Tuesday, April 23, 2013



Your Polymath has a Spring Cold.  Sore throat, low grade fatigue, vague achiness (which is probably more related to many hours of tennis than a virus, but still).  Ick.

Working at home alone is actually sort of awesome when you are sick.  You can stay in your PJs, sleep in, make yourself tea and toast, catch up on Love It or List It and see what those crazy Canadians are doing with their houses.  And you don't feel guilty at all, because unless you are really knocked out, you can still get some work done.

One of the dangers of working at home alone, especially when you are groggy and hopped up on cold meds, is that you may find that you talk to yourself.  Out loud.  You may occasionally narrate what you are doing around the house.  In song.  "I have to emmmmmmpty the dishwaaaaaaasher....but I don't waaaaaaaaannna....put dishes awaaaaaaaayyyyy...."


Also?  The tiniest things can get stuck in your head and then you go off on a game of Name That Segue.  "I should bring in the sidewalk salt off the porch.  I have to refill the salt cellar.  With Kosher salt, not sidewalk salt.  Sort of weird contextually that I use Kosher salt to season pork.  Morton's rhymes with Gorton's, which is funny, because fish sticks are from the ocean which is salty."

Yup.  Welcome to my brain.

So of course, today I am walking around and looking for lozenges, which makes me think "Riiiiii-co-laaaaaa"  and because I am me, that turns into "Freeeeee-gu-laaaaaa".

Do you know about Fregula?  Sometimes spelled Fregola.  You should.  Fregula is a small pasta, about the size and shape of Israeli couscous, but it is toasted.  Which brings a whole new flavor to the party.  It makes a fabulous pilaf, is far more interesting in soups than regular pastas, it is delicious hot, cold, room temp.  I love it.

Of course, it is a pasta, so with both Charming Suitor and I doing the low-carb thing, it has sort of been off the menu for a bit.  Off the Menu!  I wrote a book by that name, do you have your copy yet???  You can do that here.  Sorry.  Brain spasm.  Where was I?

Oh, fregula.

Anyhoo, the other night we we having some friends over for dinner, and needed a side dish.  I wanted to make something with fregula, but I also needed to make it as healthy as possible.  I thought about our Healthy Crunch grains and cauliflower salad, where raw cauliflower is made the same size and shape as the grains to extend the bulk of the salad and lower the total carb intake.  So that made me think about fregula and how to do the same thing.  The solution?  Lentils.

Lentils are about the same size and shape as the pasta, and the tiny legumes are both delicious and very healthy for you.  You can get them canned, precooked in the produce section, or dried.  Even the dried ones aren't hard to work with, since unlike other dried beans, you don't need to soak them overnight, you can just cook them in boiling seasoned water for about 20 minutes.  And they have a sort of nutty flavor, which is a great complement to the nuttiness of the toasted pasta.

By mixing the fregula in equal portions as the lentils, I made a side dish that was both delicious and very good for us, as well as not being carb overload.  You can change the herbs, nuts, or fruit as you like to best pair with your dinner.  We were having veal chops, and this was the combo that we liked:

Fregula Lentil Salad
serves 6-8

1 c fregula pasta, cooked according to package directions
2 c cooked lentils
1/3 c pine nuts, toasted (you can use any nut you like, pistachios and almonds are also great)
1/2 c fresh pomegranate arils (you can also substitute dried fruit like cherries or currants or chopped dried apricots, or fresh fruit like chopped apples or pears)
1/4 c extra virgin olive oil
1/2 c fresh mint leaves (you can use the same amount of chervil or basil, or 1/4 c tarragon or chives instead)
1/2 c fresh flat leaf parsley leaves
Salt and pepper to taste

Just dump everything in a bowl and mix well.  If it seems dry, add a little more oil, you want it moist, but not greasy.   I like this at room temp, so if you make it ahead of time, take it out of the fridge an hour or two before you serve.

Sorry for the crappy pic, have I mentioned that I have a cold?

Do any of you have some interesting new ingredients you are loving these days?

Yours in Good Taste,
The Snuffly Polymath

Sunday, April 14, 2013

A small little Sunday rant....

Dear Hipsters-

So you want to run a restaurant or coffee house.  Of course you do.  Why wouldn’t you?  A homey quirky place to gather and display your various friends artwork or let your girlfriend’s band do an occasional set.  A place for painfully artisanally crafted coffee drinks or cocktails, locavore-organic-farm-to-table nibbles in small portions at elevated prices.  Where your pastry chef buddy can explore his desire for non-sweet desserts containing vegetables and pork products.  We totally get it.

Here is what seems to be lost on you little darlings.

Somewhere between artfully mussing your ironic facial hair, slipping into your skinny jeans and old concert t-shirts from shows at which you might have been conceived, popping in the earbuds and hopping on your Schwinn to blithely pedal to work in the middle of the street, you seem to have forgotten that customer service?  Is not a random concept you can choose to ignore in a service business.

And I of course don’t mean that it is totally your fault that somewhere between someone ordering the everything bagel, not toasted, with white cheddar cream cheese and cucumber, some fabulous idea for a non-for-profit your parents might want to stake you in weaseled its way into your focus and resulted in you presenting a plain bagel, toasted, with artichoke cream cheese and no cucumber.  I’m just saying that when the errors are pointed out to you, you should not roll your eyes, huff, and then take eleven minutes to now provide an everything bagel, toasted to charred bitterness, with the plain cream cheese (melting right off the hot sandwich) and cucumber (wilting and weeping in the heat) and hand it over with a look that dares us to tell you it is wrong.  Again. 

On the one hand, little hipsters, we do appreciate you.  We agree that your barrista skills are legendary, and the coffee truly is far superior to that at the green place up the block.  We just wish we could get it sometime before the clocks change again, and without being forced to overhear your discussion with your compatriots about whether jimmy should come out or not, in light of his conservative parents footing the bill for his rent.  We’d be happy to skip the painstaking leaf design in favor of actually being handed our latte this century. 

We love your willingness to brew your own bitters and source small batch gin.  And your cocktails, once they finally arrive, are usually delicious.  And had better be, since the going rate for hipster cocktails is slightly more than the GNP of many Central American countries. 

Your food, while somewhat hit or miss, when it hits is brilliant and inventive and delicious.

But why are you so adverse to training your staff in basic food service etiquette and practices?  Things are pretty simple.  First?  Know your menu.  If the nice customer asks if by “dry” soda you mean “sugar free”  and you aren’t 100% sure?  GO ASK.  Don’t say “of course”, bring it to her, and then act shocked that on the actual bottle the second ingredient is cane sugar. 

Make your menu clear.  An enormous bowl of olives with three tiny toothpick sized shreds of salami and two peanut sized cheese curds lurking in the bottom of the bowl should probably be described as “Seasoned Olives”.  Calling them Cheese Curds and Salami with Olives makes one think that they are getting a small plate with cheese and meat and a few olives.  And if you don’t think being accurate is poetical enough on your menu, at least have your waitstaff know to tell customers that two cups of marinated olives is not really a logical appetizer course for one person.

Actually listen to the order being told to you, and WRITE IT DOWN.  Food orders are not a special test.  We want what we order, prepared in the manner we have requested.  I don’t care if you have a confirmed photographic memory, write down my order.  WRITE IT DOWN so that I don’t just sit here and wait to be disappointed, and wonder if the imminent wrong order will be wrong enough to be worth returning to the kitchen or if I am in for another episiode of “suck it up and get on with your day, because it isn’t worth the effort to make them get it right”. 

Deliver this written missive in clear terms to the kitchen staff, being sure to inform them of special details like NOT TOASTED.  And if there is some sort of communication breakdown, and the order delivered is wrong or incomplete, good staff apologizes genuinely, and goes to make sure it is right the second time, with a little fire in their step.  Because when you get the order wrong the second time after half the morning disappears, us older non-hipsters?  Will just sigh, take what we are given, eat the lackluster incorrect breakfast which will not thrill, and then the next time we think we should head your way?  We think better of it, and find some other ampersand to try.

Here’s some good news.  Good service?  Gets bigger tips.  And return business.  There is a direct correlation.  Maybe your peers don’t care, and if they don’t feel free to serve them however you like.  But keep an eye out for the gentlemen who enter without a jaunty knitted hat, the ladies who don’t pair their vintage sundresses with battered motorcycle boots, the ones who look like they are that generation that never “curates” anything, and actually speaks to each other at meals without the assistance of any digital equipment.  And get your little pad out, take their order, and put a tiny bit of pep in your step.  You might get a tip big enough to pay for half a cocktail in your own establishment.

The Polymath