Food & Drink

Visitors seek vegetarian options in State College

Miso pate and Italian tofu sandwich spread are examples of vegetarian fine dining.
Miso pate and Italian tofu sandwich spread are examples of vegetarian fine dining. Photo provided

This column originally ran in 2002 around Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts time. But the spread recipes are still exceptionally good and worthy of a second round.  

Phil Walz’s assessment of the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts on NPR last week as a “reunion time” proved correct. Even those of us who live here run into other local folks only at Arts Fest, the town party that lures us all out of the woodwork.

Why not come to central Pennsylvania in July? It’s a playground set in paradise. Penn State juggles multiple reunions organized for sequential classes of alumni, and the State College Area High School organizes similar activities for graduating classes. People are always eager to return and touch base with former lives when the world seemed so full of possibilities.

Those not connected with school or family in the region also find solace in returning. The temporary intersection of like-minded individuals whose lives merge in State College happens continually, for various reasons, and some of the bonds stretch over decades and wide geographic areas.

One of the groups that will reunite this week includes some members of the natural food crowd whose paths crossed at Dandelion Market, New Morning Market and Café and Sunseed Café in the 1970s. Often visitors to town ask for the vegetarian restaurant, expecting every college town to have a laid back rendition of Moosewood just around the corner. Today this is not the case, mainly because multiple menu offerings at area restaurants fill the bill.

We have the Green Bowl, where Martha Stewart had lunch (toting in Swiss chard from Penn State’s Rock Springs trial gardens) and Irving’s, with seriously good bread. There’s a market co-op tucked down in Calder Way that has an organic vegetarian takeout kitchen. Harrison’s has lots of vegetarian options. We have a specialty-foods-touting triad of supermarkets that court our food dollar. Face it — we have reached a period of vegetarian ascendancy, proven by the cover of the latest issue of Time magazine that shouts “Should You Be Vegetarian?”

But it wasn’t always so. Back in the ’70s, the local food scene — except for the old guard like the Allen Room and the Tavern — revolved around Pop’s Mexi Hots on College Avenue, Ham a la Corner club sandwiches at the Corner Room and a grilled cheese from the lunch counter at Murphy’s on Allen Street. People’s Nation, a conglomerate of shops that occupied the site of the former People’s National bank, had a counter that sold food and there I had my first taste of “alternative” cuisine — which made a profound impression in 1972.

The ’70s and ’80s brought an abundance of natural food options to the area. Dandelion Market on Beaver Avenue was famous for the Dandelion sandwich, a thick slice of whole wheat bread, spread with mayonnaise, topped with shredded carrot, a pile of alfalfa sprouts and Muenster cheese, toasted under a broiler. New Morning Market sold bulk natural foods and pre-made sandwiches like humus, Italian tofu and miso pate on whole wheat bread loaded with sprouts. Sunseed Café opened in 1975 and became a magnet for tie-dyed, long-skirted young women and men who envisioned a gentler cuisine, free of animal products and not aligned with the establishment that supported the Vietnam War and Watergate. It was the height of organo-fascism in State College, when your food choices defined your political convictions, and the further you were from the main stream, the purer your spirit.

We’ve relaxed since then. My own two-year trial with vegetarianism ended one day when, two months pregnant and with a raging headache, I ate a hamburger — and my headache went away. Our nutritional needs vary through the life span, and it is good to experiment so we can understand different paths.

New Morning Café, on Beaver Avenue in 1986, represented vegetarian fine dining, and brought together an assortment of local people, some who have reached great heights in the culinary realm. The vegetarian options at the Gamble Mill prove that Courtney Confer remembers this veggie period. The Granary and Nature’s Pantry are today’s natural foods meccas, carrying hard to find and bulk whole foods.

Watching the streaming crowds on College Avenue during the weekend I was struck by how similar they are to the way we were 30 years ago — flowing skirts, tank tops, T- shirts. Only now they are ornately tattooed and stuck full of body jewelry. I’m glad I only had to be a vegetarian to be different. It didn’t hurt.

Anne Quinn Corr is the author of “Seasons of Central Pennsylvania,” of several iBook cookbooks (“Food, Glorious Food!” “What’s Cooking?!” and “Igloo: Recipes to Cure the Winter Blues”) that are available for free on iTunes. She regularly posts to the blog HowToEatAndDrink.com and can be reached at chefcorr@gmail.com.

MISO PATÉ

Miso is a fermented soybean paste that is used as a seasoning. It is very rich in flavor and adds an umami sensation of deliciousness, thanks to its salty and savory nature. It is available at natural foods and international markets.

Makes about 2 cups

4-6 slices whole wheat bread, dried out

 1/2 cup water or vegetable stock

1 clove garlic

1 small onion, in quarters

 1/2 cup tahini (or make your own ground toasted sesame seed paste)

1 1/2 tablespoons red or barley miso

1 tablespoon regular (untoasted) sesame or sunflower oil

 1/2 cup parlsey

Dash each of thyme, rosemary and sage

Tear up the dry bread and pour on the water or stock. Place the garlic in the bowl of a food processor and mince it. Add the onion and pulse to mince. Add the soaked bread, the tahini, the miso, oil, parsley and herbs. Pulse until the mixture is homogenous. Taste and adjust for seasoning. If it is too strong for your taste, add more bread. Alternately, this recipe can be made by chopping everything very well and mixing it together by hand.

Allow the mixture to stand for an hour or for overnight and serve with pita bread, shredded carrot and alfalfa sprout to make a sandwich, or with crackers as a spread.

ITALIAN TOFU SANDWICH SPREAD

Makes about 3 cups

1 clove garlic

half a small onion

 1/4 cup parsley tops

 1/4 cup basil leaves

1 sprig of thyme, leaves only

1 sprig of marjoram, leaves only

1 teaspoon dried oregano

 1/2 teaspoon salt

 1/3 cup tomato paste

2 tablespoons Romano cheese

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 pound tofu, in chunks

whole wheat pita halves

grated carrot

alfalfa sprouts

Place the garlic clove in the food processor and pulse until it is minced. Add the onion and pulse again. Add all the rest of the ingredients and process until smooth. Serve on pita bread, topped with shredded carrot and alfalfa sprouts.   

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