Tag Archives: Wichita

Fusion food in my ‘hood

We’ve experienced great kindness from our fellow Wichitans since moving here earlier this year.

On my second week of living here, in full exploration mode, we popped in to an Indian grocery that happens to be less than a mile from our current home.

The India Emporium sits in a non-descript white cube of a building, next to a Korean BBQ joint (I know! In Wichita!) and across the parking lot of a tire shop. A small green-and-gold sign along the top of the building  was one of the few clues that tipped us off to what might be inside.

We had just a few minutes before closing, but browsed the aisles of spices, stacks of bagged long-grain rice, racks of bottled drinks and parcels of snacks and candy. We found an incredibly affordable jar of tahini, replenishing our supply. We’d discarded the rest of our ancient tahini stash when we moved, and thoughts of hummus danced in our head.

They didn’t dance for long. The kind and bespectacled proprietor sized us up in a matter of seconds. “You like hummus? I’ll bring you some of mine.” After ducking into the back, he brought us each a spoonful of the creamy, garlicky concoction. I completely forgot that I was standing very close to a large display of saris and other traditional Indian attire.

He urged us to come back for lunch sometime, gesturing to a small menu on the counter. We thanked him, paid for our jar, and left, intending to return soon to eat more of the creamy chickpeas.

Fast forward three months. Last week, after a handful of meetings, I found myself in that state of being that can only really be described as “hangry.” The trip to the grocery store would come later that evening; the last CSA box was but a distant memory. I remembered the lunch invitation and headed over.

The luncheon menu is Mediterranean, not Indian; there’s schwarma as opposed to saag paneer; falafel instead of dal. I’ve had both the beef and chicken schwarma (because I might have gone back a second time already.) They defy classification: thinly sliced meat, hummus, tomatoes and a wonderfully spicy cilantro sauce are all wrapped up in what I believe is a tortilla, then are grilled on a panini press into a slightly flat, burrito-shaped wrap.

Beef schwarma with fattoush salad. It's a keeper.

Beef schwarma with fattoush salad. It’s a keeper.

I can’t completely bend my brain around this; all I know is that it’s delicious, and it comes with a generous helping of fattoush (or Greek, if you’d prefer) salad to boot.

Some of my favorite colleagues loved the Indian buffet  down the street from my old office in Topeka, and a good plate of that amazing Indian turnip dish is hard to beat at lunchtime. I might have been a little bummed when I realized I was getting into something completely different than the food to which I’d become accustomed.

But I came up with a solid compromise: mango ice cream, fetched from the frosty cooler near the cash register and pried from the tub with flat wooden planks. A fitting end to any meal.

On cooking with a CSA

I love spring. I partially credit my April birthday; but it’s also a season that keeps you on your toes. Rain, thunderstorms, HUGE thunderstorms, and this year, snow, all came with my favorite season.

My birthday dinner growing up almost always included asparagus (topped with Cheez Whiz!) and strawberries. The beginning of my new year means there’s a reliable source of fresh fruit and vegetables in Kansas, and I couldn’t be happier.

For the last six years we belonged to a CSA in the Kaw and Wakarusa river valleys in northeast Kansas. Much like spring weather, a CSA brings its own surprises. Each week we would receive a bag full of whatever fresh vegetables were in season. In April, that meant mostly lettuce and other tender greens, the much-coveted asparagus, and green onions. Later in the summer, we’d progress into tomato and pepper season. And in the fall, butternut squash and sweet potatoes.

But there was always the thing we’d never seen or eaten. Kohlrabi looks more like Sputnik than something you slice up and eat with peanut dip. There were the fresh edamame, which of course are soybeans, but when they come on a long stalk and are covered in a bit of fuzz… we initially wondered if our farmers pulled them from a ditch on the way to the drop-off.

The unusual veggies, along with those we thought we didn’t like — oh, if I could get back all those lovely pink breakfast radishes! — often ended up, shamefully, to molder in the back of the fridge.

Over time, we learned the proper way to fix what we got. The biggest challenge to overcome wasn’t a fear of trying new things, but rather trying new things AGAIN if a recipe didn’t work out the first time. The radishes from our former “don’t like” list are now dipped in butter and salt, a French tradition that agrees with us. Even the leafy beet tops that used to go straight to the trash are now sautéed or otherwise fixed along with other greens.

We got our first share of our new CSA here in Wichita last week, which means that spring is really here. Included in the offering: two kinds of lovely lettuce, thick green onions, tiny red beets, kale, a turnip, arugula, and some herbs.

We ate salads topped with balsamic-marinated flat iron steak and spicy chicken wings (separate occasions, and the second was, well, it was a Friday); coarsely chopped the kale and threw it in to a pot with some browned andouille sausage and cooked lentils, all topped with a decent amount of smoked paprika; and braised the greens in white wine and garlicky oil to go with broiled salmon and couscous.

Beet greens, turnip greens, baby tatsoi and who knows what else, with a little garlic, next to the salmon and couscous.

Beet greens, turnip greens, baby tatsoi and who knows what else, with a little garlic, next to the salmon and couscous.

At this point, the only thing left are the tiniest little radishes you ever did see. If you’ll excuse me, I’m off to the fridge…

Home delivery

The latest, greatest find in Wichita: home-delivery ice cream.

Salted Creamery, from Newton, makes available a list of ice cream flavors every Monday. They post the flavors on their Facebook page; customers leave a note with their order. A few days later, the ice cream comes to your door, or a central pickup location in town.

Ice cream from Salted Creamery. In my home. (That's the point.)

Ice cream from Salted Creamery. In my home. (That’s the point.)

The home delivery of food seems to be a thing here. The CSA we’re preparing to join delivers to its members, instead of a central drop-off point. I wonder what else we’ll find that uses this kind of a model?

But back to Salted: we tried the Dark Chocolate Truffle and the Gas Station Latte on our inaugural order.

The chocolate came out of the carton a deep, matte mahogany, with a taste to match. Rich and thick, it was the first to go over a couple evenings after supper. The aptly named coffee ice cream had a thick concentration of what I would call coffee grounds, giving it an incredibly strong flavor if not a bit of a gritty texture.

Both came from Salted’s standard menu. The rotating weekly flavor when we ordered was Peppermint Patty, and I hope they offer it again, because I’d love to try it.

Their Facebook page is currently their sole means of marketing, although they note that they’ll be in local stores soon. At $5 a pint, it’s not the cheapest option for an after-dinner treat. But between the novelty of using new social media, with old-school delivery options… I’d say it’s worth it.

Observations of Wichita, March 2013

I’ve had about a month to get into the groove of Kansas’ largest city. So far, I really like it here, and that I get to rediscover a city that I thought I knew pretty well. Here are some of those discoveries to date:

Wichita is a big place. At almost 385,000 residents, the city is clearly larger than Topeka, which has a population of about 128,000. Compared to most urban areas located just about ANYWHERE else, it’s still pretty small and easy to navigate. Yet I’m still having to remind myself that it takes at least 20 minutes by car to get most places I want to go. I didn’t realize that Topeka was smaller by comparison.

Wichita drivers. It’s kind of an inside joke, but the drivers really are a bit more aggressive here than other parts of the state. I’m having a bit of an argument with myself, since this is where I learned to drive. Am I a terrible driver by default?

Wichitans love loud, frantic dance music at all times of the day. Most of the radio stations on my dial above 92.0 MHz seem to specialize in club tunes. There’s some good country mixed in, and some hair metal, but most playlists seem to skew heavily toward adult contemporary, or whatever we’re calling it these days, and songs most appropriately enjoyed out with your besties on a weekend night.

On the other hand, I can clearly receive two really good public stations. I like to think of it as a sign of balance in the world.

There’s at least one really great coffee shop. Mead’s Corner, on Douglas in the heart of downtown Wichita, is a great, quiet place that serves PT’s Coffee  and, amazingly, flat whites, both of which I’ve discussed here. It is usually packed with a fantastic assortment of Wichitans: people conducting business meetings in suits to dreadlocked musician-types in hand-knitted stocking caps.

There’s a bar that serves duck bacon as a garnish. The Monarch is my best bet for the category of “Wichita establishment that keeps on trend.” It has the vibe of a hipster hangout — light fixtures made of bike rims, shiny cement floors, menus in brown kraft folders, a dedicated bourbon list. They also serve a loaded sweet potato tot dish with plenty of cheddar cheese, lots of green onions, and DUCK BACON.

Loaded sweet potato tots. A twist on the new-ish pub-food standard of sweet potato fries.

Loaded sweet potato tots. A twist on the new-ish pub-food standard of sweet potato fries.

I’m not the world’s biggest fan of bacon (judge me now, or judge me later) but the chewy, slender planks of salted fowl are the perfect topping for the dish. And sweet potatoes are great no matter how they’re prepared. (Hat tip to good friend Amy for introducing us to this delicacy.)

More to come later. I’m just getting started.

Grocery stores as art

Grocery stores can be different things, depending on where you live.

In Hutchinson, you used the closest grocery or convenience store as a landmark. “I live on Sierra Parkway — off of 30th, near the big Dillon’s.” “Turn at the Pic Quik on 4th to get downtown.”

I’ve dragged my husband and family into grocery stores around the country and around the world. Grocery shopping on vacation is one of the best ways I know to find out what other people eat. (And I admit that I sometimes go to Aldi just to pretend I’m on vacation in Europe.)

I have the opportunity to work with the Rural Grocery Initiative, a project at Kansas State University that studies the importance of grocery stores as a key quality of life indicator — and economic driver — of rural communities. Through working with the group, I have a new appreciation for grocery stores as community centers. I like thinking about them as more than just a place to gather supplies, but as a place to check in with your friends and neighbors.

A couple of weekends ago, I found another way to view groceries and grocery stores. There’s a fantastic exhibit on at the Ulrich Museum of Art at Wichita State University that explores the connections between culture and the routine act of shopping.

Stocked: Contemporary Art from the Grocery Aisles isn’t just a display of Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s soup cans (although those are there.) First Nations artist Sonny Assu uses altered images on cereal boxes to discuss the relationship his tribe and others have with food. Karyn Olivier installed an actual library on the shelves of a Carribean supermarket, and captured the images on film.

My favorite piece, which I’ve included below, was a short video shot by German artist Christian Jankowski, who, in “The Hunt,” hunted his food with a bow and arrow — in the aisles of a grocery store. The video may be accessed here.

Image from "The Hunt." Photo credit: Lisson Gallery

Image from “The Hunt.” Photo from http://www.lissongallery.com.

Admission to the show at the Ulrich, slated to run through April 14, is free.

First Wichita adventure: M.I.F. Deli

We ventured out last weekend for our first real adventure in Wichita eating. Rendered peckish by the nonstop moving of our earthly possessions, we took a break between major weather events to dive into a genre of food that I’ve been dreaming about ever since we decided to move back to south-central Kansas: Mediterranean food.

First, a very abbreviated background that deserves more research and far more attention, but should suffice for now: Wichita has a strong Mediterranean influence, as immigrants from Lebanon and neighboring countries came here to put down roots. They became doctors, merchants, and restaurateurs.

M.I.F. Deli, at the corner of Central and Edgemoor, has been putting out homemade “Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisine” since 1969, according to their website. I first learned about them the summer I worked at Great Harvest Bread Company, when a co-worker would occasionally pick up their hummus during his bread deliveries and bring it back to the bakery. I’d never tasted hummus before then, and remember marveling at its texture as we spread it on to fresh bread for an afternoon snack.

But I’d never been there before last weekend. Happily, the spotlessly clean diner with pink booths and clearly a regular crowd was, honestly, worth the decade-plus wait. Chris and I, who try to order different things so we can sample a variety of dishes, were both smitten with the potato pie on the special board: a deep, flaky pie crust loaded with slivers of russet potatoes separated by layers of a savory sour cream sauce.

Apparently I was too hungry to get a decent shot. This will have to do.

Apparently I was too hungry to get a decent shot of the food.

And on the side: M.I.F.’s version of fattoush salad, which I consider the Official Salad Of Wichita: shredded romaine lettuce with feta cheese, a Greek vinaigrette, black olives, tomatoes, and the hallmark of the fattoush salad… crispy pita chips.

Since then, I’ve learned of at least four more Mediterranean places to try. I’m accepting any and all recommendations. Leave a comment if you have a good one!

Wichita, here we are.

As of last Friday, we are now officially Wichitans. I think we’ll always be sentimental about our first house in the lovely Potwin neighborhood of Topeka. On the other hand, we have a pretty good story of selling it: we sold it to an old friend of mine from KU. I’d happened to bump into her at Arturo’s Mexican Restaurant one day at lunch — she was looking for a home in Topeka, and we had one that met her needs. Friends have described it as everything from “an amazing coincidence” to “a sign from God.” I’m not arguing with any of those interpretations.

We’ll also probably remember the time we closed on our house during a blizzard, when we stayed in an empty house on an air mattress, subsisting on pour-over coffee and peanut butter sandwiches.

Today, our first official Monday of living in Wichita together as a family, we’re hunkered down during ANOTHER blizzard… finishing off the peanut butter and hoping the power stays on long enough for the stew to finish cooking in the crock pot.

In the words of all good Kansans: we need the moisture. But I’m going to resist the temptation to look for deeper meaning in the extreme weather events that coincided with our move.