Saturday, 15 October 2011

A Brezel in the States: World Food Day, Part I

World Food Day (which will officially be recognised tomorrow), and according to World Food Day USA, "is a worldwide event designed to increase awareness, understanding and informed, year-around action to alleviate hunger." There are certainly many who are quite far away from wherever you may be reading this blog post who lack food, let alone clean water and shelter; on the other hand, there are perhaps even those near you who may also be in a similar situation. Indeed, while food is a means of exploring identity and bringing people together, it can also give rise to exploitation, inequity, and division. If it's in your power to affect change on a grander scale, such as this video may suggest (and there are examples within that which could be adaptable), I've found this video to relate to the work I already do around food on this blog. And so, let the conversation continue; following is my first day of World Food Day weekend 2011.

In preparation for next week's "Farm to Table" cooking class, I began my Saturday with a trip to the Granville Farmers Market. At that point (and as I type this post), I didn't know what our menu was going to be, as I have to predict which ingredients will be available and present on Saturday, the last Farmers Market for the season. To help figure what our participants can later source next week, I chatted with the vendors what could be expected; not only were they extremely helpful, but wonderfully supportive, as well. Indeed, buying locally supports not only the local vendors but the community and sustainable agriculture. In the end, I left with not only a small butternut squash to test out a recipe for the menu, but with a surprisingly longer list of ingredients than I had anticipated to work with.

Following the market, I headed over to Whit's for one of my favourite anytime snacks--a grasshopper Whitser--and then settled on watching the new remake release of Footloose. As we (i.e., the audience) awaited the start of the movie, we (perhaps more I than anyone else) were treated to a special commercial by Chipotle (embedded above). I don't know if it's coincidence, intentional, or just a growing trend, but I must say that I'm happy to be seeing as much attention as I have regarding food culture as of late, Footloose included.

After the movie, and with the dancing bug in my system, I purchased a pasta machine at Home Goods and then made my way to North Market. It's funny how many "full circles" we experience every once in a while; today, I had two of them, the first being a year-long revisit and first return since my voyage in France to North Market. About this time last year, I remember being blown away by the variety and ability to culture hop from one vendor to the next, and the sentiment has not yet waned. While a few vendors seemed to have moved out, new ones naturally moved in. In true form, North Market celebrates glocal flare: global, diverse worlds situated within the context of local vendors and ingredients. This was certainly one place I had to be at some point during World Food Day weekend. By this point in the day, and unsurprisingly because of the very nature of North Market, I was hungry (though, when am I not?) and sought out vendors from whom I have not yet tried their cuisine. From there, I moved up to the second floor (where the above overhead shot was taken) for the tastings.

Brezel on Urbanspoon

Up first was a brezel by brēzel. I had first heard about brezels while in France; I never had one, but after tasting the cinnamon sugar one (pictured above) by this Columbus-based bakery, I now understand why the students on the trip were really keen on the brezel. Just as it sounds, the brezel is a bread-like pretzel (Bavarian-style to be more specific and doughier than the American soft pretzel), rooted in Germany. Indeed, take a look at this article for a 12th century illustration found in Alsace; undoubtedly, "brezel" must have entered my vocab list while we were there. Migrated into the States in the 17th century, the pretzel is one of many Americana food staples; this being said, I appreciate the fact that brēzel pays tribute to the pretzel's history and (by extension) legacy as a globally-recognised food. What I also appreciate is how wonderfully delicious the brezel does taste! Warm, bready, sticky, sweet, and highly reminiscent of the mis (my favourite part) of a baguette, the crisp exterior (just as great as the croûte) holds its texture to support the added flavours of cinnamon and sugar. Seriously, the Bavarian way is the way to go.

Next on the list was the Columbus-based concept store of Taste of Belgium which I first heard of when I went to Cincinnati (site of the original location). Similarly viewed in my eyes as brēzel, Taste of Belgium takes the Americanised waffle and brings it back to its Belgian roots. I first had a Belgian waffle, or rather a gaufre, as an on-the-go snack (as the "Americanised waffle" link suggests) in Florence, Italy. This time around, I veered for a unique flavour in crêpe form: lavender sugar and fresh lemon juice. While I prefer "messier" (read: Nutella) fillings, without question the beauty here is in simplicity and the ability of the rather neutral crêpe to translate the otherwise delicate flavours of lavender, lemon, and even the sugar. The crêpes are all made to order (as they should be!) and being able to get to the cooking station to watch the crêpe being made is all part of the experience. Quite interestingly, in the cooking process, the crêpe seems to absorb the tartness of the freshly squeezed lemon juice, infusing the lemon flavour into its texture. The lavender sugar combo is then generously sprinkled and provides a floral sweetness to the crêpe, while still allowing for a familiar lemon tart finish.

From the brezel and the crêpe, we move down the southern coast of France and head eastward to the Mediterranean meals of Columbus-based Firdous Express. Given the other dishes I was bringing up with me, I went for something simple and choose to try a fatayer, simply defined by one blogger as dough and filling. In it's triangular form, fatayers remind me of Asian dumplings (and I purposefully say "Asian" because there are too many varieties, as opposed to a continental style, to list); in this rectangular form, I'm reminded of Greek spanikopita. When I finally got around to tasting this handmade dough with a chicken and portobello mushroom filling, I tasted something of a Mediterranean calzone, warm, filling, but in this case, light.

Jeni's Ice Creams (Short North) on Urbanspoon

And as if I hadn't eaten enough food, I had to maximize my time at North Market and head over to Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams. With many shops throughout Ohio, Jeni's infuses a variety of flavours into their ice cream base, allowing the flavours to speak to each other rather than against. Since 1996, Jeni has been making and experimenting with ice cream; in July 2011, she released Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home, a comprehensive recipe and technique guide to not only making the ice creams sold at her stores but to creating an individual's own signature style. Today, I tried two seasonal flavour combinations which theoretically only seem to work for judges on cooking shows: sweet corn & black raspberry (above left) and goat cheese & cherries (above right). In actuality, I might as well be a judge on those shows because they definitely worked for me. The sweet corn had a crisp taste to it, aided by the fact that it was firmer against the smoother black raspberry which complimented the corn. This combo was billed as a summer combo and it was certainly just that. The goat cheese added a creamy consistency to the ice cream--again, as folks on tv claim--while keeping the familiar taste of goat cheese in tact. I typically don't like goat cheese on its own, and so I was very thankful to have the cherries mixed in to cut down on the goat cheese's richness.

To cap off a wonderful worldly meal, I had a bite of Askinosie chocolate, the only 70% dark chocolate I can only seem to enjoy bite by bite. I wrote of my favourite ice cream--Askinosie dark milk chocolate--back in April, and the case still remains the same (rivaled by the more available mint chocolate chip and the difficult-to-find orange sherbet with dark chocolate chunks). Cultivated in Cortés, Honduras, Askinosie chocolate has a story worth reading here. To find more information on (and videos of) the vendors I've highlighted above, click here.

Piada Italian Street Food on Urbanspoon

Heading back to campus, I stopped at Easton to find a watch to no avail. After walking around the mall for a while, and at the encouragement of some students I saw, I did find Ohio-based Piada Italian Street Food which just recently opened this site in Easton; Piada first opened September 2010. With a modern feel and contemporary look, my experience at Piada was one which brought back the aromatic smells of Italy to life here in Ohio. Stepping into the doorway, you are presented with a very well thought-out layout; it's as if you are preparing to join a cast on stage as a line of diners enjoy their meals and the periphery is filled with folks casually devouring their food in a sleek, New York-type setting. Shortly upon entering, you get those wonderful homey, Italian cooking smells, and are presented with a laundry list of ingredients. Above and beyond Noodles & Company, and even more ambitious than Chipotle, it seems, Piada's offerings seem endless, if not slightly overwhelming. In fact, there seems to be too many choices that it's very difficult to go wrong with the knowledgeable, friendly, and quick, serving staff to help guide you. And though the line may seem long when you enter (because who doesn't like Italian food?), don't fret; so long as diners are familiar with the menu options or can order quickly, the line moves at a more than acceptable rate.

Once through the line and at my table, I was more than ready to enjoy this food (despite everything I had eaten to this point). I went with the pasta bowl (angel hair being a very smart choice on Piada's part)--the other options being a piada (in that case, think of it as an Italian burrito) or a salad bowl--and layered on steak (rosemary, garlic, and lemon), parmesan alfredo, lettuce, tomato basil relish, parmesan reggiano, and my favourite component of the whole thing, the zucchini and mushroom salad. Believe me when I tell you how fresh the food tastes, and for the price you pay ($6.95 for the steak option; click here for other pricing), it just doesn't seem fair to receive as much food as you do; take-home lids are readily available at the condiment and soda stand (which also includes a variety of Italian sodas). One thing I should caution you on is that in the whirlwind of options, you may be a bit confused about the "street side" that's suggested on the ordering menu; take note that it's an additional charge, but so very worth it. I went with the pepperoni piada stick (it comes with a parmesan dipping sauce) and found it to be completely transportable, crisp and easy to eat, and even a meal on its own. Piada is truly Italian street food in America at its best. Ah, yes, and that second full circle moment I mentioned earlier: there's a Chipotle in direct view from Piada's front doors. For these and other photos from today, click here. For part two of my World Food Day weekend, click here.

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