So there we were, my husband and I, standing in the kitchen wondering what to eat. We were on day five or six of what seemed like a hot soup marathon. When it's a bone-chilling 6 degrees for many days in a row, and snowy, with winds howling, you can't beat good soup. I found myself on auto-pilot, simmering pot after pot from split pea to black bean to red-curry pumpkin. It was delicious, but we were getting bored. And after a day of sledding, I was seriously hungry. We could eat soup again, I offered.
That's when my husband pulled out a coupon for a reduced price dinner at a restaurant we'd never tried. I was leery. Rarely do we eat out and even rarer do these "free lunches" pan out. I hadn't heard positive (or negative)reviews of the place, so using hunger, soup boredom, and the opportunity for a cheap meal as our guide, we bundled up and hopped in the car to drive cross town.
We checked the menu before sitting down. The lamb sliders and salmon caught my eye.
Since the lamb came from New Zealand, and the salmon was wild caught from the Atlantic, I chose the latter.
The fish came with "seasonal vegetables." Mind you it's January. Seasonal vegetables around here are home canned green beans or any number of root vegetables in basement storage.
Our chosen restaurant, however, defined "seasonal" as zucchini and asparagus.
Hmmm. Maybe these are seasonal in South America right now, but they are squarely OUT of season here.
Apologetically, I explained that I was a dietitian dedicated to sustainable agriculture; that's why I was compelled to ask questions. I wondered if I could exchange the summer squash with a more wintry mix. Something deep and earthy. The potatoes and Brussels' sprouts seemed more appropriate.
Next the waitress asked if we wanted bread.
And how! I thought.
"Is it whole grain?" I inquired.
"I don't think so," our waitress replied, still smiling. "But it's from a bakery in Prairie Home." (~ 40 miles I calculated).
My husband wasted no time slathering butter on his refined carbs.
"Do you think it's organic?" I whispered.
He looked over his glasses. "I seriously doubt it "
That's when my mind flashed to the North American Pesticide Network's website with it's "What's On My Plate" feature. You search for a food and can compare pesticide residues on the organic vs. conventionally raised variety. I choose (read: vote for) organic food for good reason.
Our food arrived. The salmon was satisfying and I needed the omega-3s. The Brussels sprouts were freezer burned and drenched in butter. I blotted them off, but I couldn't kill the oxidized taste.
The waitress asked how we liked our food. I complemented the chef on the fish, and suggested a number of local farmers who could provide fresh lamb with a smaller "foodprint," and a few local bakeries that make chewy whole grain loaves.
"Would you care for dessert?" our server inquired.
"We couldn't eat another thing," thanks.
The next evening I lugged out the soup pot and prepared organic yellow lentil curry soup over whole wheat couscous with plumped golden raisins and steamed butter nut squash. There's nothing like a steaming bowl of gratitude for home cooking.
Think critically, ask questions, and eat well.
Happy New Year.