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You can’t beat…

You can’t beat beets! That what my Dad always says and I have to agree with him. This vibrantly colored root vegetable is frequenting local food markets and CSAs right now. Amy shared a couple with me from her bounty and yesterday I put one of them to good use by making a batch of my Walnut Beet Burgers. They were as quick and flavorful as I remembered and I was glad to have blogged the recipe I came up with last year.

Beets from NYC certainly aren’t local for us so it will make more sense when I share that we went to visit Arron & Amy this past weekend. Arron’s week of performances in City Center culminated in my favorite ballet of all time, In the Upper Room. His artistic prowess was lauded in the New York Times a couple of days ago. The reviewer found his phrasing in the piece unbeatable, comparing him to one of the world’s top ballet dancers.

Arron Scott is so stylish a dancer that, even when he’s beside Mr. Cornejo in “In the Upper Room,” it’s to him I look to see just how a phrase should be accentuated.

I seem to be blogging backward because even before going to the city to visit with Amy (her first time seeing In the Upper Room) Jim and I had some wonderful times together earlier that day. We made time to finally stop in Bloomsburg and had lunch at Prana Juice Bar and Namaste Cafe. Columbia County is just a hair outside of the limits that are set for the judging for the Pennsyltucky Veggie Awards but it is still home to one other very few all vegetarian restaurants in central Pennsylvania.

Prana was having a Harvest Festival and it was in full swing during the time we chose to visit. This may have caused minor delays and unsynchronized arrival of our food being served but the staff was great about it all. They were cheerful and not in a spacy and oblivious way. They were aware of the increased patronage of the day and recognized it to us in a way that was a pleasant matter of fact and didn’t come off as a whiny excuse as it could have. The place was very busy but we were well taken care of as we placed the order, were directed to seating of our choice, getting our order correct and checking that it was to our liking.

We sat at a cute two-seater in a small room toward the front of the building where we could enjoy the live entertainment that was on the front porch, pleasant acoustic guitar performances graced the length of the festival. It was during this time that some of the other guests were the only unpleasant issue we had. One mom’s free-range parenting style allowed her elementary school aged girls to bang their small pumpkin gourds on the keys of a piano that we sat 3 feet from. She stood over them, enjoying the cacophony until I had to tell her that Jim and I couldn’t hear what each other were saying. Soon after, a young man in his late teens came wandering in and started looking under the cushions of a plush couch that was on the other side of our table. I assumed he had lost something but he turned to explain to us he was looking for spare change, ” …hoping to find $.50.” He went on to share that he was hoping to buy a small portion of one the cleansing juices, “…before I have to poop.” I grabbed up my change purse and gave him 2 quarters so he would be able to… um… get on with his business somewhere other than the dining area.

The juices do sound incredible and I am hoping the fellow got a schmecken of the Pranayumma, carrot, apple and beet juice because it would be my choice. We stuck to water though and ordered the Organic Soup du Jour, a thick vegetable stew with so many hearty and tender veggies we couldn’t count them all. It was well seasoned and might have even classified as a mild vegetable chili, a perfect bowl and a crisp Fall day.

We also shared and Avocado Jalapeno Cilantro Hummus Wrap. The hummus wasn’t super spicy but the flavors of jalapeno and cilantro were just enough to set it apart from the traditional. Fresh and perfect avocado wedges, crunchy but mild onions and other veggies were all wrapped up together with a nice sprig of kale to make a huge wrap. A few slices of gala apple and seedless grapes blessed the plate and added fresh color and flavor as a garnish, very nice.

Prices were pretty reasonable for the quality of food, portion size and customer service we received. The staff really seemed to care about how our meal was and we assured them that we would be returning. Prana Juice Bar and Namaste Cafe isn’t just a groovy idea, it is a well run restaurant that should be on every vegetarian’s radar. We were assured that it is rare to come across a menu item that can not be made vegan (vegan cheese choices on sandwiches) and the kitchen and staff are eager to please all dietary needs without being preachy, judgmental or conversationally aggressive.Prana Juice Bar and Namaste Cafe on Urbanspoon

You can’t beat a nice run before a long trip in the car. Yet one step earlier in our day we made a stop in Mifflinburg to participate in a local fundraiser for the Buffalo Valley Rail Trail, the Flat ‘N Fast 4-Mile run/walk. I used this well maintained and new rail trail for quite a few of my longer training runs before my first marathon this year. Jim biked as I logged many a mile so we were very appreciative of the location and condition of this trail. The entry fees and festive race were all in support of the trail, we got on board by pre-registering a few weeks prior.

When you pre-register for something you never know for sure what the weather will be like or how you will be feeling the day of the race. The weather was perfect and but poor Jim had been pretty sick the day before and wasn’t quite up to a 4 mile jog followed by a drive to the city and then also attending the ballet. He decided to just collect his race shirt and rest while he waited for me at the finish line.

The race was well run, they provided a shuttle to the start line and transported warm-up clothes back to the finish line for all runners. I chose to warm up by jogging to the start line but did take advantage of clothing transport by tossing my gloves in and collecting them later. They also had markers for specific pace groups so that the slower runners and walkers wouldn’t get trampled by the speedsters.

This was the first time I ever toed the line with the sub 9:00 minute milers. It made me feel almost legit as I stayed up with a woman who looked like she could be in my age group as long as I could. I had to let her go after the first mile and she came in 6 runners ahead of me by averaging an 8:25 minute mile. She took first in the 55 – 59-year-old women. Luckily I am only 50; she took veterans but I got 1st in my age group of 50-54!

As we waited to collect my award, a cool ceramic mug with the race logo and year printed on it, Jim entered a raffle for a basket of local goodies. I told him that I hoped they would choose his ticket since I wanted him to come away with something since he didn’t run that morning. I screamed with delight when they called his number. He was such a good sport about letting me still run the race and driving to the city, his support is unbeatable and he deserves prizes like this all the time.

Roasted Beet & Fennel Salad with Grapefruit Dressing

Roasted Beet & Fennel Salad with Grapefruit Dressing

I can’t help but order any Beet Salad if it’s on the menu of a restaurant I visit. The only reason I didn’t at V-Note in NYC was because Amy did and was generous in sharing it with me. That salad even had the delicately textured yellow beets in it – such a nice touch!

My favorite salad with beets is the one I get at Elk Creek Cafe that has thin slices of fennel and a mellow grapefruit dressing. I did my best to make it for lunch and started of by roasting the beets, Post Punk Kitchen style, in tin foil.

Jim found the PPK recipe quite a while ago and posted it on his very first blog that accidentally got deleted. That was the one link that got our family hooked on beets last year and I made sure to post the link again on Jim’s new blog since it was our “go to” link for perfect beets. Thanks PPK for being a wonderful resource for our family.

One modification I made was to stand the tin foil wrapped beets upright in a cupcake tin. I think I tipped a beet over once and the juices started seeping out so I learned to secure them. Six is a good number for roasting beets I think, eat some now and refrigerate some for later.

I cut up half a bulb of fennel into really thin slices and split it between our two salads which were a base of field greens. I also added some of my Red Pickled Onyums since the salad I was trying to replicate had red onions on it too.

The most challenging part for me was the grapefruit dressing. Jim said I got it just right so I will share exactly how I made it.

Grapefruit Dressing

1 Ruby Red Grapefruit
1 Tablespoon Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/2 teaspoon Organic Sugar
1/2 teaspoon crushed Fennel Seeds
1/4 teaspoon Caraway Seeds

(prep time 1 1/2 hours while you roast the beets)
Zest the grapefruit and juice half of it (reserve the other have in a container for any other use). Combine the zest with the olive oil and crushed fennel seeds and allow to sit at room temperature for at least an hour. After the zest and fennel have infused their flavors into the oil, pour in the juice and strain it all through a very finely meshed sieve. Add the sugar and caraway seeds then allow the dressing to sit for at least another 1/2 hour.

I used a small funnel and put it into a little St. Germain’s bottle to shake it up to pour over the salads and even have a bit left over for later.

Elk Creek Cafe + Aleworks

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What started as a much smaller cafe in less than half the space it now occupies, Elk Creek Cafe + Aleworks is now the live and beating heart of downtown Millheim. Located on Main Street at the only light in town, what hasn’t changed is that you will still be treated like a good friend who is welcome to sit and chill, enjoy a meal or sip your drink as long as you like as you watch the Amish buggies clip and clop past the big picture windows.

The days and hours they are open are a bit odd (closed Mondays & Tuesdays, no lunch Wed & Thur) and there are also different bands featured to perform in the main dining area many evenings so check the web page and FaceBook page. Parking is on the street or behind the building.

What does this small town brew pub have to offer a vegetarian? Plenty! It’s exciting to say they have always had a nice vegetarian sandwich or two and a vegan hummus plate. Now I can add they are dedicated to all of that plus a vegan entrée and vegetarian soup choice every evening meal. Sitting at a high top table or on one of the elevated stages with good food and a local drink makes anybody, loner or huge family, feel like they belong at the Elk Creek Cafe. They feature Tait Farm Shrubs and local wines as well as their own established list of beers.

Belgian Cut Fries & Watermelon Gazpacho!

The food menu, self dubbed Nouveau Dutchie Cuisine™, is dedicated to fresh, local foods and we have enjoyed many a wonderful soup and “vegan bowl” with a house crafted micro brew. On our last visit, we started with some of the Belgian Cut Fries with the Tabasco Catsup & Aioli and shared a bowl of the vegetarian soup of the day, a vegan Watermelon Gazpacho!

The soup, as are ALL of their vegetarian soups, was crazy good. It was super chilled and had a great balance of tangy sweetness with onion in it’s to the deep pink broth. A thin chiffonade of flat leaf parsley added contrasting color as did the large halved blue berries that were floating in it. We both agreed that the little cubes of watermelon may have been marinated. We detected a bit of basil along with the peppery mustard seed we found on the bottom of the bowl.

We typically choose not to go when a band is scheduled because we like to chat and enjoy our meal. The dining area wasn’t full but about 1/3 of the 30 tables were being served in the cheery glow of the bright walls. We enjoyed peering around at the artwork of the month as we dipped our fries and sipped our soup. I even used my iTouch to pop online and touch base with Arron, just back from Japan. The Wi-Fi is free and no tvs even near the 16 seats at the bar to distract from the warm and woody ambiance of the place. I could hear a large meeting or gathering in the separate back dining area but it wasn’t keeping the wait staff from being on top of what we had ordered.

Our salads were served next. I got my favorite Roasted Beet + Fennel Salad and Jim ordered the vegan special of the day, the Tomato Panzanella Salad. Both were served with generous portions of tasty mixed lettuces and thinly sliced red onions in large shallow bowls. Jim’s was dressed with a sharp red wine vinegar which offset the sweet hunks of local tomato and saturated the large soft croutons. He loved the hint of dill he would taste with every other mouthful.

I just can’t get enough of the roasted beets nestled in those same greens and coated with a delicate grapefruit dressing. The sweet bites of mild and crunchy fennel are a wonderful counterpoint to the pieces of radish and red onion. It’s that little bit of fennel seed (caraway?) that makes me sit up and take notice and keeps me ordering it almost every time.

Over the years we have enjoyed tempeh sandwiches, quinoa and greens, mushroom soup with truffles oil, red beet latkes, artisan cheese and fruit plates and many a pint of good beer at Elk Creek Cafe. I cannot think of any meal I have not enjoyed every bite of and that includes their Sunday brunches (I dream about the tofu scramble and crispy potatoes.) Service can be a little slow at times but it’s not that any employee is dawdling. If you look around the staff are hustling to meet everyone’s needs and that includes knowing or being at the ready to check if a menu item is vegan or vegetarian, they care to know. We have taken family and friends, large groups and snuck off just the two of us, we have come for the bands and for the beer. Elk Creek Cafe + Aleworks has never let us down.

Winner Pennsyltucky Veggie Awards 2011Best Specials & Best Restaurant.

Elk Creek Cafe on Urbanspoon

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