Winter is LONNNNNNNG. Like trapped-in-a-conversation-with-someone-who-just-won’t-take-the-hint-that-my-interest-was-over-when-they-brought-up-their-explosive-digestive-issues-and-the-massive-and-highly-disgusting-failure-of-home remedies-made-with-eels-and-cod-liver-oil-for-said-constitutional-problems long.*
That is why CAKE was invented.
I cannot take credit for this recipe. It is a gift from my mother who made it for most of my birthdays and made a giant-sized one for my wedding. I finally made one for myself this weekend and I never want to lose this recipe again. So, I am putting it out for the whole world to enjoy.**
Mary’s Carrot Cake
3 Cups grated carrots (I do mine in the blender and drain well)
2 Cups flour
2 Cups sugar
1 ½ Cups oil
2-4 tsp Cinnamon (I use 4)
2 tsp Baking soda
2 tsp Baking powder
1 tsp salt
½ Cup toasted pecans (omit if stomach problems)
½ Cup raisins
Mix all dry ingredients (sift) and add the rest of the goods and mix well. Grease and flour baking pan. Bake at 350° for 30 to 40 minutes in a 9×13 pan.
(I used two smaller pans and it took about 40 – test for doneness as you go.)
Cream Cheese Frosting:
8 oz package of cream cheese softened
1 stick butter or margarine softened
4 Cups of powdered sugar or a little more if you like it stiffer
Woe to the restaurant that finds me in a bad mood. Fortunately for Zeytin, a Turkish restaurant in Ada, Michigan, I was in fine fettle last Thursday. The food I consume can affect how I feel, but the reverse is also true. If I am in a great mood, everything tastes better.* Happiness is a spice all its own.
My friend, Kay, joined me for a belated birthday lunch celebration.** Kay and I are both enthusiastic ‘foodies’, while not necessarily qualified by training, we are experienced gourmands and picky about our palate and the foods we try. I like to utilize her taste buds because she will eat the meat dishes so I can tell you about them. And, before you cry foul, Kay is okay with this arrangement—the safe word is “Rocky Mountain Oysters”.
Kay, and I wrestled with the many choices of appetizers. So we ordered enough to feed a small army—or a house with teenagers. Soon plates of borek, spinach pie, and bowls of soup arrived along with a basket of very thin, cold pita and a generous bowl of tzatziki—called Cacik in Turkish. The yogurt dish was the favorite among the four we chose.
The Feta Borek—a deep-fried crispy roll filled with feta cheese—was the Turkish equivalent of a crab Rangoon, minus the crab. We both agreed, this was phenomenal. (Especially dunked in the cacik—everything is better with yogurt sauce on it.)
Next we had the stuffed grape leaves. Here Kay and I parted ways. Kay loved them, believing they were flavored with anise, I had reservations because of the odd and unexpected taste. When asked what the secret ingredient was our waiter admitted this was the one item on the menu that they did not make at the restaurant, but ordered in. My internal food detective went ‘Ah Hah!’ But I said nothing aloud; I like to savor my smugness along with my meal.
Kay and I both had reservations about the spinach pie. I am a huge fan of spanakopita (the Greek iteration of this dish) so I was a bit disappointed by the approach taken by the Turkish chef. Instead of getting a rolled, triangular packet stuffed with feta and spinach chopped in a good ratio, this came more as a lasagna-style serving—where the phyllo dough had a bottom and a top layer with a huge helping of spinach dotted with feta as a leaden center. This arrangement made the upper layers of phyllo a touch gluey. My research informed me that Phyllo, the thin, layered pastry, which I thought was a strictly Greek invention, actually originated in Istanbul. So, it was likely I ate the more traditional rendition of the dish. That said, I would still prefer my puffed savory to be a little more flaky and the proportions of dough to filling better measured to prevent the steam from collapsing all that delicately structured crust. Still, it tasted pretty good and it would beat most fast food restaurant food hands-down.
There is something entirely decadent about sitting in luxurious comfort sipping sweet tea in delicate glasses, chatting with a good friend. Our booth had colorful, thick cushions with a Turkish rug pattern and pillows at our backs, the music playing was soft and a woman sang with plaintive, if incomprehensible words, as we dined.
The only jarring note to the bright, clean establishment is the décor. Looking around we saw what looked like Southwestern paintings which veered very heavily near to something you might see painted on black velvet or found on a Thomas Kinkade Calendar—if he’d ever managed to escape the English village where he’s been held hostage for years churning out lilac-strangled cottages. Twisted iron chandeliers which mimicked the antlers of a many pronged, exotic animal prompted us to ask whether the owners had kept the previous establishment’s theme. The puzzled waiter replied, “No, this is all new with the restaurant.” Okay then. Since I inadvertently painted my basement to look like interior of a submarine, I cast no interior design stones. But be prepared if you go there.
Kay enjoyed her grilled lamb. (Which I would describe to you in detail if my son hadn’t stolen my notebook to create a Jackson Pollock inspired mess on his bedroom floor.) I loved my Turkish Delight—a mélange of veggies swimming in a delicious tomato-based stew on homemade hummus. I was surprised to find uniformly chopped carrots with the telling zigzag that screams ‘frozen veggie’ but, that said, the dish was fantastic.
I won’t quibble if they can make frozen food taste that good. We both thought that the presentation of the hors d’oeuvres on rough chopped iceberg lettuce with thin half-moon slices of tomato was underwhelming. My thought was that if they just added a nice, light lemon-olive oil vinaigrette and made it a side of the appetizer then it wouldn’t be such a waste of vegetation.
Friendship is the flavor which makes life worth savoring. I can laugh, joke and chew my meal and it has a gustatory pleasure you cannot recreate no matter how well cooked a dish is when eaten alone. Minor pet peeves aside—frozen veggies and a slightly too heavy emphasis on salt in many of the dishes—I suggest you run right out and dine at this hidden gem. Gustatory treasure hunters will not be disappointed.
Zeytin gets three out of four olives. It is a great place to go with friends. The meals are slightly higher in price than your average lunch fare, but then, the food is better. It is intended as a slower dining experience, has tables arranged in either booths, or two-to-four person settings with the possibility of reorganizing for larger groups. It looks to have a well-stocked bar for those who like a little aperitif with their meal. There are a few ‘American’ food options for kids (cheese burger/chicken nuggets) but adults had best be prepared to dine in Turkish style.
Asterisk Bedazzled Footnotes:
*Apparently I am an emotional eater in more than one sense.
**Like we need an excuse to go to a good restaurant.
Hidden Soup Bonus:
If given a choice between the Lentil or Spinach Tomato soups, go with the latter. Unless you hate spinach–because it really does have a Popeye’s powerhouse vegetable flavor.
Picture courtesy of FreeDigitalPhoto.Net/praisaeng
Sometimes, life just is one big, flaming bag of poop. This is probably not a traditional start for a food review, but it is an appropriate one.
* * *
In search of experience as a food critic, I have finally run up against the burning question which every Culinary Columbo must face: “Is it right to totally tank a restaurant’s reputation because of a bad day?” I’ll let you be the judge.
Following a whirlwind vacation in Chicagoland, I decided I need to do my bit for local tourism. So, Friday ,I took take my very special guy downtown for lunch. It was only after getting on Monroe Street that I discovered construction has turned the downtown area into an M.C. Escher nightmare. Streets went nowhere or suddenly became one-way in the opposite direction. (I am fairly certain I drove up the side of a building at one point.) Eventually I nudged my flame-red Toyota Echo into the perfect parking spot on Monroe Center, chortling at my good fortune.*
Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net/Stuart Miles
I filled my pocket with quarters for the meter and then got distracted by the effort of coordinating my date—who will eat nothing at a restaurant that isn’t covered in syrup served with a side of bacon—and his haversack of emergency snack food**, and as a result, I entered the nearest restaurant without performing that one task that, if forgotten, can turn your sunshiny day upside down in the blink of an eye.
This is the part of the food review where I am supposed to wax poetic on the innovative use of space, the side of the room which housed a wall of no doubt, high-end wines in their impressive angular, shoebox-sized cubbies and the other side which was part deli, part corner store rummage sale. I ought to be waxing about the novel, handwritten artsy signs which made trying to read with bifocals the pretty, but distant, menu an exercise in near-sighted humiliation: “Do you have this printed anywhere in Pica 16 I can hold two inches from my nose?” Instead I will raise a pointed question: “If one, hypothetically, bites down on something and a tooth goes ‘crunch’ on un-chewable matter, is one obligated to inform the restaurant their food is booby-trapped?”
Now, in my opinion, that answer is a resounding, ‘Yes’. I was happily masticating my very delicious salad when I heard a horrifying sound reverberate through my skull—a sound which I can only image is what glass sounds like when it goes through a trash compactor. Now, I like hyperbole as much as the next girl, but let me tell you I am not kidding when I say I was entirely surprised that, when I spat that mouthful into my napkin, that there wasn’t a sparkling diamond and/or a trail of bloody spittle following.
I dithered, as I checked my mouth for open wounds and picked whatever rock-like thing it was I’d gnashed with overly fragile molars. Should I tell the management the salad bites back? Should I just finish up and leave? Then I came up with what looked like a large-sized grain of something hard. Possibly a piece of my tooth, possibly whatever it was I’d bit down on. I decided this was worth informing someone.
This is the point of the story that gets kind of disgusting—but only to people who actually expect the restaurant to care whether they are serving sanitary, safe food. I went to the counter where I was met by a suspicious and hostile clerk who interrupted my explanation to go get a manager.
A young lady came over and asked what happened. I explained that I bit down on something in the salad and I showed her the piece of whatever it was—no doubt gifting her with my molar dna to replicate later, in private, for her alien overlords. She asked, “So, was it something plastic?” I whispered, as if I was afraid the health inspector had bugged the joint, “It sounded like glass.”
I heard the following when she walked back to the food counter to determine what it was I’d been served (paraphrased since I was ten feet away):
“What was it she ate?”
“A mixed salad with a lot of different ingredients.”
(Inaudible muttering which I took to be the decision that I was a con-artist who no doubt had eaten 90% of my meal and then complained in order to get my lunch for free.)
“…It wouldn’t be worth the trouble to go through everything.”
This last sentence I heard very clearly. They weren’t going to bother to check the food that, while delicious, apparently was working on commission for the tooth fairy.
I objected when the manager offered me a refund. “I don’t want a refund. I enjoyed the salad, it was delightful, right up until I broke a crown.”
Another underling came over and retrieved my credit card, when I protested again that I didn’t want a refund, he said, “No, my manager insists you get one.”
The thing is…they took my salad away. They took the bite I spit out away. It wasn’t until afterward that it occurred to me they wanted the evidence. They were apparently concerned about a frivolous, or fictitious, lawsuit. Perhaps the manager apologized at the time, but what I felt most of all when I left the restaurant was a burning embarrassment. That I was treated as if I was a plague upon their establishment. “The one who dared complain.”
Leaving the place, red-faced and feeling like I was somehow at fault for trying to prevent a rash of tooth-related catastrophies, I was confronted by the final inequity: a parking ticket slapped on my windshield. My free lunch had cost me more than my dignity. It also cost me the absentminded-parent penalty tax.
So, I have decided that, as a food critic, I will refrain from judging a place based on an isolated incident. It might have been an overlooked stone in my lettuce. It might be that my dental hygiene has slipped and I need my enamel checked. I won’t name the restaurant. I will say, however, that treating a customer as if they were to blame for faults with your food pretty much guarantees you are not getting a four-star review. The nicest thing I can do is to omit naming the place and simply advise you to chew with caution at deli’s located on Monroe Center between numbers 56 and 58…oh, and don’t forget to feed the meter.
Now, you tell me, what would you have done? Please comment below. Thank you.