Thursday, August 26, 2010

Ariana: Cuisine from Afghanistan -- Allston, MA

I have just realized that it has been a few months since I have written a recipe post.  There is a reason for this:  all summer we have been living in a temporary apartment and half my kitchen pots, pans, and dishes are in storage.  Also?  It's been brutally hot.  Also?  I'm a little lazy.  However, in a few weeks I will be moved into my new apartment and, then, hopefully, I will have some new Fall recipes to test pilot.

But it is through the seemingly endless process of moving that I found Ariana, a semi-famous Afghani restaurant in Allston.  I had met Eric up at the realtor's office to pick up some paperwork, and we were both very hungry.  We wanted Chinese.  We got on the 86 bus and rode to Brighton Center.  No good Chinese in sight.  We then got on another bus with the intention of going to Super 88, but then we were both distracted when that bus suddenly turned on to a street filled with Indian and Afghani restaurants.  We roamed around and then picked Ariana because it had reasonable prices and neither of us had tried Afghani food before.

The restaurant was wonderfully decorated: blue glasses set against white table cloths and plates, a  cheerful yellow on the walls, and carpeting and appointments in jewel tones.  It was also surprisingly quiet.  We decided to get the most value and range for our money by eating dinner European style: many small courses, each offering a different taste to the diner.  The first course was an appetizer: bowlani, which is somewhere between a Chinese fried scallion pancake and an Indian samosa.  They came in two flavors: fried scallion and mashed potato, and they were served with thick Greek yogurt that took the edge off the spicy potato filling.

The second course was kourma challow, a mellower version of Indian korma made with green beans, carrots, and turnips.  It went wonderfully with the rice, challow, which had been boiled, seasoned, and then baked.  

My favorite dish was the sheerehk, which doesn't sound like a desert but it is: vanilla ice cream dusted with pistachios and cardamom. The entire tab came to about thirty dollars: a small price to pay for such a luxurious-feeling meal.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Flatbread Company at Sacco's Bowl Haven -- Somerville, MA

The best thing about The Flatbread Company at Sacco's Bowl Haven is the food.  The pizza has a wonderfully crispy crust and the slightest hint of basil in the cheese and sauce.  The root beer is by Maine Root, and thus is an old fashioned boiled-roots recipe that produces a drink with a lovely bite.  The beer selection is also quite good, I selected a Blueberry Ale that had a wonderful hint of blueberry to it.  The waitstaff was friendly and genuinely wanted to make sure we had a good time.

The worst thing about The Flatbread Company at Sacco's Bowl Haven is the wait for a bowling lane on a Saturday night.  Full disclosure: Eric and I did not make a reservation, and we definitely should have and that was our fault.  However, when we first came in we asked how long the wait might be.  The vaguely annoyed hostess told us it would be about an hour, and so we went off to the bar to wait.   I have to admit, The Flatbread Company is not really my kind of place:  I have had some crappy jobs (farmstand employee, tour guide) in a few well heeled rural towns, so Flatbread's super-organic-expensive crunchy granola ambiance brings back a lot of frustrating memories for me.  Eric observed that we were the only people there not wearing ironic flannel, and he was right, there were few non-hipsters in attendance.  I do have to say that the piped in music was quite good, I'm a fan of early Janet Jackson and Marvin Gaye, so it was nice to have some music I liked playing while we waited. And waited. And waited.  I took a nap on Eric's shoulder.  I woke up.  We were still waiting. The people who were ahead of us on the list for a lane left.  I went outside because I felt claustrophobic.  I came back in when I felt better.  We were still waiting. Our one hour wait turned into two hours before we were awarded with a lane.  

Again, these things happen, but the way it was handled left something to be desired: the hostess acted as though she thought we were a declasse nuisance,  we were repeatedly left in the dark as to how long the wait would be, and we couldn't leave the bowling alley to do something else while we waited, so the only entertainment available was drinking their beer (a sneaky trick on their part) and nursing our resentments and various anxiety disorders.  

Eric mentioned to me that they should have a system similar to that at Panera Bread, where the customer on the waiting list is given a beeper and at least allowed to go outside to explore Davis Square.  Failing that, he thought they could text the customers when their lanes were ready.  Instead, it felt like we were trapped in the bowling alley.  The food was good, but the attitude of the hostess and the lack of a system to manage what was obviously a chronic problem means that we will try Jillian's and Lucky Strike or Lanes and Games the next time we go bowling.

Update 8/20/10:  Credit where credit is due: I just got a really nice email from the manager of the Flatbread Company at Sacco's.  He apologized for our experience and offered me a gift card.  I couldn't take the gift card (journalistic ethics still apply to bloggers), but the email itself was very classy.  

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Vegetarian Book Reviews: Help! My Child Stopped Eating Meat!

I wish I had had a copy of Help! My Child Stopped Eating Meat! to give to my parents when I decided to become a vegetarian at the age of 15.  That was in 1997, and while vegetarianism was neither a novel idea nor completely unheard of in my community, it was still an era in which is was relatively hard to find restaurants that served any vegetarian dishes, my high school cafeteria was completely unequipped to serve a vegetarian, and my dietary choices were regarded by all with a sense of mystification and a touch of hostility.

My parents were nonplussed by my decision, but pretty supportive, and my cooking skills did improve considerably after I made this decision.  However, in terms of getting food to eat in the outside world, I think I spent the first three years I was a vegetarian subsisting on salad and muffins.  As frustrating as vegetarianism can be for me now, as some people still insist on regarding vegetarian eating habits as a personal affront, times have changed considerably.  Today, every grocery store offers vegetarian analogues and most restaurants offer at least one or two non-salad vegetarian dishes.  Books like Fast Food Nation are building sympathy for vegetarianism in places where it might never have existed before.  Clearly, it is a different world from the one in which I attended high school.  Thank God.

Help!... is definitely written for a white, middle-class, audience.  So if you come from a different culture you might or might not be helped by the advice in this book.  I am also not a parent, and thus biased towards the wants and needs of vegetarian teens, and therefore take my opinion with a grain of salt.  However, that said, what is worthwhile about this book is that this is not a book about giving in to your child's every whim, no matter your own feelings.  Instead it is an attempt by the author, Carol J. Adams -- author of the early-Nineties feminist classic The Sexual Politics of Meat -- to understand both sides of the issue and see that teens choosing to embrace vegetarianism are really just trying to engage their world and the issues of their times.  They may or may not stay with vegetarianism, but respecting their choices isn't "indulgent", it's treating them like human beings worthy of notice.

My only major complaint is with the recipe section, which displays a large number of European-style "comfort food" choices that aren't particularly practical or inviting to either decades-old vegetarians like myself or non-vegetarians.  I wish they had thought to include a section on vegetarian flavor theory (which is much different from meat-oriented flavor theory), more pasta dishes, and a little more background on world vegetarianism and how it's reflected in different cultures' styles of cooking.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Frozen Fruit Smoothies

I went to a baking class last weekend, and there will be a post on that, but I'm behind on a lot of chores since a pothole ate the highway outside my house this week and I have a present to finish knitting and so: tonight we're talking smoothies.

I go through bouts of smoothie making fairly regularly, and this is one of my favorite standby smoothie recipes:

1 cup yogurt
1 cup milk and/or 1 cup orange juice
2 cups fruit of your choice
handful of ice

You do not need the ice if the fruit is frozen.  However, be careful with different types of frozen fruit as some of the tougher ones, such as mango, can do a number on your blender.  In fact, I must admit, I usually have a terrible time with mangoes -- a little overripe and they make your smoothie stringy, a little under done and they add nothing to a drink except bulk.   However, I love the flavor of mangoes and if anyone has any tips for how to blend them properly into a smoothie give me a shout out. Fruits I have particular luck with are: fresh or frozen strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, and peaches.  Bananas are good as well, although, like mangoes, if they're even a little too under ripe you cannot taste them.