Monday, March 12, 2012

Meatless Monday: Welcome to Claire’s

Long before the phrases “sustainable food movement” or “artisanal” were coined, and before most of us had heard of Michael Pollan or Alice Waters, New Haven had Claire Criscuolo. In 1975, on a prominent downtown corner, Claire opened Claire’s Corner Copia, a casual restaurant serving healthy, affordable food, initially cooked entirely by Claire and her family. Much has changed in New Haven and the world during the decades since then, but Claire’s and Claire are still on the same corner where it all began. Welcome to Claire’s is a new cookbook celebrating the landmark restaurant’s first 35 years.

I love Claire. This is not the first time I have dedicated a post to her, nor is Welcome to Claire’s the first of her cookbooks I have purchased. Welcome, however, does the best job of conveying the essence of Claire’s. In this book you hear Claire through her recollections and section intros. You see Claire through the book’s many colored photographs — of Claire, her staff, her food, and her satisfied customers. And you get a sense of just how important Claire’s is from the customer testimonials scattered throughout its pages. 

Of course there are also recipes. Those designated “Claire’s Classic” are directions for preparing time-honored staples from the restaurant’s menu, including my husband’s favorite — Moroccan Sweet Potatoes — and the item most associated with Claire’s — her beloved Lithuanian Coffee Cake. The collection also contains numerous vegan and gluten-free offerings. Indeed, the only readers who may have to look hard to find something to satisfy a craving are those on the Paleo Diet.

I baked the Pumpkin Spice Bread so I would have something to trade at Slow Food Shoreline’s Slow Food Swap last Saturday. I doubled the recipe and baked one large and four small loaves. [I kept two for us.] The use of cardamom instead of the more expected nutmeg, and the addition of dried cranberries as well as the usual pecans, made these loaves deliciously different. My kitchen smelled great for hours. I would caution you, though, to check the breads earlier than the stated time. It might have been my pans or the fact that I had a double batch, but my loaves were done far earlier than I had expected. All turned out fine. I caught them in time. And they made a fine currency for trading.

Claire dedicated the book to her husband and business partner Frank whom she called, “the love of my life.” Sadly, Frank passed away late last year before the book was printed. He would be proud.

I am very glad I’ve added Welcome to Claire’s to my collection and I urge you to do the same. The book is available at Claire’s, in area bookstores, at the Elm City Market, and online

I often blog on food or food issues on Monday in support of Meatless Monday, one of several programs developed in the Healthy Monday project, founded in 2003 in association with Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Communications. Meatless Monday’s goal is “to help reduce meat consumption 15% in order to improve personal health and the health of our planet.”

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