Fast & Healthy
WE ALL KNOW how health food stores have changed in the past few years--expanding from small soy-and-millet operations to splashy department stores that peddling everything from tablecloths made from unbleached cotton to designer cosmetics. It is now possible to leave such a place with a bellyful of smoked trout pâté and blood orange samples, having browsed through various nutrition management guides and sex manuals, your skin aglow with the very best in natural lotions and ointments. I confess that it's left me feeling like I know too much about the restorative powers of shiitake mushrooms and wheat grass. On the plus side, I have never had to learn how to prepare them; many local co-ops do brisk business serving their own variations on fast food.
The Mississippi Market (1810 Randolph Ave., St. Paul; 690-0507) has been at this game for a few years now, ever since the store moved into its current, more spacious home. Here you'll find a complete baked goods case, sandwich bar, and deli. Most everything we tried here was beyond reproach, creative, and affordable. The spread moves from the simple (featuring soups like matzo ball and tomato--$1.75-$3.49, depending on size) to the majestic, such as a portobello tart ($3.50), a whole wheat crust brushed with butter and olive oil and covered with a slew of portobello mushrooms, leeks, and cheese. Our encounter with the Market's cabbage rolls ($1.79) had us wanting to kiss the purple leaves that unfolded to reveal a pillow of brown rice spiked with spices and vegetables. The New Mexico tempeh salad was wonderful; considering the regal mixture of ingredients (brown rice, tomatoes, bell peppers, red onion, almonds, oranges, lemon juice, cilantro, garlic, tamari, jalapeños), the price ($5.69/lb.) did not seem excessive at all. Another easy grab is the nori maki roll ($2.38 for two), nori sea vegetables surrounded by organic short-grain brown and sweet brown rice, all spiked with a bit of maple syrup and rice wine vinegar.
Over the hill a bit is Whole Foods (30 Fairview Ave. S., St. Paul; 690-0197), a Jesus Christ superstore experience that begins with a juice/coffee bar as you walk in. Here you can read about the wonders of wheat grass while you enjoy coffee or any one of an assortment of vegetable, kefir, and juice drinks; the chai tea we tried ($1.95) was dressed up with soy milk, and pretty tasty at that.
It turned out to be the easiest decision in the whole place. Will you be bringing home the blackened chicken salad ($5.99) or the cashew curry red lentil pâté ($4.99), a thick spread of red lentils and roasted, salted cashews accented with onions, carrots, ginger, garlic, cilantro, curry powder, and cayenne pepper? There's also a delicate vegetarian pot pie ($2.75), which is actually a puff pastry filled with ratatouille. If your mood is more adventurous, you might consider the faux caviar, made from hiziki (an oceanic vegetable) shredded and cooked with toasted sesame oil, ginger, rice and plum vinegar, and garlic ($7.99/lb.); it's not the real thing, but the taste is surprisingly close.
Whole Foods also features a treasure chest of delicacies made daily in its Bakehouse: fruit tarts (including the best lemon tart I've ever tasted, a beautiful creation with enough butter to make a cow blush, for $2.49); vegan fruit pies in apple, cherry, and blueberry ($2.39); and several extravagant breads. Among the favorites in my tasting party were the chocolate cherry demi-bread ($1.29), which was full of dried cherries and bittersweet chocolate; there was also a memorable jalapeño cheese demi-bread made with corn flour and two kinds of cheese (99¢), and all sorts of pane bello, or "beautiful breads"--ryes, challah, paisanos.
The deli counter at The Wedge Community Co-op (2105 Lyndale Ave. S., Mpls.; 871-3993) is another haven of gourmet fast food. The salads stand out; I sometimes find myself just wanting to look at the food there: the luminous Italian Basil Medley salad with its fluorescent green beans, tomatoes, broccoli, and calamata olives ($4.99/lb.); or the technicolor bean salad ($4.19/lb.), tossed with scallions in a red wine vinegar/soy dressing that bears hints of ginger, turmeric, garlic, and coriander. Other favorites include a vibrant tomato cucumber ($3.99/lb.) wrapped with scallions and wine vinegar; a wild rice hazelnut salad ($3.59) made with carrots, scallions, and celery; and a Sri Lankan curry noodle salad ($5.69/lb.) with mushrooms, broccoli, carrots, red bell peppers, udon noodles, and peanuts, with enough curry and chili powder to bring color to your pallid Minnesotan cheeks. The Wedge also boasts a heap of desserts, including the exceptional apricot tofu cheesecake ($1.99), Cathy's banana chocolate-chip cheesecake ($1.99), a glossy pumpkin pear streusel ($2.29), lavish chocolate truffles ($1.49), and chocolate-dipped macaroons ($1.39).
Although the Seward Co-op (2201 E. Franklin, Mpls.; 338-2465) is a bit smaller, you'll find their deli to be more than up to snuff. I especially like the Seward's black bean dip ($4.75/lb.), a lush mix of mashed black beans, green bell peppers, scallions, salsa, lime, cilantro, cayenne pepper, and cumin; I can also recommend the rich confetti neufchatel spread ($4.75/lb.), which is peppered with carrots, red onions, black olives, and green peppers.
For a meal, the spicy soba salad ($5.15/lb.) does nicely, as does the Mediterranean pasta ($4.99/lb.), replete with red bell peppers and sun-dried tomatoes. My favorite, though, is still a simple cup of French onion soup ($2.75/pint, and 25¢ extra is all it takes to get it with a baguette and a bit of Gruyère cheese).
IF YOU FEEL like staying inside rather than tripping down to the co-op, here's a recipe created by longtime local co-op denizen Tana Haugo:
* 1 1/2 to 2 lb. organic squash: butternut, acorn, koabocha, sweet dumpling, or delicata (not spaghetti squash)
* 2 cups organic brown basmati rice
* 1/2 cup roasted, salted pumpkin seeds
* 3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
* 2 tsp. dried basil
* 1 tsp. dried marjoram
* 4 cups water or stock
* 4 scallions, chopped
* 1/4 cup tamari
* 1 tsp. dried sage
* fresh ground pepper to taste
Either peel, cube, or steam the squash until tender; or bake it in the oven (350º for one hour) until tender, then scoop out the cooked squash. Rinse the rice to remove excess chaff and dust, bring water or stock to a boil, then stir in the rice, cover, and reduce heat. Cook for 40-45 minutes or until rice is tender. Whisk together the olive oil, tamari, spices. Combine all the ingredients, add fresh pepper, and enjoy while warm.
ANNIVERSARY PARTY: Cafe Wyrd, located at Lake and Irving in Uptown Minneapolis, invites you to celebrate their 5th anniversary on February 11. There should be lots of surprises and giveaways, so if you've never been, now would be a good time to stop in at the cafe/gallery. The cafe is open 7 a.m.-1 a.m. every day.
IT'S NOT QUITE like being there, but... A travel program on Greece will be held from 7 to 9 p.m. on February 13 and 28 at It's Greek To Me (626 W. Lake St., Mpls.). The informal meetings, sponsored by Hellenic Adventures, are presented by trip designer and native Greek Leftheris Papageorgiou. Greek desserts and coffee will be served. The meetings are free and open
to the public, but you must call ahead (827-0937).
CHATTER & GLAMOUR: Since it's too cold to be standing around downtown popping down chili dogs and soda, why not join the bloody Mary and tuna salad sandwich crowd at Murray's (26 S. Sixth St., Mpls.)? If you're in a gentle mood and your teeth are feeling particularly straight and pretty, you might be in the mood to enjoy some informal modeling during lunch on the last Wednesday of each month from noon to 1 p.m. Ready for a cruise? Discuss your latest shopping victory as thin and plucked lovelies brush past your table wearing the latest in cruise-wear fashion by Joan Vass of Gaviidae Common. And it's not just the models that make this a great fashion experience; all you have to do is peek around the dining room for a glimpse of the freshest fashion and to catch a drift of the hottest murmurings. Call 339-0909 to make reservations.
PATRON SAINT: Do you remember the days of going out to dinner and a show? Have you never been because you assumed that you could never afford to? Well, here's some great news. Throughout the month of February, patrons (that's you) will be able to enjoy a fine evening of dining and the gentle strains of music with a pre-concert dinner at either Manny's, Pronto or Buca (reservations at Buca are limited to parties of 4 or more) in downtown Minneapolis and your choice of nine evenings of classical music with the Minnesota Orchestra at Orchestra Hall. In deference to the 29 days of February, this Leap Year Celebration is specially priced at $29 per person for both the dinner and concert. Just call the Minnesota Orchestra to order tickets and select a restaurant; concert and dinner reservations will be automatically confirmed. Will you be chewing on insalata mista or a 10 oz. sirloin? Tapping your heels to Stravinsky's The Fairy Kiss ballet or getting your wits scared out of your pants by Mussorgsky's A Night on Bald Mountain? Reservations for the Leap Year Celebration can be made by calling the Minnesota Orchestra at 371-5656.
YOUR FAT IN THE FIRE: Are you stuck in a rut on your journey to self-improvement? Ever observed a cooking demonstration? It could be just what you need. Chef Paul Prudhomme presents a cooking demonstration and a sampling of food from his new cook book, Fiery Foods That I Love, a collection of recipes from around the world on Saturday, February 17, 4-6 p.m. at Barnes and Noble, Roseville. Call 898-4505 for more information.
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