Wednesday, August 25, 2010

These Beans Are Greek to Me

How Greek is this dish? Heck if I know. I had it on vacation two weeks ago in a restaurant called Ethos. The hostess had a large swooping mane of platinum-colored hair and a flowy tiger-striped blouse. She kept the waiting list in her head and seemingly knew what every single person in the restaurant, whether staff or customer, was doing and what they needed next. She was born to be a maîtresse d’hôtel.

That staff of hers is great, too. Our server knew not only every dish, but every one of a dozen fish on the menu by their Greek and English names. Some of them were catch of the day. She knew all those fish well enough to have a favorite.

She brought a green bean dish with a sharpish-tasting tomato sauce. There was a subtly sweet, woodsy undertone to it, though, that I could not place. Finally I found and identified the culprit: whole allspice. Who would expect to find that at a Greek restaurant?

Well, when your mouth is full of something good, you don’t need to know what’s Greek. You just need to enjoy.

Ethos Green Beans
The allspice berries at Ethos were nearly tasteless, their deliciousness having escaped into the sauce via stewing. My guess is that the chef starts a batch of the sauce in the afternoon and then keeps it on the back burner all night. When the kitchen receives an order for this dish, maybe Chef scoops up a dollop of sauce, tosses in the beans and dill, and then simmers them tender while he or she makes the rest of the meal.

2 T olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
2 cups chopped tomatoes (I used a pint of cherry tomatoes plus one small beefsteak tomato)
½ cup white wine
3 allspice berries
A sprig of oregano
1 lb green beans
2-3 T chopped fresh dill
Salt and pepper

Heat the olive oil in a wide-bottomed, deep pan. Sauté the garlic and onion until translucent. Toss in the chopped tomatoes and fry them a bit until the pan starts to dry out. Add the wine, allspice, and oregano. Turn down the heat, cover the pan, and simmer for fifteen or twenty minutes. Check the pan often and throw in some water if things are getting too dry. It would be best if the dish could simmer on low heat for a long time, but if there isn’t time for that, cook it harder. The idea is for the tomatoes to break down into a thin sauce.

Throw in the green beans and the dill, stir, and cover the pan again. Let the pot stew, stirring occasionally, until the beans are quite tender, perhaps ten minutes or more. They will not be the bright green of steamed beans; they will start to turn olive-colored.
For the last minute or two, take the cover off the pan and check the thickness of the sauce. It should be thin but with some body, like gravy. You may need to let some extra water steam off.

Season to taste. Yum!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Open Letter to Target

It’s my blog, so I get to go off-topic sometimes. Fellow food lovers, I have to get something off my chest.

Dear Target:

I’ve been your loyal customer for literally all my life. As a kid growing up in Minnesota, I formed some of my earliest shopping-related memories in the speckled white linoleum aisles of Duluth’s Target store. In college, that store was my go-to place for everything. Now that I’m climbing onto the bottom rung of middle age, I can’t think of a store I like better. That’s why it breaks my heart to tell you I’ll never shop at Target again.

There are so many reasons why I love your brand and your stores. There’s the merchandise, of course, and the prices. I’ve smugly identified with your cultivated image of the Target shopper: smart and fun; stylish, yet approachable. Yes. I am soooo much cooler than people who shop at discount stores.

I can’t tell you how many times I have defended you to opponents of big-box retail. “Target is different,” I’d say. “They treat their employees like people.” (I know this because as a cash-strapped young adult, I had a second job at the Knollwood Mall store in St. Louis Park.) I have advocated for you to people who think you are corporate drones. “Target cares about communities,” I’d argue. “They give a percentage of their profits to local charities. They send cadres of volunteers.”

And of course, your support for queer people and their causes is legendary. Target has long been a presence at the Minnesota AIDS Walk; AIDS is still popularly, though wrongly, thought of as a gay disease. Target takes up a big corner of Loring Park at Pride every summer. And no queer Target corporate employee needs to work in the closet, as you (inexplicably, still) have a 100% rating from HRC.

Over the years, you’ve made it clear your queer customers and employees are important to you. It’s just as clear that they are not as important as the possibility of an economic climate that might be a little more conducive to your financial growth. For me, your $150,000 campaign donation to a homophobe belied all the good you’ve ever done. I believed you when you said you’re sorry you gave the money. But I can’t help but notice that you did not ask for it back. And I cannot help but wonder if you’re planning to make another such donation in the future.

I have one political dream for my lifetime: to live in a country where I am not a second-class citizen. To live in an America that holds good to the promises in our Constitution: that full faith and credit shall be given in each state to the public acts, records, and judicial proceedings of every other state. That Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion. That no state shall make or enforce any law which shall deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

If I shop at Target, Target will make a profit. And I have no indication that Target will not give some of that profit to politicians who work to defeat my dream. That’s why I cannot spend another cent with you. I will be paying a lot more for prescriptions, for shampoo, for patio furniture and sunscreen and snow shovels and antifreeze and socks and dish soap and alarm clocks. But I won’t be helping you fund my demonization and continued marginalization. That’s what you bought with the money you made while we were doing business together. You’ve betrayed your own policies and you’ve betrayed me.

Honestly, I did expect more.