Friday, July 18, 2008

it never hurts to ask

It never hurts to ask: this might be a phrase that you're familiar with. At least, in my family, it's used often, especially in situations where you get a random idea that involves asking someone something strange or unfamiliar. "It never hurts to ask!" is then stated by one of my family members, meaning, it's free and quick and you never know what will come of it! The person might just say yes.

So, with this in mind, I bravely queried the manager of a local cafe about a non-refined-sugar dessert. Whew! You might be thinking. That's a big deal! Not...

But sometimes it IS a big deal to approach someone with your unorthodox idea, even if that someone is an acquaintance of yours, and pretty friendly to boot.

Anyway, the reason I did so was that both my brother Mat and I have trouble with foods that contain refined sugar. We each have our own variations on that theme, with Mat nixing dairy as well, and me unable to eat yeasted breads. So when dessert time rolls around when eating out at this cafe (which we haunt all summer long), we can't eat anything on the menu without getting a bad reaction from our bodies and our consciences. However, I've splurged several times and tried some of the delicious choices, like Peanut Butter and Chocolate Torte (something my Granny Noble would have approved of, no doubt), Jeff's Just-Right Apple Crisp (the serving size would do a lumberjack proud), or the Carrot Cake (four layers and a lot of thick cream-cheese icing). But that kind of behaviour does not a healthy routine make.

So, when paying my bill one day, I started talking with Lorna, the manager.

"What do you think, Lorna, about a dessert special, doing a kind of fruit salad?" I said. I told her about Mat's and my dietary needs, and then talked about how they could do a seasonal strawberry shortcake that would knock people's socks off, or maybe a jumble of different fruits with some maple syrup and maybe a piece of shortbread on the side.

"Yeah, that sounds great!" She said. "The chef is really open to suggestions, too, so I'll make a note of it and talk to him about it."

The next time I was in, she said, "The chef loved the idea! He's thinking some kind of cloud thing, like a whipped fruit thing mixed up with some other fruit... I don't know, exactly, but it sounds good!" I gave her our number and told her to call me when it was on the menu.

A week later, I got a phone call. It was one of the other girls who work at the front desk of this cafe/inn/art gallery.

"Hi, Leah? I have a message here from Lorna saying to call you about a fruit salad?"

"Oh, yeah!" I said.

"There's nothing else on the note, so I assume you know what that means?" She laughed. "Yes," I said, and then explained to her what had happened thus far.

The "Fruit Clouds" was only going to be on the menu for another day or so, so I rearranged my evening plans, which had probably included something really complicated like hanging out and reading a book, to go into the village and try the dessert. I arrived around 7 pm and sat alone, ordering one "Fruit Clouds" and a cup of decaf coffee. The dessert arrived as shown above, in a little red pot, with mint on top. My first thought was — oh no, not Jell-o! Even though I've never eaten Jell-o salad, I have a horror of it based on photographs from 1960's era women's magazines, and this had the look of those clumpy, see-through "delicacies".

But what I thought was Jell-o turned out to be whipped cream. That's always a great realization, and was especially true in this case. There were pieces of melon, strawberry and orange, along with whole blueberries, all mixed together with whipped cream. I took one bite, then another, then another, then decided it was pretty damn delicious. And then, just to support my own request, and make sure it was popular, I ordered another.

As I was making my way through the second portion, the chef came out to meet me, funny hat and all. His young son stuck to his side and glanced at me occasionally. Chef Walter shook my hand, and sat down to discuss what he might do next in the "fruit salad" genre.

"I was thinking maybe doing something with ginger — do you like ginger?" I answered in the affirmative, then he went on: "Yeah, maybe Some sort of grated ginger mixed in with berries."

I dropped my bomb, the try-to-buy-and-eat-local caveat that is supported by more and more people these days. "What about doing something with local strawberries? They're out now."

"Yes, well the strawberries in this dish are local, and soon we could do one that's all berries!" We talked about where to get good strawberries and raspberries, and the merits of fruit salad. I asked his son about his wiggly teeth, and then the chef had to get back to the kitchen.

After I paid my bill that evening, and started walking along the sidewalk, my belly full and my senses satiated, I thought: It's true, it never hurts to ask.

But it might hurt to eat a third portion.

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