About Me

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I was, at the time I started this blog, part of a class at Kalamazoo College on food and travel writing. So if you like food, or travel, or participating in interesting discussions having to do with both or either of those things, you are in the right place. Also, you should check out my classmates' blogs because they're awesome.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Moo-se Your Own Adventure

Okay, my lovely people. Here is your present. Oh I am so excited for this. You have no idea. First read THIS, because it raises some excellent questions and gives things to think about. Then when you're done come back here and read the corrections, because the article is a little out of date.
 grassfed cows

1. It says in the article that the milk and cheese is all organic--which it is--but then it says they also sell to Organic Valley. Not so. They now sell their leftover milk to Horizon Organic. (Cow shareholders get first dibs on the fresh stuff.)
2. Further down in the section about beef cattle, it says that "there’s no guarantee that the mothers of the beef cattle were raised naturally." LIES. Clearly the person who wrote the article did not actually ask or wasn't paying attention. The mothers of the beef cattle are the dairy cows at Grassfields, which means that while the beef cattle are not certified organic, there IS a guarantee that their mothers were raised naturally. Dairy cows at Grassfields are raised naturally. Duh. That's the whole POINT.
3.  The chicken portion. The author of the article says that they are fed "non-organic, local feed made up of corn and soy, as well as kelp for minerals and sometimes egg shells to make the new eggs have harder shells." This is also false. Grassfields has recently switched to an all-organic feed supplement, which means the eggs are now certified organic. (I got to hear all about this because my mom was mad that they upped their price a full dollar per dozen.)
4. Same with the pigs as it is for the chickens. All their food supplements are now organic. Also, yes they do actually feed the pigs the leftover whey from making cheese. The pigs go gaga for it.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Thai Cuisine (Review Draft)

            An empty restaurant is never a good sign, unless it’s dark and the doors are locked with a “CLOSED” sign hanging on them, in which case there’s a reason the restaurant is empty. This particular restaurant however, called Thai Cuisine, is very much open for business. It has large windows, warm lighting, and an interesting mix of decorations. Waist-high golden statues of Chinese-style spirits and dragons stand guard on either side of the door, next to the fireplace in the center of the room, and at various other places around the restaurant. They share their decorative purpose with several potted plants, which give relief to the mostly red, gold, white, and black color scheme. Red silk-like wallpaper with a gold pattern on it that could either be an Indian goddess or Buddha serves as a backdrop for the poster-size pictures of the same model in different traditional Thai costumes looking down from nearly every single wall. Upon entering there is that unmistakable smoky but spicy smell that restaurants offering food from East Asian cultures usually have. The tables are covered in white tablecloths with paper over them, presumably to make it easier to keep the cloth underneath clean. The chairs are comfortable and look well cared for; all in all this looks like a place that should be bustling at ten to six on a Friday evening.
But it isn’t.
            The place is eerily empty, even though it has enough seating for probably forty or fifty people. Only one other table is occupied, an older couple on the other side of the room speaking quietly enough to each other that their conversation just sounds like vague mumbles. My group is easily the largest source of noise there, but it is still quiet enough in the restaurant despite us to hear the traditional flute music coming from the speakers in the ceiling with the volume turned down low. We are quickly seated by a polite but not overly-friendly member of the staff—apparently the only member of the staff present besides the chef in the kitchen—who took our drink orders and was back in less than five minutes to take our dinner orders. The waters all had a slice of lemon in them, and the iced tea came pre-sweetened but not overly so. The waitress was back less than ten minutes after we had ordered with piping hot plates on her tray, so either the chef at Thai Cuisine has some magical power that can speed up cooking times, or the food had been made earlier and had simply been kept warm until someone ordered it. Here’s hoping it’s the former, not the latter.
            The food itself was generic restaurant food; each dish looked and smelled slightly different but had the same undertones. First there was peanut curry with chicken, which had a nice sneaky-spicy hot flavor that warmed the mouth but didn’t burn. Other than that, though, there wasn’t much to taste except salt, onion, and whatever oil they used to cook it in. The chicken had no flavor whatsoever. Next there was a different peanut curry dish with tofu, although this one was slightly better than the first. Same warm-hot flavor, salt, onion, and oil, but the spice was nicely complemented by the tofu and vegetables in the dish: green and orange bell peppers, zucchini, broccoli, and pea pods. Surprisingly, this dish came with rice instead of the seemingly-ubiquitous noodles that appeared in the other three dishes. After that came curry Pad Thai, which in all honesty was the best of the bunch. The chicken didn’t have the consistency of a dry sponge, the sauce was creamy and complemented by a bit of egg, the amount of spice was good and the noodles behaved like noodles, instead of sticking together in the chewy, slightly dry clumps that they turn into when left to sit out for too long. It had the same elements of oil, onion, and spice, but was less salty than the others, which let the other flavors come through better. Last were the drunken noodles, which if not the worst of all the different dishes, was near the bottom.  It tasted mostly of salt, spice, and oil, the noodles were chewy and dry in some places, and the whole thing was overloaded by onion. There were other vegetables as well—carrots and pea pods—but there was double the amount of onion than the rest of the vegetables put together. And basil? What basil? The “special basil” mentioned on the menu as part of the description of drunken noodles? That’s strange. Not a single person at our table said anything about tasting any basil. As for dessert, that decision was made for us: there were no desserts on the menu.
            The waitress—whoever she was—was prompt, but disappeared for the most part after she had brought us our meals. We were there for over an hour, and she came by only once to briefly check on us and refill our drinks before disappearing back down whatever rabbit hole she had come out of. She reappeared for the two customers who came in during our meal to order take-out, so it’s possible that this restaurant makes some of its money that way, but all those empty tables are not a promising sign. After the second person had come in to order take-out the waitress noticed that one of us was done eating, and checks for all four of us soon followed, along with an offer of boxes for our leftovers. How long can a restaurant with that much space survive if they have so little business that only two tables are occupied on a Friday night and they continue the practice of hurrying what customers they do have out the door? The food was filling and on the whole fairly good, if a bit salty and not quite as flavorful as some might like. For the price—around $12 per person, not counting the tip—it’s decent food. However, people who want to try it out should probably do so soon. If business is as slow as it seemed to be, then there’s no guarantee as to how much longer this restaurant is going to last.  

Friday, October 19, 2012

Before Thai Cusine

            For me, this whole thing is a special occasion. I mean, I put on make-up for this. AND I'm wearing heels. (Not heels of death-defying heights, but still. Heels.) Finding a restaurant to review was more a matter of finding somewhere relatively cheap that both my friends and I wanted to go to. We have decided on Thai Cuisine, which is—paging Captain Obvious—a Thai restaurant. Thinking about Thai food makes me remember my mom’s drunken noodles in all their basil-y glory. However, I know what I’m going to get at the restaurant is probably going to be very different from my mom’s home cooking. Other than what my mom makes, I’ve had very little experience with Thai food, so I’m not really sure what to expect. The Thai food I’ve had has been similar to Chinese, but with more noodles than rice and with slightly different spices, so I guess I’m expecting something slightly spicy that is sort of like Chinese only with rice noodles instead of rice and sans kitschy details like wooden chopsticks and fortune cookies with mass-produced proclamations of money or good fortune that will soon be mine.
            I’ve done a little research, and I know that drunken noodles—Pad Kee Mao—is a very well-known Thai dish, so if this place has drunken noodles I am of course going to have to try them. And if there is any sort of Pad Thai at all I might have to try that too, because it’s a generic Thai dish that is ubiquitous along the same lines as meatloaf is ubiquitous. I’m fairly certain meatloaf is known to most American households, and it’s one of those things that everyone who makes it does it a little differently. Pad Thai is the same way. I’m also planning on tasting everything my friends get, regardless of spiciness. A few bad experiences with spicy foods have made me wary of them, but I think it’s time I break myself of that habit. Spicy foods can be good, or so I’ve heard. I just have to find the right ones.
            All in all, I’m excited and a little bit nervous. This is one of only a handful of times I’ve ever gone out with friends for dinner minus adult supervision. I’m still not used to the whole idea of not having my parents watching my every step with those invisible parent-eyes that they all seem to develop as soon as they have children. It’s a little bit unnerving, sort of like when the professors here at K do something weird like extend a paper due date or cancel hundred-plus page readings out of the textbook. Not that those instances aren’t enjoyable, but when they do stuff like that I start thinking things like: “Weeeeiiiirrrrrrrrd. I have, like, free time.......What am I supposed to do now?” Anyway. The point is, I’m excited. New food. New place. Feeling like I’m some kind of secret agent because they don’t actually know I’m there to critique their food.

Maybe I should have theme music or something….

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Reading Response: Restaurant Reviews

So, for these, I was fascinated at the descriptions of the food. Everything was “tangy” or “robust” or “sharp” or “aggressive” and all sorts of things I wasn’t aware food could be. I'm used to thinking about what makes the flavors—for example, something may have a nice cilantro flavor but need more garlic while a different dish might have too much salt and not enough almond—it would seem that I’ve just been assuming that people understand how these things taste. I’ve never had to describe something like that before, because I've always been around people who knew what I meant if I said something along the lines of “next time, more cinnamon, less vanilla.” I also have to say that I was flabbergasted at the prices of the food—I mean, who pays $24 for a single scallop?—and while I understand what a wine list is, my total experience with wine includes one sip of a very, very dry red at my grandfather’s funeral a couple of years ago so all the studd about mixed drinks and wine lists went way over my head. Reading these articles was also kind of amusing though, because I just kept thinking…what would it be like to make that?...or…if I made that would I be able to charge the same amount, or would it have to be cheaper because I have no formal training?
The best part of reading these though, at least in my opinion, was also getting to see how the critics formed each restaurant as if they had personalities; habits and quirks that made them sound almost like people. There was the over-the-top restaurant, the minimalist one, another that was full of dishes that were a teensy bit insane (that was the Il Matto one and probably my favorite next to the one about Kenmare); places where the people eating the food are more interesting than the food itself, the list goes on. The fact that each restaurant had a particular “personality” really brought home for me the fact that it’s not just the food that the critics are looking at, it’s the entire package deal, the whole part and parcel. It made me wonder about just how much if the chefs get any say in how the restaurant looks. This seems unlikely, but one would think that the chef would be the best person to ask about what sort of environment would most compliment the food that was going to be served within it. At least, that’s what makes sense to me. But maybe chefs have really bad senses of style when it comes to interior design, I don’t know.
            Finally, I think the fact that each review also had a specific voice that was always engaging and sometimes downright hilarious really emphasized that the way one tells a story is almost as important as the content of the story itself. In reading these, I have discovered a new respect for food critics. They are in fact very good storytellers who don’t actually have to imagine any of their material, because they simply go to a restaurant and their material comes to them. Being a writer of mostly fiction and fantasy, thinking about the simplicity of this is causing pangs of jealousy. However, I think that having to eat like that and write like that ALL THE TIME in order to earn a living would probably drive me nuts. Not to mention that there’s probably a lot to restaurant critiquing I don’t know, seen as I have exactly zero experience doing something like that. There’s probably a lot more to it than going to a restaurant, eating food, and writing about it. I bet it’s harder than it sounds. Most things usually are.