Saturday, May 13, 2006

The Vegetable

I have two dogs, three cats and a menagerie of peeves – my pet peeves.

Just like the animals, some pet peeves are big and some are small. Today’s pet peeve is very small – kind of like a pet gerbil.

The peeve: the vegetable side dish that comes with a restaurant meal.

Don’t get me wrong. Although you may not suspect this based on my appearance, I’m a big proponent of vegetables. When your mother told you to eat your vegetables, she was right. She was right about a lot of things.

My complaint is the choice of vegetables and how they’re served. I’ve ordered expensive steak or seafood dishes that came with a side of boiled, limp broccoli. Or maybe cauliflower. They’re mushy and lifeless.

If you’re “lucky” the veggies are carefully steamed. But they’re still just plain old vegetables like you’d eat at home when you’re too busy to be creative.

That’s lame, especially when you’re paying good money for the meal.

At home I eat boiled vegetables. Heck, I’ve been known to scarf corn nibblets right out of the can and wash them down with a lukewarm beer. The other day I even ate some “Beanie Weenies” because I was rotating food out of my survival kit. (Note to self: Never buy “Beanie Weenies” again. They’re almost inedible.)

When I’m at a restaurant, I expect more. Just as the restaurant owners expect me to wear a shirt and shoes, I expect them to take care with all the dishes and serve something delicious.

Happily, I had a very positive experience with a vegetable side dish this weekend. I got a “to-go” order from a local eating establishment. (In the interest of full disclosure, I do business with the restaurant. We do some trading. My “to go” meal is part of that trade. I’m not naming names here because I’m discussing the concept of a vegetable side rather than endorsing a restaurant.)

Along with my prime rib and garlic mashed potatoes was a vegetable dish consisting of sliced squash, julienned carrots, thin strips of red bell pepper and sliced green beans. Everything was lightly cooked (probably sauteed). There was a hint of vinegar and an herb that I suspect was rosemary.

I’m not very adept at breaking down a dish and identifying non-visible elements like herbs, oils and vinegars, so this is just a guess.

The result was a delicious and nutritious vegetable side dish with a varied and pleasant texture. The squash and beans were soft, while the carrots and bell pepper provided a light crunch. There was enough rosemary and pepper to give it some spunk, but it wasn’t overpowering. Overall, it was a nice mix.

My utensils attacked, stabbed, slashed, shoveled, pierced, skewered and scooped the vegetables almost as much as the garlic mashed potatoes and prime rib.

Eating the vegetables wasn’t a chore, it was a pleasure. It was the kind of dish that, after you eat it, you think about preparing it yourself at home.

That’s how it should be. It’s difficult not to sound snooty when writing about food – or sound like a contestant on a food cooking show – but good food really should provide some inspiration.

On a somewhat related note, the garden has sprouted. It’s just little sprouts right now, but vegetables are on their way!

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