September 8, 2005

Food Moments

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It’s official. School started weeks ago. The indoor air is already beginning to smell stale. The air at night is cool enough to merit wearing a sweatshirt. Fall is fast approaching, but there are still a few warm weeks left. Why are students locked inside for meals during these numbered pleasant days when they could be perched outside, surrounded by food and friends? Cornellians still have the valuable opportunity to explore the Ithaca area and sample some good fresh air eats before chilly weather descends upon the campus.

Today, the picnic is the quintessential form of al fresco (outdoor) dining. When one imagines picnics in America, thoughts of families in parks on sunny weekends with spreads of portable food come to mind. However, the picnic was not always associated with food. In the 17th century, the French “picque-nique” was a trendy form of social entertainment and food was a sidelight. The word “picnic” was not associated with an outdoor meal until the mid-19th century. Modern American picnic food includes sandwiches, raw vegetables, pasta, watermelon, pita with hummus and tossed salad. At Cornell, perfect picnics can be achieved at countless locations both on and off campus. Bring a blanket to the Slope, the Cornell Plantations, Buttermilk Falls, Treman Park or take advantage of the picnic tables tucked within the courtyards of North and Central Campus. Not interested in the “pack-and-go” philosophy? Check out the Ithaca Farmers Market. Food vendors ensure variety as people eating sushi circulate with others eating Ralph’s Ribs while the pad thai eaters pass by the Belgian waffle fans – everyone mingles by the dock to enjoy beautiful scenery and convenient seating.

For those who like to enjoy nature without sitting directly on top of it, a variety of Ithaca restaurants offer outdoor seating including most restaurants on the Commons such as Simeons, Viva Taqueria, Madelines and Moosewood. One of the largest outdoor seating areas in Collegetown is located at Collegetown Bagels. A favorite place to people watch in Ithaca is at the small, sidewalk dining area outside of Ruloff’s. The Carriage House Cafe, a newcomer to Ithaca, offers outdoor dining in a garden-like setting. But what is a customer to do when the weather becomes ominous mid-meal? The Nines preempts this situation by providing a large portico over its outdoor seating area.

Sadly, restaurant seating is limiting in terms of party size. Thus, the barbeque comes to the rescue. Only at a barbeque will you find yourself obsessively standing over a grill, burning your face in the fire and your back in the sun. Only at a barbeque will you inhale the deep, smoky scent of charcoal as your meat or meat substitute of choice reaches that perfect consistency of caramelization on the outside and succulent juiciness on the inside. And only at a barbeque will you be partaking in these actions with anywhere from three to 50 of your closest friends.

Popular grill menus among college students subsist upon the “nutritionally balanced” hot dog and hamburger. However, other items exist which are inexpensive, contain alternate forms of nutrition to protein and carry a low risk of bacterial infestation. Shockingly, one can grill peppers, portobello mushrooms, cremini mushrooms (baby portobellos), onions, tomatoes, potatoes, asparagus, etc. In the world of fruit, grilled peaches are perennial favorites, as are grilled melons (watermelon, cantaloupe, honeydew) and papayas. Any firm fruit will work. Armed with such knowledge, one has the power to prepare entire meals on the grill. A sample menu could include grilled shrimp, potato foil packets with onion and green pepper, tomato and mozzarella stuffed burgers as well as grilled peach sundaes.

Unlike many eating experiences, al fresco dining does not require a large investment. A picnic involves enjoying food ad-hoc style in nature. Outdoor dining involves a simple inquiry to the restaurant wait staff. And think of a grill as an outdoor stovetop – a mere extension of the kitchen. Even if you’re short on cash, time or transportation, you can still eat al fresco. So grab your friends, grab some food and take a big breath of fresh air!

Archived article by Anna Fishman
Sun Contributor