WASHINGTON -- While in Washington the other day I ate a leaf for lunch, at an embassy.
The embassy was Canadian, the lunch was to promote the country's food and wine, and the leaf was a maple. The maple leaf, as everyone who knows how to pronounce "about" can tell you, is on the flag and is a symbol of our neighbor to the north. I ate two maple leaves. One was fashioned out of maple sugar and was served, along with blueberries and a Canadian whiskey sauce, as dessert.
The other leaf was the real thing, right from the tree. It had been cleaned and fried. At least that is what the smiling chef, Christian LePiece, told me later. The leaf was part of the garnish on the plate, a green backdrop to mounds of pink salmon smoked over hickory.
What little flavor the leaf had reminded me of lettuce -- distressed, fried lettuce. It might have been short on taste, but I was pretty sure the maple leaf was high on fiber.
I ate the leaf because it was on my plate. And one of the few, if not the only, rules I have learned about the world of garnishes, is that anything that the chef puts on your plate is supposed to be edible. If it isn't, the laws of chefdom have been broken. Years of going to lunches where flowers were all over the lettuce have taught me that.
The biggest question I had about eating the leaf was not should I, but how to do it. I studied my silverware, but there did not appear to be a leaf knife, or tree fork, on the table. I used the butter knife, which still had remnants of butter on it. This turned out to work in my favor, however, because when I used the knife to coax a piece of leaf onto my fork and into my mouth, I tasted butter.
This was how I discovered my favorite way to eat fiber, slathered with butter.
The leaf was not the best part of the lunch. I much preferred the hickory smoked salmon, which came from Canada's Campbell River, or the saddle of Picton lamb fired with garlic accompanied by a forest full of chanterelle mushrooms.
The lunch was held on the top floor of the Canadian embassy in an airy room that offered a view of the Capitol. From the dining room, you could not see some striking Canadian government workers who were picketing outside the embassy protesting a proposed no-raise wage package. Most of the people at the lunch -- a mixture of embassy personnel, food retailers and various members of the local eating press -- did not talk about the protesters. Most didn't eat the leaf either.
During the luncheon the hostess, Joan Burney, wife of Canada's ambassador Derek Burney, sang the praises of Canadian food, especially a high-fiber Canadian cereal called Red River. The way Mrs. Burney made it sound, after downing one bowl of this heavyweight cereal you had the strength to clear the Canadian woods. But even Mrs. Burney, a pro-fiber person if ever there was one, drew the line at eating a maple leaf. She simply admired it.
Another person at the lunch who spied rather than speared her maple leaf, was Ann Brody, an executive with Sutton Place Gourmet, an area fine-food retailer. Brody said the five Washington-Baltimore Sutton Place operations, including a store opening in Pikesville, will be featuring Canadian food and beverages in a Canadian Festival promotion this November.
In other words, the good stuff gets here when the maple leaves start to fall.