Food carts! are so hot right now

Just like cucumber luges,* mason jars and ironic mustaches, food carts seem to be all the rage these days. My earliest memory of the concept of mobile food goes back to the late ’80s when my best friend Meagan and I would frequent the Hawaiian Ice truck that would park somewhere along Monroe Street. On hot summer days we would go in search of the truck (most likely after a fierce T-ball game) and, after agonizing between endless flavor options, purchase a cup of the brain-freeze inducing ice and proceed to suck out all of the artificial flavor and coloring. Ah, summer…

My tastes eventually matured, and as a student at the UW, in an effort to ward off college-induced scurvy, I would occasionally purchase a piece of fruit from the wooden stand parked in Library Mall. Fast forward to the last few years and my sister’s discovery of the most delicious gazpacho from the Santa Fe Trailer, usually available on the summer festival circuit. It’s so good, it should be added to this list.

All of this brings me to a gorgeous Friday evening in May spent in Olin Park with my other best friend, Ryan (there you go, Ryan, it’s in writing for the world to see) and 498 other Madisonians eager to check out the city’s inaugural food cart festival, Isthmus a la Carts. We arrived at Olin Park around 6, just as the sun was beginning to hang lower in the sky, giving the tall grasses that happy hour glow, and made a beeline for Banzo (well, first beer, then Banzo). I was eager to try the falafel and hummus that I had been hearing so much about through the Madison grapevine.

And it was worth the hype. The crispy, warm falafel was brown on the outside, green on the inside and perfect with the tahini sauce and optional hot sauce (I opted, and you should too.) The hummus sampler was tasty as well. I am excited for summer when I can make the trek to the cart for a full-size falafel extravaganza.

After eating falafel, drinking beer and catching up from our perch on the hill, Ryan and I mozied next to Caracas Empanadas for homemade empanadas.

Meat eaters were out of luck, but I was not.

The sweet plantain and roasted garlic empanadas, with a shot of cilantro sauce on the side, were where it was at. The crust melted in my mouth, melding sweet flavors of plantain and garlic, enlivened by the refreshing cilantro. Oh yeah.

From there, things get a little hazy. There were samples of veggie burgers and tofu with rice, Ryan had sausages, I had more beer. For dessert, Ryan sampled deep fried oreos, but with no Hawaiian Ice truck in sight, I made my way back down the hill to Banzo for my nightcap.  

*Don’t be the last to know about cucumber luges… post coming soon.

Banzo (Food Cart) on Urbanspoon

I was fast asleep until the mariachi band and pirates showed up

Happy Sunday morning. I’ve got a cat on my lap, a mason jar full of blueberry smoothie in my hand and this album on repeat.  It’s a strange January Sunday without the Packers, but we can’t win them all. The good news is we finally got some snow and I have a couple of kale recipes that I have been wanting to share with you. They are really more like suggestions, because I don’t have exact measurements, but they are deliciously simple and I think you will enjoy them. And they both pair kale with parmesan cheese, which is a match made in food heaven.

The first one comes via my friends Martha and Dominic, who had us over for a dinner party a couple of weeks ago. In addition to making a kale salad that I inhaled like it was oxygen, they introduced us to Boggle and a riff on the old Telephone/ Operator game that left me laughing harder than I have in a really long time (it involves drawing pictures and folding the paper and then writing phrases and passing the paper around the circle until ‘Mom said you have to take out the compost’ becomes ‘When you grow an afro, then you can have a dishwasher’ and ‘No Jam sessions, cause you’ll wake up the militants’ morphs into ‘I was fast asleep until the mariachi band and pirates showed up.’)

Whether or not you are a fan of party games, I highly recommend this salad:

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Lemon-soaked Kale Salad with Shaved Parmesan

Clean and dry a bunch of kale and tear it into bite-sized pieces. Marinate the kale in lots of lemon juice (Meyer lemons, if you can get them) and olive oil (allow to sit for several hours, if possible). Right before serving, toss the kale with a pinch of salt, slivered almonds, pomegranate seeds and good shaved parmesan cheese. Devour.

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The second recipe is one that I made up last week when I was craving bean soup, and it turned out quite well, if I do say so myself. I like to call it:

White Bean Soup with Kale, Two Ways

Ingredients:

1/2 onion, chopped

1 or 2 carrots, sliced into rounds

Kale, divided

olive oil

2 cans (15 oz.) of white beans (I used Eden Organic Cannellini and Great Northern Beans)

1 can (15 oz.) diced tomatoes (I like Muir Glen)

Red wine

Water (6-8 cups)

Parmesan cheese, freshly grated

Seasonings: Thyme, Freshly ground salt and pepper, Red chili flakes

Directions:

Warm the olive oil (enough to cover the bottom of the pan) over medium in a heavy soup pot. Add the onions and saute until fragrant (about 3-4) minutes. Add the sliced carrots, some of the kale, and thyme and red chili flakes and saute for a couple of minutes. Add some red wine (the rest of that bottle that has been open too long to drink) and the cans of beans (drained). Add the can of tomatoes with their juice and water (6-8) cups. Cook over medium until it just bubbles and then turn the heat to low, partially cover and allow to simmer for 1-2 hours. 20 minutes before serving, pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees. Place the rest of the kale on a baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil. Bake until the kale is crisp, but not charred (about 8-10 minutes) and sprinkle with freshly ground pepper and salt. At this time, check the soup for seasonings and add salt and pepper. To serve the soup, ladle into warm bowls and top with kale crisps, freshly grated parmesan cheese and a drizzle of olive oil. Serve with a hunk of good bread (warmed in the oven) and glass of wine. Especially good on a cold, winter evening.

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I hope you enjoy these recipes. To mis-quote Richard Gere from “Pretty Woman:” ‘I’m high on kale, can’t you tell?’ Cheers.