Fresh spuds

I stuck two rotting potatoes in the ground and got eight pounds in return.

Not a bad investment, is it?

Well, I stuck them in two old planters with just a covering of soil at the bottom late last spring and kept covering them as the stems and leaves shot upward. Didn’t take long for the entire container to be full. Three or four months later, in early September, the lush foliage went kaput, and it was time for harvest.

Have you ever eaten truly fresh potatoes – the kind picked just an hour or two before cooking? It’s a revelation. Roasted, they’re so creamy and sweet. Melt in the mouth, if you nibble at the oven. By the time they get to the table, they’re getting some firmness … but, oh, they’re still heavenly.

You don’t have to visit Maine or Idaho or even live there to discover what this means.

 

Advertisements

Welcome to the bar

At the risk of being considered a prude, I’ll have to admit I’ve rarely been fully comfortable in a bar. Could it be a reflection on my tea-totaling upbringing? Still, I can think of places I’ve loved to listen to jazz or even read poetry to an appreciative audience.

The developments in my novel What’s Left, by the way, parallel events in at least one restaurant/bar I’ve heard related. And then there is an old church a few towns over that has a respectable history as a launching pad for hot musical acts. I’ve had some memorable musical experiences there, come to think of it.

Back to the book. Nothing seems to escape their notice as they anticipate changing their core business. Here’s how another passage stood in an earlier draft of my novel:

Our Taverna presents its own challenges. Under Papou Ari and Papou Perry, it’s been largely an afternoon refuge for retirees who are joined by tradesmen quitting their shifts. But it’s never developed as a destination for older students or faculty, who have gravitated to an English pub across from our Hoosier Dog House.

Barney senses the Taverna might attract a younger late-night crowd as the original clientele thins out. Plenty of up-and-coming musicians would be eager to play for us if the Taverna stays open later – and, as we discover, stay busy to the end, most nights.

Oh, I’m so glad Cassia stopped talking like this! In the final version, she’s pretty snippy. She really can have a hard-edge reality.

So as we put the Taverna together? What would most attract you to a nightspot – live music, big-screen sports action, the crowd itself, a quiet corner for conversation, a dart board or pool table? Something we’re overlooking? Is there someplace you especially enjoy? Tell me about it, pretty please. Imagine ourselves sharing a drink.

When food opportunity knocks

Among the talent that shows up to work at the family restaurant in my novel What’s Left is a very, very talented baker. As they conversed with him, they could smell opportunity.

Still, these two lines were more than the scene needed:

What can you do here with what we have?

Pierre rolls out a list. We’re impressed.

Oh, I’m so glad Cassia stopped talking like this! In the final version, she’s pretty snippy.

~*~

Let’s just say everyone rose to the occasion. As a result, he started making real French bread to southern Indiana – and a lot more many of us take for granted nowadays.

Of course, the world doesn’t always come to you. When it comes to food or drink, where would you like to travel? Or, for that matter, return?

Getting ready for the big moves to begin

By this point in the story, we have what could well be a business-based fairy tale. Everything seems blessed. For me, as the author, this required a lot of business-cap thinking. For the reader, though, many parts can be distilled and compressed – a suggestion rather than detailed descriptions will do.

Here’s how part of the timetable stood in an earlier draft of my novel What’s Left:

We modify our plan. Bliss will open first, at the beginning of summer. It requires minimal behind-the-scenes support and will give us a sense of the new building’s food storage and laundry functions. The traditional Carmichael’s and Taverna would close for the month of August and reopen in the new space at the beginning of the school year – each with twice the seating of before. Graham worries that what’s felt cozy might now feel cavernous if we don’t attract a lot of new clientele.

Barney will have his hands full training staff and adjusting to the expanded operation. What dawns on us is that we’ll be veering sharply away from a purely family-centered operation. We’ll have to rely on a large staff. The kitchen design, for one thing, now has men’s and a women’s locker rooms, plus staff restrooms. Not everyone can run home to wash up and change into uniform, not the way we have with Big Pink around the corner. Will Barney be comfortable in his new role? This, too, is a gamble. If nothing else, though, he needs an office to shelve his cookbooks. 

Oh, I’m so glad Cassia stopped talking like this! In the final version, she’s pretty snippy.

~*~

Someplace around here I should have been asking myself what Harry Potter would have done in this situation. Despite the fact that many of these details are among those I turned up in my research, I’m on some very unfamiliar ground, as one insider reminds me.

If you’ve ever worked in a commercial kitchen, what would you most want to see in the new Carmichael’s? What common-sense touch would be most welcome from the workers’ end? What improvement is usually overlooked?

A little more lighting on their restaurant redesign

How trendy do we want their restaurant upgrade to be? It’s a great location they’re developing, and they already have an established reputation.

Here’s another passage I cut from the final version of my novel What’s Left:

Barney also welcomes the opportunity to have a menu more in tune with our vegetarian precepts. At first, he reasons this would naturally go in the cellar – Carmichael’s Underground, as he dubs. But we want natural light in the vegetarian enterprise and the building sits right at the edge of the sidewalk, so basement windows are out of the question.

The basement is more suited to the Taverna anyway,

Oh, I’m so glad Cassia stopped talking like this! In the final version, she’s pretty snippy.

~*~

Hey, how about taking a break to make time for a shout-out? Who are some of your favorite food bloggers? What makes them stand out for you? I’m curious how many of your choices are ones my wife already follows.

 

How would it look inside?

As an author, I had to have a clearer idea of where their redesign was heading. So this is what I settled on, even though it felt like too much information when I got to the final revisions. By the way, I’m still not clear how many seats the place should have.

If you’ve been in the food biz, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Is 200 too many for Carmichael’s Indiana? Is 60 too small for Stardust upstairs? And how many could sustain the much smaller vegetarian Bliss?

~*~

Would we have lots of booths or one long banquette along a wall with small tables? And if there are booths, will they be tall, for privacy, or low, at seated shoulder-blade or back-of-the-head height?

You take all this things for granted, don’t you? I had no idea. It’s just the way things have been as long as I can remember. Little did I anticipate all the heated discussion!

Baba’s passion for sleek, stainless-steel contemporary design runs into opposition. Not here, Graham insists. Too sterile. Imagine what you’d want coming in off the street on a damp November night. You want warm and comfortable.

Pia pipes up in favor of something organic by local woodworkers and weavers. Something homespun. She’s right.

Could we have wood-burning fireplaces? How efficiently could we clean everything, anyway? Think of a mop between the stools and base of the counter. We’ll still have a counter, won’t we?

Graham takes up another consideration: the restrooms. They need to be integrated into the whole package, not an afterthought.

And what about the wine cellar?

That’s a new one – wine cellar?

Yes, if we’re going gourmet, we’ll need a decent wine list. It’s something the Taverna’s never dealt with.

Oh, I’m so glad she stopped talking like this! In the final version, she’s pretty snippy. And by then, so am I.

~*~

Thinking of great restaurants, Fore Street in Portland, Maine, with its industrial shop airiness, would be at the top of my list. No nonsense and yet crisply ordered. I could mention others, much smaller, in Providence, Rhode Island, or Wellfleet on Cape Cod, or our all-time favorite, a tiny house in South Berwick, Maine.

And we can also name some others with great decor that greatly disappointed us, at least when it came to our plates.

One of my favorites is actually take-out only.

So what’s your favorite place to eat? Does it have a window with a view? Or is there some other dimension beside the food itself? Please, don’t you dare mention clowns or big-screen TVs.

Ten popular Greek dishes

In my novel What’s Left, Cassia’s family runs a landmark restaurant but realizes many of the Greek dishes they make at home are just too exotic for their clientele in southern Indiana, at least during most of the timespan of the story.

They do add roasted Greek potatoes as an option, but that’s about it.

Well, by the early ’80s, when they have a vegetarian line going, they might add dolmathes, the stuffed grape leaves, or vegetarian stuffed peppers to their offerings, perhaps along with tzatziki, the distinctive cucumber yogurt sauce distinguished by its dill and lemon.

Oh, but how much are the holding back on? Consider these ten options.

  1. Gyro. It’s a yummy handful, a wrap made of warm pita bread filled with strips of seasoned grilled lamb and beef with tzatziki and sliced tomatoes. (No onions on mine, please. They don’t agree with my system.)
  2. Souvlaki. Around here, it’s usually kabobs of char-broiled marinated pork, ordered by the skewer. “Give me two sticks, please,” is the way to order. Rounded out with things like rice pilaf, beans, and Greek salad on the plate. My favorite came from a wood-fired stove at the Common Ground Fair in Maine.
  3. Spanakopita. Or spinach pie, made of filo dough baked with layers of spinach and cheese.
  4. Loukaniko. Greek sausage made with orange peel, too. Great appetizer.
  5. Kolokythokeftedes. A Cretan vegetarian appetizer ball featuring feta cheese. (Feta is big in our house.)
  6. Lamb shank. This slow-baked, savory hunk o’ meat is one of the glories of our local Greek festival. Or, for those who want something a little less messy to eat, the slices of roast lamb are delightful, assuming you like lamb. If not, go for the lemon-pepper roast chicken. (Admittedly, I’m cheating in trying to keep this a Tendril. Just ten dishes? Oh, my, impossible!)
  7. Pastichio. Layers of baked macaroni with cheese and seasoned beef are a common entrees , as is Moussaka, made of layers of baked eggplant, potatoes, and ground beef.
  8. Keftethes. Meatballs. Bet you can’t eat just one.
  9. Baklava. This honey-infused filo is a heavenly dessert, but be warned, it has to be eaten while fresh. That honey can get sticky.
  10. Let’s not overlook Loukoumades. Bite-sized golden puffs of fried dough often sprinkled with syrup, walnuts, and cinnamon are another celestial way to round out the meal. I have heard some heated discussion, though, about whether the next generation can live up to the standards this one requires. The debate can be quite amusing, especially when the stand is being operated by closely supervised children.

Now, as for your Greek favorites?