Thursday, July 23, 2015

CRESCENT CAFE, A UNIQUE FOOD TRUCK

When I was in California a few weeks ago, my son-in-law talked with me about a possible business venture he wanted to launch—a food truck. However, he cited obstacles like food and vendor licenses, health codes to maintain, and he couldn't decide on a specialty he wanted to offer beyond barbecue, a la Cajun style, which he cooked for us while we were in Palmdale.

In talking with him, I realized that I had little knowledge of the food truck industry, but after a bit of research, I was surprised to find that food trucks serve 2.5 billion people in the U.S. every day. They serve food on college campuses, at farmer's markets, military bases, sports events, carnivals, and even at construction sites—any place where customers want a quick, tasty meal for a reasonable price.

The food truck's present popularity stems from an economic crisis in which experienced chefs lost their jobs and found that preparing and selling specialties from a small truck could be done with low overhead. The demand for these food wagons burgeoned, and today they can be found on the streets of large cities like New York City and Los Angeles, and in small towns throughout the country. Many of them offer gourmet dishes where folks can taste exotic food, reasonably priced, during a rushed lunch hour.

Here on The Mountain at Sewanee, Tennessee, the Crescent Cafe food truck has gained popularity among vegans and food enthusiasts who just want to taste appetizing, healthy fare. The Crescent sells food from a small window of a refurbished, flower-and-bird painted, 1960's RV from Thursday - Sunday every week from 11 a.m. - 3 p.m. and offers a menu of smoothies, wraps, salads, vegan meals, and other specialties. Joan Thomas, who is proprietor of Mooney's Emporium, owns this food truck. Mooney's is a shop in front of the Crescent that stocks organic products, fresh local produce, gardening and knitting supplies, antiques, and art. The chef for the Crescent Cafe, Carole Manganaro, bases her menus on food that is available and in season.

We ate lunch there today and enjoyed a variation of Manganaro's Coconut Carrot Ginger Soup, described as "a sweet and mildly spicy blend of pureed California carrots, hand-peeled ginger with a touch of coconut milk." Curry and other Eastern seasonings had been added to the mix. Add a spinach tortilla wrap filled with Japanese-Inspired Tempeh Salad, and I couldn't eat it all, but I did drink the lagniappe of Buddha Berry Bliss made of organic strawberries, organic bananas, almond milk, organic dates, protein powder, and organic lemon.

Chef Manganaro

Chef Manganaro, a native of Wisconsin who says she has been cooking all of her life, has a background in Wildlife Conservation and Rehabilitation, and has lived in Marin, California, Colorado Springs, Colorado, and Belize where she was Clinic Manager for a wildlife bird rehab center before moving to Monteagle six years ago. She was a chef at St. Mary's Conference Center for four years and just celebrated her first year at the Crescent Cafe. "My philosophy is that we can go around the world with food," she says. "We don't have to stick to one genre to have good cuisine." After tasting her fare, we agree that she has eclectic taste in food and plan to return soon for one of her exotic smoothies—maybe the Cocoa Loco made with cocoa, organic peanut butter, organic banana, organic dates and almond milk!  

Hikers of the Mt. Goat Trail enjoy the varied menu at the Crescent, and one reviewer especially praises the juice named after Jane Goodall, the "Goodall," which contains a "sweet and bold blend of kale/apple/parsley/ginger/lemon." Another juice item is the "Beet-rix Potter," a blend of apple/beet/carrot/celery/lemon/mint.

Hikers also enjoy the special misting station Joan has installed at Mooney's—a place for them to cool off after making the round trip trek from Mooney's to the trailhead at Sewanee or the shorter distance between Mooney's and St. Andrews Episcopal School. Following the misting, hikers can enjoy a juice or meal at the Crescent Cafe.

Besides being a colorful landmark, the Crescent Cafe is a food truck that should inspire any chef to join in the current movement to sell good food via truck, mobile or otherwise. Patrons can eat at outdoor picnic tables, or in case of rain, on the screened back porch of Mooney's, which is where we settled because of the inclement weather. Manganaro also prepares "take-outs."

Note: The Crescent Cafe rated five stars on YELP. And I'd give it even one more!

Photographs by Victoria I. Sullivan

Monday, July 13, 2015

THE TAIL OF MUNCHKIN

Photo of dill plant chewed off at base by rabbit
Clipped off dill
What a joy it is to plant a herb garden and harvest the herbs to season fresh, home-cooked food! And what a bummer it is to find some of the herbs with their necks broken or the plants neatly clipped off at the base. And the culprit? A Roving Rabbit!

Illustration of rabbit by Diane M. Moore
Satisfied Rabbit 
What a good idea my mother had when she cooked rabbit stew in a big black pot in an open fireplace! What better use could one find for these critters that rabbit lovers claim love basil, dill, cilantro, mint, oregano, parley, rosemary, sage, and thyme—all of the plants that we selected for our small herb garden. I'm just sorry that we didn't plant chives because those fat brown bunnies that steal into our garden at dawn and dusk dislike this particular herb. Rabbit lovers tout that melons, apples, peaches, strawberries, and plums are delicious desserts for Peter Cottontail, so I'm thankful we don't have any fruit trees in the yard.

I've read that Hollywood gives these critters the names of stars; e.g., for females: Madonna, Scarlett, and Drew; and for males: Ozzy, Leonardo, and Brad. And for those "rabbitsieurs" who adopt the bunnies and think they're adorable pets: Sweet Pea, Peony, Jasmine, and Buttercup suffice as cutesy names. Frankly, I prefer the more apt moniker of Munchkin.


Of course, these creatures have been immortalized in literature by writers of books for children like Thornton Burgess who placed Peter Cottontail roaming in green meadows and green forests (one of my mother's favorite bedtime readings to us) and Peter Rabbit whose father had an accident and was put in a pie by Mrs. McGregor in the Tale of Peter Rabbit. The latter bunny gained everlasting fame with 45 million readers, and his story was translated into 36 languages (do you think it had anything to do with the mention of rabbit pie?).

Maybe people love these little animals because the appearance of a rabbit in the yard or in a dream foretells a favorable turn of events. However, Jung says that if you dream about rabbits, you're experiencing a threat to certain freedoms—he didn't name the freedoms, but I'd venture to say that one of those freedoms is the freedom to plant a herb garden that will thrive without Munchkin nibbling away at those delicious seasonings for stews, soups, salads, and vegetables.

The only consolation I have about Munchkin destroying our dill is that rabbit lovers warn against the bunnies developing digestive upsets when they first taste their paradisiacal fruit. In that case, I hope the dill did its dirty work. I've read that hay is good for overweight rabbits, and I'm thinking of buying a bale of hay to spread on the perimeter of the yard and around the herb beds.

My good friend, Janet Faulk-Gonzales, believes that rabbits live on the moon, a story that exists in many cultures, including the Aztec one to which she is attracted, and I'm wondering if I could entice a crew from NASA to come to the Mountain and capture Munchkin to take on one of their moon voyages. ("The Rabbit in the Moon" is a story Janet wrote in a book she and I co-authored entitled Porch Posts).


Or, better still, I think that my mother's recipe for rabbit stew may be somewhere in my trove of cookbooks. Think of how delicious this stew would be with all those ingested seasonings bubbling in the pot!


Thursday, July 9, 2015

IN PRAISE OF PICKLES

In the "olden times," as my children used to say when I spoke of the 1930's and 40's (and they envisioned me crossing the prairie in a covered wagon), people in this country spent a lot of time canning, preserving, baking.... and pickling food. My Grandfather Paul, who had serious digestive problems, favored a supper of clabber and cornbread with a pickle alongside, the latter of which he said made his digestion better. He wasn't far off course because recent studies praise the pickle for its place in digestive health and as a food that fights cancer.

We're not talking about pickles made with vinegar or sugared up to please consumers' taste buds. We're speaking of fermented pickles that have been eaten for hundreds of years in Russia, Germany, Poland, and New York City—the ones that have good bacteria. It seems that when cucumbers are fermented, lactic acid is made, and this acid lowers fat in the bloodstream, lowers high blood pressure, and improves circulation. And, as my grandfather discovered, real pickles that are fermented in a gallon crock and later refrigerated encourage a healthy digestive system as they re-introduce Lactobacillus acidophilus in the system. Add spices like dill and you have flavonoids, which are healing. If your recipe includes mustard seed, this ingredient also aids digestion.

The first cucumbers appeared in Mesopotamia and were cultivated in India, and the Romans introduced them to European countries that began pickling them. Cleopatra is reputed to have enhanced her beauty by eating a number of pickles daily, and Christopher Columbus fed his crew pickles to ward off scurvy. During the 17th century, Dutch farmers in Brooklyn grew cucumbers and sold them to dealers who processed them in barrels and produced pickles. Pickle vendors, who sold the kosher variety for a penny a pickle during the 19th and 20th centuries, abounded on the East Side in New York City.

I'd been reading about kosher dill pickles and their contribution to digestive health when I remembered Grandfather Paul's nightly supper and decided to buy a jar of the fermented kind at Mooney's here in Sewanee, Tennessee. Digestive disorders are rife in my family, and I'm one who tries to stay out of pharmacies and doctor's offices, so the idea of eating something tasty to treat my ailing digestive system had real appeal for me. For several weeks now, I've been getting my dose of probiotics via the kosher dill pickle at two meals a day. And perhaps some would say that I'm playing with placebos, but my digestion has improved.

If you've read this far and like pickles, be sure that you get the real thing—the kind that are kept in the refrigerated section of a store and the labels on containers list only a few simple ingredients: cucumbers, water, salt, garlic, and spices. No vinegar!

Further claims made by the picklers in this country: fermented pickles heal skin problems, lessen asthma and auto-immune disorders, and the turmeric powder used in some fermenting recipes lowers the rates of Alzheimer's disease. A good kosher dill pickle will also cure the hiccups!


And just for fun, we retirees recommend the antics of Earl and Opal Pickles, a couple in their seventies, who are always "in a pickle" (a phrase Shakespeare coined) in the comic strip entitled "Pickles."