When I left Asia, I thought my international travelling days were done. But then I remembered the United States. Not that I had forgotten about the US; it’s a large and rather vocal country. But I had forgotten how close it was. The nearest border crossing was a little less than an hour away. It wasn’t Thailand but it had definite possibilities.
And so when a lovely friend of mine suggested a road trip to Ithaca, New York, I jumped at the chance. Ithaca is in the Finger Lakes region of New York state, and is home to Cornell University, Collegetown Bagels, and our goal: The Moosewood Restaurant.
The border guard at Ogdensburg, NY clearly thought we were insane.
“You’re going to Ithaca to go to a restaurant?”
“You’re going to drive all that way for a restaurant?”
Indeed. Perhaps he would have been less suspicious had we told him we were going Leaf Peeping.
Leaf Peeping is apparently the New England term for looking at, and taking pictures of the Autumn foliage. It sounds a bit illicit. I can just picture inebriated locals at a New England tavern, dressed in plaid and flannel, drunkenly propositioning each other.
“Hey baby. Wanna go leaf peeping?”
Actually, that sounds a bit like my Canadian University. Hmm.
According to the always reliable Wikipedia, Leaf Peeping is an official New England term. When one participates in Leaf Peeping, one becomes a Leaf Peeper. And it gets even better. Apparently, when Leaf Peepers congregate to Leaf Peep, their gathering is known as a Leaf Peepshow. You can’t make this stuff up.
Upstate New York is gorgeous. Rolling hills, quaint little towns, busy farms, and lots of leaves to peep. We had arrived at the tail end of Leaf Peeping season but there was still lots to see.
It is also an area of opposites. Ithaca is a bustling prosperous town, and Cornell is one of the loveliest university campuses I’ve ever visited. But to arrive in Ithaca, we drove though areas of intense poverty.
New York state was once a hotbed of manufacturing. In the late 1800’s and late 1900’s, New York state’s industries grew in leaps and bounds until it was America’s richest state. Not any more. Gorgeous, palatial, turn-of-the-century houses with extravagant windows and wide wrap-around porches were crumbling and decrepit, their owners obviously unable to afford the upkeep. Old-fashioned redbrick factory buildings sat abandoned and vandalized. Along the roads between towns sat tiny, ramshackle houses with plastic tarp windows, their residents clearly engaged in subsistence farming. Do we have places like this in Canada? I don’t know.
We arrived in Ithaca in time for a rainy wander through Cornell University, and a quick visit to the university book store. We didn’t buy anything but if you ever need Cornell-themed goods of any sort – shot glasses, scarves, pens, golf balls, notebooks or chopsticks – I can tell you where to go.
Dinner was of course, at The Moosewood. For those not in the know, The Moosewood is a famous vegetarian restaurant. They also publish amazing cookbooks. The fact that I could order anything on the menu was worth the four-hour drive. This is a big deal to us non-meat eaters.
The Moosewood cleverly caters to all kinds of vegetarians, from the hard-core vegan to the pescetarian, and the menu changes daily. Amazing.
The restaurant is small and cozy. The wait was 45 minutes, and the number of people willing to wait is testament to the amazingness of this place.
Our waiter was slim and reminded me of a garden gnome. He flitted over with our menus, and explained the specials before prancing off to see to other customers. Somehow it seemed appropriate that the waitstaff at a vegetarian restaurant would be somewhat fey.
I ordered the coconut-lime cashew-crusted salmon with mashed sweet potatoes, buttered green beans and mango aioli. My friend ordered spinach boreka with roasted cauliflower.
Do not be fooled by the simplicity of the presentation. I’ll admit I was. We drove four hours for this? I thought when my dinner arrived. I could not have been more wrong. It was astonishingly delicious. My tastebuds grabbed maracas and formed a conga line. There was, as the saying goes, a party in my mouth.
I was contemplating licking my plate when our little waiter floated over to whisk my empty plate away. Perhaps he could sense my plate-licking aspirations. I’ll bet it happens a lot at the Moosewood.
We decided to try the carrot cake for dessert.
Decadent cream cheese icing, spicy carroty goodness – oh my. There were a few mystery crunchy bits that made me wonder if the kitchen elves had forgotten to wash the carrots. Or perhaps pebbles were all part of the organic vegetarian charm? It didn’t matter. I left nothing but smudges on my plate.
We had planned to go to Target after dinner but we rolled back to our hotel to collapse and digest instead. 😀
The next morning, in spite of my vow to never eat again, we went to Collegetown Bagel for breakfast. Huevos Sonora must be Spanish for delectable. Eggs, salsa, avacado, roasted red peppers, and a red wrap. This picture actually looks a bit creepy but trust me, it was spectacular.
I am so glad that returning to North America hasn’t meant the end of my culinary adventures. And I’m so glad that North American culinary adventures rarely involve anything still moving! Or barking…. or with six legs….