Day Out: Central Food

DSCN2069I like to think that Sherlock Holmes and I could be good friends.  We share a few commonalities, such as the initials “SH”, an ability to play the violin (albeit poorly on my part), and the love of good mysteries.  The most recent mysteries I have encountered: what is mushroom mousse, and whom do toast soldiers serve?  I found the answer at Central Food.

Central Food is located a stone’s throw away from downtown Spokane, and its situation atop the northern bank of the Spokane River affords its patrons an idyllic view of both the city and the river.  The restaurant is one of several businesses helping to establish the up-and-coming Kendall Yards neighborhood, which is found on the north side of the river nestled between Maple and Monroe.  Prior to this visit, I was utterly unbeknownst to this part of town and was delighted to discover its existence.  New construction is everywhere to be seen, and I imagine that new businesses will be flocking to the area to claim their share of the coveted riverside view.  Central Food has been in business only six months, but word about the joint is really getting around: along with an article or two in the Spokesman Review, the restaurant has been the beneficiary of a great deal of word-of-mouth advertising.  Over the past few months, I feel like every other person I have talked to has asked me whether I’ve been to Central Food yet.  Finally, I’m able to answer in the affirmative and to understand why everyone won’t stop talking about one of Spokane’s newest and finest eateries.

Open seven days a week, this restaurant serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner, making it an exemplary meeting place any time of the day.  On a rainless and shining Sunday morning, I met a friend at Central Food to catch up on each others’ happenings, enjoy breakfast and coffee, and to see what all the fuss was about.  When I arrived, eager patrons were already lined up at the front of the restaurant, waiting for their seats and opportunities to take in the serene scenery.  Upon sitting down, my friend and I were warmly greeted with hot coffee and a synopsis of the day’s specials.  I took my time reviewing the breakfast menu and appreciated the minimalist, straightforward descriptions of the dishes; I’m all for clever wordplay and the generous use of adjectives, but when it comes to meal descriptions, simpler is often better.  Breakfast offerings include standard morning fare, such as omelets, corned beef, and fruit, as well as more adventurous offerings, like french toast jazzed up with honey-bourbon-pecan butter, a breakfast pot pie, and terrine.  The latter piqued my interest, and its description made me most curious: mushroom mousse, bacon, a poached egg, and toast soldiers.  Compelled to learn what mushroom mousse could possibly be, I placed my order and waited to find out.

What with the breathtaking scene of the tempestuous river and bottomless cups of coffee, one really doesn’t mind waiting for her meal to arrive.  I felt as though only minutes had passed and my friend and I had barely scratched the surface of our conversation before our breakfasts (and the answer to my mushroom mousse mystery) appeared in front of us.  Surrounded by lightly buttered toast soldiers, a ramekin of terrine topped with a salted egg sat before me.  Mushroom mousse is, in fact, the most apt way to describe terrine.  Terrine itself is similar to pâté or tapenade; Central Food’s terrine consisted of mushrooms and bacon, finely chopped to a spreadable consistency and served slightly warmed.  Spread on toast soldiers this modest and savory breakfast was surprisingly filling and a nice and easy-going meal to start off a day of rest.

Having been won over by breakfast, I’m now keen to try the lunch and dinner options, too.  Central Food sources many of its ingredients from local vendors, including Full Bushel Farm (visit their stand at the Liberty Lake and South Perry Farmers Markets) and Quillisascut Farm, and so as to cater to all tastes and food sensitivities, most dishes are available vegan, vegetarian, and/or gluten-free.  With Central Food’s economic and nutritional conscientiousness in mind, I don’t doubt that I’ll have no trouble finding willing participants to try their lunch and dinner menu with me.  And with that gorgeous view of the mesmerizing and frenzied waters below, who’s going to turn down that kind of dinner and a show?

Say What You Mean. Mean What You Say

A commentary included in this week’s episode of CBS Sunday Morning struck an unexpected chord with me.  It concerned the phenomenon of 20 and 30-somethings replying to others’ requests with the phrase “no problem”.  I’m certainly guilty of this particular crime of verbiage, and I’m sure that many of you are, too.  “No problem” has become such a commonplace response that I would never have given its use a second thought, much less others’ reactions to it.  However, now that the phrase’s interpretation, particularly by those older than myself, has been brought to my attention, I doubt that I’ll use it anymore.  The commentator argued that by replying “no problem” to someone’s request, said request would somehow be troubling the person who said it.  Truthfully, this is rarely the case: if one is working as a server in a restaurant and a customer asks for a glass of water, it shouldn’t be a problem for the server to find a glass, fill it with ice and water, and bring it to the requesting customer.  Serving the customer is what the server is being paid to do, after all.  The more I thought about it, the more I agreed with the commentator.  Most requests aren’t problems at all, so replying that the request is not, in fact, a problem, isn’t altogether appropriate.  I could clearly see where he was coming from, but, being a member of the offending generation, I could also understand the counterargument.

I realize that “no problem” isn’t the only phrase that is running rampant and causing ire.  “No worries”, a saying once almost solely associated with worry-free beach-goers, has found its way into the common vernacular.  I occasionally use it, and it consistently drives my dad crazy.  Like “no problem”, I appreciate that one’s intention of conveying laid-back understanding may be interpretted by another as the former individual may not be taking a situation seriously.  “You got it”, “sure thing”, and “you bet” are capable of causing similar annoyance.  I don’t think that younger individuals are actively trying to put off their elders.  It could simply be a generational difference or a sign of the inevitable evolution of language.  Either way, it’s food for thought and a matter worth considering.

As of late, I’ve been working to become increasingly cognizant of the way I communicate with others, particularly my friends.  None of us work together, and the majority of our day-to-day conversation is conveyed through text messages.  By now, most everyone is more than aware of the problems that misinterpreted texts can and have caused.  Texting is largely blamed for the utilization of proper grammar becoming a thing of the past, and due to these miniaturized messages, there’s an acronym for everything.  If we’re willing to work at it, then I don’t think that it’s too late to remedy the situation.  The remedy will likely take a few more seconds and keystrokes, but doing so may well eliminate a few future autocorrect-induced tiff.

The ease of text messaging means that conversations are often stretched out over hours, if not days, without clear delineations between the end of one conversation and the beginning of another.  “Hello” and “good-bye” aren’t always included, so they can’t mark starts and finishes.  It disappoints me a little bit when I receive a text message first thing in the morning, and the sender immediately jumps into his/her question.  What ever happened to “good morning”?  Are salutations a dying concept?  Worse yet, are they becoming little more than a buffer for bad news?  More and more frequently, I’ve noticed that if I receive an unsolicited text message in the middle of the day, and it begins with “Hi!”, whatever follows will likely be disappointing.  I know what a text message “hi!” means: it means someone is making an attempt to console me with an unexpected greeting (and an unnecessary exclamation point) when she knows I’ll not like whatever she has to say next.  The simple “hello” deserves better than this.

What with the deterioration of the use of proper pronunciation, profanities slipping in to everyday diction, and the fact that people actually say “OMG” aloud, I could go on and on with my grievances about the direction our language it headed in.  That seems superfluous, though, and I think that I’ve already gotten my point across.  It’s not my intention to sound old-fashioned by thinking that the tools of written and verbal communication are rules to be respected, nor to come across as though I’m not taking a matter seriously by replying with casual response.  The truth of the matter is that we live in an age where fewer and fewer people are wearing suits to work and when people can speak face to face while being miles apart.  The times, they are a-changin’.  However, change is a gradual and doesn’t happen overnight.  We’re constantly stuck in the balance between the way things were and the way they used to be.  I think that the best that we can do is to roll with the punches.  When it comes to language, for the sakes of both clarity and courtesy, this means both learning new habits and incorporating a more vintage practices.  Yes, it’s a little extra effort, but compared to having a full-on generational language barrier, it’s no problem, right?

Banana Crepes with Whipped Nutella

DSCN2103OK, be honest.  How much of your weekend did you spend watching new episodes of Arrested Development?  An hour?  Two hours?  More time than you’d like to admit?  It’s alright.  Me, too.

Throughout the Bluth binge, it was not addressed whether the good ol’ frozen banana stand was still in business.  I hope it was, because, really, there’s always money in the banana stand.

What if weren’t open anymore, though?  Do you think that the good people of Newport Beach would ever get tired of munching on chocolate-covered bananas and meeting at the big yellow joint?  I would hope not, but it’s a possibility.  In light of this potential and hypothetical eventuality, I’d like to suggest an alternative: chocolate and banana crepes.

I’m all about crepes just about all the time, and today is no exception.  The banana crepes themselves are easy enough to make: add a banana to the crepe batter (along with a splash of bourbon, if you’re feelin’ wild) and ta da!  Banana crepes!  A little bit of chocolate goes a long way when it comes to breakfast, so we’ll lighten things up a bit on the chocolate front.  Behold: whipped Nutella.  Yes, please.  First, we’ll whip up some cream cheese with a bit of sugar added.  Then we’ll mix in the Nutella.  It’ll be great.  To finish things off, I suggest adding nuts, because what’s a Bluth banana without nuts?  C’mon!  It’s gonna be great!

Banana Crepes with Whipped Nutella

banana crepes adapted from Smitten Kitchen

makes about a dozen crepes

Banana Crepes Ingredients

4 Tbs. unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled

1 large ripe banana

1 cup milk

3/4 cup all-purpose flour

4 large eggs

1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

2 tsp. bourbon (optional)

1/4 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. cinnamon

1/4 tsp. nutmeg

2 Tbs. light brown sugar

Whipped Nutella

8 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature

1-13 oz. jar Nutella

2 Tbs. granulated sugar

Toppings (optional)

chopped nuts

fresh berries (strawberries are most excellent)

shaved coconut

whipped cream

caramel syrup

To Make the Crepe Batter:

In a blender, combine the banana, eggs, and milk.  Blend until smooth.  Add the brown sugar, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, and bourbon (if using), then blend.  Add the melted butter and 1/4 cup of the flour, and blend until smooth.  Continue adding the flour 1/4 cup at a time, blending between additions, until all of the flour has been incorporated.  Cover the crepe batter, and allow it to sit in the refrigerator for at least an hour and up to overnight before using.

To Cook the Crepes:

Grease a medium saucepan over medium heat with either a tablespoon of butter or a light spray of canola oil.  Pour about 1/4 cup of crepe batter into the pan, then swirl the pan around to evenly spread the batter over the pan.  Allow the crepe to cook for about a minutes, until the surface of the crepe appears dry.  Using a narrow spatula, loosen the edge of the crepe, then flip it over.  Allow the crepe to cook for about 30 more seconds before removing it from the pan.  Repeat this process until all of the crepe batter has been used up.

To Make the Whipped Nutella:

In a medium mixing bowl, combine the cream cheese and granulated sugar.  Using an electric mixer, whip the cream cheese until light and fluffy (about 3-4 minutes).  Gradually, about 1/4 cup at a time, add in the Nutella, continuing to whip until well-incorporated.  Continue to add the Nutella until the entire jar has been incorporated.  Cover and chill until ready to use.

Note: I suggest setting the whipped Nutella out about 30 minutes before you intend to use it.  It firms up a lot in the refrigerator and can be difficult to spread on the crepes.

To Assemble the Crepes:

On one side of a crepe, spread 2 Tbs-1/4 cup of the whipped Nutella.  Sprinkle about 2 Tbs. of chopped nuts and any additional toppings you may desire on top of the whipped Nutella.  Roll the crepe up and serve.  Enjoy!

Lavender Lemonade

DSCN2076

With the weather getting warmer and the days getting longer, it’s becoming all too tempting to lounge about on the porch all weekend with a good book in one hand and a cold drink in the other.  In my current version of this scenario, that drink is a condensation-soaked glass of lemonade.

Lemonade is, perhaps, the most summery of all drinks and is both beloved by and appropriate for all ages.  It’s sweet and a little bit sour and super easy to make.  Seriously, when life hands you lemons, make lemonade.

Lemonade by itself is wonderful.  I grew up on the trusty ol’ Country Time Lemonade mix made in big pitchers and with a higher-than-advised mix-to-water ratio, as I prefer my lemonade a bit on the sweeter side.  This time, though, I think an additional flavor addition is in order: lavender, anyone?

Spokane is known as the Lilac City, and, at present, the purple clusters of petite flowers are in bloom all over the place.  That said, I advise you book it up to Manito Park ASAP to take in the lilac garden up there; it’s gorgeous.  Purple flowers are my inspiration for this lemonade.  However, I don’t know that utilizing lilacs in a lemonade is altogether advisable (I’ll try it out another time), but I do love lavender, so lavender will be the purple flower of choice for this iteration.  By tossing a tablespoon of lavender buds in with the simple syrup, the lemonade gets an gentle kiss of floral flavor and tones down the sourness of the lemons.  Lavender and lemons: a match made in heaven (and some gardens).

Lavender Lemonade

Adapted from Simply Recipes

Makes 1.5 Quarts

Ingredients:

1 cup fresh-squeezed lemon juice (from 3-4 large lemons)

1 cup granulated sugar

1 Tbs. lavender buds

4-5 cups water

To Make the Lemonade:

In a small saucepan over high heat, combine the sugar, lavender buds, and one cup of water.  Gently stir, and allow the sugar to completely dissolve.  Continue heating the mixture until all of the sugar has dissolved and the lavender buds have turned a deep purple color.  Remove the saucepan from the heat, and pour the mixture through a fine mesh strainer and into the pitcher.

Add the freshly squeezed lemon juice to the sugar mixture, and stir to combine.  Add three cups of water and stir.  If needed, add more water to adjust to your taste.  Allow the lemonade to chill in the refrigerator, and serve over ice.  Enjoy!

Day Out: Schooner Exact Brewing Company

Image from Schooner Exact

When I was a kid, my family took a lot of road trips in our RV.  My dad worked in the construction industry, and many of his projects involved working on dams, so many of our trips involved driving along various rivers across the state.  More often than not, we’d pass by one of many signs featuring the silhouettes of Lewis and Clark pointing to God only knew what (Sasquatch?), indicating that a historical site could be found ahead.  My mom liked stopping at these sites.  I did not.  Being subjected to involuntary education during my precious summer months was not my idea of fun.  I remained vehemently opposed to history lessons for years to come.  Not until high school, when, on a whim, I signed up for AP US History, did I begin to take an interest in the happenings of the past.  To my genuine surprise, I loved that history class, and now, I’ll even go out of my way to learn about the places I am and their historical significance (thank you, Mr. Schneider!).  My 7 year-old self would be appalled.

Schooner Exact Brewing Company gives its patrons a hefty dose of Seattle history with every pint.  Founded by former teachers Matt and Heather McClung in 2007, the brewery’s name itself is an homage to the city’s founding: on November 13, 1851, the twenty-two passengers, all members of Seattle’s “five founding families”, aboard the schooner Exact made landfall in what is now West Seattle (read more about the landing here).  One of Seattle’s fastest growing breweries, Schooner Exact is currently located in Seattle’s SoDo district, and, within the past year, opened a restaurant in addition to the taproom.  During last week’s Seattle Beer Week, I stopped by for a bite, a pint, and some brief shelter from the rain.

Image from Schooner Exact

When I pulled up on a cloudy afternoon, the brewery’s daily operations were already well underway with brewers scurrying about and a truck out front full of Jack Daniel’s barrels waiting to be unloaded.  Taking a seat, I was pleasantly surprised to find that rather than having the restaurant area finitely separated from the brewhouse, the space was completely open: one could feasibly order a pint at the bar, then take a few steps back and be leaning up against one of numerous fermenters.  To the left of the bar stood a slightly different scene: rather than an endless hall of metallic cylinders, the wall was lined with barrels upon barrels of aging beers.  As far as immersing visitors in a full-on beer experience, Schooner Exact takes the cake.

DSCN2052I took a seat near the bar, affording myself an unimpeded view of the brewhouse, the listings behind the bar, and that most intriguing stock of barrels aligning the wall opposite.  Not wanting to miss out on one of Schooner Exact’s more unique offerings, I ordered up a pint of the day’s on-tap seasonal, a double IPA by the name of Evergreen.  Deep golden with a frothy white head, Evergreen greeted me with a comforting aroma of citrus with a bit of pine, the beautiful result of dry-hopping with Simcoe hops.  Along with my trusty pint of IPA, I enjoyed a pulled pork sandwich which left me wondering why I’ve never endeavored to be a more adept grill master.  The sandwich was to die for.  The pulled pork was seasoned with cumin and chili, then given a refreshing contrast by way of cilantro-cabbage coleslaw and a hit of lime aioli.  Though I’d had no doubts about it before, my lunch of one heck of a mouth-watering sandwich and a crisp and slaking IPA reassured me that my drive across the state had been well worth it.

Back to those promising and thought-provoking barrels, it turns out that barrel-aged brews is somewhat of a specialty of Schooner Exacts.  With the exception of their Barrel-Aged Imperial Porter (yes, I left with a bottle of it), all of the brewery’s barrel-aged beers are currently available only on tap.  I’ll be the first to declare that I think bourbon barrel-aged beers are the bomb(.com), but I’m more than a little curious to someday try some of Schooner Exact’s more adventurous barreled creations, such as their Kriek, aged for “over a year in [Washington] red wine barrels using a golden wheat base with Montmorency sour cherries”.  Wine and beer combinations could very well be the next big thing in brewing (check out Dogfish Head’s Noble Rot or Sixty-One if you’re curious), and I think that Schooner Exact is right on with their craftsmanship of what is sure to be a beer jam-packed with flavor and with a great story to tell.

Speaking of stories, Schooner Exact is chocked full of ’em, from the barrels it uses for aging to the names of its beers to the owners themselves.  As I mentioned, both Heather and Matt McClung are both former teachers.  A few years ago, they both gave up teaching to devote their full attentions to their brewery: Matt is the head brewer, and Heather keeps track of the books (and serves as president of the Washington Brewers Guild).  Schooner Exact began as a nano-brewery (defined as having a capacity of “three barrels or less” by Jeff Alworth at Beervana, though the Brewers Association doesn’t presently have an official definition) just over six years ago, but they now have six 30-barrel fermenters residing in their brewhouse and a capacity of over 3,000 barrels per year.  Of those beers, their flagship brew is 3-Grid IPA, named in reference to the bizarre and befuddling layout of downtown Seattle’s street system.  For those who prefer something a bit less hoppy, there’s King Street Brown, named, I can only assume, for King Street Station in Pioneer Square.  Paying homage to Seattle’s promiscuous past, there’s Seamstress Union Raspberry Wheat Ale, which I was fortunate enough to try filtered with fresh raspberries, rhubarb, and Hallertau hops at the Pine Box’s Randall event later that afternoon.  If you’re unfamiliar with the link between promiscuity and sewing, please, allow me to fill you in: in Seattle’s earlier years, it was somewhat expected that one may run into a lady of the evening here or there.  While prostitution was all well and good as a way to make a living, loitering about downtown by one’s lonesome was rather frowned upon.  The city of Seattle mandated that everyone carry proof of employment or union affiliation on his or her person, so the working girls of the Emerald City formed the Seamstress Union and took care of the area men’s tailoring and, uh hmm, other things that they may have needed taken care of….  Additionally, if you happen to be into the notion of promiscuously-inclined brews, I also recommend Pike Brewing Company’s Naughty Nellie, “named for Nellie Curtis, madam of the LaSalle Hotel (read: brothel), where the Pike was founded.”  Who knew that Seattle had such a colorful past?

I never thought I’d be all that interested in history.  Then again, I never thought I’d be a beer drinker, much less an all-out beer geek.  It’s fascinating to see who we grow up to be, find out what we end up doing, and discover what our passions may be.  I think it’s amazing that the McClungs both up and left the safety of their day jobs to pursue their mutual love of great beer and fantastic that they’ve experienced such tremendous success with their company.  I had a great time visiting Schooner Exact’s brewery and am a huge fan of both their beers and their clever infusions of Seattle history into their products.  I haven’t the foggiest idea where I’ll find myself in the years to come or what I’ll end up doing, and I have to think that, based on previous experience, it’s unlikely that I’ll be able to guess with any accuracy where or what that may be.  Nonetheless, I’m eager to find out.  Perhaps I’ll speculate it over a pint.