On the Agenda

Monday, August 20, 2007

A Welcome Feast

The class that I referred to in my last post began tonight, even though classes have not officially started and today is Sunday. The class is about food--almost literally everything about food--and the same professor has been teaching this course for 10 years. He wanted to have an anniversary dinner, but even so I thought it would just be him and the 15 of us students ordering off the menu at 411 West, which is a great restaurant on Franklin Street.

Instead it was about 35 people of all ages and walks of life, and we had a fantastic five-course meal with some wonderful conversation. I'm even more excited about the class now, and I'm hoping I can use this space to chronicle some of it throughout the semester. As it is already late tonight, I will just give the menu with a little bit of description:

I was the first student to arrive, but people began coming in fairly steadily soon after I got there. Not only were there current students, but there were past students, TAs, faculty members and local farmers, all of whom are or were involved in the course in some way. We all stood around and chatted for a while before we made our way over to the food. The first course, eaten while still mingling, was a selection of cheeses from Chapel Hill Creamery, all deliciously flavorful and served with fruit spreads. With that course was served nice flutes of Veuve Clicquot Brut Rose NV, a champagne that I have gathered runs at $50+ a bottle. I always thought that I didn't like champagne before, but this was quite amazing, especially with the various flavors of the cheese.

After this Jim, our professor, got our attention and said a few words about the history of EATS 101, as the class is called. During that talk I learned a little more about the format of the class, about how 411 often buys as much local food as possible, and some things about the farmer's market I love so much. As we sat at our assigned tables, we were served a chilled cantaloupe soup (I think it had mint in it) and a viognier/marsanne white wine from Treana Mer Soleil in California. After that there was a salad of local mixed greens. There were supposed to be sungold tomatoes on the salad, but we're not sure what happened to that.

I was sitting next to Jim's wife and an office administrator and across from two growers who sell at the market. We had some great conversation about meals and farms and food and life in general, which was refreshing. For our main course we had pan-seared Scottish organic salmon, served with gazpacho, local potatoes, okra and mushrooms, and lemon aioli. With this the servers poured a 2005 Castle Rock Pinot Noir Reserve, which was good. (Keep in mind I didn't polish off all these glasses -- I did have to drive home.)

And then for dessert (or "desert" as Elly's students often wrote) there was a peach sorbet (not so local) with a cookie, and Bugay Cerdon Sparkling Rose NV, which was sweet and perfect for the peach flavor. I think what was so remarkable about this dinner was the planning, not to mention the flavors and the bringing together of so many different people. I had much in common with the people I was sitting with, and I'm very much looking forward to seeing them again for a class or for dinner every Tuesday. Most things about this class are still a mystery to me, but I'm eager for the next installment.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Down to Earth and Down From the Mountain

After an excellent summer in Montreat, N.C., I'm now back to the good ol' rolling Piedmont, and the good ol' brainy Triangle. Before the mountains there were the islands, the ones on the other side of the ocean and just west of Scandinavia. If you want to learn any about that adventure you should check here.

But now it's another year (my last at this place), and one more attempt to get this blogging thing underway. As with any other summer in the mountains, I've had much time to read and at least a little bit of time to contemplate. And I've been reading more non-fiction than is customary for me. So like last year, I think I will start with a review of some "Things I've Read, Listened To, or Enjoyed."

At the top of the summer's reading list is Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, which was read soon after the also-amazing Prodigal Summer. AVM (my acronym) is part memoir, part journalistic reflection about Kingsolver's family in their quest to spend one whole year eating only local food. The writing is funny and beautifully descriptive, the stories are equally funny and beautiful, and the informational and investigative parts are eye-opening. Reading this during the summer -- already six months removed from my favorite farmers market -- got me really excited about getting back to school and getting into the food scene here.

This book, along with The Omnnivore's Dilemma, which I'm readying for a class, have heightened my food senses, and particually my sense of ethical, healthy, environmental food. And this morning I got my first shot at a local food year at the Carborro Farmer's Market and Weaver Street Market. Just to mention a few of the more flavorful things I picked up, I got:
- sungold tomatoes -- Amazing! These are cherry-sized and bright orange, and they have more sweet tomato flavor than I've tasted in a long time.
- rayan melon -- Very sweet, white melon. Not as melony as cantalope, which is think is a good thing.
- Larry's Beans Mightier Mocha Java -- I finally got a smaller single-serving French press, so I got some great chocolaty coffee to go with it. No, there's not real chocolate in it, but it still tastes like it.

In case I haven't mentioned it before, you should definitely check out Air Traffic. They're from Bournemouth, England, and if they ever start over here I'm sure they would do very well. They're doing great things in England, and I had the good fortune to see them in concert twice when I was in London. They played at South by Southwest in the spring, so there is a foot in the door. I'm just waiting for them to show up at Cat's Cradle. Any time now would be great...

My friend Andy Black, pianist extraordinaire and member of the band Supermarket Radio, tried to give me directions to this great restaurant about two years ago. He kinda forgot about the part where you have to get off the interstate, and so my friend and I ended up most of the way to Tennessee instead of where we wanted to be. We finally got to Rosetta's Kitchen just this past week, and I really wish I had made it sooner. The menu has a symbol for those dishes that are not vegan, and there is no meat served at all. It's open late, painted in bright colors, has a diverse clientele, and the food is absolutely amazing. I got the Buddha Bowl with rice, gravy, tofu, seaweed, and salad, and it was wonderful. I highly recommend it.

I think that's enough for now... I can't run out all at one time. Cheers.