simply to remember fondly. So far I've posted:
-Part 1: Me and Steven
-Part II: Reggie
-Part III: Larry
-Part IV: Rosemary
-Part V: Andra
-Part VI: My Mom.

I am working on my grandmother's interview by mail even now, teasing various details out of her gradually, though she has tried to escape my interrogation techniques several times, which is easy to do by mail (aside from the appearance of my persistent questions on every card and letter I send to her). I'll write about that when I have a few more answers compiled. In the meantime, let's look at what my Dad ate.

Dad's family dinners. My father was the 5th and final child in his family, and he grew up in Cleveland, Ohio. My grandmother had moved north from the South, which had influenced her cooking: there were certain "soul food" elements in her family traditions which I think of as being more Southern than specifically African-American, though both cultural influences were present. Cleveland is also very much in the "Midwest," which has its own cooking traditions. Overall, I'd say this combination resulted in an "All-American" menu of food, which my father described as "normal" more than regional.

My father remembers eating these items for dinner:

-meatloaf with mashed potatoes
-chicken (breasts only)
-pork chops (rarely)
-hot dogs

Vegetables & Fruits
-greens (with bacon, for flavor)
-veggies grown by Aunt Norma. Aunt Norma had a very productive garden, and would provide bushel baskets of fresh produce, including:
--green beans
-black eyed peas (with chunks of meat, or simmered with ham hocks)
-mashed potatoes
-plums and grapes from the plum tree and grape arbor in their home garden

Casseroles and combinations
-macaroni and cheese (made with cream, cheddar, and macaroni)
-scalloped potatoes
-toasted cheese sandwiches
-deviled eggs

Baked Goods and desserts
-cakes, including carrot cake
-pies, including lemon meringue, apple, pecan, and peach cobbler
-golden bars (sort of like a brownie, but not based on chocolate. I'll get the recipe for these from my mother, and post it in a later entry)
-corn bread
-other homemade breads.

Dad also remembers drinking Seal Test Milk.

Things Dad Didn't Eat. As we were working through Dad's list, he also came up with items that he specifically did not eat. There were a few reasons for this. Partly, my father was a fussy eater, but there were a few other factors. One interesting factor, which I had never heard mentioned before I interviewed him: a few of my father's older siblings told him that he would be haunted by the spirits of any animal he ate, and would also taunt him with the discarded legs of chickens. He didn't take well to this. Perhaps this is why, growing up, my father preferred meat dishes that were somewhat removed from the animal: he liked chicken breasts only, and never parts on the bone; he didn't like ribs or other meat that retained a direct resemblance to its original anatomical location; etc.

Items on my father's did-not-eat list include:
-fish. This is primarily because my grandmother was allergic to fish. (This means that my eldest uncle shouldn't have been quite so surprised when my cousin turned out to be similarly, severely allergic.) Dad says that Grandpa would sometimes catch red snapper, and would have to prepare it himself.
-pot roast
-chitlins, a.k.a. pig intestines. My father once walked into the kitchen, and was repulsed by what he considered to be a very bathroom-related smell. When advised what was cooking, he swore never to eat those.

What he eats now. My father's diet in recent years has been influenced by Atkins and the fact that he cooks for himself now, but the basic dishes listed before - meats and veggie side dishes - are still reasonably close to what he eats now. My 2004 inventory of his cupboards and refrigerator doesn't produce a very clear list of entrees, but I know he tries to eat light meals, including sandwiches, eggs and toast, pasta, and chicken with broccoli. While my Mother is quick to point out the double pepperoni pizzas that she brings over to his house when they rent a good movie, that's not quite as indicative of his diet as it was back before his bypass surgery in the early 1990s, when fast food was a regular feature of his week. Living out where strawberries are grown, I know he also eats fresh, local fruit that is available from the stands a short drive from his home. I know he likes broccoli.


I have more notes from my mother, which I'll provide shortly.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)11:14 PM

Wednesday, April 11, 2007


Spring Farmer's Market

On March 24th, I went to the Farmer's Market to see what our local farmers were offering despite the very cold, dry, generally strange winter we'd had.

Despite the cold, there were plenty of options:
-an abundance of oranges (especially the large navel oranges, but also smaller "juice" oranges, and various mandarins)
-pomelo (the giant green citrus fruit that are periodically mistaken for giant grapefruit, though they have a subtler, milder flavor than the average grapefruit)
-kumquats (which I see used more for festive decorations than I do as food)
-a few yellow pears (but very few - the pears you see in stores right now, especially the brown pears, are likely from South America)
-Asian specialty greens like bok choi, gai lon, the round-edged mustards, and others (available here year-round, usually)
-onions (green and yellow)
-mints (a wide range, including the strangely named "chicken mint")
-daikon radishes (which are fabulous, but which I don't do anything with, for some reason... I need a recipe for pickling them, I think, so I can serve them with other things)...

Plus the items I chose:
-broccoli (to cook with tofu, black bean sauce AND Vietnam-style chili garlic sauce)
-tomatoes - which were a bad idea, because it's too early, and they were from far, far away, sold at the little stand that always has a wide range of foods, but which always look likve they've spent too long on a truck. (I suspect the stand sells conventional produce from a distributor in northern Mexico, since they often have off-season items which aren't quite at their prime.) I mixed these into a pasta sauce containing canned, diced, roasted tomatoes, capers, and garlic - their firm texture held up after simmering, which was pleasant over pasta.
-strawberries - Real California strawberries!! It's early in the season, and so they're not as sweet as they'll be in a few months, but they were firm and fresh. A basket of strawberries is at least half of a perfect breakfast.
-red chard. (Prepared the way the broccoli was, above.)
-gai lon (which got wilty before I got to it, since I didn't seal it's bag well enough, so I composted it. It was just a buck, so I don't feel too bad.)
-lettuce (huge, gorgeous, loose-head. In sandwiches and salads.)
-prunes (Steven's choice)
-golden raisins (which are good in my cinnamon oatmeal)
-dried peaches (mmmmmmmm)
-leeks (for soup, with potatoes and garlic)
-and Sukhi's Indian specialties: spinach parathas, pumpkin parathas, samosas, mint chutney, and a strange sour-cream based "paratha dip" which was too rich for me.

We also bought quite a few fresh flowers, for an experiment in printing anthotypes, which I'll write about later.

My favorite summer fruits and veggies are still a few months away, but it's definitely worth going to the farmer's market when I have chance to wallow in freshness, and know that I'm eating foods that are locally grown by local farmers.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)10:45 PM

Monday, April 09, 2007


Korean delights

My pal Helen had been holding out on us. At one point, when discussing getting together at each others homes for food, she mentioned to us that she happens to be skilled in a range of Korean specialty dishes. She mentioned this, but I thought she was just teasing - I rarely get to enjoy her fabulous company, and when would such a busy person have time to cook elaborate Korean dishes for us?

The answer: mid February, when she invited about 10 of us over to a traditional Korean feast, made only slightly less traditional by her extremely kind accommodation of three vegetarians in the group.

These are the delicious items she made for us:

-jap chae - stir fried glass (yam-based) noodles with vegetables such as onions, mushrooms, garlic, and greens in a delicious, savory sauce. This was really fabulous, and one of the best things was the perfect texture of the noodles: they held their shape and had good texture, which can be tricky with glass noodles. (If you undercook them, they are too chewy; if you overcook them, they fall apart.)

-kim bap - rice rolls with egg and veggies, wrapped in seaweed. These are a lot like the oversized sushi rolls you can get at some sushi places, sometimes called veggie futomaki.

-bin dae duk - these are delicious fried pancakes with minced scallions. They taste quite a bit like potato pancakes, but are actually made with bean flour, which gives them a hearty texture. They came with a delicious, salty dipping sauce with sliced scallions floating on top.

-mandoo - fried dumplings! These delicious dumplings were filled with egg, cabbage, other shredded veggies, ginger, and spices. I've seen these compared to wontons, but I'd say that these are much more like gyoza or pot stickers, especially because of the delicious ginger. Mmmm. Ginger.

-little side dishes, or banchan. I will cheat for these delicious items, and look at Wikipedia's entry on banchan to try to get some of the spellings right. These delicious little sides included:

--spicy kimchee, picked cabbage with chili peppers and salt
--miyuk-muchim, a dressed, shredded seaweed salad
--pickled cucumbers
--pickled radish
--lotus root (actually, stalk), simmered in something sweet like mirin.

Helen advised us that she went to a Korean specialty grocery for these, so she didn't have to make EVERYTHING herself. These were all tasty and fun to eat, and complemented her fabulous homemade dishes wonderfully.

We had "Asian" pears (golden pears, apple-pears) for dessert, which were sweet and refreshing after all of the complex flavors of the meal.

I don't know how long Helen had to spend cooking, but the meal was absolutely fabulous - even once we were full, it was difficult to stop eating, because everything tasted so good. It was an especially great experience for the herbivores in our group, since many of the non-banchan dishes would ordinarily contain ground meat, and so we would have missed out on those fabulous dishes entirely.

Yaay, Helen! I've asked if I can interview her about her family's dinner experiences in her childhood, since she alluded to some family rivalries about certain dishes, and I'd love to hear more about that. I'll report when I have a chance to take her out and interview her, hopefully in May.


posted by Arlene (Beth)10:26 PM

Saturday, April 07, 2007


Hooray! I'm back on-line!

Happiness is a new router, replaced under warranty. Yaay, new routers!
posted by Arlene (Beth)10:24 PM

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