Saturday, August 27, 2011

Travel Bite: Kolaches, West, Texas

Right off the I-35 highway in the tiny town of West is the Czech Stop and Little Czech Bakery. It's an oddly conjoined mini mart/deli and bakery and gas station that Texans have come to anticipate on that long stretch of asphalt between Dallas and Austin. You can fill up your beer belly on the left, your kolache gut on the right, and your gas guzzler out front.

Claiming to be the "Kolache capital of Texas," West is not far from Waco and George W. Bush country, namely, Crawford. You know, the ranch where "W" was busy clearing brush during a national crisis. If there was upheaval somewhere in the world, chances are he could be found in these parts with kolache crumbs on his face. But since those orange-level terror-alert days are gone, he was a no-show.

This was the only orange alert I could buy into. So in the name of national security, I grabbed a roll of duct tape and assumed the apricot kolache position with mouth wide open (The tape was to shut my pie hole so I wouldn't eat more than one). The kolaches come with various fruit fillings, and they cry to be eaten fresh. If you don't kill 'em off on the first day, the terrorists win.

This yeast pastry originated as a wedding dessert in Czechoslovakia. In the 1860s, Czech immigrants came to West and the surrounding areas to buy farm land and start a fresh life in the new world. The cream cheese ones taste similar to cheese Danish, while the poppyseed and prune fillings are reminiscent of the Jewish pastry, hamentashen, also from Eastern Europe.

The closed kolache was supposedly created in Czechoslovakia because the fruit in the open-faced buns would get all over the working men's lunch buckets, hence their wives folded over the pastry. But that could be an old wives' tale.

The klobasnek, klobasniky or klobasnik (your choice) has the same dough as the kolache, but they're filled with sausage. Klobasnik were traditionally just sausage, but now a combination of ingredients like cheese and peppers are common. Apparently purists cringe when a klobasnik is referred to as a kolache. I cringe at greasy sausage. Maybe I'll turn that into a bumper sticker.

A lot of German and Polish immigrants also settled in the area, including the German founder of the famous fruitcake company, Collin Street Bakery in nearby Corsicana that I visited. The Europeans not only brought their recipes to Texas, they brought the waltz and polka, too. Through the years, the oompah band and accordion were combined with the Mexican corrido and mariachi to form the music that’s heard in Central and South Texas called Tejano. (Notice the musicians on the wall in the pic above, and hear the master Tejano accordionist Flaco Jimenez.) There's an annual Czech Polka festival in West called Westfest held every Labor Day weekend that attracts 20,000 people and includes a kolache baking contest.

West may be the “Kolache capital of Texas,” but Montgomery, Minnesota claims to be the "Kolacky capital of the world," and Prague, Nebraska says it's the “Home of the world's largest kolache.” While those other towns might proclaim themselves the reigning kolache king, I have some advice for them: When it comes to kolaches, don't mess with Texas. And that's one warning you can believe.

Don't let the terrorists win.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Banana Yogurt Spoonie

Spoonie may be thick and simple, but that’s why he's so lovable.
Who is this Spoonie, you ask? Why, he's Smoothie's simpler brother. Think of him as the Rain Man of yogurt refreshments. Tom Cruise is the smooth one who lures the ladies in with his straw, and Dustin Hoffman is the thick one who's really brilliant despite his compulsive need for flatware. Just give him a nanosecond, and he can tell you how many calories are in a Vegas buffet.

While most of us also have a thick and simple brother, I'm pretty sure Spoonie tastes better and is easier to make. You don’t even need a blender. Simply take a fork and mash a very ripe banana with some organic nonfat yogurt as your base, then add a few mix-ins like dried coconut and walnuts, and before you know it, you’ll be spooning Rain Man. Rich tasting and nutrient dense, he makes a smart and satisfying breakfast, brunch item, afternoon snack or light dessert.

I like to leave some banana chunks in for variety, but if Smoothie Cruise is more your type, you can beat him to a finer pulp. Personally, I don’t believe in banana cruelty, but you’ll have to follow your own moral compass. For an extra kick, you can add cardamom. Or leave their mom out of it if she’s too spicy. And since Spoonie has no fat or sugar like his rich cousin, The Lick-Your-Bowl-Clean Plantain Banana Split, you can eat a huge bowl of him without remorse. If you want to omit the coconut and then find that Spoonie isn't sweet enough, just add a little honey. Vanilla extract is welcome, too. Do whatever you want to him. Despite his lumps, Spoonie is a very agreeable guy. I guarantee he'll dazzle everyone you introduce him to. True, he may not be smooth like his brother, but when you get your spoon in him, boy does he shine. He's sparkly. Very sparkly.

Banana Yogurt Spoonie Recipe

(Makes 1 large serving or 2 small ones)

1 banana, mashed

¼ cup organic plain nonfat yogurt (Greek is good, too)

1 TBSP shredded or flaked unsweetened coconut

1 TBSP walnut pieces

1 cardamom pod (optional), seeds ground in a mortar and pestle

In a bowl, mash banana with a fork. Stir in yogurt. Add coconut, nuts and ground cardamom (if using). Refrigerate for at least 1/2 an hour until the flavors meld and then serve cold. Can keep in the fridge up to 24 hours before banana starts to turn brown.

Related Links:

The Lick-Your-Bowl-Clean Plantain Banana Split

Build-Your-Own Chocolate and Banana Crépes

Ode to a Mom

Monday, August 8, 2011

Single Bite: Fashionista Farmer

Kenneth Cole Slaw, Santa Fe, New Mexico

While ogling this color-coordinated cruciferous display at the Santa Fe Farmers’ Market last summer, I wondered what it would look like if every stall at the market made a fashion statement. Would Kenneth Cole Slaw be vying with Dolce & Garbanzo for the most eye-catching ensemble? Who would be the Prada of produce for the fall season? Hmmm. I feel a reality show coming on. And don't try to steal my idea, Heidi Klum. It's right here in cyberprint. Lentil Breakdown thought of Project Fashionista Farmer first.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Ode to a Dean

Your brilliant school earned top degrees

In powerful omega-3s

Yet in the fishnet grads were seen

Now who’s so canny, eh, sardine?