“How was spring break?” is one of those questions that people feel obligated to ask, but really don’t want to hear a ton of detail about. After all, we all had a spring break; it becomes tedious to keep track of what everyone did beyond maybe one or two major highlights. As such, when briefly describing my spring break, I feel obligated to explain what I did, rather than describe something as purportedly minor as my food experience. However, it truly was a food experience, and I’d like to open the term by briefly reliving my food highlight from break.
It occurs at lunchtime the weekend before my return to campus. I’m sitting with my mom in a tiny corner restaurant in Soho called the Risotteria, eating through our third round of breadsticks and feeling mildly overwhelmed by the range of choices on the menu. Our waiter drops by and we ask for his recommendation.
“Well,” he says, “You probably don’t get to eat bread very often. All our Panini sandwiches are made on freshly baked gluten-free bread, which is really great. So I’d definitely recommend giving one of those a try.” A pause. “Our pizza crusts are made with rice flour, and I’d also highly recommend any of the pizzas on the menu, especially because a lot of our customers don’t get the chance to eat a good pizza very often.” He looks thoughtful for a moment. “And we’ve been cooking risotto here for eleven years, so, I mean, it’s kind of what we’re known for.” He nods, as if listing all the sections on the menu besides the salads has prompted any kind of decision.
When the food comes—one Panini with lamb, gorgonzola cheese, and spinach, along with a risotto dish with Italian sausage and Portobello mushrooms—each dish has a little flag stuck in the middle of it bearing the logo of the Celiac Association of America. The menu includes a variety of cooking supplies and baked goods available to take home or mail order; it also features the uplifting message **gluten free is the way to be.** And, as promised, the bread is really, really great. So is every other element of the meal.
We like to joke here about the Carleton “bubble”; but really, living in Northfield, it’s pretty easy to forget what it’s like not living in Northfield. Who knew that specialty gluten-free restaurants existed? Who even knew that good wheat-free bread existed? It’s a minor detail, perhaps, but it’s a reminder of what we lose, transitioning from large urban areas to this relatively small town. We come back to this campus each term and trade cars for bikes or our own feet, variety in entertainment for convenience, and restaurants or home cooking for a dining hall which has lately been labeling barley as “made without gluten.”
On the face of it, it can sound bad when described to an outsider; however, after a few days at the beginning of term it’s easy to remember the sense of community we have here, the ease with which we connect and interact with others on this campus, and the fact that a lot of the amenities of a big city are unnecessary when you consider how well Carleton can entertain itself during spring term. Really awesome allergen-free food is great, but, compared to campus life here, maybe not worth mourning when it’s not available every day; after all, during that same meal I ate an entire apple pie for dessert, which you really can’t do on a regular basis anyway. I came home from that restaurant armed with a variety of difficult-to-find baking additives; my windowsill is filling up with items likely to severely confuse guests, like xanthan gum and arrowroot starch. A good breadstick might be on the horizon for this term; if it isn’t, well, the next eight weeks are pretty likely to still be enjoyable, bread or not.