Door County, the sweets edition

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With a tween daughter at home, I’ve given lots of thought to friendships: how they’re made, how fragile they can be, what makes a good one, and so on. While I didn’t especially enjoy those middle school years myself (though … Continue reading

dolma, donuts, and maple syrurp soda OR a culinary mashup

After dropping my daughter off at an across-town playdate, I couldn’t resist driving down Central Avenue–a street known for its ethnically diverse hole-in-the wall (read: authentic) restaurants and grocers. Thinking I’d spot somewhere fun to stop right away, I was sorry to see that Central Ave, much like the suburbs, is now peppered with chains. I have Applebee’s, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, and Wendy’s in my neck of the woods as well, so I drove a bit further until I saw a sign for Filfillah Restaurant. Advertising gyros, schawarma, and other Middle Eastern fare, it seemed a good spot to try.

While divey from the outside, the inside was clean, polished, and handsome. Even better, the service was first-rate: The charming and gracious (and handsome) staff went out of their way to serve. After finishing my order of finger-licking good dolma, I hopped over to the cash register to grab a napkin to clean said fingers. Soon after I’d sat down again, a server appeared at my table with an entire napkin dispenser. (Either he was being genuinely gracious or figured I was a mess of an eater.)

The dolma were adorable. I’d last had them ten or so years ago when I’d developed a recipe for these lamb-stuffed grape leaves for a client. Filled with pine nuts and currants and served with a cool tzatziki, Filfillah’s version was lovely.

pretty dolma and dip

I also ordered a Jerusalem Falafel Wrap, which promised falafel, eggplant, feta, and tahini all wrapped up in lavash. Wow–this sandwich blew me away. I wish I could better describe the distinct flavors; the best I can do is say that there was just enough salt, lots of savory, and plenty of hints of “I need another bite.”

amazing Jerusalem falafel wrap–so so good

I was given a container of housemade baklava upon leaving, with my server apologizing for “inconveniencing” me by making me wait for him to come to my table to take my order. (I think I waited about four minutes after entering the store to have my order taken.) These guys take customer service seriously.

Driving home, I impulsively pulled into Heights Bakery as I’d passed it many times before without stopping and it looked like a gem. It was old-school all the way with baked goods laid out under glass on pale pinkish-rose food-service trays. I bought donuts for the family (vanilla sprinkle for youngest daughter, chocolate sprinkle for the oldest, and cinnamon-sugar for Mr. foodforfun), then filled up the box with what I wanted to try. An apple fritter made the cut as did a cinnamon twist, blueberry-filled crispie, and date-filled bear claw. I’ve tried a bit of each (save what I bought for my loved ones–had at least that much self-control) and have since drifted off in a carb-infused coma.

a simple package

delish old-school donuts

My final food fun for the day was following up on a brainstorm that had come from a piece in the local paper’s Taste section. Angry Trout Cafe had been reviewed as serving up excellent housemade maple syrup soda. Why couldn’t I make the same drink? I have that soda maker, remember? I whipped up a batch of soda water, then played with maple syrup amounts until I liked what I tasted. (1 cup soda water, 1 tablespoon pure maple syrup, dash lemon juice, smaller dash vanilla extract) Definitely a drink I’ll make again. Cool, crisp, refreshing–perfect for the heat wave this summer has brought.

I hadn’t expected to try authentic Middle Eastern food today, nor did I think I’d enjoy crazy-good pastries and make my own maple syrup soda. This is why I love food: It’s always fun to see what tasty little surprises each new day brings.

friday’s (culinary) field trip on franklin

I’ve written before how I love to escape from suburbia and I had a chance to do so today. A friend and I met for lunch at Seward Cafe on Franklin Avenue in Minneapolis. It was a funky and grungy spot–lots of soy on the menu. I enjoyed a TLT, which was multigrain bread spread with Vegenaise, then topped with marinated tempeh and organic tomatoes and lettuce. It had been ages since I’d had tempeh and the tasty sandwich inspired me to pick up a package at a later stop.

Walking back to my car, I passed Shega Bakery and Spices. Thinking it might sell pastries and such, I walked on in. Turns out Shega is an East African grocery store/take-out deli, so I had the pleasure of wandering aisles trying to guess what was on the shelves and what they might be used for. I bought fresh collard greens, a pack of the thickest carrots I’ve ever seen, a sourdough bread labeled Diffo Dabo, and a bag of injera.

now those are carrots

love how it lists “All purpose Water” in the ingredient list

Ethiopian sourdough bread and the banana leaf it was wrapped in

beautiful injera

Made from teff flour, injera is an extremely tangy fermented pancake-like flatbread used as food, plate, and utensil in Ethiopian cuisine. I’ve loved injera since first tasting it at an Ethiopian cooking class nearly 20 years ago. The teff flour I once bought with the intent of making my own still sits in my pantry, so I was happy to buy a fresh batch of the finished product.

Next stop: Seward Co-op. I’ve shopped this green-tiled co-op before and needed to stock up on oats and oil. I also picked up a package each of tempeh (a fermented soybean cake that is one of the most meat-like meat substitutes I’ve found) and tofu. I’ll enjoy playing with them in the very near future.

Seward Co-op is easy to spot

I had passed Franklin Freeze on my way over to the co-op, so made sure to circle back to sample one of their 26+ soft serve flavors. Housed in an old Dairy Queen, it is indeed soft-serve mecca, including even vegan varieties in its lineup. I snapped a quick photo of my Kahlua-and-cream cone before it melted, then enjoyed. Sweet and creamy–textbook soft serve.

melting!

I went a few blocks off Franklin for a quick trip to The Donut Cooperative. I’d been there before, but couldn’t resist returning as long as I was in the area. My chocolate crispy donut and chocolate sandwich cookie were both amazing. They made it home uneaten only because I wanted to take a photo before devouring.

Donut Cooperative got its start with the help of kickstarter

fun treats

I covered a lot of culinary ground in the few hours I had this afternoon: A healthy lunch, Ethiopian food, take-home soyfoods, soft serve in a cake cone, and amazing from-scratch baked goods. These “field trips” are a huge treat for me. They usually start with at least one planned destination, but much of the fun is what’s found on the aimless wander. It seems there is plenty of deliciousness to be discovered.

donuts, kickstarts, and co-ops

My in-laws are in town and knowing that my mother-in-law (m-i-l) is always up for a food adventure, we road-tripped to Minneapolis’ Seward neighborhood in search of the Donut Cooperative (DC). Reading reviews the night before, I saw that there are some who really do not like DC pastries. “Worst donut I’ve ever had” and “worst food I’ve eaten in my seven years in Minneapolis” are two of the more memorable remarks. Most reviews were enthusiastically positive, but I was curious what we’d find.

The shop is in the spot of the late, great Cake Eater, a short-lived cupcake shop I had liked. DC was busy, but not crowded, this Saturday morning–a good thing given the small space. We took cinnamon-sugars home for my husband and his dad, who had opted to stay back; the kids got a Chocolate Long John (not filled) and a Vanilla Sprinkle. My m-i-l had the Almond (topped with a good handful of sliced almonds) and I, true to form, chose crazy: Coconut Curry with Golden Raisins. Also took home six small cookies–three m&m, three (Belgian!) chocolate chip. Yum.

DC donuts are yeasty and have a far more complex flavor than what you’d find in any other donut. I removed the raisins (not a fan), but adored the melding of curry-coconut-vanilla. (Am still breathing curry as I write.) My girls gave the donuts a “medium” rating (“not good, not bad,” explained the 9-year-old), but my m-i-l and I were entranced and enamored with the bolder flavor and texture offered by these donuts. They’re not for the faint of heart and I can see how some folks would be unimpressed; these donuts have little in common with the standard bakery or convenience store pastry. But I love how these donuts made me sit up and take notice. You can’t not concentrate on the deep flavor and springy chew when you’re eating one. They demand to be noticed. Whether you like them or not depends on what you want from a baked good. But, by the looks of the steady Saturday morning crowd, there are plenty who want what this store bakes up. (Interesting note: DC was one of the first Twin Cities businesses to use Kickstarter to raise opening and operating funds.)

Next stop was the green-tiled Seward Co-op. I filled my basket with a few bulk items, a pack of local, organic chicken drumsticks (on sale!), and Rochdale butter (it’s delish). The deli beckoned and we had hearty and healthy soups and sandwiches. My m-i-l’s Curried Tomato Coconut soup was the best of the bunch, though my Cosmic Lentil was no flavor slouch. The veggie-centric lunch restored our nutrition virtue after our high-calorie late-morning donut snack. No harm in eating dessert first.

Cinnamon-sugar donuts from Minneapolis' Donut Cooperative

The Donut Cooperative sells cookies, too.