Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Day Twenty-Six: Consider the Source

Pasta salad has long been my enemy. And unlike most cold salads, it's not just the fact that it's slathered in mayonnaise, sitting in the refrigerator. Because a lot of pasta salads aren't mayonnaisey at all. It's the pasta itself that tends to be off. Either chewy or squishy or slimy. It's tough to get pasta salad right, but the folks at Rocket Bakery in Spokane pull it off.

For lunch today (early lunch... I was stressed and hungry) I had the Rocket's pesto pasta salad: bow tie pasta coated in a lovely, olive oily pesto, with chunks of tomato and a sprinkling of parmesan cheese. The odds were in my favor here, since I love love love pesto. I could drink pesto. I could put it on my cereal. Okay, that would probably be gross, but you get the picture. Pesto: good.

Still, the pasta could have been over- or under-cooked. There could have been too much oil. They could have whipped the life out of the basil (when making pesto, if you over-chop and over-stress the basil, it will start to look like guacamole). But they didn't. They made a really lovely and surprisingly comforting cold dish. I'm really coming around on cold food lately. I'm learning (and I did suspect this, but needed proof) that it's not the mere fact that dishes are served cold that makes them unpalatable for me; it's that they're poorly executed. For a long time, I put my faith in the food industry, expecting that what a restaurant/deli/grocery store served me would have to be quality, or they wouldn't sell it. I thought the food I got at restaurants, with perhaps the exception of fast food, was the best there was. And then I started cooking and discovered that my dishes often come out better than the fare at chain restaurants and small-town shops where there are no actual chefs because what chef would want to live in Pullman, Washington? That knowledge that not all dishes are created equal is starting to sink in as I find that I really do like a lot of the dishes I thought were revolting. They just need to be prepared properly.

So I'm going to start considering the source of my food more carefully, which doesn't just mean finding out where my fish came from or how the chickens who laid my eggs were treated--to a certain extent, I do that already--but who prepared my food, and how lovingly? I know any pie produced by my Aunt Lula is going to be fantastic and mouth-watering (she's won awards for them, but also, she makes her pies carefully and lovingly). Deli foods in Pullman are derived from a strict recipe, but they're assembled by college kids, most of whom have no investment in the preparation or serving of food beyond their paycheck and may well have carelessly doubled quantities, left ingredients out, or just neglected to properly stir things. The people at the Rocket in Spokane seem to be invested in their customers and their products; with the exception of a couple of poorly made lattes (new baristas, I think) they have yet to disappoint. They're part of the community here, which I think is important. They know they're feeding people who live where they do, who care about the same things. And that makes a difference.

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