It has been very cold the past few days. I am not a fan of cold weather – never was, not even as a kid. I tolerated the cold, the snow, the bundling up, the grayness, and the icky weather. But I never liked it.
I enjoy some winter sports – snow shoeing, for example, but only when the weather is beautiful. Sunny, mild, with brilliant, pristine white snow.
I received an e-mail flyer a couple of weeks ago about a winter dinner – sustainable, local foods, special guest chef – sponsored by the Slow Food South Jersey Shore organization.
I was not quite sure what the group was all about. I guessed we were on their e-mail list via the CSA (community supported agricultural farm) where we get our local produce.
The menu looked intriguing. It would be an interesting way to spend a cold, dark, otherwise uneventful Saturday winter night.
The dinner was held in a resort town – deserted of tourists but not closed down - about 40 minutes from home. The restaurant, usually closed this time of year, opened specifically for this event. It will not open again until March.
We drove along the dark, deserted highway, blasting the car heater to keep warm. I was eager to walk around town before dinner, but it was too cold and windy. We bundled up and walked to the restaurant, hoping it was open early and we could get warm.
The place was open, comfortable and cozy. We took seats at the bar and attempted to warm up.
The place filled quickly. Over 100 people attended the dinner. We knew no one. But it was interesting talking to people at the bar, meeting a couple who owned a bed and breakfast down the street, and seated at a table with the director and employees of the county agricultural extension unit.
We discussed local wineries and sampled their products. We discussed women farmers, winter produce, and the state of our state.
The dinner menu was different - the emphasis is mine.
The five-course meal began with a chef’s choice of three mini-appetizers. We made the mistake of asking the waitress what one was, and she answered marrow.
We were not off to an auspicious start. The table was unanimous in feeling marrow was not something we would intentionally eat.
The second course was parsnip soup with quail egg, salted fish and pickled onion on the side. The soup was very good, but we were supposed to pour the tiny raw egg into the soup.
I am not a fan of raw eggs.
Usually I am not a picky eater. I enjoy trying different foods, but as I age my tolerance for food diversity is shrinking a bit.
The third course was a salad composed of winter root vegetables. The plate also included thinly sliced pieces of mutton salami and mustard pecan butter. We never figured out all the salad ingredients, prepared like a slaw, the veggies finely sliced.
Did I mention the bread? The bread, from a local bakery, was superb. The local butter was also excellent. Unfortunately there was one small piece of bread per person. We asked for more and eventually – towards the end of the meal – received a basket with another one small piece per person.
Slow food this evening had a double meaning. Slow food is an international movement. I believe it started in Italy. The description on the website describes the organization’s goal, “link(s) the pleasure of food with a commitment to community and the environment.” Slow Food emphasizes local ingredients, sustainability, and champions small farmers.
This particular evening the second meaning of slow food was slow – sluggish, unhurried, leisurely - service. The time between courses was drawn-out. We sat at the table partaking of the five courses for three hours. That may not be a long time for a dinner by some European standards, but it is interminable by American norms.
Back to the food. The fourth course was very good, although also slightly unfamiliar. The slow-roasted pork was recognizable and delicious. It graced the top of a creamed concoction of mustard greens, roasted garlic, farro, and mushrooms.
For those of you – like me – unfamiliar with farro, it is an ancient grain originally cultivated in the Middle East. Today it is a major crop in Ethiopia and Italy. It is also grown in the US. Or so I am told. I did not actually verify these facts…
The last course – dessert – was a beach plum ice cream sandwich with chocolate sauce. The sandwich part was raisin cookies made from spelt.
Another ancient wheat crop.
We asked for but never were served coffee, or more accurately, perhaps, did not wait long enough.
We left at 10:00 p.m. for the drive home.
The event was fun, entertaining, interesting, and a great way to spend a long winter evening.
But I have to admit neither hub nor I would order most of the menu items again.
One last I-can’t-believe-it occurrence.
On Sunday, the following morning, hub and I drove into Philadelphia to see a resort and retirement living expo. More about that in a future post. Afterwards hub wanted a deli meal. As we walked from our parking spot, which we were lucky enough to find on the street (no metered parking on Sundays), directly across the street from the deli was the restaurant owned by the guest chef of Saturday evening’s slow food dinner.
What were the odds!?
We quickly perused the menu posted outside the restaurant, and noted there were many items we would order. Most were not as exotic or unusual as Saturday night’s five courses.
My New York born and bred hub opted for a hot pastrami sandwich at the deli.
It was delicious.