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Snowball Into Health 

Locally owned restaurants can help diners build up healthy food choices

Welcome to the New Year, a time to reflect on our lives with new passion or resolve. Most of the holiday abundance is behind us...but remember, the Super Bowl and Valentine's Day are still looming.

It’s easy to cut ourselves some slack for occasional dietary indiscretions. But in our bodies, disease can progress like a snowball: What begins small, if pushed down a hillside, gains girth and speed. For example, the occasional prime rib becomes a prime rib ordered with a baked potato, sour cream and butter. Six months later it becomes prime rib, a baked potato with the works, and cherry cheesecake for dessert.

Sitting in the doctor’s office, staring at the unpleasant facts and figures — weight, cholesterol, blood sugar levels — one wonders, “How did this happen?” Truth? It started small and gained speed. It might be time to rework the plan.

Luckily, just as bad habits can snowball into bigger problems, good habits can also snowball. It was with this in mind that I sat down for a chat with Deb Green, co-owner, along with her daughter Megan Poffenroth, of Madeleine’s Café and Patisserie. “I was looking forward to retiring from the catering business and getting some much needed rest. Then Meg decided she would change her major, go to culinary school and we could open a business together,” reflects Green.

Meg graduated from college and then from the San Francisco Baking Institute. Deb sidestepped retirement and worked out all the plans for Madeleine’s. What was originally to be a small bakery and bistro grew into a 56-seat, full-service café and patisserie in the heart of downtown Spokane.

Their plate is full, but they have a passion to provide healthy options along with those rich pastry treats. “French provincial cooking can be quite healthy,” says Deb. “We’re serving a marriage between southern France and northern Italy. The foods are not too rich and overly sauced. They have many layers of flavor, yet they’re simple, beautiful and comfortable.”

Fresh produce is abundant at Madeleine’s. In summer and fall months, Deb shops at the local farmer’s market, personally picking out the produce. Daily their case is filled with dozens of options. “The three-cheese and tomato grilled panini or the Croque Monsieur may not be the healthiest choices,” Green says with a smile. “But the turkey, Swiss and apple with basil on eight-grain bread is just as popular.”

Vegetarians, as well as people with allergies and other health concerns, can find solace here. “Once we had a diner who was allergic to parsley,” says Green. “It is very helpful if these people identify their dietary needs to us when ordering. If we don’t have a menu item to fit their need, we’ll head to the kitchen to make them something.”

That’s just part of what makes homegrown, local restaurants special. Cooking for a special need breaks up the routine and makes the chef think on the spot. They enjoy the rush.

Madeleine's Wild Rice Salad with Chanterelles, Dried Fruit, Goat Cheese and Pecans

1 cup wild rice
1 tsp. salt
6 sprigs thyme
2 tsp. grape seed or canola oil
1 lb. chanterelle mushrooms, wiped clean and chopped
1/4 cup olive oil
3 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
2 large shallots, thinly sliced
1 tsp. coarsely chopped fresh thyme
1/2 tsp. crushed fennel seeds
1/2 tsp. crushed cumin seeds
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup dried fruit, chopped (cranberries, apricots, raisins, cherries)
8 cups arugula or watercress
4 ounces goat cheese, crumbled
1/2 cup chopped pecans

Wash rice under cold water. Bring 4 cups of water to a boil; add salt and 6 sprigs thyme. Add the rice to the water and simmer, covered, about 40 minutes. Drain the rice and remove thyme. Let cool. (Can be done a day ahead and refrigerated.)

Heat the grape seed oil in a skillet over medium-high heat then add mushrooms. Cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned. Remove from heat, drain and set aside.

To make vinaigrette: In small bowl whisk together olive oil, vinegar, shallots, chopped thyme, fennel, cumin and pepper. Add dried fruits.

In a salad bowl, combine cooled rice, mushrooms and pecans. Toss with vinaigrette and fruits.

Divide greens between four plates. Top with rice mixture, then sprinkle with goat cheese. Serves four.

Nutrition Facts, per serving: 566 calories, 30g fat, 60g carbohydrates, 22g protein, 8g fiber, 30mg cholesterol

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