Eating Ithaca, home edition

I’ve been keeping a running list of the Ithaca eateries I’ve dined at since I got here freshman year (I’m up to 32), but my most recent assignment for The Ithacan is a new challenge: finding the Ithaca-made food products that are sold at Wegmans and doing a series of mini-profiles on those companies. Luckily I only needed to find three or four because even though Ithaca has a lot of food companies, most of their products are sold at smaller stores rather than the Disney World of grocery stores.

Part of this involves trying the products and I’m assuming reviewing them, but I’m leaving that portion here because it’s probably not going to be Ithacan-friendly. As much as I enjoy supporting local companies, Ithaca is super green and crunchy and subsequently all into the vegan gluten free thing (not to mention anti-GMO, but I’m not going to get into that argument again). Now, I fully support the production and consumption of these foods… if you’re allergic to the milk, meat, eggs, honey, or wheat in question. But eating it because it’s healthy is generally wrong because it’s not the milk/meat/eggs/honey/wheat/etc making normal products unhealthy, it’s the added sugars and stuff, and eating it because it’s cool is just stupid, not to mention totally not economically feasible for a college student; one of the meat substitute products I found was $5.49 for six ounces, which is more per pound than a local rib roast (and doesn’t taste nearly as good), and the cookies I got are $2.99 for 2 ounces, which is more per pound than a Wegmans filet mignon.

(alright, my comparisons probably aren’t the best because I’m comparing beef to vegan stuff, but you get my point)

I went to Wegmans last night after work preparing to sell my soul for various soy products and came out with 5 items: seitan, tortillas, tofu, a frozen dinner, and cookies.

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The tofu is in/on a bag because I accidentally ripped it and didn’t want marinade everywhere.

The cookies and to an extent the tortillas didn’t throw me off too much because I can eat those whenever, but I already had meals planned for today, plus I have no idea how to prepare non-meat protein pretending to be meat, which forced me to be creative.

Breakfast

Normally weekends are just breakfast and dinner because I get home from work around 3 and don’t get up til 10 or 11, but this weekend I woke up at 10 because I didn’t feel like getting out of bed. Eggs and either bacon or sausage are standard fare (I justify it because I don’t eat lunch), but I decided to incorporate my tortillas here for some breakfast burritos, and then I decided I might as well throw the seitan in, but I prepared them both the same way aside from the protein to ensure semi-scientific validity. Presenting: breakfast burritos, two ways.

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Finger Lakes Fresh tortillas, scrambled eggs with hot sauce and seasoning, mozzarella cheese, and protein of either bacon or Susie’s Seitan (portabella and garlic flavor).

The verdict? I actually had to take out the seitan in order to taste it. It’s very predominantly soy (it’s been marinating in soy sauce), but it’s not overpowering and apparently worked well enough with the cumin and other seasonings in the eggs. My quibbles were that it was a little overly chewy, and even though flavorwise it was good, it’s not $15/lb good. I’ll eat the rest (it seems to work well quickly pan-fried), but it won’t be a repeat purchase. As for the tortillas, they’re definitely the kind where you have to steam them first because their multigraininess makes them more like corn tortillas in consistency, and they did end up cracking on me mid-breakfast, but they were nice and hearty and would probably make great quesadillas.

Lunch Snack

I decided I wasn’t hungry enough for lunch, so I decided to utilize my tofu-kan (tofu marinated in soy sauce, so a soyapalooza) as a cracker topper. I then remembered that I ate all my Ritz crackers earlier in the week and didn’t want to waste my Red Hot Blues on tofu, but I found some pita chips and used those instead. I also wussed out a bit and topped my thinly sliced tofu with some shredded cucumber and sprouts that I had bought for salad. Presenting: my literally green and crunchy snack.

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Yes, there’s tofu in there. Somewhere.

The verdict: I ate a slice of straight tofu-kan before these, and just as one might expect from coagulated soy milk soaked in soy sauce, it is quite soy-y. Fortunately, tofu tends not to taste like much other than whatever you put it in, so this was like eating a chunk of soy sauce, which was better than I was expecting. The snack itself worked pretty well: the cucumber and sprouts cut some of the salt (read: hid most of the flavor. Oops.)

A few Facebook friends have given me suggestions for how to use it, including stir fry, noodles, and flat-out frying it, so I have ideas for using the rest of the brick, but like the seitan (though much cheaper), it probably won’t be a repeat thing.

Dinner

I was probably excited for dinner for the wrong reason (that it was “real” food). Grainful, which has offices directly across the street from campus, has a few different frozen entree options, all of which feature the steel-cut oats that the company focuses on. Presenting: Grainful’s porcini mushroom chicken.

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Alright, the meal itself doesn’t look all that pretty, but most risotto-type foods aren’t meant for presentation even without the frozen food attribute.

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And the box because it’s prettier than the food.

The verdict? Now, don’t take my poking-fun as a sign of distaste. This dish was pretty darn close to the stuffing that my mom uses for stuffed mushrooms, not only in texture but also in flavor. It was like eating a whole tray of it. Calling it “porcini mushroom chicken” might be a bit off since it was a little lacking in the chicken department, but the mushroom flavors were prominent with the steel-cut oats providing that risotto-like texture. It was neat to see a not-oatmeal use of oats.

(Bonus: the tray they used is from a company called On-Tray. Because it’s an entree. On a tray.)

I’m not a huge frozen dinner person unless I’m really hard up for time, and again it’s a bit pricy, but flavorwise I’d pick this up again.

Dessert

As bad as it was to be excited for “real” food for dinner, I think I was most excited about the cookies. I’ve seen Emmy’s sold at school but hadn’t picked them up because $3+ for three teeny cookies wasn’t really worth it for me, especially when I can make my own batch of chocolate chip cookies for probably the same price. There’s also my immature derision of foods that are vegan gluten free non GMO let me be as (arbitrarily?) picky as possible. Nevertheless, cookies are cookies, and I’ve wanted to try them for a while.

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They have a bunch of flavors, like coconut vanilla and chai spice. I picked chocolate orange.

The verdict? Nice blend of dark chocolate and sweet orange like biting into one of those chocolate oranges. You can smell the coconut and feel its soft crunch when you eat it, but you can’t really taste it, which I think works well with this flavor (chocolate orange coconut would’ve been too much). They were like little truffles, and I could definitely eat more. My quibble? THREE TEENY COOKIES FOR THREE BUCKS. I should’ve put my hand in the picture for scale, but they were like an inch in diameter, maybe a bit bigger, and yet they were a dollar each. I suppose that’s what happens when you source from hard-to-get crops like organic coconut/agave/oranges/cacao, but this seems a bit excessive. I could eat a basket of them, and I certainly want to because they were really good, but there’s no way to eat these regularly on a college budget unless they gave a packaging discount if I walked down to their office and ordered them straight off the “press.” Delicious to the stomach, not to the wallet.

Conclusion

And there you have it, friends. I successfully found and ate Ithaca-based food purchased at good old Wegmans.

My biggest takeaway from this excursion is that local food is CRAZY expensive, which I already knew from shopping at the farmers’ market and having my CSA, but good god I don’t see how people can buy these products on a regular basis and not be broke. On a lighter note, I was also made aware that the very foods I like to ridicule for their price and sometimes hippie/hipster (hippiester?) undertones don’t taste half bad. Not good enough to warrant buying them (I’ll stick to my steak), but much better than I had predicted from substitutes.

With the exception of dinner and obviously the cookies (in case you didn’t know, there’s not a lot in the package), I have more and will cook it up within the week, so stay tuned for some more recipes as I complete my local food product romp.

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