Monday, April 5, 2010

Bonus: Fish Fries Fijian Style

Guest Entry: The Lovo Pack

My family are not church-goers, but our Fijian nanny is, and recently we supported her church fundraiser by buying one of their freshly made, home delivered, 'lovo packs'.

First, I should explain that we live in Fiji and a lovo is the traditional Fijian earth oven. And second, I will admit, I would have bought a lovo pack from T, our nanny, even if it wasn't for her fundraiser, because lovo food, if you've never had the opportunity to eat it, is yummy. In fact, my husband's cousin's wife, J, actually makes and sells lovo packs, as a side gig to her catering business. Her’s are very tasty.

But, here I'll start with T's Orepi Original Pentecostal Church lovo pack, perhaps a Fijian equivalent to a Catholic church fundraising fish fry.

You have to book ahead, so that the lovo-makers know how much food to get and put into the ground to cook. So, a couple of days before, T asked me, "Hey, do you want a lovo pack for Thursday? $20. It's for my church. Here's the menu." She produced a little scrap paper with the list of what my FJ$20 (US$10) would buy me: 1 x Dalo (Translation: Taro), 1 x Palusami (Taro leaves layered with coconut milk, onion & garlic), 1 x Piece Fish, 1 x Vakasakera (no idea, see below), 1 x #14 Chicken, 2 x Kai (fresh water mussels), 2 x Cassava. Hmmmm. Ok. I'm in.

On Thursday morning, T said that her son was helping dig up the lovo at the Orepi Original Pentecostal church. They started at 8 am and it cooked for 2 hours. At about 4pm, some guys from the church dropped off the cardboard box, our lovo pack, to our house.

It wasn't hot, like straight out of an underground oven full of smokey rocks. In fact, we were the last to get our delivery, so the box was soggy. The other packs were delivered to office workers for their lunches that afternoon. Yet, I was still excited that this was going to be our not so warm dinner because the box smelled like your clothes do after sitting next to a campfire all night.

When my husband, T, came home, he was skeptical about my choice for dinner, "you know you can't trust these lovo packs. Sometimes those churches use frozen chickens, past their use-by date." Bleh! You will eat it because I didn't cook anything else.

I noted that the fish looked like it was over fried. That's because it wasn't cooked in the lovo at all, but instead fried separately. So, it was not remarkable. The chicken, while it's skin looked soggy and grey (It was in the ground for 2 hours, so maybe that's normal), it tasted nice, moist and smokey. No complaints from T either. I wasn't aware of the chicken numbering system until I got to Fiji, but a #14 chicken is a smallish one. It would probably only serve two adults if eaten without all the other goodies in our lovo pack.

The two fresh water mussels, or kai, looked like food-poison-in-a-half-shell. They were also not cooked in the ground, but fried or baked instead. T said I could have both of them, so I did. But they were very gritty in texture and tasted just plain odd. I quickly followed them with a Fiji Gold beer chaser. The dalo was as to be expected, dense, sweet yet smokey. The cassava, very dry, but maybe that is to be expected as well.

The palusami was very creamy and tasty, the perfect balance between onion, coconut milk and dalo leaves. Sometimes palusami, if the wrong type of dalo leaves are picked, can give your throat a razor blade itch, but luckily with this one I didn't feel any discomfort. It was just pure yumminess.

The absolute best was the vakasakera, which I hadn't tried before. I think it's best described as Fijian coleslaw. It's a mixture of thick coconut cream, kai, fish, clams (kaikoso) onion and a certain cabbage, finely chopped, that is called mosita in Fijian. It tasted fresh, crunchy, creamy and zingy all at once - lovely.

Our daughter, E, loved the dalo (the texture/taste is growing on her), forced down the palusami and vakasakera and she will always eat chicken, even if it was old, previously frozen and cooked in the ground.

The Orepi Original Pentecostal church lovo pack, while it was a little bit suspicious on delivery and presentation, was tasty, convenient and great value for money. We had enough lovo lunch leftovers for the next 2 days.

I must share though, that we all came down with a bad bout of gastro on Sunday, but we are attributing that to our walk with the puppy at the very dirty Suva waterfront on Saturday afternoon, but I'll spare you the details.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

6th Week of Lent: St. Joan of Arc, Powell, OH

Once again, the gauntlet had been laid down! Did you know that there are two “Best” Fish Fries in Columbus? As we explored earlier, St. Margaret’s stakes that claim, but so does St. Joan of Arc in Powell.

For all of you “Amazing Race” watchers who were aghast when the racers were recently in France and had to find St. Joan of Arc’s statue, and had no idea she was a real person, take comfort in the fact that she is honored here in our own backyard. I wonder what the young French saint would think of Fish Fries? Though, if she was in favor of fund-raisers she would surely approve, because from what we can tell, the Fish Fry is an effective one.

We were joined once again by our Catholic friend B, as the four of us ventured up to Powell on Friday. Since the Buckeyes were playing at 7:00, we headed north on 315 early to beat the rush which turned out to be a good thing. The parking lot wasn’t too full at 5:30, but it filled up quickly once we were there.

St. Joan of Arc’s, like several of the other Churches we’ve visited, serves their Fish Fry as an all-you-can- eat buffet. Also, like several of the other churches, we were seated family style with other people at our big round table.

We found out that each week, a different group in the Church does the serving. The cooking though is done by the ever popular Knights of Columbus. Our dinner options were both baked and fried fish, French fries, macaroni and cheese, coleslaw, green beans and the ever popular roll.

Perhaps it is because we were early, but St. Joan of Arc’s managed to get all of the food on their buffet at the right temperature, at least on our first try. I tried both the baked and fried fish as did B. T and Z had the macaroni and cheese with their fried fish and we all had the beans, fries and coleslaw.

Our first batch of fried fish was very good, and all of us gave it a “thumbs up”. While the baked fish was moist and did taste good it was not the best we had in our adventures. We all loved the fries and the coleslaw. The fries were hot and salty and the coleslaw was tangy and creamy. We all thought that they could have done a better job on the green beans.

Z, our macaroni and cheese critic, said it was OK, but not great. T was not so kind. He thought it tasted like pasta and paste.

We were also less than impressed with our second batch of fried fish. The batter failed to cling to the fish, perhaps a result of the high turn-over and cooking too quickly. Overall, it was very good and one of the best we had but I’m not sure any of our group would have rated it the “Best”.

Since this week is Holy week, this was our last Fish Fry for the year. This week we will have a special guest blogger from Fiji. There, the tradition is for churches to raise money with a Lovo, the Fijian version of the Luau. So, tune in next week, and have a happy Easter!

Monday, March 22, 2010

5th Week of Lent: St. Andrew's- Upper Arlington

I’ve mentioned that I grew up Lutheran.  I was always amazed by the big Catholic Church down the street in my home town.  I’m pretty sure we never went to any fish fries there.

There are lots of ways that churches can fundraise and feed the people. I know that my current church, Clinton Heights Lutheran, has a pasta dinner on Shrove Tuesday and a Pancake breakfast in the summer.  I have also seen signs for pasta dinners in front of the Methodist church on Broadway.

Lutherans are famous for is a good potluck supper, just ask Garrison Keillor. I am not suggesting that other churches can’t pull off good pot luck; I am just going by what I know.

 I have memories of heaving tables of food.  I grew up in communities with lots of Eastern Europeans.  So, there were not only deviled eggs,  myriad Jello salads, and green bean casserole, but cabbage rolls and goulash.

 I am pretty sure I have at one point or another tried every form of Jello and enjoyed most of them. Yes, I know that it isn’t vegetarian, so it is all a memory, but a fond one. I think the only one I didn’t like was carrots and raisins. But then I have never liked raisins.

I also remember these as wonderful feasts with lots of fellowship and children running around having fun. The only downfall being that my Father always insisted we go through the line together and as the minister he went through last.  That’s a sure way to miss out on the deviled eggs.

When we have visited the various Catholic Churches over the weeks I have seen this feeling of community there, too. It is good to see.  I think it is something that we should look for in our lives whenever we can.  It may be at church or school or your sports team, but it is good to sit down for a meal together, enjoy each other’s company and watch the children play.

This week we ventured over to Upper Arlington to St. Andrew’s on McCoy Rd. We were lured by the promises of salad.  It sounded a little healthier than your average fried fish fare.
My first suggestion for St. Andrew’s would be:  better signage. It was easy enough to find the church but once we were in the parking lot it was difficult to decide what door to go through.

Once we found it, we discovered yet another twist on how to serve a fish fry! The ladies at the door take your initial order, baked or fried or kids pizza, fish or macaroni and cheese. You then proceed to the cashier to pay and get your dessert and drink tickets.

The meal is served in a buffet style and they have figured out how to do that and keep it hot. It is not all you can eat, but the portions are large and should be filling for most people.  T and F both had fried fish with fries, coleslaw and F had green beans. Z went for the kid’s macaroni and cheese, fries, applesauce and salad. I had the baked fish, baked potato, and green beans. Warm rolls added to the starch factor.

The fried fish was very good. The baked fish, while flavorful, was tough. I thought the baked potato was great and the fries were just the way I liked them, hot and salty.  The others thought they were too salty.  Z thought the macaroni and cheese tasted good, but was too runny. The coleslaw was creamy and tangy.  The servings were large.

 If you grew up liking the canned green beans your school served like I did, you will love their green beans, too. As for the salad I was disappointed; iceberg lettuce and dressing.

This was the second church that we noted having milk as a drink option with both chocolate and white. Also, the desserts were all homemade and with lots of variety. Drinks and dessert were included in our dinner price.
The prices are $8 for adults and $4 for kids so our whole family ate for $28.

We have one more Friday for our review. I have ideas for blogging our family diner breakfasts and other adventures with our adolescents.  I am looking for ideas for a name….any suggestions?

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

4th Week of Lent: St. Margaret's of Cortona

It is a very bold statement to bill yourself as the “best” of something, but that is what St. Margaret’s of Cortona, on Hague Av, does at their Fish Fry with big, bold signs and T-shirts. This required our intrepid family of Fish Fry connoisseurs to investigate.

If numbers of people make you the best, they certainly have that in their favor. Because F and I were traveling this weekend we had an early dinner at St. Margaret’s. T. met the kids and I there and reported that patrons were wrapped around the building at 4:30! Police were there for crowd control.  At 5:00 we definitely hit the senior crowd and crowded it was. Their dining hall was stuffed to the gills (pun intended).

St. Margaret’s managed to put a new twist on how to serve a Fish Fry.  Once we entered and purchased our tickets we were sent off to find seats among the long a banquet tables. We worked our way through the crowds and staked out our four seats. Then we were told to wave our tickets in the air and one of the servers came to take our order.

Options for dinner were: fish, baked or fried, baked potatoes, French fries or steak fries, apple sauce or coleslaw and a roll. T, F and Z all had the fried fish and I sampled the baked. Everyone had French fries.  Z had apple sauce while the rest of us tried the coleslaw.

 I thought the baked fish was fabulous! It was nice and moist and had a lovely dill sauce.  Z grumbled a bit about the lack of macaroni and cheese, but enjoyed the fish. T and F both thought the fish was good, but T said he prefers less of a breaded batter that was served at St. Margaret’s.  We all thought the fries were good. The coleslaw was both creamy and tangy and enjoyed by all three eaters. It is important to note that everything came out hot. Dessert was also included and while we did not confirm this we think that the desserts were home made.

On the down side St. Margaret’s was the most expensive Fish Fry we have eaten at. Children ten and over are adults so we paid the $8 price for all four of us. They also charge .75 for cans of soft drinks and $2.00 for beer domestic beer. You are able to get free “seconds” on your fish however our portions were large enough that it wasn’t necessary.

You could also spend $10 on a commemorative t-shirt.  (I thought it was cool looking, but didn’t buy one.) Another smart move on their part, St. Margaret’s has a cash machine at their entrance. Maybe it was for the fish, maybe for the bingo that seems to be played at other times. 
Overall, it was a very good meal.  Many in the crowd commented that this was the Best Fish Fry in Columbus, but among us, it was no one’s favorites so far.

On side note, F and I stopped at Max and Erma’s on our drive back to Columbus and he tried the fish and chips dinner. He decided that the Catholic Churches serve better fish!  I couldn’t get him to be any more descriptive , but since he is a teenager we will have to settle for that.

Next week:  St. Andrew’s in UA! See you there!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

3rd Week of Lent: St Catherine's-Bexley/Columbus

In the interest of full disclosure, I was a Delta Zeta in college. T was a Delta Sigma Phi.  I am telling you this because this week I became curious about the Knights of Columbus.  So far we have visited two fish fries that were sponsored by the K of C. Interestingly, the Catholic friends that I asked were not really sure what the K of C did, so I thought I should check this out. First of all I went to the K of C website and while I did not read every page I did get the general idea.  I disclosed my greek-ness because to me it looks like the K of C is essentially a fraternity for Catholic men. Founded in 1882 in Connecticut as a fraternal benefit society, they are to strive for charity, unity and fraternity.  It seems that they are to take care of their community of families and the community around them.  Like many fraternities they have some pet charities. Two that the website highlighted were: Coats for Kids and the Global Wheelchair Mission.  Also, as an extension of their goal to take care of their community they offer health insurance.  I will say that I did find an issue or two that concerned the liberal side of me. Not surprisingly, for a Catholic organization the K of C website had a very pro-life bent. I know that this is part of the Catholic doctrine, though it would make me feel better if I thought my fish money was going to wheelchairs or coats than to pro-life rallies. Hmmm, something to think on. Of course, there are websites with conspiracy theories, but I’ll leave that one for Dan Brown. One thing I do know is that the K of C at St. Catherine’s makes really good homemade donuts.  I am taking that on the word of my friend N and her parents J and S. I figure who can I trust better on donut quality than one of my favorite eleven year old girls?
J, S, N and her brother E joined us at their parish St. Catherine’s, at 500 S. Gould Rd. on the East Side of Columbus, for our third Friday of Lent Fish Fry.  Proving that there are many ways to host a Fish Fry St. Catherine put their own twist on things. Like our first two F.F’s you were able to purchase an adult or child meal but at St. Catherine’s you could also purchase a family meal for $24. This covered a family of two adults and two children.  Another twist is that St. Catherine’s served their meal as an all you can eat buffet. Finally, they were the first we’ve seen  to offer baked fish as well as fried.  Both types of fish were tasty. I especially enjoyed the baked fish. It had great flavor and I liked the dill seasoning.  Also offered, were the standard fries, coleslaw, applesauce, and macaroni and cheese. Punch, water, and ice tea as well as a trip to the dessert table came with your meal and you have the option of soda for .50 cents and beer for $2. Overall the flavors were very good and most of our group thought that the creamy coleslaw was tasty. The girls liked the macaroni and cheese,  but thought the cheese sauce could have been creamier. The two boys, 13 and 14, seemed to pretty much gobble down everything on their plate without complaint. The one downfall to the meal  stems from the buffet style. Most of our food was not hot. I am sure that this stems from the fact that they are trying to have masses of food ready and out at the buffet table. Once they master getting it served hot I think that it will be an even better experience.  Overall our family had a great time with our friends and enjoyed our meal.
We are taking suggestions for this Friday. Let us know!

Saturday, February 27, 2010

2nd Week of Lent: Immaculate Conception, Clintonville

The age-old question:  Why don’t the Catholics think that fish is meat?  Surely, most vegetarians and all vegans think that fish is meat.  After a bit of research on the internet today I found out there are a variety of answers from the very esoteric to the heretical.  The truth is in there somewhere.  On pages written by the theologians, it was very deep and murky, and there was some suggestion that it had something to do with the pope’s mistress in the middle ages withholding her favors until her fisherman husband was able to sell more fish.  Hmmm!  What seems to make the most sense is that it stems from fasting and abstinence and, unlike the modern, western idea of fasting by eating nothing but fruit juice and water traditionally it was about spending time in contemplation and minimalist diet, meaning only what your body needs. This comes from a time when meat was expensive and reserved for those wealthy enough to have their own cattle or purchase it in the market. Peasants were able to provide their own fish and vegetables without any expense. So, therefore fish is not a sacrifice to eat or to abstain from.
It seems that in the 1960 the churches started to recognized that more mothers were working and the community dinner started to take hold and thus the Catholic Church Fish Fry!  Another interesting tidbit the Filet o’ fish at McDonalds started as a result of Catholic’s abstinence from meat on Fridays. One of the Franchisees started the practice and got into trouble with the company founder Ray Croc. After a debate they held a sales contest between the Filet o’ fish and Crock’s sandwich made from pineapple rings. Guess which one won!
This week our family was joined by one of our Catholic friends, B, as we headed out to Immaculate Conception on North Broadway in Clintonville. Friday night was a very snowy and icy evening but we braved our way and I.C. is the closest Catholic Church to our house.
One interesting difference we noticed this week is that I.C. is set up more like a restaurant.  Your enter the building and there is the order and pay station but from there you are seated by a hostess at large round tables that you may be expected to share with other families. Your tickets are collected from you and then you are served your dinner by a “waiter”.  They may bring you drinks or you may serve yourself.
Their offerings were similar to what we had had the previous week. Your options were Adult Fish dinner, Child Fish dinner or Macaroni and Cheese dinner.   You could also purchase extra fish.  On the beverage side B and T were able to indulge in a beer from Columbus Brewing Company for $3.50, Soda was $1.00 and lemon aid was free. Desserts were also offered with one option being Dairy Queen soft serve with one topping for $1.00. Our total for the five of us before the beer was $36.
T, D, B and F all ordered adult fish dinners and Z ordered the Macaroni and Cheese.  Our fish dinners were served with two pieces of fish, steak fries, coleslaw, green beans, and a roll. Z’s macaroni and cheese was served with one piece of fish, apple sauce and a roll. The fish was nice and hot and very good.  We were not very impressed with the steak fries though we did eat them all. There was a 50/50 split on the coleslaw. I like mine creamier and this was on the more tart side.  I would give them a bonus points for the green beans, but they were of the institutional variety, as in canned from the school cafeteria, but they had a vegetable!  Z ate her macaroni and cheese so fast that no one else could try it and declared it was very good, not too cheesy.  That’s a good thing for Z as she doesn’t like cheese clumps in her Mac and cheese. Once again we missed out on dessert. We had lots of Girl Scout Cookies at home calling us!
Overall, we would recommend Immaculate Conception’s fish fry. The food and atmosphere was very nice and they get added points from the beer drinkers! It would have been nice to have a glass of wine. 
Next week:  St. Catherine’s in Whitehall

Friday, February 26, 2010

1st week of Lent: St Michael's, Worthington

Perhaps it was our two years living in New Zealand; our family loves a good fish fry.  For the most part we tell people we are vegetarians because it’s easier than explaining what a pescetarian is.  We may never know the joys of a good kumara fry here in the States, but the traditional Catholic Fish Fry during Lent allows us to revel in our memories and create new ones.  Because we are not Catholic we are not “restricted” to only patronizing our local parish, so we have in the past sampled various F.F.’s in our area. Of course we have our favorites for various reasons but we thought it was time to share our reviews on the F.F. and perhaps other dining pleasures in the future.
First you should know who we are: T, dad, though a vegetarian when I married him will eat anything with the exception of beets and I frequently find him treating the dog to bits of contraband ham he’s has brought into our house. He will also order red meat pretty much every chance he gets when dining out.
F, oldest and son, an adventurous eater with a mostly vegetarian diet but that didn’t keep him from trying snails in France. He will try most things but has strong opinions about what is edible.
Z, youngest and daughter, is a much pickier eater. She hasn’t eaten meat since she was four, 7 years ago.  She also is not a big fan of fried fish so she is our taster of the alternate dishes.
Finally D, me the mom, I love lots of different types of food, but limit as much as possible my intake of meat to the occasional splurge on seafood.
For our first Friday F.F. the four of us ventured to St. Michael’s on High St. in  Worthington. This is one of the two that we have visited many times over the years so it made sense that we review them first. St. Michael’s is run by the Knights of Columbus and one of the best parts is seeing grown men run around in funny fish hats. They offer several dinner options: Large Fish, Small Fish, and Macaroni and Cheese. All of their dinners come with french fries, apple sauce or coleslaw, a role and either soft drink or coffee. The side dishes and beverages have free refills. Also available for an additional charge are New England style clam chowder, extra fish and dessert. You pay when you enter the building but you do have the option of purchasing extra tickets once you are in the hall.
The meal is served in a cafeteria style. You take your tickets through the line and you are served your meal in carryout style containers. You then seat yourself in long table similar to my high school cafeteria. T, F and I all got the large fish dinner with three pieces of fish and coleslaw. Z had the Macaroni and Cheese with apple sauce. T also ordered the Clam Chowder. 
The three of fish eaters all thought the fish was hot and delicious with a nice crisp batter. We especially like the thin fries, also served hot. Hot fries are very important to me and on the few occasions that I treat myself to McDonalds fries at the drive through I will turn around and go back in and complain if they aren’t served hot. This is under the theory that if I’m going to eat something that really isn’t good for me it better taste good. The coleslaw was the creamy variety and we all enjoyed it. Z gave the Mac and cheese a thumbs up, though she thought my home made is better. It did look a lot like Velveeta. T tried it and wasn’t too impressed. T, F and Z all tried the chowder and thought it was good but had too many potatoes and T didn’t think he had a single clam in any that he ate. Since we were all very full none of us had dessert though they looked homemade and inviting.
The prices are as follows: Large Fish $7.50 and the Mac and Cheese $5.00. The Clam Chowder was $1.00. Our total family expense was $29.
Over all we enjoyed our dinner and the main attraction, the fish and chips, was very good. We would definitely recommend enjoying a dinner there.