Ohio University's Latitude 39

Tucked into the southeast corner of Ohio, Athens is known for several things: Ohio University, the annual Pawpaw Festival, The Ridges asylum to name a few. What it's not known for is its "fine dining"establishments. Tonight I met up with Vaughn and Jason to sample the cuisine of Latitude 39, an extension of the OU Dining Services. Yeah, yeah. I know what you're thinking. OU Dining Services and fine dining don't (and shouldn't) mix. The restaurant was established in the new student union, mostly as a place for faculty, staff, and parents to eat. When it first opened there was a $50 steak featured on the menu. Jason worked in the kitchen for a while and gave it the loving nickname of "SpLatitude".

Tonight the restaurant was supposed to feature specials made with local ingredients for earth day, which is the reason we went. However, the server never made mention of this and a menu listed a few local farms that supplied produce to the restaurant.

I ordered the Lentil Cakes served with arugula, radishes, edemame, yellow curry vinaigrette, and
mango chutney. I chose to start with a house salad. The greens were fresh and crisp, no iceberg in sight, dressed with a simple balsamic vinaigrette and topped off with grape tomatoes, sliced red onion, and flavorless fried chunks of bread that turned to an oily mush in my mouth.

The entree was served and presented with a little mountain of arugula atop the three lentil cakes. The lentil cakes were wonderfully flavored, a good Indian dal in cake form, however the texture was, well...there wasn't much texture to speak of. Something reminiscent of a finely ground pâté. I would have enjoyed some of the texture of whole lentils for a little variety. I could have skipped the salad, there was a heap of arugula, radishes and red onions. When the flavors of the toppings - for lack of a better word - mingled with the yellow curry vinaigrette and mango chutney, my mouth was overwhelmed with flavor, but not in a good way. The strong flavors and acidic sauces did a number on my taste buds - my tongue is still tingling.

It was a mixed experience. I don't think I will be going back anytime soon, especially with my student budget. At least I can say that I gave it a try.


It's the little things that matter...

In Alternative Agriculture (I'll call it Alt Ag for short), we are required to give a 20 minute presentation on a topic of our choice. I've chosen to present and demonstrate information about preserving the food that comes out of your garden. I think this is the only time I've been excited about giving a presentation of any kind.

Trese asked us to post our topics on the discussion board of the class's Blackboard site. Many of the topics are broad: solar power, wind power, hemp, fertilizer, etc. These are the cop out topics since there is so much information available and many ways they can present it. Then there are a few students who have specific topics with some thought and effort put into it: agricultural extension in West Africa (Ghana), micro financing in developing countries, and the use of public land for agriculture.

I feel a little silly with my topic, but this is useful knowledge that I want to pass along. If people want to live more sustainably, they need to start small. We're covering a great step toward sustainability in this class, which is growing a small organic garden. But what do you do with the excess crops that you can't eat right away? Preserve them of course!

Last summer, Vaughn worked for Rural Action and often worked at the Chester Hill Produce Auction. Local farmers bring their produce to auction off and anyone can bid on the lots. The auction is a great way to buy farm fresh produce and help the local farmers (farmers are the backbone of our society). Our kitchen was overflowing with peaches, peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes, and so much more. Since we could only eat so much of the plethora of goodies, I taught myself how to can and pickle the leftover produce.

Why buy canned, frozen, and dried food when you can make your own with produce straight from your garden?


China King and the Crayfish

Be my craw daddy...

Today I met some friends at China King for lunch. The buffet menu is forever changing and always mislabeled. In the place I would normally find tofu, there was an interesting culinary surprise. Crayfish. The only two places I have seen crayfish (or "craw daddies" as I call them) were in the gorge next to my childhood home and in Kroger's "fresh" seafood case here in Athens.

A pile of bright red bodies with antennae and claws intertwined lay in a half pan under the sweltering heat lamp. I giggled and picked one out of the stack. I couldn't help myself. This little guy had one front leg missing and I wondered if he had it before he went into the pot.

I ate my noodles, crap rangoon, and everything else until it came to him. I picked him up and his little claw dangled. One of my friends instructed that I just break off the head and suck out the inside of the body then use the head as a puppet. I tried to break off the head but failed and cracked open the body. The green tomalley (the innards) oozed out.

I couldn't bring myself to crack open its tail for that little bit of meat. I just couldn't. Besides, I don't trust any seafood this far from a substantial body of water.

I think the only time I will eat crayfish is if/when I go to New Orleans. That way I can be sure they are fresh and done right.


Easter Sunday Brunch

Happy Easter!

Today our friends gathered to indulge in a tasty brunch at our apartment and reminisce about our childhood Easter festivities. Jen and Luke made potatoes, banana nut bread, and brought some berries. Clay brought McHappy's doughnuts. Teddy and Dave brought Entenmenn's treats. Vaughn made Swedish meatballs with gravy with local lamb and pork. I made baked French toast (a recipe from the Joy of Cooking). It all turned out deliciously. I meant to snap a few photos of the feast but our friends were too fast with their forks.


A thought from last night:

I made a tasty dinner for Vaughn and myself last night. The main ingredients were simple: box of mezze penne, fresh broccoli, Morningstar Farm frozen chik'n strips, and a bechamel sauce.

Hold up...

Bechamel? Simple?

Well sure! Don't be daunted by this staple of French cuisine! This creamy multitasker can be used in many dishes and is often used as a base for other flavorful sauces.

What is a bechamel anyway?

A bechamel is a white cream sauce of French origin and is considered one of the mother sauces of French cuisine. A roux is made with butter and flour and scalded milk is whisked in. The roux acts as a thickener. Tiny particles of flour are individually encapsulated by fat (in this case, butter), which aids in the prevention of lumps by creating a barrier between the particles. When the milk is added, the starch in the flour swells and gelatinizes, thus the thickening.

Roux? Isn't that difficult to make?

A "blond" roux isn't as hard as the "brick" or "chocolate" roux used in gumbo. The flour and butter mixture is cooked for a very short amount of time. The cooking renders a very light brown color (hence blond) and cooks off the unpleasant raw flour taste. As long as you whisk constantly your roux should come out beautifully.

Okay, how do you make a bechamel?

2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons white all-purpose flour
1 cup whole milk, scalded
salt and pepper to taste
pinch of nutmeg (optional)


Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed sauce pan over medium heat. Sprinkle flour over the butter and whisk constantly. Cook the paste for about 2 minutes, but don't let it brown. Add the milk in a slow, steady stream, and continue to stir. Bring to a boil. Add the remaining ingredients, lower the heat and cook, stirring for about 2 minutes longer. Serve immediately.

Note on serving: It is best to prepare a bechamel just before serving to prevent a skin from forming. If storing for later use, cover the top of the sauce with waxed paper and stash it in the refrigerator. Reheat in a saucepan over medium heat.

Note on milk: I use whole milk because that's what we have on hand. Cream and 2% are fine. Skim is sorta lacking in substance and I don't recommended it for cooking. Also, I don't scald the milk. I recommend letting it come to room temperature. The practice of scalding the milk was established to kill off bacteria in times before milk was pasteurized.

Note on lactose intolerance: Dairy isn't my friend. However, studies have shown that heating dairy breaks down the lactose sugars, making them easier to digest. Bechamels and other cooked dairy products do not bother me, so I encourage you to give them a shot.

Note on nutmeg: See the little nuts in the header at the top of the page? That's whole nutmeg. Whole nutmeg is an essential pantry item and beats the pants off of the pre-ground alternative. Use a microplane or fine rasp side of a box grater to shave off what you need. Store the whole nutmeg in a ziplock bag or small glass spice jar. I love the sweet flavor of nutmeg in creamy concoctions, but if you don't like the taste you can definitely skip it.


Mornay: (cheese sauce): Add a cup of finely shredded cheese to the sauce in small handfuls. Stir in each addition before adding more. A popular cheese for this sauce is Gruyère.

Soubise (onion sauce): Sweat onions in butter in a heavy-bottomed pan over low heat. Set aside. Prepare bechamel sauce. Add onions when salt and pepper are added. Often times this sauce is sent through a chinoise to produce a smooth texture.


Pasta, pizza, eggs, meat, potatoes, asparagus, countless other veggies, you name it! A bechamel is perfect for uniting ingredients, like with the dish I made last night. Pasta, broccoli, and chik'n are good tossed together, but stirring in a bechamel to the mix marries the flavors.

Have some fun with this sauce. Add it to your next dish. Try variations.


The Garden

Ah, spring quarter of my final year in college. I finally get the chance to take Dr. Art Trese's Alternative Agriculture class. In the class we take the hands on approach to learning about sustainable agriculture. We are required to grow an organic vegetable garden that meets certain requirements, such as one staple crop (sweet corn, potatoes, etc), one medicinal plant, two herbs, one plant for oil (soy, sunflower, etc), one plant for fiber (flax, cotton, kenaf), and so on.

My partner Roger and I have planted broccoli and cauliflower (two of each). It's a little too early to start much more than that. There will probably be a frost tonight and tomorrow, but after that we will be in the clear (at least we hope). It's too bad that we won't be here during the summer to harvest delicious veggies. But I think I will bequeath the plot to my sister Kate and her boyfriend Jeff (who is in another section of the class).

I dream of someday having 10 acres of land to live off of. Big vegetable gardens, fruit trees, chickens for eggs and meat, goats for dairy and meat, and rows of hops of several varieties. Maybe we'll even go off the grid to some degree with solar panels and geothermal heating. Still very much a dream, but you never know what will happen in 10 years or so.


Broccoli (I think). Broccoli and Cauliflower plants look very similar.

Our Plot

The garden is surrounded by a mass of bamboo to keep out animals, wind, and keep drunk college kids from finding it.

Inside is a circle of garden plots. Inspired by Native American medicine wheel gardens I think.
The green plot on the right is summer wheat that Art planted.

Simple. Delicious. Green Beans

Masala Barbatti Sabji
Spiced Green Beans

Forget the green beans almondine! This recipe is guaranteed perk up those taste buds! Green beans are not in season yet, but Kroger had an influx of the tasty pods, so we just had to spice them up!

Vaughn and I love Indian food and make it often. Our favorite Indian cookbook is Lord Krishna's Cuisine: The Art of Indian Vegetarian Cooking by Yamuna Devi. It is a wonderful encyclopedic cookbook with recipes from all over India, detailed directions, and cultural and culinary insight into each recipe. This recipe for spiced green beans is very simple and quick but doesn't lack flavor.

Prep Time (after assembling ingredients): 10 minutes
Cooking Time: 15 minutes
Serves: 4 or 5

4 tablespoons ghee or a mixture of light oil and unsalted butter
2 teaspoons black mustard seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/4-1/2 teaspoon crushed dried chilies
1 pound greens, trimmed and cut into 1/4 inch pieces
1/2 cup water
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar

1. Heat the ghee or oil butter mixture in a large heavy-bottomed frying pan over moderate heat. When it is hot but not smoking, add the mustard seeds, cumin seeds and chilies and fry until the cumin seeds darken and the mustard seeds pop and turn gray. Add the beans and stir fry for 2-3 minutes. Pour in the water, cover tightly and cook for 10-12 minutes or until the beans are tender-crisp.
2. Uncover, raise the heat and add the remaining ingredients. Raise the heat and boil until the water evaporates and the beans sizzle in the seasoned ghee or oil

My Tips:
  • I usually cook the beans uncovered and for less time.
  • Use ghee if you can find it. Most large grocery stores carry it in the international food aisle.
  • Trimmed whole beans are fine too, and I think they make for better presentation.
  • If you don't have fresh beans, frozen cut beans (not French cut!) can easily be substituted. Just toss them in when directed, pour in the water, and clamp down the lid without stir frying. The frozen ones will get mushy fast (since frozen veggies are precooked) so watch them carefully and uncover when they are just thawed.
  • If the pods are wrinkly, they're overcooked!

I hope you enjoy this recipe. I'm sure you'll find that it's a keeper!




Vaughn and I went to the Farmacy today to pick up some spices. While perusing the aisles I spotted my favorite tea...Genmaicha! I was super excited to find it because there is no place else in this town that sells it.

I'm usually not much of a tea person. I prefer a black cup of coffee in the morning. But, my mom turned me on to this type of tea after her stay in Japan.

Genmaicha is a Japanese brown rice tea. The tea is a combination of toasted brown rice (genmai) and green tea (cha). The type of green tea used is usually Bancha, but sometimes Sencha which is a higher quality roasted tea. Genmaicha has a delightful roasty flavor and aroma. Some of the grains of rice pop when toasted, giving it the nickname "popcorn tea". I love to watch the twisted tea leaves unfurl in my little press.