Edible decorations look and taste great, are less filling too

HAPPY EATER

April 14, 1993|By ROB KASPER

When you are traveling and want a light breakfast, check out the garnishes of your hotel's breakfast buffet.

The hotel staff may regard the buffet's papaya or pineapple as embellishments, but for a wily eater, the carved fruit can be breakfast.

Eating the buffet decorations is one of the travel tips I picked up the other night during a visit with Crescent Dragonwagon, a well-traveled eater. Last year she crisscrossed the country promoting her new cookbook, "Dairy Hollow House Soup and Bread: A Country Inn Cookbook." Now she is in the middle of a 15-city, three-week tour for the Almond Board of California. Many of her eating opportunities are hurried ones. Between appearances in Baltimore yesterday, for instance, she had one of her on-the-fly snacks, thin Almondina cookies, which she found at an Eddie's Super Market.

In addition to knowing food, Crescent knows lodging. She and her husband Ned operate an award-winning inn, Dairy Hollow House, in Eureka Springs, Ark. Having slept, or more accurately tossed and turned, in many of the nation's best hotels, she had a complaint. In big hotels the fitted sheet has become virtually extinct, she said. It has been replaced by the flat sheet, tucked around the mattress. All it takes is a little fretting to loosen the bottom sheet, she said, and turn a restful night into an uncomfortable wad of anxiety.

Beyond the knotty issue of bedsheets, we spoke about tactics travelers can use to find their favorite foods. For instance, when Crescent was first on the road, she found most of the hotel breakfasts were too heavy for her. So she began "mutilating the centerpieces" of the breakfast buffets. Now she has developed a liking for papaya centerpieces. Just take out the seeds and sprinkle the flesh with lemon juice, she said, and you have a terrific breakfast.

Sometimes a traveler has to be gutsy to get the good stuff, she said. Not being much of meat eater, Crescent was not interested in the tiny roast beef sandwiches passed around Monday night at a Washington book party given for her friend, Jack Butler, author of "Living In Little Rock With Miss Little Rock." So when a plate of hors d'oeuvres was presented to her, she skipped the sandwiches and ate the accompanying pansy garnishes. She also ate the dill sprigs that came with the lobster appetizers.

Lunch for a traveling person is often eating on the move, she said. Among her favorite midday eats were the fat-free corn chips, dipped in bean sauce and consumed in the back seat of a car. The only drawback is that the bean dip, she said, can mess up the car.

Like most travelers, she usually sits down for supper. She told me a few of her favorite dishes found in restaurants around the country. There was a salad with a blood orange vinaigrette at Flora's in Seattle, a roasted corn soup at Camelback resort in Phoenix, the sorbet at Downey's in Santa Barbara, any dish with mushrooms at Washington's Nora, and the coleslaw at Morrison Clark Inn, also in Washington.

A frequent flier, Crescent has concocted a favorite airline beverage. It is three parts club soda to one part apple juice.

She admitted that one advantage she had over other travelers was that sometimes she got to eat her work. If the schedule permits, for example, she will linger over the salad she has made at a cooking demonstration. Then it is back on the road.

Tender greens with blackberries and toasted almonds

Serves six.

1/3 cup blackberry vinegar (or unsweetened juice from thawed blackberries)

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

1 cup almond oil

1 to 2 tablespoons honey

6 to 8 cups tender greens: red oakleaf, butterhead or limestone lettuces

1 cup fresh blackberries

3/4 cup raw almonds split, chopped, lightly toasted

Place vinegar or juice in bowl of food processor with salt and pepper. Turn machine on and begin slowly pouring oil through feed tube, allowing it to drip in through hole. Add honey to taste.

Place washed and dried lettuce on six chilled plates. Lightly drizzle with blackberry vinaigrette. Sprinkle with blackberries and toasted almonds. (Optional garnishes: bacon, pancetta or smoked tempeh [soy] cubes.)

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