ReLocavore: Redefining "local"

Back to Wisconsin, my cheesehead friends

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Relocavore Guest Post: Shakshouka, or eggs cooked in tomato

By Sal Cania

Israeli culture is a fascinating intermixing of many traditions and their foods, in large part due to their geography, but more importantly because of the history the modern state that resides in the hotly contested region has. Early settlers hailed mostly from Eastern Europe, bringing with them many of the local foods they had incorporated into their culture after their several millennia long Diaspora. But, as is common in many settler colonial societies of the era, they fervently adopted local fare. Hummus? Palestinian. Couscous? Lebanese. Shakshouka? Tunisian. Many of these dishes are known in the United States now by their Israeli versions, and that is in no small part because of the Jewish Diaspora that has roots in many regions around the country.

135023_660790703249_2081111753_oOne dish in particular, Shakshouka, roughly translated from Arabic as a “mixture”, is a delicious composition of tomatoes, peppers, onions, cumin, and the star of the show: poached eggs. It’s currently a staple dish in many North African diets, as well as sharing traits with similar cuisine in Mexico, Turkey, and Spain. This is not surprising, since the meal is nutritious, inexpensive, and simple.

I first discovered this little gem when I traveled to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem in 2012 as part of a scouting trip for the business school I worked at. Our goal was to sample aspects of Israeli culture, food, and learn about the business climate and major industries present in their economy. As you can imagine, food and drink took center stage pretty quickly, largely because the trip organizer had planned a number of fantastic dining experiences to draw us in. Sitting in a board room at an Intel processor factory was somewhat less interesting.

Shakshouka, mainly served for breakfast on trip, was the one plate I went for each day. Alongside pita for dipping and the traditional smoked/pickled fish that Israelis love to eat for breakfast, I was easily full until 2pm. Lunch, after a morning plate of Shakshouka, was not even important. We ate it anyway, because they served plenty of other amazing treats, and kept the [Israeli] wine flowing all day long.

Fast forward to May of 2014, when my wife found this great recipe for the dish, I realized that I had actually forgotten about my Shakshouka experience. Looking to try new things to complement our usual Vermont summer evening meals, we went for it. To start out, we followed this recipe to a “T”, and it came out very well, if a bit dry, but I suspect that was because we left it on for the full simmer time. This is a meal, after having now cooked it, that I can see being extremely versatile and offering opportunities to change out ingredients without adversely changing the overall concept. See: huevos rancheros.

In this age of post-colonialism, a dish that successfully made its way around the Middle East has somewhat ironically come now to Vermont, not at the tip of a sword, but rather the internet. It’s a fitting example of the change we’ve seen over the last century, but also a reminder that some things stay the same. Plus, who wouldn’t like spicy poached eggs in tomato sauce? My fellow Italians, take note.


Salsa’s Mexican Restaurant, Springfield, MA

Sam and I stopped on the way back from New York in Springfield, MA to get a bite to eat. Taking my queues from, we stopped at Salsa’s Mexican Restaurant (yelp) (RoadFood) for a quick lunch.

I am sorry that I didn’t take any pictures of the food we got. I was too busy eating it. I am sorry that you weren’t there to enjoy the food with us because you missed out on a remarkable meal. I’m sorry we don’t all live in Springfield, so we can go eat here regularly and get happy and fat together. The food was just that damn good. It was some of the best cuicina that I have eaten in years… Probably since we stayed at Rancho Leonaro for my little sister’s wedding.

We had papusas of the pork+cheese and bean+cheese variety. They were accompanied by fried plantains, rice, beans and a cole slaw-type salad. This is NOT typical Tex-Mex food. The salad was unlike anything I had ever had – almost like coleslaw made from crema on a bed of lettuce topped with eye-watering fresh hot sauce. The beans were soup-like with lots of cilantro. The rice was well-cooked and medium grain and had a squeeze of lime, but no other flavorings. The fried plantains were made from firm and ripe plantains and weren’t starchy at all. The outsides were caramelized to perfection.

And papusas… Papusas are what quesadillas want to be when they grow up. Or what happens when you run a tamale over with a steamroller. Instead of flour tortillas, papusas are made with thinly rolled masa dough layered with fillings like meat, beans and cheese, and grilled until the middle is melted and the masa dough is cooked. These papusas were perfect. The cheese was both melted into the dough and meat/beans AND had spent just the right amount of time oozing out the sized and onto the griddle to get perfectly brown and crispy. The masa was moist and well-cooked. I’m not a very good food blogger, because I really don’t have the words to convey how terribly wonderful the whole experience was…



Foraging Fail- These are not the currants you are looking for…

Mink Brook

Mink Brook

Pidi and I took in the beautiful Summer weather by hiking into Hanover along Mink Brook Trail to have coffee at Umplebys. It takes us about an hour to walk there and the walk is very pleasant along the bubbling Mink Brook.


Berries of an unknown origin

On the way out of town, I noticed some berries and stopped on our way back home to pick what I thought were red currants. If we were in Wisconsin, they likely would be currants, but, TotoPidi, I’m afraid we’re not in Kansas anymore. I took a taste of a few berries and they had the sourness of currants, but also a little bit of bitterness. I picked about two cups into Pidi’s hiking water dish and finished the walk home.

The Foraginging Goddess (God?) must have been smiling on me, because I walked past a bush of ripe blackberries too! I was able to pick a big cup of blackberries, or blackcaps. Beautifully black and sweet. I strode home with a big F of my chest for Forager!

Getting home, the niggling doubt started to eek away at my confidence. Believing myself to be a saavy forager, I turned to the Interwebs for guidance… what were these little berries I had picked? They came from a short (6′) shrub with almond-shaped leaves. The berries grew in pairs along the base of the leaves. They were abundant and ripe in mid-June in New Hampshire.

Winterberries. They were stupid winterberries. Completely inedible due to theobromines, chemicals related to caffeine, found concentrated in the seeds. I had picked compost fodder. Bah. And they were making my stomach upset.

But, unwilling to admit defeat, I did turn the blackberries into some damn good Blackberry Financiers. They’re “rich.” Get it? Look for a recipe tomorrow.

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This Week in Breakfast: Cafe Metro

So our options for breakfast places are dwindling. The few remaining places on our list are either too far away, too expensive, or just coffee shops that happen to be open on Sundays. We’ll visit the too far away places when Sam and I get a Sunday where he doesn’t have to be at work too early. However, now that Whaleback is open for the season, our Sunday breakfasts are more time constrained. The too expensive places we’re saving for when friends or family come to visit us – nudge. nudge.

I’ve been procrastinating posting about Cafe Metro, our breakfast spot from Sunday, December 16, because that was the start of Mushroom week – there were better things to be posting about than breakfast at a coffee shop.

Cafe Metro used to be the Bagel Basement and was previously the go-to place for hungover undergrads on Saturday and Sunday mornings. Although we encountered some undergrads, I wasn’t sure they were hungover. Plus, we were at breakfast on Sunday at 9am. Isn’t that a bit early for most undergrads? Most of the complaints about Bagel Basement (see the linked article) seem to have been mitigated – the place is clean, well-stocked and has bagels and pastries, plus a few extra weekend breakfast items.

I had a breakfast burrito with chorizo and eggs. I was anticipating greasy and red chorizo sausage. What I got was mildly spiced pork sausage. It was tasty, but not what I was expecting. Sam had a bagel with lox and cream cheese. We also shared a monkey bread, which is like a cinnamon roll, but cut up into pieces and served in a muffin paper. The dough was yeasted and very tender.


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This Week in Breakfast: Mountain Creamery

Downtown Woodstock Vermont. Not a good pic, sorry.

Downtown Woodstock Vermont. Not a good pic, sorry.

Sam and I drove out to Woodstock, VT on Sunday to eat at Mountain Creamery. It was a bit of a drive, about 35 minutes, thus in the category of “too far away” to be a regular breakfast joint. Woodstock, VT is an adorable little town propped up by rich tourists visiting the Rockafeller mansion and people with “second” homes.  Mountain Creamery is doing a good job of providing the authentic Vermont breakfast experience, but with enough consciousness-raising menu items to meet expectations from affluent New Yorkers. For example, the menu included maple sausage made from free-pastured Berkshire hogs and organic eggs from the owner’s Sister’s farm. Of course there was real Vermont maple syrup.

So I rag on the vacation spots of the elite, but they do have really good breakfast. Really good.

Blueberry Pancakes Sent from God Itself to Grace the Earth with Wonderment and Joy

Blueberry Pancakes Sent from God Itself to Grace the Earth with Wonderment and Joy. Served with sausage and 2 eggs, scrambled.

Blueberry Pancakes Sent from God Itself to Grace the Earth with Wonderment and Joy. Served with sausage and 2 eggs, scrambled. Note the real maple syrup, and that I had already smeared the salted whipped butter onto the pancakes before taking the picture. 

Never in my memory have I eaten such good blueberry pancakes. My breakfast came with two, along with some eggs and sausage. I could have eaten four more. That good. Platonic Ideal pancakes. Fluffy and syrup-absorbing, slightly tart, with little crispy bits around the edges from direct contact with butter in the hot pan. The blueberries were tiny, full of flavor, and the chef rolled them first in flour, so they didn’t explode blue goo all in the pancake. Each and every bite was full of blueberry flavor and maple-y syrup goodness.

Whatever Sam had for Breakfast

Sam had an omelet with roast potatoes and toast. Three things were remarkable, but not as remarkable as the Blueberry Pancakes Sent from God Itself. First, the omelet had apples and cheese. This is a local flavor, methinks, because who would have thought to put apple in an omelet except for people who also serve apple pie with cheddar cheese. Second, the potatoes were very good due to a generous tossing with a mixture of herbs and garlic. Third, the ingredients in the strawberry jam (jars were available for sale) were, “Strawberries, sugar.”

Sam's breakfast. Omelet with sausage, apples and cheese. Roast potatoes. Toast. Quite Good Strawberry Jam.

Sam’s breakfast. Omelet with sausage, apples and cheese. Roast potatoes. Toast. Quite Good Strawberry Jam.

Back to Discussing the Blueberry Pancakes Sent from God Itself to Grace the Earth with Wonderment and Joy

If I were to close my eyes in envision my ideal blueberry pancake, it would be just about exactly what I had at Mountain Creamery. The only difference would be that I would still be a kid and my Mom would have served the pancakes to me. Mind you, my mother made pancakes infrequently when we were kids, and I only remember a handful of occasions that she made Blueberry pancakes. My point is that the only way these could have been made better was by adding Mother’s Love. Even the whipped butter was salted – adding the mix of salty, fat, sweet, fruity, tender, crispy… All of the ideal flavors and textures.

I think my ideal Upper Valley Breakfast is forming. The biscuits and gravy at Quechee Diner were fantastic. I think I have effectively lauded the greatness of Mountain Creamery’s  Blueberry Pancakes Sent from God Itself to Grace the Earth with Wonderment and Joy. Eggs cooked at 4 Aces Diner were made with real butter and left a little underdone, close (but not exactly) how I like them.

We will likely be back… Almost certainly.

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This Week in Breakfast: EBA (Everything but Anchovies)

We’ve had a long couple of weeks without Sunday Breakfast. Last Sunday, I was sick with a terrible cold, so I stayed in bed for the day and kept my germs to myself. As much as I would have loved breakfast, I was still feverish.

This week, I’m healed up, and we went into Hanover to a old-standby restaurant Everything But Anchovies, that has recently started serving a Sunday brunch. I guess EBAs has served a Saturday breakfast buffet for some time, but is only now expanding breakfast service to Sunday morning.

The service at EBAs is typically a buffet – in the evenings they have a pizza and pasta buffet set out. Following that theme, EBAs set out a brunch buffet. Since the Sunday service was rather new, the place was mostly empty at 9:30. The service picked up more toward 10am. We stayed until almost 11 and the place didn’t fill up. This was our first Brunch Buffet and so had to set the standard for diversity. The buffet included:

  • standard breakfast fare – steam tray eggs, roasted potatoes, sausage links and bacon, pancakes, a waffle machine,
  • Toast, bagels and muffins
  • Breakfast burritos (Unfortunately I didn’t have one, as good as they looked, because they all had cheese in them.)
  • Cold plate (lox, onions, capers, tomatoes)
  • Fruit salad
  • Shrimp cocktail
  • Salmon with wild rice pilaf (the lunch-like entree)
  • A collection of deli-style salads and greens salads
  • Vegetable sides like roast green beans, roast squash

EBAs also had a standard menu, but we didn’t even look at it. The buffet was pretty good, and worth the $11.95 (including drinks) price.

I’m sorry that I didn’t take any pictures. Sam and I were actually really chatty through breakfast (no TVs to distract us this week), and were well-ignored by the waitstaff, who probably struggle to make a living serving breakfast buffet. We gabbed over a long breakfast, going back for TWO plates each and ignoring our books.

My impression was that EBAs had all the benefits of a brunch buffet – fast service, great for big groups, meets different dietary needs, etc… But I admit, the buffet was missing a “star.” It needed the one dish that was so darn good that everybody had to take a bit. I’ve been to two extraordinary brunch buffets, the Buffet at the Capitol Hilton in Washington, DC (PDF), and the Brunch Buffet at Granite City Grill in Madison, WI. I could gush for hours about brunch at the Capitol Hilton. The food is excellent quality, the tea service is spot-on, and the items rotate around for great diversity. The “star” at the Capitol Hilton is the fruit parfaits – local fruits, tart yogurt and homemade granola. They bring them out in trays because everyone wants one. Plus, their croissants are very flaky and buttery. Granite City is a big indulgence – a place to goto brunch when you don’t want to eat for the rest of the day. Granite City has a egg benedict station and the chef has ingredients to make 5 or more variants on the dish. Yes, they will do Hotel Benson eggs – biscuit with ham and a poached egg, topped with cheddar-based mornay sauce. Plus, they put out sauce for everything – gravy for biscuits, au jous for the carving station, homemade ketchup for potatoes.

So missing at EBAs was the “star.” Everything was ok, but nothing was exceptional. I guess it came off more like a mid-tier hotel “hot free breakfast” rather than a coherent breakfast buffet.

I do give them a lot of credit for having a lot of seafood on the buffet: lox, roasted salmon, and shrimp.

We’ll likely go back, but probably for pizza and pasta, rather than breakfast.

Previous Breakfasts: