Adventures in Food
A recent trip to Cleveland (yes, really) takes Ernie out of meat-and-potatoes land
My mother was born and raised on a farm in western Wyoming; my dad was born and raised on a farm in western Nebraska. Between 1913 when they were born, until the early 1930s, most of what they ate came from those two farms. They grew most of their own grains and veggies and raised all of their meat, except for some wild game.
They grew up healthy with good appetites and knowledge about cooking what they had available. However, this did not mean they knew a diverse diet. Add to that family backgrounds: Mom was a second generation in America Swede. Dad’s family came from England in the mid-seventeenth century and migrated to the Midwest years before he was born. That background also did not lead to an eclectic diet. They certainly ate nothing with fancy French or Italian names.
I can boil those first two paragraphs down to one sentence. I was raised on a meat and potatoes diet, no fancy names. As a small child we lived on a grain farm in northeastern Oregon. We grew a large garden; got milk from our cow and beef from the calf we raised each year. For variety we raised chickens, a few ducks and a couple turkeys each year. For more variety Dad shot some pheasants, ducks, geese and sometimes a few quail.
We moved to town on my 8th birthday. After that we bought eggs and dairy directly from farmers we knew and had a calf raised by another friend who had the room and Dad still brought in some wild game. Later, my brother became good at catching fish from the river behind the house.
But living in town meant there was a little more diversity in our diet. It came from a very occasional dinner out at the local Chinese restaurant, but it was different.
What all of this is about is my rather underdeveloped palate for the many tastes available to us from around the world. For example, I did not know pasta, only macaroni and sometimes spaghetti. The many European dishes available never graced our table. Middle Eastern foods never made it out west to where we lived. Asian only came from the restaurant downtown.
There was my mother’s Swedish background but fortunately for my siblings and me, Dad did not like lefse and lutefisk so those ethnic dishes only came out of the kitchen when relatives were visiting.
So I grew up thinking a good meal was meat, potatoes with lots of gravy, and some kind of cooked vegetable. I not only thought that, but liked it. In every other part of my life there was adventure but when it came to food, I rarely ventured away from the familiar.
Attempting to expand my culinary horizons was a challenge many friends accepted over the years, but there wasn’t much exploration away from my comfortable table fare.
Then Linda showed up. Linda grew up in Cleveland. In her neighborhood there were more different ethnicities than I knew existed and with each came a different gastronomic custom.
She has spent several years, allied with her daughter Ana, trying to raise my alimentary consciousness. I must admit there has been significant upward movement, too. I must also admit—I like it. I even know some of those fancy names.
Still, a few weeks ago, while Linda and I were visiting in Cleveland, the Westside Market stunned me.
I know a little about farmers’ markets and fish markets, I enjoy Pike Street Market in Seattle, but I wasn’t prepared for the Westside Market of Cleveland, Ohio.
Westside Market dates back to 1840. The neoclassical/Byzantine yellow brick building it is housed in today was built for this market in 1912.
It has a 45,000 square foot interior concourse, with a ceiling forty-four feet high and corbels carved to look like produce and animals. There is room for nearly one hundred stalls inside. Around the outside is a covered atrium holding another 85 stalls for fresh produce. On one corner is a clock tower over 137 feet tall.
It is an imposing building to approach but what I found inside was mind-boggling. The smorgasbord available includes Asian, Irish, German, Slovene, Italian, Greek, Polish, Russian, and Middle Eastern foods.
Linda, her brother Bill, and his wife Carol, were at home, very much in their element. Bill and Carol are local and know the different booths, what they sell and which ones are the best.
Before we started shopping we ate savory crepes with ham gruyere and spinach. Before that meal I thought crepes were really thin pancakes served with syrup, but the one I ate that day, and liked, had stuff in it I could not pronounce.
To take home for dinner they purchased cannoli with marscapone filling, perogis filled with potatoes, onion, and cheese, as well as some with mushrooms or ground beef and onions. They got Guiness chocolate cake and some kielbasa, as well as Polish and Italian sausage. I had no idea what was being purchased except it had fancy names that I had never seen in my mother’s kitchen. Finally, they asked if there was anything I would like. The only thing I recognized and could enunciate was ribs. In an overwhelmed, almost speechless, dazed state I could only point at them.
Bill said, “Great! I’ve been wanting to try a new rub, we will take that rack right there.” I was glad he took over and made the order for me.
It was an exquisite meal, as well as educational.
After we were back home, Linda asked if I could barbeque a pork roast while she was in town. Feeling like doing a little adventuring in the kitchen, I did an Internet search and found a recipe for a pork roast glaze.
Looking in the cupboard I saw the only ingredient we didn’t have was cider vinegar. I called Ana and asked if I could substitute something for it. She suggested white wine vinegar. I was off on an adventure.
When Linda came home I had prepared a barbecued pork roast with a maple Dijon glaze, and she liked it.
I think the sauce used to make the glaze tastes a little like pork and beans, which is fine with me, but I sure like the fancy name.