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?

 

A taste of this and a taste of that

Hors d’œuvre or appetizers are food items served before the main courses of a meal, but the Greek meze table can also be a place of lingering. Here we mezethes of mozzarella cheese sprinkled with basilic flowers, black Greek olives, sun-dried tomatoes, Italian salami, and Spanish Serrano jamon. In the family in my novel What’s Left, Cassia may have had food like this. Photo by Bdieu via Wikimedia Commons.

 

Those dark-roasted coffee beans and the Cuisinart

The automatic coffeemaker came from a yard sale. A Cuisinart for, as I recall, five bucks or so. It even grinds its own beans at 4 in the morning, just like we ordered.

We like our brew with a Latin kick. Cuban roasted, for instance. Like espresso, which I turn au lait – or, in this case, Ole’!

Even curbing back my caffeine intake to a cup a day, as my doctor ordered, it’s heavenly.

Imagine rolling over in bed, hearing the grinder kick in downstairs, and then finding the pot freshly made.

What a way to say good morning to the world!

Carbohydrates in my dietary mix

Adapting to a Healthy Heart diet, which greatly limits my old fallback choices of cheese, eggs (with the yolks), and butter, has led to another shift in what I’m eating.

My carbohydrate intake has spiked. It’s bad news if I start to show indications of diabetes.

At least I don’t have to watch my salt levels, for now. That could be another whammy.

But I have decided that if I’m ever given a terminal prognosis, I’m going to go out with a bang. Load up on all that’s been curtailed, maybe start the day with bourbon or bubbly, that sort of thing.

Oh, who am I kidding. By then, I’ll probably have lost my taste for it all. Oh, shucky darn, right?

 

Ten once-exotic foods that have become commonplace

Americans’ food choices expanded unbelievably in the generation between the events told in Daffodil Uprising and What’s Left. Admittedly, Cassia’s mother had grown up with a wider awareness of dietary options than had her father – her mother’s Greek heritage relied on olive oil rather than Crisco, for starters, and running a restaurant meant keeping an eye open for new options. Roasting a lamb for Easter would have been in her mother’s background but probably made her father’s side cringe. Still, it’s mindboggling to think how exotic some of today’s common dishes were just a half-century ago.

Here are ten:

  1. Broccoli. And zucchini and summer squash, which show up on a lot of national chain restaurant plates. Hey, even fresh parsley.
  2. Yogurt. Seriously, even before you add granola, another upstart.
  3. Tacos. For that matter, anything Mexican like burritos or quesadillas or margaritas. We’ve even added a holiday every May just to celebrate this development.
  4. Salsa. And sriracha and any of those Texas hot sauces. Whatever happened to ketchup?
  5. Sushi. I still can’t believe you can get it at the grocery.
  6. Thai. For that matter, anything Asian. You know, this extends to Vietnamese and Indian and even authentic Chinese. For me as a child, chop suey on top of wormy dried noodles, both out of a can, were as adventurous as it got for miles around.
  7. Pasta. Yes, any of those various Italian noodles. Our spaghetti used to come with sauce in a can. Seriously. And a spaghetti dinner was typically a fundraising event in a church. Oh, and it was still pronounced EYE-talian. Ouch!
  8. Espresso. The word itself conjured up images of beatniks. And now? Just think of all the gourmet coffee storefronts and drive-throughs. Not just Starbucks, either. You no longer have to explain cappuccino or latte or café au lait apologetically, thank goodness. Many of us even make our own.
  9. Flatbreads. As in wraps, especially, though they can be the foundation of a good pizza. Well, speaking of breads, add baguettes and croutons to the list of advances. We’ve really come a long way, baby.
  10. Real cheese. Not the processed stuff. We now have so many glorious choices we could do another Tendril on just this one item. Hallelujah!

History? Pizza had recently entered the mainstream. And wine was still a daunting frontier.

What would you add to the list?