May 11, 2008

Frozen Custard is the Way to Go


Can you believe it? The temperatures are actually starting to warm up. And what goes better with a hot summer day than some ice cream? Frozen custard, actually. Made with eggs, on top of heavy portions of cream and sugar, eating frozen custard can be an almost spiritual experience for first-timers. And outside of the Culver's chain of fast food restaurants, Adele's, in Excelsior, is definitely the way to go. The little house-turned-ice cream shop on the shores of lake Minnetonka offers flavors of frozen custard like peanut butter cup, pink lemonade, strawberry cheesecake , and traditional chocolate and vanilla. The flavors change throughout the months, and this month's schedule can be found here. There is even a drive-thru window!

The best part is you can have them freshly pack large amounts of custard to take home with you. They also offer hot food, blended ice cream treats, frozen yogurt, etc., but get the custard! Just take Highway 7 west until you see the exit signs for Excelsior. It's located by the McDonald's and Maynard's.

May 10, 2008

Weirdest Food Experiences


We all have our fondest food memories and, of course, the worst food memories. But what about the weirdest memories? I asked a few friends what they could remember, and here's what they came up with:

Mary Jo: Her weirdest experience was tentacled and spicy. She ordered a squid salad from Sawatdee in St. Cloud, only to find that it was too chewy and so spicy it was painful. Another weird experience? Frog legs, which she says are also chewy.

Adam: He was asked by a friend to try a drink. "It was like a green kind of gooky liquid," he says. After he ended up trying it, his friend told him that it was broccoli juice. Watch out, V8! He's also tried emu, which he says tastes just like steak. I'll have mine done medium rare, thanks.

Will: He's the god of all-that-is-weird food combinations. While being his neighbor in the dorms, I can remember him trying canned cheese and Chewy Chips Ahoy! Oh yeah. He also swears he used chocolate pudding as a dip for sour cream and onion Pringles.

Me: My weirdest food memory involves a drink. While perusing through United Noodles, I happened upon a "jelly drink" that featured characters off of the popular anime show "Gundam Wing". Finding this amusing and wondering what a jelly drink would taste like, I bought a few. Once home, I took a big sip. I guess they went for the literal interpretation when they used the words "jelly drink", because it was literally like I was slurping a whole jar of Smucker's jelly.

Have any weird stories to add? Feel free to comment!

May 7, 2008

"I'll have 300 calories, with a side of 50, please."


A recent article in the New York Times reports that five restaurants in Manhattan got citations for not posting calorie counts besides prices on their menu boards. The reason I am not posting this on News Nuggets is because rather than summarize it, I intend to provide some critical commentary.

I think this is a disgusting piece of news. It's bad enough that we have reduced our relationship to food to a transaction of numbers (replacing our ability to have a sensual experience with the food.) But now, we have the government with its policies and laws mandating that calorie counts be posted on menu boards, forcing us to become even more calorie-obsessed. How ignorant does one have to be to need to be told that a donut has a gazillion calories? I'm almost offended that the government thinks we need to be told that. As a journalism student I am all for presenting information to the masses for them to make well-informed decisions. But shouldn't we really draw the line at common sense?

I am bothered by this because the obsession with the constituent parts of the food is taking away our ability to have real food experiences. If we are thinking about the numerical transaction our food is having with our bodies, how can we be in the moment to feel, smell and taste our food? How can we enjoy it?

This nutritionism (obsession with nutrients and calories) is talked about in great detail in Michael Pollen's 'In Defense of Food.' With the spike in obesity rates and the health craze that inevitably followed, Americans have reduced food to its elemental parts. He argues that this obsession, paradoxically enough, is leading to unhealthy eating habits because people aren't eating 'food' anymore - rather , vitamin-enriched food-like substances.

I will be the first to admit that I am very conscious about what I put into my mouth, calorie-wise, nutrient-wise, and most importantly taste-wise. But we wouldn't need all this information about restriction and control if we just ate a little bit of what we actually wanted. Craving a deep-friend something? Go ahead, have a few bites instead of getting a 670-calorie Orange Smoothie from Jamba Juice, because it is 'fruit' and therefore 'healthy.' I personally think this is a deeper issue that deals with our losing touch with our own passions and desires. (There is a really good article from the American Institute of Graphic Arts' Web site about this.)

May 5, 2008

My First Visit to the Rainforest Cafe


I remember standing awe struck as a nine-year-old in front of the Rainforest Cafe at the Mall of America. It was the first time I had been to the “mega mall,? and I had been completely unimpressed. Earlier that day, I patiently waited with my mom as my older sisters rode the log ride at Camp Snoopy (I was terrified of roller coasters) and as they tried on clothes at the four floors of clothing stores (I thought clothes were boring.) Toward the end of the day, I had begun to tug at the bottom of my mom’s shirt and whine that I was bored. Then, however, we got onto an escalator and the sight of the Rainforest Cafe coming into view below captured my complete attention.

“I want to go there!!!!? I shrieked.

“No, Jess. Look how long the line is,? my older sister said. I frowned, staring into the jungle maze of giant fish tanks, “animals,? and waiters dressed as safari guides. My mom nodded, agreeing with my sister that the line was too long, and promised the next time we came, we could go. We never did.

In fact, it wasn’t until thirteen years later that I finally got my chance to go to the Rainforest Cafe. The experience was perhaps as close as I’ll ever come to a sit-down meal in a rainforest. The waitress announced herself to my date and I as “Pam, your Safari Guide!?, and we were placed next to a fish tank of magenta, orange and yellow fish. “Apes? sitting in ledges high up on the walls moved from side to side energetically, and occasionally “thunder storms? would strike complete with “lightning? flashing, “thunder? sounding and the patter of “rain? coming down around us as we ate.

And, although my imagination was much less vivid, it was nevertheless the very child-like and thrilling experience I had hoped for at age nine.

May 4, 2008

The Naked Truth


This is in response to a March 26th post by Sara Wedding here.

Joke’s over. If you think those “natural food? sections in on-campus food markets were a way to eat a guilt-free meal, keep in mind our renewed contracts with Aramark and Coca-Cola- two corporations whose campus service is easy analogous to capturing the “captive market? of prisons (something Aramark specializes in.)

So those Odwalla nutrition bars and fruit smoothies you’re stuffing down, you think they’re an exception? Oh no, my dear, that’s bona fide Coca-cola with a jazzed-up flavor. That’s the same company that turned a blind eye to the violently repression of unions at several of its bottling plants in Colombia resulting in 8 union leaders dead and hundreds tortured, kidnapped and/or illegally detained; it’s the same company that sold products in India found to contain toxins including lindane, DDT, malathion and chlorpyrifos — pesticides that can contribute to cancer and a breakdown of the immune system.

But that was years ago, and didn’t involve Odwalla. By 1996, the California-based “natural? juice company was considered a model of social responsibility. Researchers at Adams, Harkness & Hill extolled the company for “respecting the fruit? and for its “intense caring which translates into a superior product. . . . We believe that no other juice company takes these steps to ensure the quality of its products.? Amy Domini, a founder of KLD, a socially responsible investing and research company, orchestrated the appearance of Odwalla founder Greg Steltenpohl at that year’s Social Investment Forum (SIF) conference, where she lavishly praised him and his company. One month after the conference, one child died and at least 70 people were injured after drinking Odwalla apple juice tainted by poisonous bacteria. Investigations by the New York Times and documents introduced in various court cases found Odwalla criminally negligent for ignoring a known pattern of quality, safety, and health problems at the company and culpable for withholding that information from the public. As it turns out, Adams, Harkness & Hill and KLD used highly selective data and based their conclusions primarily on company representations. Even after details of its criminal conduct became known, Domini and KLD’s Kinder declined to revise their high ratings of Odwalla.

“But Coca-Cola gives the university a lot of money!? you might say. No. Coca-Cola pays us a sum of money incomparably small to the dollars they receive in return from vending machines, sporting events, on-campus markets and restaurants.

But don’t be too quick to run away into Naked Juice territory. These bottled wonders are no less than Pepsi, a corporation with as impressive a list of civil rights violations as Coca-Cola. Pepsi, too, was selling contaminated soda in India. And one of PepsiCo's business partners, Thein Tun of Burma, was a noted business partner of the ruling Burmese military junta, which has been alleged to be responsible for some of the worst human rights violations in the world.

And despite successful PR campaigns, there’s no evidence that Naked or Odwalla promote sustainable agriculture or production, support local economies, or offer living wages to employees or farmers. Sure, Odwalla offers one farmer free land for peach farming, but that number’s just one, and it's only 20 acres. It seems like they threw that package together just so they could create a snappy flash animation about it on their website and post flyers on their coolers.

A good alternative to the corporate confusion is Columbia Gorge, an Oregon-based juice company that uses certified-organic, local produce but doesn’t overload its campaign with empty rhetoric.

But why bother with the pre-juiced juice at all? Whatever happened to drinking water and eating an apple? At over $3 for a pound of liquefied slop, we might be better off juicing our own breakfast and seeing where that pound of fruit really comes from.

May 3, 2008

Saji Ya for Sushi

So, I was sitting at my work desk last Friday thinking about how I wish I had something to do; I felt a little pathetic that I had absolutely no plans! But, luckily, Facebook Chat had been invented a couple days before and ended up saving my Friday night. All of a sudden, I got a message from my friend Sarah, who invited me out for sushi with her and her cousin. I was excited as I had never been out for sushi in the Twin Cities.

So, after class, I headed over to her place for dinner. We went to Saji Ya on Grand Avenute, and let’s just say that I was more than pleased. We ordered edamame, sake, and four sushi rolls. It was amazing! The presentation was great; there were fresh orchids served with the sushi. That was impressive! The rolls were so good. I wouldn’t call myself a sushi expert, but I’ve eaten it quite a bit. This sushi was, by far, the best that I’ve had so far. It was also the first time that I tried sake, and really liked it. I was surprised that it was served hot, but it tasted a lot better than I expected it to.

Overall, the experience was great. If you are looking for great food with a sophisticated environment, I would definitely try out Saji Ya. It’s a little pricier, but definitely worth the money!!

May 2, 2008

Fine Dining, Lurcat-Style


I would consider my boyfriend and I to be pretty big foodies. We love to eat. Whether that means an expensive meal at a fine dining restaurant or a midnight trip to the gas station for Betty Crocker brownie mix and ice cream, we can always count on each other to be down to nosh. We make it a point to try out at least one new bar or restaurant in the Twin Cities every month. Just recently we meandered our way down to Cafe & Bar Lurcat, overlooking Loring Park in downtown Minneapolis. Serving what is known as "New American" cuisine, Cafe & Bar Lurcat is named after the French artist Jean Lurcat (pronounced "lur-swah," but who pays attention to that stuff, anyway?) and owned by restaurant giants D'Amico & Sons.

From the decor and drinks to the ambiance and waitstaff, Cafe Lurcat truly is a magical little place. Thanks to the floor-to-ceiling windows covering a good 3/4 of the restaurant, diners can almost get a 180-degree view of Loring Park, the Walker Art Museum and the Sculpture Garden. Before I could even fully take in my surroundings, a waiter clad in head to toe white popped up and asked for our drink orders. After he handed me the best mojito I've had in my life, my boyfriend and I looked over the menu. 'Foie Gras with Prosciutto and Roasted Pear', maybe? How about 'Buckwheat Crepes with Brie de Meaux, Smoked Kentucky Ham and Figs?' After much debate, we decided on a simple cheese plate (which was, dare I say it, "cheaper" than many things on the menu.)

When our server brought our cheese plate, I didn't realize it would come with an oral instruction booklet. We were told that each cheese is paired with its respective toppings (such as fresh apples and candied figs) along with different breads, and that each combination brings out the distinctive flavors in each ingredient.

So, we ate. And let me tell you, it was one of the most amazing food experiences I have ever had. Each combination was perfect. I felt like my tongue was tasting flavors it had never tasted before. So if you need any ideas for a special date, or just want to try out a new restaurant with some friends (AND have a little extra cash), make your way down to Cafe & Bar Lurcat. Your tastebuds will thank you.

May 1, 2008

It's here.... sort of.


We’ve heard it before ‘April showers bring May flowers’ — but what does April snow bring?’ Many Minnesotans on the brink of despair, at least me. I had been counting down the days for April 26, the official spring opening of the Minneapolis Farmers’ Market. Granted, I knew the farmers’ harvest is slim pickings this time of year, but I was waiting with such anticipation for the markets to be bustling with eager Metropolitans who had been waiting with such agony as I. Saturday morning rolled around and as I opened my curtain I couldn’t believe my eyes – snow. This weather is really testing my pride in being a Minnesotan. My thoughts raced, “Will the market be cancelled? If not, will the farmers show up? Will customers show up?? There was only one way I’d know; I ventured out to the snow-laden spring opening of Minneapolis’ Farmers’ Market. And my assumptions were confirmed; the parking lot was nearly empty. It was so empty (of farmers and customers), that I was able to park next to one of the vendors in the actual market lot. So, I can just hear your questions – “What in the world is at a farmers market in April?? The goods are plentiful, just not primarily green: cheese, olives, canned vegetables (beets, beans), flowers, herbs, plants, pork, beef, eggs, and jerky. Some vendors were making tamales, pork sandwiches, and even popcorn. Many things were there, just not (Minnesota) vegetables. I specify only because there are fruits and vegetables there, but they are imported from too far away to care. My excitement weaned a little given the weather and empty lot, but I owed it to myself – I had been looking forward to this all winter, and I wasn’t going to back down. After hearing the whole olive oil schpeal from a vendor, I went to replenish my stash of eggs, and get some meat for my freezer. (I realized that last week I had gone nearly all week without eating meat.) The past few months I have been hearing the buzz about grass-fed beef, so I got myself a few patties to try. The farmer, from 'Sleeping Cat Organic Farm', shares my name - Melinda. Most of my time spent at the market was visiting with her, which made the trip worthwhile.

I can't say I was let down, but I also can't say I'm proud of the locavores in Minneapolis. All I can say is that I'm seriously contemplating joining my gal pals in their consideration to venture to California after graduation. Maybe, just maybe.

April 29, 2008

Jamaican Breakfast


If you eat ackee before it's ripe, you'll die. At least that's how Jamaican folklore goes. Not wanting to test that theory, I've never eaten it before it's ripe, but after it's ripe turns out to be a great way to start the day. Traditional Jamaican breakfast is ackee and saltfish. Ackee is a vegetable that grows in a tree, and some people call it a fruit. When it is ripe it splits open and three black pits pop out. When prepared, it is fried up and looks similar to scrambled eggs. The saltfish is most often dried and salted codfish. Tomatoes, onions and peppers are fried up with the ackee and saltfish and served with plantains and dumplings. (Not for the picky eater.) I always insist on having a Jamaican breakfast at least once while we're there. I have been traveling to Jamaica with my family since I was eight years old. My parents first traveled there over 20 years ago and met a young boy, Wayne, who worked at their resort. He rode his bike several miles to work everyday, so one day they offered to give him a ride home. There, they found a small brick house where the water came out of a pipe in the ground and they cooked over an open fire. The matriarch of the house was known to everyone as Mama, who got her name because she has raised over 75 kids in her life, none of them being her own. Fast forward to the present, Mama is 86 years old and is still raising two young boys whose mother died of cancer. The boy they met, Wayne, has a 6 year old daughter, Abby, and she is the love of my life. So, my parents and I travel to Jamaica every year to visit and bring gifts, and, of course, to soak up a little sun. I have many favorite things to eat while I'm there, that I only eat while I'm there, including ackee and saltfish, and when I think of them I have feelings of love.

April 27, 2008

The Return of a Milwaukee Classic

Schlitz is Back!
Schlitz is Back!
Milwaukee beers get a bad rap, but heck- don't most of the American mega-brews? Schlitz was once at the heart of Milwaukee's brewing powerhouse. But don't be worried, there's plenty of brews still being brewed in my hometown, and a lot of them aren't half-bad.

The "Beer that Made Milwaukee Famous" is back and I just happened to have seen a few sightings and tasted the original recipe not too long ago. No, they're not returning to the 1849 recipe (which would be awesome), but they have returned to the "classic" 1960's recipe. Now I know we're going to have detractors from both sides. Some may call the beer utter crap, but I have to say it isn't half-bad. As their other classic catchphrase put it, you get "just a kiss of hops." It's in the same category as American style lagers like Premium or Pabst, but I think it might just be better.

As it turns out Schlitz is under the umbrella of the Pabst Brewing Co. The Milwaukee brewer happens to own few other cheapies including Old Milwaukee, Black Label, Old Style, etc. The list just goes on and on. It seems that Pabst is using its newfound hipster cred to expand its other brands and what better beer than Schlitz. The dominance of the light beer from 1980s onward shifted the playing field. When Schlitz and Pabst didn't pursue this new market and dismissed mass marketing, they fell from being within the top five brands nationally to nonexistent. The emergence of Micro Breweries seems to have been the catalyst for the diversification in the marketplace. The interesting fact that lies at the end of this is that Miller is brewing its former competitors under contract and in a sense preserving "What Made Milwaukee Famous".

So why did Schlitz fall out of the limelight? Maybe this is the answer.

April 24, 2008

The Name Says It All


In light of my whole SPAM Museum experience and upcoming article in digest magazine, I felt like a poser for never having tried the gelatinous pink substance. So, I worked up the courage and finally took the plunge. My mom, who grew up during the height of its popularity, had never tried it either. Together, we embarked on a cooking experiment.

After researching SPAM for my article, I found a SPAM recipe database that has every type of SPAM recipe that you could imagine, and more. I browsed the Web site for something that looked semi-normal and had the potential to taste OK. There were literally hundreds of recipes, and I didn't have the time or patience to browse through all of them.

I decided on Crescent SPAM Rolls. They didn't look too bad, and they were fairly easy to make. The ingredients include: SPAM Classic, chopped onion, tomato paste, canned mushrooms, mozzarella cheese, and crescent roll dough. OK, that actually sounds really gross, and I must have just been extremely hungry at the time. Basically, you make a paste with all of the ingredients except the crescent rolls. You put a blob of the mixture on the dough, roll it up, and bake it for 30 minutes.

We eagerly waited for them to bake, and they smelled really good. We waited for them to cool, and then my mom and I bravely taste-tested these SPAM concoctions.

It actually didn't taste too bad upon the first bite. However, after eating the whole thing, it's fair to say that I could go my entire life without eating another. My mom felt the same way.

There's just something about it. I don't think it tastes that bad, but its reputation definitely outweighs its actual taste. People just don't want to admit that they like SPAM. I probably would have kept eating them, but the thought of eating SPAM makes it taste worse somehow, which is exactly why my mom brought the 16 leftover rolls to her office to share (without disclosing the ingredients, of course).

But, at least I can say I've tried it now!

April 21, 2008

Looking for the biggest bang for your beer buck?


College students are famous for pinching pennies, and going out can get pricey. Lord knows that if Mom and Dad knew we were using money on booze, they probably wouldn’t be so inclined to pitch in with rent and pick up the utilities bill.

Let’s face it, we won’t taste posh liquors until we’re out of school, (and most likely done paying it off) and although Miller Light isn’t going to break the bank, we all get a little stingy sometimes.

Last Thursday night, my roommate and I went to the local Surdyk’s to pick up a case. The year is coming to an end, the stress of job hunting had taken it’s toll and we were broke. We thought it would be funny to buy the cheapest beer we could find. Coors Light rested at a staggering $13.99 – way above our budget. Miller and Budweiser were somewhere around the same price, and low and behold, there it was, Gluek Honey Bock for $9.49. We thought we were being economical, but let’s be honest, I’m sure the $3.00 we were saving went straight to McDonalds.

So, we started investigating the alcohol content. If we were going to sacrifice taste, we at least wanted to get our moneys worth. We quickly found that Honey Bock has a 5.8 percent alcohol content, but could not for the life of us find what the mainstreamers were. We were searching high and low, and no beer can seemed to say. (Isn’t that illegal?) We were tearing boxes open to get to the can and pacing up and down the isle. Mind you this isn’t the Dinkytown liquor store; we looked out of place to say the least. Finally, I called my trusty Badger friend, and she assured me that the average alcohol content was around 4.5 percent. This sealed the deal. We grabbed the top 24-pack off the stack, (this stuff didn’t get the privilege of being refrigerated) and checked out.

We returned home, opened our first can, and just sat there looking at each other. The room temperature can rested in our hands, and we were each waiting for the other to take the first sip. I was the brave beer soul, and took the first plunge. The luke-warm liquid entered my mouth, and did not want to go down. It was so bad, we couldn’t even blame it on the tepid temperature. And what shocked us the most was that it was dark. Shouldn’t honey beer be on the lighter side? I think it gives Guinness a run for its money. Ok, I’m exaggerating, but it was foul. The rest of the sips I took felt like taking shots. I took it all in one gulp, held my breath, and swallowed it as fast as I could. We continued this strange drinking routine, and kept the rest of the beers in the freezer. But hey, it got the job done.

So, if you want nothing more than to give the cashier a $10 bill, and don’t mind sacrificing a bit (or a ton) of taste, Gluek Honey Bock is for you.

April 19, 2008

Green lifestyle brings green eggs to Minneapolis


In a recent blog post, I talked about the new residential community of chickens in the Twin Cities. A week later, I was able to visit one of these 'urban farms' right near our own University campus. Chelsie Glaubitz, a political science and sustainable agriculture senior, has 5 hens in her backyard that live in a coop her dad made for her Christmas present a few years ago. It is obvious that she is dedicated to doing her part to live sustainable. Feeding them every day, cleaning their coop, gathering, washing, and storing their eggs, shows it is no easy task. She said the only problems she's had with them is that they roam into the neighbors' backyards. But the city soon required her to post fencing around the coop. This, combined with convincing her roommates to take care of them for the weekend when she wants to leave, have been the only major issues raising chickens.

Coming from southwest Minnesota, Glaubitz is all-too familiar with industrial agriculture. Seeing how it effected the land and animals, she wanted a tangible way that she could make a difference. Not only does raising her own chickens reduce the food mileage, she says the eggs just taste better. She described the yolks of the eggs as golden yellow. (Something I have yet to see for myself, as she sent a half-dozen home with me.) But, not all of her eggs are green. She said the color of the eggs depends on what they eat. Besides raising her own chickens, Glaubitz also got involved in the University's student-run organic farm, Cornercopia. On the U of M's St. Paul campus, students can get credit for being involved in the production, planning, and running of this farm. (See photos here.)Glaubitz received a state grant to do research on the farm.

She said a major step that people can take towards sustainable living is simply being conscious about environmental and health issues. She also noted that supporting local farmers, co-op grocery stores, and restauruants that use locally grown food in their dishes, are also ways students can take part in this movement. Although she is very firm on her convictions and beliefs, Glaubitz does not frown upon anybody that hasn't chosen the 'green lifestyle.' As some of her roommates and friends won't try the eggs from her chickens, she understands that the lifestyle is not for everybody.

Chelsie's decision to raise her own chickens is one example of the bold initiatives people are taking in doing their part to better the Earth. May it be for moral, health, ethical, or spiritual reasons - we need to take what information we've been given about our food system in America, and take action. All of the money gone to research, and all of the adademics' time gone into writing information about this system is worth nothing if there is no reaction and nobody acts.

April 18, 2008

A Beautiful U


As a part of the University of Minnesota’s Beautiful U Day held yesterday, students and faculty enjoyed a Beautiful U Day Lunch on Northrop plaza and at the St. Paul Student center. The concept: a zero waste lunch.

University Dining Services provided a waste-free lunch where everything served was recyclable or compostable, including the bags and sandwich wrappings. What appeared to be giant trash bins actually acted as repositories for food compost. Not only were the meals environment-friendly, but many of the preparation accessories were too, including the cardboard mustard dispensers. The UDS Green Team was on hand to help diners properly dispose of their waste.

The lunch included displays and information of University Services sustainability efforts. Those who enjoyed a zero waste meal also received a compact florescent light bulb (of the 10,000 the U gave to the campus community) to help reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

Since 1997, Beautiful U Day has advanced the University of Minnesota's commitment to sustainability and campus beautification. To celebrate the 10th Anniversary of Beautiful U Day, they gave away 10,000 compact florescent, which can reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 1,028,549 pounds each year.

Now that's Beautiful.

April 16, 2008

All You Can Eat


My all-time favorite food song has to be the old school rap trio The Fat Boys’ “All You Can Eat.? With Prince Markie Dee and Kool Rock-Ski on the vocals and the legendary and, unfortunately, late Buff the Human Beat Box (rest in peace), the Fat Boys rhymed about what they thought was def: eating lots of food. The following clip, taken from the 1985 hip-hop film classic “Krush Groove,? features the Fat Boys rapping about the joys of all-you-can-eat buffets. So sit back, stuff your face to the funky beat and enjoy.