Nuts and Berries (with recipes)

nuts & berries

When I, a non-smoking vegetarian, moved to North Carolina, my friend Cindy, a Raleigh native, was incredulous. She warned me of the tobacco fields and cheap cigarettes, the barbecue joints and hog farms. She described a typical lunch of chitlins, Jell-O, ham biscuits and red-eye gravy. She rolled her eyes when I said I wanted to open a vegetarian bed and breakfast. “Don’t tell anyone it’s vegetarian. They’ll never come. They’ll think you serve nuts and berries.”

So I didn’t tell. In the twelve pages of my website the word “vegetarian” did not appear. A discerning reader might have noticed the absence of meat words, the lack of commitment to an “old-fashioned country breakfast,” Carolina code for lots of meat.

In the first month after my B&B opened for business, I cooked twelve vegetarian breakfasts for my guests. They raved. Most guests are polite. They never say anything negative.

The second month, I cooked seventeen vegetarian breakfasts. Increasing occupancy! Good!

But the third month, January, I cooked breakfast only four times. Once was for a non-paying friend of mine. Once was for a couple with a dog. And we don’t allow pets. That’s how desperate I was.

When you’ve given up a regular paycheck with benefits, have just mortgaged yourself to the eyebrows, and the property taxes are due, a situation like this inspires sheer terror. My savings were gone, the final coup de grâce conferred by a collapsed sewer line necessitating repairs by four plumbers and a backhoe for four days. (Seventy-five dollars per man per hour, you do the math.) Not to mention credit card debt and a big mortgage payment due the first of February.

Would an old-fashioned country breakfast bring me guests? I hadn’t eaten meat for ten years. Hadn’t bought it, touched it, cooked it. Could I disconnect my mind from the fact that factory farms and slaughterhouses exist only because people eat meat? Most people can disconnect. They just walk into the grocery store meat section and pick up plastic-wrapped hunks of dead flesh without a second thought. That’s “normal.”

I tried. I went to Food Lion and put a pound of bacon into the cart. Then a package of Smithfield honey-cured ham. I walked up and down the aisles for a half-hour, depressed, trying not to look at the meat, not to think about the once-living animal. But it didn’t work. I put the ham and bacon back in the cooler. Time for Plan B.

I drove back to the B&B and worked on my website.  I added more breakfast dishes, like heuvos rancheros (an eggs Benedict variation, with a black bean-corn-salsa medley), spinach-Gruyere strata, buckwheat pancakes with sautéed apples. I put an ad in the nearby university alumni magazine. I offered chocolate tastings every Friday in February, and three nearby newspapers picked up my press release and wrote articles, with pictures. I handed out “$20 off a two-night stay” coupons to every person I saw. Slowly, bookings picked up.

Soon, we were cooking for guests nearly every morning, not bad for a five-room bed and breakfast in a tiny town with no obvious draw. The bills were paid, and then some.

So Cindy was wrong. People do come. And she was also right, because I do serve nuts and berries. Pecan waffles topped with Calvados-marinated strawberries and whipped cream. Chocolate crepes with banana walnut cream filling and raspberry sauce. Blueberry sour-cream coffee cake. But it’s okay. People like nuts and berries. I have plenty of guests. And, occasionally, a very grateful vegetarian.

Mexican Eggs Benedict

Ingredients:

  • Two regular English muffins
  • ½ onion, sliced
  • ½ cup black beans, canned, drained
  • ½ cup corn
  • ½ cup chopped tomato
  • 1/8 tsp ground cayenne or hot pepper sauce
  • Salt to taste
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 1/4 cup salsa
  • 4 eggs
  • Two tsp cilantro, chopped

Serves two.

Sauté the onion in vegetable oil, add chopped tomato and sauté another minute, add beans and corn and heat through. Stir in the cayenne or pepper sauce. Salt if needed.

Mix the sour cream and salsa and warm a little in the microwave.

I like to use an egg poaching pan (Crate and Barrel sells a very nice one.) Start the water boiling in the poaching pan; crack the eggs into the cups; cover and cook five minutes (four if you like them runny). Slice the muffins and put them in the toaster.

Assemble in this order:

  1. Toasted muffin
  2. Black bean mixture
  3. poached egg
  4. sour cream & salsa mix on top
  5. A sprinkle of cilantro

Each person gets two eggs.


Spinach-Gruyere Strata

 Ingredients

  • a baguette or loaf of other good chewy bread
  • 1 10-oz. package frozen spinach, thawed
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 zucchini, sliced
  • ½ lb mushrooms, sliced
  • ½ lb Gruyere cheese, grated
  • ½ lb cottage or ricotta cheese
  • 6 eggs
  • 1 cup half & half
  • 1 tsp cayenne
  • 1 tsp garlic powder

Prepare (all but baking) the night before. Serves 8.

Cut the bread into bite-size pieces. Put into a baking dish and bake at 350-degrees for five minutes until it is dry and crisp. Spray cooking oil on the sides and bottom of a 9×12 baking dish.

Sauté the zucchini and mushrooms in the butter just until they are soft. Drain spinach in a colander, pressing out as much liquid as possible with the back of a spoon.

In a large bowl, mix the eggs, both cheeses, half & half, cayenne, garlic. Add the vegetables and mix well. Add the bread pieces. Pour into the prepared baking dish. Cover and let sit in the refrigerator overnight.

Bake 45-50 minutes at 350 degrees, until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.


 Chocolate crepes with banana-walnut-crème filling and raspberry sauce

 Makes 24 crepes, serves 8-12

Ingredients: Crepes

  • 1 cup flour
  • ½ cup cocoa power
  • ½ cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/3 tsp salt
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 ½ cups milk
  • 3 Tbs melted butter
  • 1 tsp vanilla

Ingredients: Banana-Walnut Crème Filling:

  • 2 cups whipping cream
  • 1 3-oz package light cream cheese, softened
  • ¼ cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 6 very ripe bananas, mashed
  • ½ cup chopped toasted walnuts
  • ¼ tsp cinnamon

Ingredients: Raspberry Sauce:

  • 1/2 cup seedless red raspberry jam
  • 2 tablespoons orange juice
  • 1 cup fresh red raspberries

Make chocolate crepes:

In a medium bowl, combine flour, cocoa powder, confectioners’ sugar, and salt. In another bowl, use a wire whisk to beat eggs, milk, butter, and vanilla until smooth. Add liquids to the first bowl and mix well. Let mixture stand 5 minutes to thicken.

Use a crepe maker and follow the directions. Transfer crepe to a sheet of waxed paper. Repeat with remaining batter, stacking crepes between sheets of waxed paper. Set aside until ready to serve.

Make the filling:

Put cream, cream cheese, and confectioners’ sugar in a bowl. Using an electric mixer on high speed, beat until stiff. In another medium bowl, mix together bananas, walnuts and cinnamon. Fold 1 cup whipped cream into banana mixture, then fold banana mixture into remaining whipped cream until well combined. If crepes have been frozen, bring to room temperature.

Prepare raspberry sauce:

Microwave jam and orange juice in medium microwave-safe bowl 30 seconds; stir. Gently fold in raspberries.

When ready to serve, warm crepes in microwave and place ⅓ cup filling into center of each crepe. Fold both sides of crepe toward the center, covering filling. Place on plate and drizzle with raspberry sauce. Serve 2 or 3 per person.