A Culinary Adventure, From Gardens and Markets to Restaurants and Home Kitchens
Dec 30, 2013
01:47 PM
Local Flavor

Foodie Hits and Misses of 2013

Foodie Hits and Misses of 2013

PHOTO BY OTEHLIA CASSIDY

Beth Kazmar from Tipi Produce Farm

The extra five pounds aside, 2013 was a good year. My business, Madison Eats, continues to grow. It seems to be following an old country road, rather than an interstate, but I am enjoying seeing the developments and feeling the rewards, and challenges, of starting a new business. At home, our chickens started laying eggs! And my husband and I enjoyed a five-day trip to New Orleans in September, sans kiddos, which was awesome.

Speaking of our kids, they are growing up, and I am enjoying (almost) every minute of it. Our son cooks for us once a week (our favorite dish this year was spicy chicken thighs with coconut rice), and our daughter has an incredibly witty sense of humor. Case in point: Just yesterday I told her that I thought we had everything we needed to make mac n’ cheese. She said, “Do you have cheese?” Yes. “Do you have mac?” Yes. “Do you have ands?”

As far as food goes, I discovered a few things about myself, and confirmed some things I already knew. I abhor fast food, I love cooking for others and I wish I would menu plan more often. Here are a few more items on my 2013 retrospective culinary love-hate list.

LOCAL FOOD

Elated

CSAs, farmers’ markets and food pantries, oh my! The options are endless. Select a CSA (community-supported agriculture coalition), and get everything from vegetables to meat, eggs, milk, bread and flowers. Prefer to see the goods before you buy? Visit the Dane County Farmers’ Markets year-round, where you’ll barely notice the slump in fresh produce during the cold months—stock up on canned jellies, beautiful soaps, honey and enjoy a market breakfast instead. For those in financial need, many area food pantries receive donations of local produce, bread and dairy products.

Delicious and affordable Mexican and Thai fare Job perk: I sampled, tasted and sipped my way around Madison to write about our Asian and Mexican food scenes. It was a tough job, but someone had to do it. What I discovered is that we have no shortage of great ethnic eats. My entire family of four can fill up for less than $50. And some of the restaurants even source their produce locally. Sure beats expensive plates of pasta (see below).

Overrated

Small main-course portions on large plates Don’t leave me hungry! Especially if the entree costs a pretty penny. A kid-size serving of pasta, even if topped with a few shreds of meat, some local greens and Wisconsin cheese, should not cost $27. Ever. Unless you are getting a massage at the same time.

Supplements and vitamin waters, elixirs and other things promising better health Best bet is to eat a balanced diet. No one said it better than Julia Child: “Everything in moderation. Even moderation.”

GEAR

Elated

Wood and bamboo Wooden spoons don’t scratch your skillet, they last forever, they look pretty and they serve perfectly well to threaten unruly children in the kitchen. Bamboo steamer baskets, where have you been all my life? Stacked three stories high, I can fill them with fish, potatoes and greens and have dinner in no time!

Pretty little bowls and serving utensils Why not splurge on an elegant cheese knife and a beautiful serving board, too? Put some dried fruit in the bowl, light a candle, pour some wine and your food will taste that much better.

Overrated

Smartphones as cameras I like having a camera in my phone, but using it at a restaurant to shoot a dish before taking a bite is not only super annoying to those around you. And believe me, I know this from being annoying. And often those photos look awful—food shot in bad lighting does nothing to advertise the food or your favorite establishment.

Salt grinders There are really only a two sizes you need—fine and coarse-ground. And salt’s flavor does not improve when ground, so why bother doing the extra work?

FOOD TRENDS

Elated

Artisanal liquors and bitters Consuming a drink and being socially and economically responsible at the same time? Awesome.

Beer tours, farm tours and food tours Having a chance to get to know your producers is well worth the time and money whether you are next to a barrel, near some cows or in your favorite neighborhood restaurant. Uh, yeah, a bit of shameless self-promotion there.

Facebook and Twitter for restaurant specials I love being able to quickly browse my favorite restaurants and see what they are offering today. Especially when it’s seventeen below, and going outside takes extra encouragement.

Overrated

Going gluten-free Some of you are allergic, and in that case ignore my rant. But what is so wrong with gluten? Fluffy baguettes? Perfect pastry? Gluten required. And gluten gave birth to pizza! Where would we be without pizza? Again, I think moderation is the key.

Over-the-top craft cocktail menus and mixology I love a great cocktail, and I am happy mixologists and bartenders exist. But when the drink menu is a short novel and you have to read a paragraph, or even a page, to understand your drink, it can be a challenge, especially after the second cocktail. I always end up asking the waiter or bartender for a suggestion, anyway. And it’s always just what I want.

What food trends will 2014 bring? I’m thinking more mac n’ cheese variations, perhaps a dearth of artisanal junk food and maybe we’ll even see “local” squirrel on restaurant menus. Whatever it is, I can’t wait to find out—with a craft cocktail in one hand and a spring roll in the other.

About This Blog

Writing has always provided an anchor for my passions, which focus deeply on food, dance, environmental conservation and culture. I grew up “helping” my dad cultivate a prolific garden that produced too many radishes and watching my mom make almost all of our food from scratch, including horehound candy. Meanwhile I took my first African dance class in high school, which ignited my continuing quest to travel to West Africa, via Europe and South America, to study dance.

Through my travels, I learned that we are all connected by food, and our basic need to eat. Since moving to Madison in 1998 to pursue degrees in conservation biology and dance, I have developed an appreciation for the richness of our local food community, and a great desire to share it with others. What started as a personal food blog, A World of Flavors, has since grown into a business teaching cooking classes and leading local and international food tours.

I look forward to sharing culinary adventures with you through my Madison Magazine blog Local Flavor and monthly Dining In recipe column.

  – Otehlia Cassidy
Follow Otehlia on Twitter @madisoneats

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