Friday, July 31, 2009

St. Louis, Gateway to the Best



I love St. Louis. I love the architecture, the boutiques sprinkled around intimate neighborhoods, the culture, and the food. My last trip was a little rushed and I was more than a bit tired, but fortunately I found two wonderful restaurants brimming with great fare and relaxed atmosphere.

Now, I don’t exactly know my neighborhoods yet, so you’ll have to forgive me. At a little wine get-together Sunday night one of the guest recommended Everest Café and Bar. Unfortunately, it wasn’t open on Monday, so I saved that for Tuesday lunch.


Monday, after a few meetings just down the street, I stopped at Mokabe’s Coffee House. This is a charming spot on the corner of Arsenal and Grand.

They have a lovely and relaxing patio area, great for catching up on e-mail (free wifi), people watching, or dining avec pooch (dog bowls are provided). The thing you have to remember about St. Louis, they have no ban on smoking, so while ordering at the counter inside I almost choked on cigarette smoke. That was the only drawback, and one I've dealt with at several other wonderful restaurants. From what I gathered, Mokabe’s is a local hang-out for creatives and intellectuals. There was such a wide aray of folks sitting around. It’s a real joint featuring standard diner fare, with a vegetarian slant.


I ordered a black-bean burger with all the goodies. I added avocado, lettuce and tomatoes. My French fries were classic diner-style, and though they said “oven baked,” if I were a betting girl I’d say they’d definitely seen the inside of a deep fryer at some point. No matter…the food was quick, comforting and inexpensive. Oh, and most importantly, they had the freshest, coldest iced tea I’ve had since leaving Oxford, Mississippi.

My burger, fries, tea and a really great brownie cost less than $11. And, I had not problem working through the rest of my day without feeling overfed! I was definitely less guilty after Monday's lunch than I would be the following day.

Tuesday I ate at Everest Café and Bar, which specializes in Nepalese, Indian and Korean food. I hadn’t been so fortunate to eat Nepalese cuisine before, but Indian food is my weakness, and for this reason I put lunch off for as long as I could. I knew that after grazing at the touted buffet I’d be useless for the rest of the day.

Everest has a most interesting dining philosophy. Owners, Dr. Devi Gurung States and his wife, have a commitment to healthy eating and lifestyle.
They offer nutritional and life style counseling at different times through the month. And even though this was a buffet, the selections were much lighter than traditional Indian buffets. The dishes were so flavorful, I honestly only made one trip through the line, only going back for a tad of sweets, and then I was amazingly satisfied and content.

So, let me share some of the highlights: Chap Chae was one of my favorite finds. This consists of lightly sautéed veggies, tossed with yam noodles and a very light, slightly sweet sauce. There was also a delightful vegetable curry, which I put over a spoonful of jasmine rice, and sopped up with a ½ round of Naan. I did indulge myself in vegetable pakora, drizzled with a VERY spicy chili and pickled vegetable sauce. They also had a really fresh looking salad bar, but I didn’t bother. I did take a small dish of raita, which is one of my favorite things in the world. While it is traditionally treated as a dip or sauce, I tend to treat it more like a soup, and have received strange looks, but I don't care. It feels good to my tummy.

I shouldn’t have gone back for sweets, but I did. And I didn’t just have one…I had a little dish of mango pudding and one of rice pudding. The rice portion was heavenly, but was a bit more like sweet rice soup than pudding. This could have been a huge disappointment, but the flavors of coconut and cardamom were so lovely, I didn’t care about the texture.

I will likely seek this spot out on every subsequent trip to St. Louis. This charming buffet was less than $12.00, with tax and tip. I’d like to go back for dinner, as there are some great things on the evening menu, but the lunch buffet was a great way to taste and enjoy all the elements that make up this little jewel. It’s relaxing and yummy, and instead of feeling “sluggish” I felt rejuvenated, albeit a little larger than normal. I’m not sure I was ready to climb Mt. Everest, but maybe run a few laps around the St. Louis Arch.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Bunny and the Bean Stalk!


Green beans are all over the farmer’s markets, and I for one am all over them! They are an excellent source of protein, fiber, and complex carbohydrates. They are also a very good source of folic acid and molybdenum (if you can pronounce that AND name one thing it's in, bonus points!). Green beans have generous amounts of iron, phosphorus, magnesium, manganese, and potassium. Because of their fare amount of fiber, beans prevents blood sugar levels form rising too rapidly after a meal. This makes beans an especially good choice for individuals with diabetes, insulin resistance, or hypoglycemia.

All that information is well in good, but I love them raw, dipped in sour cream or soy yogurt, spiked with tarragon vinegar and fresh herbs. I also love them blanched and tossed with shredded red bell peppers and vinaigrette.

Here are a few really easy and fresh ideas to get your wheels turning. Feel free to mix it up, but definitely keep these as stand-bys!

Bundles

Preheat oven to about 400 degrees. Oil a casserole pan, then tie “bundles” of 5-7 green beans with chives or green onions. Lay them like little soldiers in the casserole then pour prepared French dressing over the bundles and bake for about 30-45 minutes. These are a really great in place of where you might normally serve baked beans at a bbq.

Pasta Salad with Summer Vinaigrette

Salad:
1 pkg. pasta bows
2 c. cleaned green beans, cut in 2” pieces
1/2 cup sliced carrots
1/2 cup sweet corn, cut from cob
½ cup cherry tomatoes, halved

Dressing:
2 Tbsp chopped green onion
¼ cup olive oil
4 Tbsp white wine vinegar
2 Tbsp water
1 Tsp grated fresh ginger
2 Tbsp chopped celery
2 Tbsp soy sauce
2 Tsp tomato paste
2 Tsp sugar
salt and pepper, to taste

Make pasta according to package directions. Drain and rinse with cool water. Set aside.

Steam beans and carrots for 5 minutes. Toast fresh corn in the oven until it starts to turn golden and toasted.

I use a hand mixer to emulsify all the ingredients for the dressing, but you could absolutely use a blender or processor. Combine pasta, the vegetables and cherry tomatoes and toss with the dressing.

Green Beans and Veggie Sausages


1 pkg. Field Roast Smoked Apple Sage
2 lbs. green beans
1/4 cup sliced shallots
2 Tbsp. butter or Earth Balance
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh thyme
1/4 cup toasted walnuts
1-2 Tsp. grated lemon peel

Brown sausages in a skillet or on the grill. You’ll need to take the casing off, and then add a little oil to the skillet and brown over medium heat. Set aside on plate. Cook beans in boiling salted water 4 to 5 minutes. Drain. Rinse with cold water and then pat dry.

Melt butter in large skillet over medium-high heat and add shallots and walnuts and brown, then beans, thyme, and lemon peel. Add browned sausages, and season with salt and pepper. Toss until heated, about 5 minutes.

This would be perfect with roasted baby potatoes, tossed with a bit of olive oil, rosemary and balsamic vinegar. Yum! And jam-packed with protein!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Scrumptious in Seattle


Really enough good things cannot be said about the opportunities, and community support available in Seattle for anyone who gives a flip about their body, the environment and any sort of social activism. And to a certain extent, I see my dietary choices as a bit of a social stand, though that is not what really brings me to a vegetable based diet. Seattle has great restaurants and local markets, as well as many steep hills to climb, paths to ride and lakes and ocean front to swim, sail or kayak.

A family wedding brought me to Seattle for a long weekend, thus a few of my dining selections and activities were pre-planned, but I had the wonderful opportunity to explore and find some culinary gems that I’d love to share.

First I will say, if you happen to be a Starwood Member, or are just particularly fond of W Hotels, the Seattle location is wonderfully accommodating. Though they did not have many vegetarian options on the Earth and Ocean menu, Chef Adam Stevenson prepared amazing modifications to the menu offerings, utilizing super-fresh, and I’m guessing, local ingredients. Upon my arrival I had a lovely lunch of heirloom tomato soup, and the freshest green salad, which prompted my new addiction to pea shoots. They also make these lovely little shortbread-style crackers with lemon slices embedded that are as thin as paper. So good. The food at Earth and Ocean isn’t inexpensive, but by sticking with the appetizers, salads and soup, I enjoy 2 lovely meals there for around $20 each.

After referring to Happy Cow, I decided on two spots that were well within walking distance to my hotel. Because so much of my time was spent in a car or cab, I really enjoyed the opportunity to walk around the downtown area and check out the scene.

My first dinner was at Bamboo Garden, less than a two mile walk from my hotel. The restaurant was unassuming, and located just before the official International District of Seattle.

Bamboo Garden is vegetarian, and claims that the only thing on the menu with eggs is the fortune cookie.They offer the same kinds of chicken, beef and seafood options you’d find on many traditional Chinese menus, except that all their meats are made from vegetable sources.

I went at night and opted for the Combo B, which was only $11.00, but would have easily fed me for 2 meals. Go hungry! This is not only a delicious dining experience, but a great value! Of course, what I loved the most on my combo platter, was probably the least healthy; the almond fried chicken. It was divine and I had to really limit myself, remembering I had to wear a tight skirt in a few days! I loved this place and would definitely go back. Don’t be discouraged by the humble exterior. The food is great!

The other restaurant worth noting is Travelers India Shop. Let me first say, I love all things Indian. I love Indian food, music, religions, clothing, fabrics…I love it all. I can’t eat a little bit at an Indian restaurant, therefore, I try to only go for special occasions. Travelers has all things Indian. I was in nirvana!

I believe they see themselves as mainly a retail and tea shop, but they also have a café that offers amazing tidbits for someone like myself. I believe every month they have a special or Thali
which is a tray including one or more little dishes of entrée-type, vegetarian dishes, as well as even littler dishes of condiments, a center bowl of rice and a side of papadam. Again, what a bargain! I had more than I could eat (and I can REALLY eat Indian food) for $7. Oh, and this includes an Indian barfi or sweet,
which in spite of the name is a delicious kind of fudge. There are also other pastries and dried fruits if you really have a sweet tooth.

There is an array of teas to choose from, as well as other specialty drinks. The whole atmosphere is worth a visit, even if you’re not hungry for raita and chutney. I can’t imagine that, but I’m sure some people don’t feel the need to eat their own body weight in curry! The Thali tray is only available on Saturdays and Sundays, so I would highly recommend going on the weekend, unless you’re a local and have many opportunities to try different things.

Lastly, I can't not talk about the Pike Street Market.
It’s famous for the throwing of the fish. And while that is fascinating (I was personally keeping my eyes out for giant squid), the produce and flowers are unreal. We have great farmer’s markets in Chicago, but I was truly blown away. Ironic that I use that term; you see, I bought cherries, blueberries, raspberries and nectarines for my trip from Seattle to St. Louis Sunday morning. So, all I’d had to eat from 3am (the time I awoke) to 3pm (time I arrived at my hotel) was this wonderful candy-like fruit. I’m going to say I’m good on both the antioxidant AND fiber front for a few days!

All the fruit was amazing, but I’d forgotten what a real nectarine smelled like. I’m here to report, they smell wonderful and taste even better. In fact, I wish I had another right now! Will have to plan a trip back.

Seattle was a culinary success, in my book. Though there are so many wonderful spots I didn’t have time or transportation to check out, I have a great list for my next trip to the Northwest and would absolutely love any suggestions.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Summer Stock


Ok, so I’m a member of this great CSA, as I know so many are (right, RIGHT?) and every delivery I’ve noticed and abundance of one vegetable or another, based on the week. What to do with an abundance of strawberries or sweet corn?? I’ve had request for easy, yet creative recipes that utilize some of the more bountiful crops of the season.

This week I’m going to start with summer or yellow squash (Yes Bevis, my picture to the upper right is pretty funny). If you’ve ever been smart enough to plant a few squash seeds you know it is a no-fail crop. Before you know it, there are yellow veggies taking over your garden. So many claim to be unmoved by this summer-time gourd, but I think they just haven’t tried hard enough.
So…give these recipes a try. In no time you’ll have something exciting, simple and inexpensive. Feel free to put your own spin on them. I’d love to hear of any favorite squash creations!



Good Old Vegan Squash Soup

This basic veggie soup can be done with slight alteration with any vegetable. But, for summer squash, here you go:

1 T. olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 medium yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut into small dice
1 1/2 pounds small yellow squash, chopped
1 teaspoon fresh thyme or ½ tsp. of dried
4 cups vegetable broth
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
½ c. soy milk (optional for creamy)
salt and white pepper, to taste
toasted, insides of pumpkin seeds to sprinkle on top

Heat a large non-stick or enamel-coated pot over medium-high heat. Add oil to warm pan, then add the onion, reduce the heat to medium, and cook until the onions get clear, and maybe even a little brown…just to bring out some sugar, but nothing crazy. Add the garlic and cook for another minute.

Add broth, thyme, potatoes and squash. Cover and cook until the potatoes are completely tender.

I use my Braun hand mixer, but you can use a blender, by removing half of the soup and putting it pureeing it at high speed until completely smooth. Once it's blended, pour the soup into another pot, and re-heat slowly and add turmeric for color. Add soymilk, or you can leave it without. Ladle into bowls, garnish with toasted pumpkin seeds or walnuts, and serve.

Makes 4 servings.


Not-Vegan Summer Squash Quiche

1 pre-made pie crust
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 red onion, diced
1 large shallot, diced
2 cups summer squash, cut into thin slices
1 1/2 cups grated Gruyere cheese (you could mix 1c. Gruyere and 1/2c. goat, but I don’t like goat)
2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg (this is optional, but I can’t make quiche without it)
2 eggs (I get eggs from my CSA, which I've visited. Phil's are good too)
3/4 cup half-and-half, preferably organic

Salt and freshly-ground black pepper, to taste
Preheat oven to 375F. In a heavy-bottomed skillet, sauté the onion and shallot over medium-high heat in the olive oil until softened. Add squash and continue to sauté another 5-10 minutes, until squash is no longer opaque. Sprinkle cheeses over the bottom of pie shell, then spread vegetables evenly in the bottom of the pie crust and sprinkle thyme over that.

In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs and half-and-half until blended. Sprinkle nutmeg over, and blend. Pour custard mixture over the veggies, then sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste, and bake in preheated oven for 45 minutes, or until puffed and golden.

Serves 6 - 8.

Grilled Summer Squash and Black Bean Quesadillas

2 medium yellow summer squash, halved lengthwise
1/2 small sweet onion, cut into 1/4-inch slices
1 to 2 jalapeno peppers
1 can black beans, drained well
1-1/2 teaspoons minced fresh oregano
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
6 flour tortillas (8 inches), warmed
1 cup (4 ounces) shredded Monterey Jack cheese (I used soy cheese and it worked really well)
1 tablespoon canola oil

Place squash, onion and jalapenos on grill; cover and cook for 10 minutes, turning once. When vegetables are cool enough to handle, chop the squash and onion, and seed and chop the jalapenos. Place in a large bowl with black beans.

Stir in the oregano, garlic, salt and cumin. Place 1/2 cup filling on one side of each tortilla; sprinkle with cheese. Fold tortillas over filling. On a griddle or large skillet, cook quesadillas in oil over medium heat for 1-2 minutes on each side or until heated through. Cut into wedges.

6 servings.

P.S. If you’re like me and grill-deprived, I have slow-roasted my veggies, and broiled them. You could also use one of those cool grill pans with the ridges.

P.S.S. I’ve used winter squash and made these in the cooler months. I’ll typically use sage and a pinch of clove instead of oregano.

Stuffed Squash

3 medium yellow squash
1 Vidalia onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped very fine
1 red bell pepper, chopped
½ cup seasoned bread crumbs
½ cup toasted pine nuts
¼ cup vegetable broth
¼ cup parmesan cheese (totally optional)

Preheat oven to 400. Place squash on baking tray and bake for 30-45 minutes, or until fork tender. Saute onion, garlic and bell pepper until soft. Set aside. Allow squash to cook, then slice in half lengthwise. Scoop most of interior flesh into a bowl, leaving enough to keep the “shell” of the squash substantial. Mix in sauteed onion mixture, along with bread crumbs, pine nuts, broth and cheese. Stuff mixture back into squash shells and bake until tops are golden.

This makes a really beautiful main course. Serves 6


Stuffed Squash Blossoms – Again, not Vegan


I won’t lie…these are not easy or quick, and are generally a pain in the ass to make, but of my word are they good! Usually, squash blossoms come from a zucchini squash instead of yellow. They can be eaten raw or cooked, but you’d better do it quickly as they don’t keep. We’re talking, like maybe a day or two. This is why you will likely only have them if you’re growing your own stash, or have a really great farmer’s market. I encourage everyone to try making these gems once in your life. They are so worth the trouble.

The Batter:
1 cup flour
1/2 cup cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup beer

The Stuffing:
1/4 cup ricotta cheese
1 garlic clove, chopped really fine
dash of salt and pepper
¼ cup mushrooms, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh basil, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh chives, chopped
16 large squash blossoms, washed
Canola oil for frying

Make the batter first. Sift together dry ingredients, then whisk in beer until smooth. Cover and set in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. If it is too thick after refrigeration, add a few drops of water to return to loosen.

While batter is in fridge, make stuffing. In a bowl combine the ricotta cheese, garlic, salt, pepper, mushrooms and herbs. Open the blossoms and spoon about one 1/2 teaspoon of the mixture into the center of each. Avoid overfilling as you’ll have an even bigger mess. Twist the top of each blossom together to close. Place on a baking sheet and refrigerate for 15 minutes.

Pour the oil into a skillet to a depth of 1/2 inch. Heat over high heat until when you sprinkle in some bread or crumbs it browns them, but isn’t smoking.

Dip each stuffed blossom into the batter and twirl a bit to get even coverage, then carefully slip into the hot oil. Cook until golden on all sides, about three minutes total cooking time. I only put about 3 -4 in the skillet at a time for oil temp reasons, but also logistics. Transfer with a slotted utensil to paper towels to drain. I actually use a cake drying wrack, covered with a tea-towel and it works beautifully.

Sprinkle with salt, if desired and serve while still warm.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Corn Nuts and Gin Jell-o? Don't Mind if I Do.


I think I’ve said it before, but as of yet I’ve not had a single chef act insulted by my asking for non-meat dishes. Part of my M.O. is calling ahead and mentioning I am not a meat-eater, and asking if that will be problematic. The best bit is, 9/10 the chef will create something really awesome for me, that isn’t on the menu. I believe they see it as a kind of challenge. This may all be in my head, and they may be slipping bits of cow-tongue in my dish, but I like to think not.

Last weekend I had my first meal at Graham Elliot, and I have to say, I was so impressed. When consulting my guru and former-love-muffin, he indicated it wasn’t his favorite. But, my date for the evening was from out-of-town, and was impressed by the menu. I had seen the chef, Graham Elliot Bowles, on Top Chef Masters, and was so moved by his creative and whimsical approach, I really wanted to try it out.

The menu is definitely not full of veg-friendly options, so I’m glad I asked my waitress what options were available. She basically told me they would make anything on the menu (aside from fairly obvious choices, like steak and potatoes) sans critters. Excellent!

After noshing on really divine popcorn (think of, instead of bread or chips and salsa!) and sipping very decent wine (I didn’t think the wine list was bad at all…not exceptional, but the bottle of Raptor Ridge Pinot Noir we had didn’t suck), the fun started.

My first course was the Caesar salad with brioche Twinkie. Ok, so this doesn’t qualify as vegetarian, given the anchovies in the Caesar salad, but I really wanted that damn Twinkie. So…very well presented salad, with two bundles of romaine and traditional, thick dressing. Underneath one of the little bundles was a Twinkie. Now, I am going to confess, I’ve not had the honor of eating the Hostess variety, so not sure how this one compares. I can only imagine mine was a trillion-times more wonderful. The cakey outside was a bit sweet, but mostly just light and yummy. The filling was a soft, herbed cheese. Not sure what kind, but definitely not straight goat. It was just good. So good, in fact, I had to quit talking for a bit and just savor the moment.

My date munched away on sweetbreads. He said they were cooked perfectly and he enjoyed the sauce, however he wasn’t especially keen on the nut-brittle crumbles sprinkled on top. I can’t even imagine as I never had, nor will I ever knowingly eat a sweetbread. I have prepared them whilst cooking my way through Mastering the Art of French Cooking, but swore that was the end of that. My neighbor didn’t die, so I suppose I passed, and went along my merry-way through the rest of the book!

Ok…now for my wonderful main course: (mouth is watering as I sit here and think of words to describe!) I had the corn soup. It wasn’t just corn soup, but corn chowder. And my portion was generous, but I could have literally eaten a bathtub full of the stuff! First the bowl was put down with generous dollops of chipotle jam, and sprinkles of CornNuts. This may seem odd, but just think of that intense corn taste they possess. (Who among us can’t remember 11th grade stops at 7-11, grabbing a bag to go with underage-drinking? Come on! Plain or BBQ??) So…the wonderful soup-brew was poured over these ingredients. I was told to stir it all together so as not to burn my little tongue on the jam. Heaven. Have been trying ever since to utilize the bounty of sweet corn from my CSA to replicate the experience at Graham Elliot, without success. I can’t seem to nail the chipotle jam. If you know the secret, please share!

I am a dessert girl and will VERY rarely bale-out on the sweets menu, but alas, my tummy was full. Besides I’m not supposed to be drinking, so I counted the wine as my dessert and opted to walk home instead of taking the cab. Somehow I confused my doctor telling me not to drink in order to save my compromised endocrine systems with my nutritionist advising me on how many calories wine has. Forgoing dessert and choosing to walk had no effect on the excruciating pain in my gut an hour after dinner. Stupid girl, I am.

But, I give Graham Elliot a big fat kiss and a carrot for divine dining. Would be fantastic to see a few more veg-friendly options on the menu, but again, if you call ahead or ask your server you’ll be better than OK.


I want to mention another dining experience I had recently that is worth noting. Last year I had a less-than-wonderful meal at Otom. This wasn’t solely due to the food, but more to the bad service and less-than-optimal dining company. That being said, my philosophy is generally that there are too many outstanding restaurants in Chicago to give repeat business if I’m not blown away.

For a variety of reasons not worth mentioning, I found myself at Otom again recently. There was virtually no crowd, so service was not a problem at all. I was reminded what a clean, warm atmosphere and décor the restaurant has, as well as a creative and fun array of cocktails. They really are extraordinary!


I started with an unbelievable Blackberry Fizz that was summer in a glass. I could have had 4 of them, except…well, I’m just glad I didn’t. The drinks at Otom are becoming somewhat famous, and are an experiement in creative libation chemistry!


My dinner started with their wonderful avocado-cucumber soup with gin gelee. I think the gin gelee kind of freaked my dining companion out, but I could have eaten an entire bowl of the wobbly little gems. It’s like haute Jell-O. How can that be wrong??? The soup reminded me of something very southern and very lady-like …bridal luncheons with chilled soups. I’ve been wondering if Otom would offer take-out with this soup? Hmmm..

And then there was gnocchi. Sweet Jesus, this was good. And again, not vegan, as it had Maytag blue cheese sprinkled, along with pink muscat grapes and toasted pine nuts. This is like really high-end comfort food. Had I had my blankie and pillow you could have just left me in a cozy corner and forgotten about me after my meal. It was really wonderful and my opinion of Otom is forever changed.

I neet to say this; as I’ve been to Otom twice now, and had the real treat of dining at her sister restaurant, Moto (this, by the way, is an event and not a meal); the restaurants are located in the meat packing district. It does NOT smell nice outside. In fact, had it been any warmer out I might have lost my appetite and I’m not exaggerating. Really unfortunate location, in spite of the cool interior of both places.

So, two more Chicago gems, with wonderful options for veg-based dining fare. I feel so fortunate that my home is filled to the brim with creative and innovative chefs. The fun never ends!!!

Buggies and Bunnies and Cows...Oh My!


So, here I am in rural Pennsylvania. I’m smack-dab in the middle of Amish Country. Seriously, I almost hit a buggy-driving, hat-wearing, pie-eating fellow on the way to my office from the bed and breakfast where I’m staying. Prior to arriving in Columbia (close to Lancaster) I went by Whole Foods in Chicago and made myself a survival pack, full of yummy “energy bites,” as well as nuts, fresh fruit, and a few other goodies. I had this fear that for a full week I’d be deprived of anything other than salads, wild mushrooms and seeds.

A quick call to my co-worker, pre-trip, and a list of ethnic restaurants appeared in my e-mail. She is Laotian, and had a couple of good tips on Thai restaurants. I also googled www.happycow.com before leaving and found some bread shops that also reportedly made vegetarian soups and sandwiches. So, there was promise.

Now that I’m actually here, let me share my little treasure trove! First, Monday night I made a quick drive to Lancaster to dine at Lemongrass (2481 Lincoln Hwy E
Lancaster, PA 17602-1482(717)295-1621). Situated in a strip mall, Lemongrass was a remarkable find. Ok, it still had a little taste of the strip-mall characteristics, but the walls were covered with really beautiful carved wooden screens and relief pieces.


The food was really good. I can’t say it was outstanding, but there was a huge variety. I started with vegetarian spring rolls, which were the standard fried variety with the accompanying faux-red sweet dipping sauce. Very familiar taste, not too greasy, but not exceptional. I wish I’d ordered something a bit more adventurous like the steamed spinach bun with sesame sauce, or the veggie version of Tom Yum soup. Alas, what I had was fine.

My main course was pretty amazing. It was listed on the “daily specials,” and was unlike anything I’d had at my traditional Thai place. It was labeled Vegetarian Supreme, but after a little research I’ve found a couple different Vietnamese dishes that sound similar. The dish consisted of a fat “puff” of steamed tofu. It was bursting full of thick-cut black mushrooms, shredded vegetables, and something called angel mushrooms, which I’d not had before. To be honest, at first look I would have sworn these were bits of tripe, but was assured they were mushrooms, and in fact, I believe they were. This stuffed tofu was placed on a bed of perfectly steamed spinach, which was on top of a puddle of tamarind sauce. Now, the tamarind was a perfect accompaniment to the tofu and veggies, but a little goes a long way. I think they were a wee bit heavy handed with the sauce, but it may have been due to my appetizer also having a sweet sauce. The dish was garnished by steamed broccoli and shredded fresh cabbage. Overall, really delicious, and probably fairly authentic. Again, this was not something I’d seen at other Thai restaurants.

The entire meal costs around $16.00. I’d definitely go again, and preferably with other people so that we could share a few other things on the menu.

My next offering has become a standard for me. I just love McCleary’s Public House to be a go-to for great food, fun atmosphere, and generally a place everyone falls in love with. This VERY traditional looking pub is located in Marietta, Pennsylvania. If you’ve never had the pleasure of visiting Marietta, it truly reminds me of a traditional English village. I’m not sure the history of the town, but it has to be one of the first stops off the Mayflower. I’m just sure of it.

McCleary’s claim-to-fame is most certainly not for their vegetarian cuisine. They have a wide variety of beers, the traditional English pub foods, as well as more high-end fare. But, having said all of that, they make one of the freshest, most colorful salads I’ve come across, anywhere. And this is year-round, so I’m not sure where they get the deep red tomatoes in the dead of winter…I don’t ask, they’re just damn good. The dressing are all homemade…my favorite being the Greek vinaigrette. I know vegetarians get tired of salads, but do you tire of creative ones? With really fresh veggies and lots going on? I really don’t.

There is also a lovely hummus plate. Beware, for if you order this delightful plate everyone at your table is sure to want to partake! Also, the veggie wrap is one of the best I’ve ever eaten; smeared with hummas, then piled with many fresh veggies, it would not be my pick for "light dining." Of course, I always get French fries on the side of the wrap. It’s my weakness.

I seriously eat at McCleary's 3-5x when I’m in Columbia for work. It’s just that good and I never get tired of it. Plus, it’s right on the way back to Cameron Inn, in nearby Mount Joy. My meals have run from around $8.00 to $30.


Ok, the last bit I have to share is my plug for my favorite home-away-from-home, The Cameron Inn Estate. This lovely little gem is located amongst rolling farms, and situated behind one of the first (if not the first) Presbyterian Churches in the U.S. Weird as it may sound to some, I love walking through the little cemetery in the morning and reading the ancient head-stones.

The atmosphere of the Inn is very homey. Each room is outfitted with private baths, fluffy beds, and beautifully decorated rooms. Around Cameron Inn are plenty of paths to explore. I spend every morning walking around the grounds, finding places to do my yoga, and just breathing in the eau de cow. Actually, in addition to the cows, I see many other creatures...most often, bunnies. They dig corn fields!

The breakfasts at Cameron Inn are really great. And while they are definitely not vegan, I always ask for no meat, which is never a problem. Their baked oatmeal is truly worth the price of admission, and I’m also a big fan of their pancakes.
Because I am a guest every quarter, I have negotiated a very reasonable rate. They do book up quickly during wedding season, so standard rates will vary. However, I think if you’re looking for a restful and/or romantic get-away, in the very heart of Amish country, The Cameron Inn will not disappoint.


As I said, I visit the Lancaster area once a quarter, and will try to add a couple of new finds each trip. I'm aching to blog about D.C. and Baltimore dining, as I know there are some gems in both towns. Until then, I encourage anyone reading to be adventurous and always keep an open mind. In this day and age, I have yet to run into anyone who is not accommodating to my diet choices. It’s really not that difficult…even among the buggies and cows!

Friday, July 3, 2009

Happy 4th! Let's Celebrate




Do you find yourself in a BBQ pickle? What I mean is, have you been invited to a BBQ or holiday activity where you may well be the only non-critter-eater? While some would suggest not going and sticking with your own kind, I say join 'em! Just bring a few of your own snacks and watch everyone gobble up the good stuff!

I've got a couple super-easy recipes that are sure to attact all the guests, but most importantly, will make sure you have a great time, and no growling tummy!

Mindless Gazpacho
INGREDIENTS

2 cans of crushed tomatoes or 8 fresh (I sometimes mix, if tomatoes are consistently good)
1 bunch green onions, or spring onions
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded, chopped
1 sweet red bell pepper (or green) seeded and chopped
1 jar Spanish olives (seedless and w/ those silly pimentos is great, add juice)
½ c. chopped cilantro
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
2 Tbsp freshly squeezed lime juice
½ to 1 whole jalapeño, de-seeded
Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

METHOD

May have to do in batches, but chop all ingredients, except salt and pepper, then put in blender. Blend slightly, to desired consistency. Place in non-metal, non-reactive storage container, stir well, then salt and pepper to taste. Cover tightly and refrigerate overnight, allowing flavors to blend. You might even wait until just before serving to season as juice of olives has salt. I garnish with a little diced avocado if I'm at home, but for travel I just put in a pitcher and pour into cups or bowls.
Serves 8.

Summer Rolls with Peanut Sauce

These are quite impressive on a bamboo tray with a little tea cup of the sauce. All these flavors can only lead to a party-in-your-mouth! Once you get the technique down you can get really creative and use different combos. I had a fantastic recipe from Vegetarian Times that involved nectarines in the rolls and almond butter for the sauce. Be creative.

INGREDIENTS

4 ounces vermicelli noodles, or ½ standard package
10 -12 large rice paper wrappers
1 c. shredded lettuce
1/4c. of each, shredded (chiffonade) basil, cilantro and mint
1/2 cup seeded cucumber, cut into thin strips
1/2 cup carrots, cut into thin strips

SAUCE

6 TB peanut butter
6 TB water
3 TB rice wine vinegar
1 TB grated ginger
1-2 TB agave nectar
2 TB tamari sauce
1 Tsp red pepper flakes

METHOD

Make vermicelli according to package instructions, set aside. Prep all veggies and either place them in stacks, or (what I do) mix them all together in a salad bowl.
Soften 1 rice paper wrapper by immersing in warm water until soft (about 10-20 sec), carefully remove and place flat on a large plate or cutting board. Be careful not to let the paper fold on itself when removing the wrapper from the water.
Place ¼ c. salad mix or little portions of the veggies in the upper 1/3 of the rice paper. Add about ¼ c. of the vermicelli. Roll rice paper toward you one turn, tuck the outside edges in, then continue rolling (as if it were a burrito). It should stick to itself easily. Repeat for the remaining wrappers. Place on a platter with damp tea-town covering. I actually want them to dry out a bit so that they will cut in ½ better when I’m ready to serve.

For the sauce, mix the ingredients until smooth. I use my hand mixer, but you could do this in a food processor or blender, or by hand. Extra sauce can be thinned with vinegar for salads or used, as is, over noodles and veggies with toasted tofu.

To serve, slice each roll on the diagonal and place around tray. Make sure to have a little spoon in the sauce so that people can drizzle or dip some on their plate. Ok…I’m hungry now!