Thursday, July 2, 2009

Kitchen Calamities

Today's Specials:
Falafil Sandwich served in a hollow ciabatta stuffed with falafils and tomato cucumber salad and
The Nummy Nutter a grilled granola, peanut butter, banana and honey sandwich.

Some days when I sit down to write the blog it feels as if I'm addressing the vacuum of space. Other days it flows like a sincere prayer. But I think the best days are when I'm really excited to share good news and good food with friends - known and unknown. Our relationship is a relatively new one and it's important to me that we build on a solid foundation of trust. Anyone who has ever asked me "what's the best sandwich?" knows I don't particularly like mushrooms or hot tuna, both of which appear our menu. And I'll be the first to tell you when a batch of potato soup is tasty, but not my best.

In that spirit of truthful disclosure, I'm going to tell you about my biggest food failures both of which center on soup. About 16 or 17 years ago, not long after I moved to Baltimore, my family came up from Virginia for a visit. It was the first time Granny had ever been to my house and I was excited to make them dinner. Just to set the scene, around the table that evening was a vegetarian friend, my meat-and-potatoes father, my mother and my "country" Granny. Anxious to make a good impression, I pulled out a cookbook (which will go unnamed) and picked hip vegetarian dishes - carrot soup because it would look so pretty in my black matte-finish bowls and broccoli strudel. Everyone around the table, I serve the soup course and sat down to join my guests.

As I take the first bite I realize a couple of things simultaneously. One, you should not serve food you haven't tasted and two, the soup was horrible! I pushed my bowl away from me and encouraged everyone else to do the same. Then I brought out the broccoli strudels. Really people, what could I have been thinking? It was a tasteless mash of vegetable stuffing rolled in filo dough and sliced at the table. Granny kept dipping her spoon in the carrot soup insisting the flavor was growing on her when in retrospect it's clear she was probably trying to get the taste nasty broccoli gruel out of her mouth. To this day my mother will refer to the carrot soup incident, as in "it might be a little salty, but it's no carrot soup".

How many lessons did I learn from that one fiasco?
1. Pretty food is nice, edible food is better.
2. Taste before serving.
3. If you are trying out new recipes on guests have a Plan B and be willing to use it.
4. Push your ego aside and cook for your guests, not to impress.

It's almost hard to believe, but there was a time when vegan soups were as foreign to me as Marmite. Working out of a cookbook, Hannah and I made a broccoli mushroom peanut butter soup. You heard me - and we served it! Because if we got it out a vegan cookbook vegans must like it, right? Bleck, pooey and gross. The only saving grace is, at that point, only a hand full of intrepid customers were subjected to the experiment, and if memory serves me, Michael convinced me to toss it out.

Lessons learned:
1. Don't serve food you feel needs a disclaimer.
2. We all don't have to like everything, but someone needs to like it. Listen to other people's feedback.
3. The sales pitch "I don't like it and it's definitely strange, but you might like it" will not deter everyone. And I live with my conscience more than four years later.