Friday, June 5, 2009

HOTEL Stories: Food Update

With all my ranting and raving about hotel food, it appears I may actually have had some influence on positive changes in, at least, the dinner offerings guests enjoy Monday through Wednesday. For one thing, my crack about Romaine lettuce brought forth immediate results. Our Hospitality Director began by serving, just me, a large plate of Romaine, while iceberg remained the token green for everyone else. This evolved to mixing in some Romaine for the other folks, and eventually graduated to an actual salad bowl, piled high with the dark green stuff. Amazing.

Then one night last week, armed with my own concoction of Romaine, beet greens, lovely Italian lupini beans, cooked asparagus, red onion, roasted red pepper, marinated mushrooms and plum tomatoes, imagine my shock when I discovered the hotel’s Romaine bowl had sprouted its own slices of cucumber, squash, and carrots, with a few tomatoes and even some broccoli heads! I barely knew what to do: 1) abandon my own plastic bowl of goodies and save for later, or 2) mix in my stuff with their good stuff--which is, of course, what I did.

Our Hospitality Director keeps saying her goal is to provide some variety, to which I keep saying that it is far more important than that--it is life and death. I mean veggies are what our bodies use to create interferons, and interferons are what we need to build our immune system, not the least of which provide strong strands of RNA, or something like that, to keep out dreaded foreigners, like cancer cells.

You don’t think I’ve become such a militant nut for no reason, do you? I can’t go a day without my interferons--and neither can you. So when you notice a plate of white, brown and pale green, think of all the health soldiers you are missing and get busy on the drafting of purple, orange, red, and deep green ones. It is more than a whim. It is life itself.

I do notice the staff reflecting looks of anticipation as I enter the Gate House each evening a meal is served. They look at me as if I were about to give a thumbs up or down, and they were the toreador awaiting their fate of approval or disapproval. Of course, I try to be sensitive to them. I don’t want them to think I am unappreciative of the great effort they have gone to to please me. Really it is only the white bread and too frequent hot dog dinner that remain the big problems. Even on cheese and cracker night, there are veggies. And, the cheeses are good--brie and horseradish cheddar, and Jarlsberg. These are cheeses I would buy, and I have to admit to lopping off some extra chunks and carrying them back to the room for lunch the next day.

My recent visit to Valley Fish Company in Granby produced more amazing goodness. I learned that several of our favorite local restaurants use this vendor, and therefore, we can be confident that ordering clam chowder, or even the occasional fried strips will assure us the freshness we used to believe was only available on the coast. Not so. Valley serves our new favorite town of Southwick, Mass. and the-on-the-way to Southwick town of Granby. Good news indeed.

My dilemma with counter space has diminished, mostly because we humans are indefatigably adaptive, and I have learned to forget the toaster all together and chop to my heart’s content on tiny counter space. And, since it appears I may not have to cart my plastic bowl of produce up to the Gate House, I can certainly find time and space for the other three days I need to chop.

Breakfast remains the biggest challenge, avoiding good-looking stuff like waffles with strawberry mush and crispy potatoes and sausage. I have resigned to only indulging in the eggs with salsa and the twice weekly croissants, which remind me of Italy; if only we had the steaming cups of cappuccino with the foam swirls atop to go with the cornucopia-shaped pastries, like our daily fare in Rome. Alas, no. And, these croissants are packaged, not the freshly baked, peach infused delights at our boutique hotel on the east side of Rome. It must be the memory that makes it okay, like the event my husband witnessed when he took me to Maine Fish Market Restaurant on the east side of Windsor, Conn. I wouldn’t have realized what happened that evening, had I not tuned into "No Reservations," where my favorite travel host, Anthony Bourdain, explained it all.

On this Friday night in East Windsor, Jay ordered his usual fish dinner, baked, not fried, in his token effort to convince me that he cares about his cholesterol, when I know he really doesn’t. I, on the other hand, uncharacteristically ordered the fried Fisherman’s Platter. When it arrived, piled high with fried clams, crab cakes, fried flounder and fried shrimp, I was met with stares of disbelief.

“What are you doing?” my dear husband inquired, thinking, I am sure, that I must have lost a few brain cells on the drive over.

“I don’t really know,” I confessed. “It must be some childhood memory kicking in.”

This didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me, as I said, until I was back in Illinois, enjoying Tony’s travelogue to New Jersey--which if you know his show, was a hoot, and a real departure from his usual exotic locations. This one began with a bus tour of The Sopranos territory. The bus tour narrator bragged that New Jersey had the highest record for toxic waste in the U.S. in the same proud tones other tour narrators would have reported on something like beautiful gardens or famous historical figures.

Then Tony wandered to Asbury Park, where he revealed such amazing facts such as that the Gypsy Teller in Springsteen’s song was still practicing her fortunetelling on the beach. He visited a near-abandoned diner for lunch, and ordered a grilled cheese sandwich, knowing it would be white bread and the un-cheese, American cheese. I actually stopped the recording and typed up his paragraph about how he felt safe eating this utterly disgusting meal, because he was quite sure that it was so void of any possible nutritional value that even the bugs would reject it--a comfort in a place with almost no customer traffic, which would mean food lying ‘round the place for weeks. It was hilarious narrative.

But, it was dinnertime at Howard Johnson’s that filled in my memory gap for me. Tony sat down at HoJo’s and ordered the Fisherman’s Platter, muttering something like, “I know this is counter-intuitive in today’s health-crazed climate, but it’s something about a childhood memory.” That isn’t an exact quote, but it was exactly what I said to my hubby in East Windsor. On the one or two occasions that my family could afford a dinner in a seafood place, when I was growing up, the Fisherman’s Platter was the delight I looked forward to. This was way before any talk of fiber, cholesterol, fat or even the detriments of fried things. This was not daily, weekly or monthly food. This was once-a-year, twice at the most! So forgive me if I remain tied to this meal, which, really, I can’t completely dis. It is, indeed, for me, as for Tony, a cherished childhood memory, which I believe I will celebrate, now that I live in New England, at least three or four times a year. So there! Does that prove that I’m human or what!

I try, I really do. I am just not one of those individuals who knows how to enjoy being human. I think it has something to do with being born in July, and though I do NOT practice any sort of astrological mumbo-jumbo, because it is against my faith, I will concede that being born under a water sign has made my mystical propensities dominant, and also has made me cleave to my earth-bound husband for respite that just occasionally, I might know how to abandon myself to the “bad-for-you-stuff,” and just relax and enjoy it.

I always remind myself of that Smothers Brothers’ song (does that date me?) called, “I Remember Suzie,” about a girl born in the city, who went out to the country for a holiday, breathed in air with no pollution for the first time in her life, and died of health. So I try to indulge in some bad stuff once-in-awhile, just to keep up my immunities to the things that can kill you, since, opposite to Suzie, I don’t think I have enough exposure to these substances (I meant fried food--what were you thinking?) to protect me if I should happen upon a time, like a year in a hotel, for instance, when I am deluged with non-health-oriented life and food. Everything in moderation. That’s what my daddy taught me. And, he knew everything.