It was pouring rain on shopping day. Phoenicians are always grateful for rain because we live in perpetual drought conditions. Rain, however, makes us drive badly and complain a lot. I was grumpy on the way to the farmers’ market and even grumpier when I got there and the whole parking lot was flooded. I made the kids wait in the car while I waded through the muck and hurried to buy what I could for $25. Due to unforeseen circumstances, we had to cut our food budget for the week in half. I thought I had $6 left, so I stopped at my favorite vendor to pick up a couple things I needed for the boys’ lunches. I hurried to the line with my baby carrots, a head of lettuce and the first pepper I’d seen in months. She rang me up and the total was $6.50. I looked in my purse and realized I only had three dollars. “I only have enough for the carrots, ” I said, mentally refiguring the week’s lunches and wondering what I was going to do with so little food. “Don’t worry about it. You can give me the $3.50 next time. You’re a good customer.” I thanked her and shuffled away, a little embarrassed.
It seems like such a little thing, but on a bad day, it can change everything. While I hate the idea of being a consumer, when she said I was a good customer I felt like I do when my boss says I’m a good teacher or my mom says I’m a good mom. Yay! I’m good at something!
I’ve heard a lot of people talk about “community” at farmers’ markets. For me, community has always been a little abstract. Sure, I chat with people in line, and say hi to people I know, but I’d never really considered it a community. But when my farmer saw I was having a rough day, she helped me out and made me feel better. The community part of a farmers’ market isn’t just socializing in line and swapping recipes, it’s about personal transactions versus business transactions. Plenty of nice people work at Safeway and many of them know my name, but they’re not invested in the products they sell and, quite frankly, much of what they sell is unhealthy and even dangerous. If they were acting on their concern for their customers, they’d tell them not to buy cigarettes and cured meat. It’s a business transaction–a friendly, pleasant one, but a strictly commercial one nonetheless.
I got to the car as fast as I could, envisioning a screaming toddler, a fight and maybe a little blood. I got there and they were cuddled in the back seat listening to music on the iPod. This is when I told myself that everything is going to be just fine. And I really believed it.
This week I was pretty conscious of making dinners that could be worked into lunches the next day. It was also a busy week, so we stuck to mostly quick, simple dinners.
I had two huge packages of spare ribs from our steer. Spare ribs are disgusting and I didn’t know what to do with them, so I threw them in a pot and simmered them gently for about 8 hours. I went to Whole Foods and had the guy slice sirloin paper thin and then went to Lee Lee Market and got Vietnamese rice noodles. Then I made Pho! It was fun and delicious. I forgot the sliced lime . . . and have vowed to never do that again.
Next time, I’m going to get a whole wheat baguette from Frogs Organic Bakery (in Tucson) at the Downtown market. It’s the best whole wheat bread I’ve ever had. It would be lovely with the soup.
I found out the trick to great red cabbage coleslaw: after you shred the cabbage, put it in a huge bowl and sprinkle it with a decent amount of salt. Then you let it sit an hour or two and press out the water. Red cabbage is a little too crunchy, so this method makes it the perfect texture.
I got a buddha’s hand at Whole Foods last week and, since the rind is especially fragrant and flavorful, I decided to candy it. I left much of the inside of the fruit, which is an only slightly bitter pith. There was a little bit of fruit in there, but not much.
I used this recipe, but added Grand Marnier to the syrup. If you don’t have super fine sugar, just put it a grinder for a couple seconds.
We have a lot of oranges from the front yard, too. I’ll juice them and candy some more peels. At an Afghan engagement party we went to last week, they served Persian rice with little slivers of candied orange peel. It was heavenly.
I peeled the oranges with a potato peeler and then squeezed them for orange juice (they were squirty). I made candied orange peel using the same syrup. Instead of tossing these in sugar and drying them, I’m storing them in the syrup to use in everything. I made mashed sweet potatoes with butter, cream, brown sugar, and about a 1/4 cup of the orange peel with syrup. I thought it was amazing, but the boys disagreed.
For the boys, I threw together some leftover pasta, tomatoes and spinach and served with grated parmesan. They were quiet and they ate it, so it must have been okay.
For Pat, I just threw some garlic, shallots and pancetta (from Trader Joe’s because it’s in little tiny cubes) in a skillet with some olive oil, then added several chopped tomatoes and then some spinach. I ladled this mixture over some hot polenta (very easy to make). I put the leftover polenta in a rectangular tupperware so I could slice it the next night and fry it. My favorite thing to do with leftover polenta, though, is to pour buttermilk over it and sprinkle it with lots and lots of pepper.
I’m trying to lose a few pounds, so I’m avoiding sugar like the plague. I was dying for something sweet, though. I made the panna cotta with Splenda (I know, it’s probably really terrible for you, but you don’t know my desperation). They were lovely–especially with a little candied orange peel on top, of which I only took a microscopic bite.
Tuesday: roasted pumpkin tartlets and shaved fennel salad
I have taken to roasting big winter squash whenever I have the time and storing it in tupperware in the fridge. I used about three cups of pumpkin mixed with about 1/2 cup of minced shallots, 8 duck eggs and a cup of cream to make these little tarts. I seasoned it with a little nutmeg, salt and pepper. Since I used frozen pie crust, it only took about 5 minutes to throw together. I made mine with no crust, and it was so good I hardly missed it.
They were perfect for lunch boxes the next day.
Alice Waters’s Shaved Fennel Salad from the cookbook Pat got me for Christmas, The Simple Art of Food:
It was a pain to get the fennel shaved thin. She recommends a mandoline, but that wasn’t getting it thin enough, either. Her mandonline probably works.
2 fennel bulbs, trimmed and sliced as thin as you can get it
2 tablespoons lemon juice and zest from 1/4 lemon
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
3 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper
Whisk the olive oil into the other ingredients and toss with fennel.
Wednesday: shrimp seasoned and baked (in bacon drippings), fried polenta, spinach and bacon salad
I made the best banana bread of my career for dessert. I always use this Cooking Light recipe that I’ve adapted to make it higher in fat and higher in deliciousness. They use a brown butter glaze if you’re interested. I decided just to make the bread taste good and then put ICE CREAM on it!!!!!!!
Banana Rum Bread:
- 5 tablespoons butter, softened
- 3/4 cup packed high quality dark brown sugar
- 3 medium/large ripe bananas, sliced
- 1/2 cup sweet cream buttermilk
- 3 tablespoons walnut
- 3 tablespoons amber or gold rum
- 2 large eggs
- 6 ounces all-purpose flour and 3 ounces cake flour
- 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- Baking spray
- Preheat oven to 350°.
- Melt 5 tablespoons butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add brown sugar and bananas; sauté 6-10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat; cool 10 minutes. Place banana mixture in a large bowl. Beat with a mixer at medium speed until smooth.
- Combine buttermilk and next 3 ingredients (through eggs). Weigh or lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour, baking soda, and salt. Add flour mixture and buttermilk mixture alternately to banana mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture; beat at low speed just until combined. Scrape batter into a 9 x 5-inch metal loaf pan coated with baking spray. Bake at 350° for 1 hour or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out with moist crumbs clinging. Cool for 10 minutes in pan on a wire rack. Remove bread from pan, and cool on wire rack.
Thursday: two ten minute dinners
For the boys, I boiled some einkorn pasta and tossed it with two cans of tuna and 2/3 of a jar of tomato sauce. They love it and it takes 12 minutes to make. For Pat, who didn’t get home until 8:30, I thawed some black eyed peas from New Year’s Day. Also ten minutes.
Friday: sausage, scarlet runner beans and candied butternut squash (I replaced most of the sugar with good dark brown sugar)
School Lunch in the News
Last week’s front page NYTimes story on the new federal school lunch regulations generated enough letters to the editor to warrant a follow up. Check out several of the letters here: When Children Reject a Healthy Lunch.
I met with Patty Hunn, Camelview’s nutrition director, this afternoon to talk more about farm to school. Currently the school district purchases all food from Shamrock Farms. We’d like to start purchasing from the IRC New Roots farm cooperatives next year–perhaps starting with a few specialty items. Chow Locally, a local food hub, is interested in helping out, too. So far, so good.
In honor of National Farm to School Month and National School Lunch Week (next week), I put together a list of Phoenix farmers’ markets to hand out to students. The Wellness Council met after our little meeting and the kids made decorated lists of healthy alternatives to Halloween candy.
Taco night is always a big hit. This is universally true. But this week’s taco night was special. Isaac was raving about the spread and suggested we have tacos every night. In the middle of our happy dinnertime chatter, Isaac leans over to me and (rather loudly) whispers in my ear, “This is fucking good!” For some reason, whenever my kids say something off-color, I always immediately (and stupidly) respond with, “What did you say?” like I have some naughty language hearing impairment . I just couldn’t believe that he’d said it (Isaac still thinks the s-word is stupid). I looked up and Pat and Lute were shaking their heads vigorously. I was about to say, “No–don’t repeat it!” but I was too late. He said it again, but louder. Pat and Lute were trying not to laugh, but I, as the only adult in the family, was able to hold it together. I said, “We don’t use that kind of language, Isaac. Please don’t ever say that again.” After some snickering from Pat and Lute, dinner continued as normal. At six, our son has joined the ranks of such illustrious f-bomb droppers as Joe Biden, Tim Lincecum and Jon Stewart–at least he’s in good company.
I decided to try two of the quick breads in this month’s Cooking Light. I modified the recipes and was pleased with the results. I gave the banana bread to my step grandmother, so I didn’t get to taste it. It looked and smelled wonderful, though.
Walnut Streusel Bread with Extra Streusel
Streusel (this is double the original)
2/3 cup packed brown sugar
2/3 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
2 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Dash of salt
4 tablespoons butter, melted
6 tablespoons chopped walnuts
1 ¼ cups whole wheat flour
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons butter, softened
2/3 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2/3 cup whole milk
1/3 cup whole milk yogurt
1. Preheat oven to 350°.
2. To prepare streusel, combine first 5 ingredients in a medium bowl. Add 2 tablespoons melted butter, stirring until well combined. Stir in nuts. Set aside.
3. To prepare bread, weigh or lightly spoon 9 ounces flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour, baking soda, baking powder, and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a bowl, stirring well with a whisk. Combine 5 tablespoons butter and granulated sugar in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at medium-high speed until well blended. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition; beat in vanilla. Beating at low speed, add flour mixture and buttermilk alternately to sugar mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture; beat just until combined. Scrape half of batter into a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan coated with baking spray; sprinkle with half of streusel mixture. Spread remaining batter over streusel; swirl. Sprinkle remaining streusel on top of batter, reserving two tablespoons to eat yourself or share with whichever child you like best. Bake at 350° for 50 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out with moist crumbs clinging. Cool 10 minutes in pan on a wire rack. Remove from pan; cool completely on wire rack.
Banana Bread with (extra) Browned Butter Glaze
5 tablespoons butter, softened and divided
3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
3 medium ripe bananas, sliced
1/2 cup whole milk
2 tablespoons whole milk yogurt
3 tablespoons organic canola oil
2 tablespoons amber rum
2 large eggs
1 1/2 whole wheat flour
1/2 cup almond meal
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
soft butter to grease the loaf pan
2/3 cup powdered sugar
4 teaspoons half-and-half
Preheat oven to 350°.
2. Melt 3 tablespoons butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add brown sugar and bananas; sauté 4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat; cool 10 minutes. Place banana mixture in a large bowl. Beat with a mixer at medium speed until smooth.
3. Combine milk, yogurt, oil, rum and eggs. Combine flour, baking soda, and salt in a separate bowl. Add flour mixture and milk mixture alternately to banana mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture; beat at low speed just until combined. Scrape batter into a greased metal loaf pan. Bake at 350° for 55 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out with moist crumbs clinging. Cool for 10 minutes in pan on a wire rack. Remove bread from pan, and cool on wire rack.
4. Melt remaining 2 tablespoon butter in a small, heavy saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook 3 minutes or until butter begins to brown; remove from heat. Add powdered sugar and half-and-half, stirring with a whisk until smooth. Drizzle glaze over bread. Let stand until glaze sets.
Note: Since I always double icing, glazes, streusel, etc., you will have more glaze than you need. This is for you to eat with a spoon and perhaps share with favorite child as in previous recipe.
What We Ate
Saturday: roasted vegetable salad with yogurt sauce
Easy: I tossed pieces of eggplant, zucchini, purple onion and cauliflower in 1/4 cup olive oil (I added a clove of crushed garlic to the oil first) and some salt and pepper. I put these on a baking sheet. On a separate sheet, I put 3 tomatoes which I’d cut into pieces and tossed in olive oil and balsamic vinegar. I roasted these (at the same time) at 375 degrees.
The tomatoes took about 25 minutes, and the vegetables about 40 minutes.
Meanwhile, I made a quick yogurt sauce with Greek yogurt, minced fresh mint, lemon juice, 1 very small clove crushed garlic, and salt and pepper.
Serve vegetables warm with yogurt dressing on the side.
Sunday: quinoa verde salad
This was ridiculously easy.
2/3 cup salsa verde (Ranch Market makes a great one or you can use a jar)
3-4 cups cooked quinoa
1-2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar (I always use the chili infused vinegar Pat makes)
2/3 cup mayonnaise or Vegenaise
1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
1 yellow squash diced
¼ cup red onion, minced
4 cups shredded napa cabbage
1-2 avocados, diced
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
Combine ingredients and toss (I like to add the salsa to the quinoa while it’s still a little warm, so it soaks it up a little). Add the avocados last so they don’t get mushy
Monday: tacos w/ ground beef, refried beans, avocado, tomato, shredded lettuce and salsa fresca–fucking good!
Tuesday: fajitas at Pat’s sister’s house to celebrate their parents’ 50th anniversary–lovely
Wednesday: nachos with avocados, pinto beans, green chiles and sour cream (what can I say–we were on a Mexican roll)
Thursday: dal, naan and eggplant
I wanted to replicate the packaged lentils, incorrectly named “Madras Lentils,” from Tasty Bite and Trader Joe’s. I figured out they’re called Dal Makhani. While my kids love the packaged lentils, they didn’t love this one. Lute ate it happily, but the other two ate a few bites and then focused on their naan. Isaac said it was too spicy–but he lies.
I found this recipe on a quirky little blog called The Colors of Indian Cooking. I used scarlet runner beans instead of the traditional red kidney beans and it turned out great. I love that it’s a rich and decadent beans and lentils dish–what a delicious contradiction.
Beware: this takes a while to make and uses a few dishes. Best for a weekend night, when you can make it in the late morning and leave it to cook all day.
I get frozen naan at Le Le Market and just pop it in the oven at 400 degrees for a few minutes.
2 cups of dried whole beluga or French green lentils
1-2 cups scarlet runner beans (I quick-soaked them by boiling them in 3x their volume of water for a minute or two and them letting them sit an hour).
4 Tbs of melted ghee
4 fresh green serrano chilies—seeds removed
One 2 inch piece of ginger peeled and chopped
2 large shallots, chopped
4 cups chicken broth
2 cups of water
1/4 cup or so of heavy cream
1 tsp of cumin
1/2 tsp of turmeric
1 tsp of garam masala
4-5 tomatoes, peeled and chopped
fresh cilantro and whole milk yogurt for garnish
1. In a blender or grinder, grind the peppers, ginger and shallot into a coarse paste. Set aside.
2. Pour 4 cups chicken stock and 2 cups water in crock pot.
3. Add in the lentils and beans, 1 Tbs of ghee, and the chili/ginger paste. Turn the heat to high, cover and cook for about 45 minutes.
4. Stir the dal well with and turn heat to low. Cook for another 6 hours.
5. An hour or so before serving, melt the remaining 4 Tbs of ghee in a skillet. When the butter is foamy, add in the cumin, garam masala, and turmeric. Stir fry spices together for about a minute. Then add in the tomatoes. Simmer for 5 minutes or until most of the liquid has boiled off, stirring frequently. Add 3 or 4 Tbs of heavy cream to this mixture. Make sure the cream is thoroughly warmed, and then pour everything from the skillet into the slow cooker. Cook for another hour.
Garnish with yogurt and cilantro and serve with naan and roasted eggplant.
Friday: quick black bean cakes, fried eggs and baby greens with cherry tomatoes
I also got this recipe from Cooking Light and modified it. I promise I’ll get more original next week.
2/3 cup olive oil plus oil to fry eggs
7 large eggs, divided
2 (15-ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 cup panko, divided
1/2 cup finely chopped green onions
4 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground red pepper
2 garlic cloves, minced
1. Place 2 tablespoons olive oil, 2 eggs, and beans in a food processor. Pulse 20 times or until mixture becomes a coarsely chopped paste. Combine bean mixture, 2/3 cup panko, onions, and next 5 ingredients in a bowl.
2. Place 1/3 cup panko in a dish. Divide bean mixture into 8 equal portions. Shape each into a 3/4-inch-thick patty; dredge in panko. Heat a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add 2/3 cup olive oil. Add patties; cook 3 minutes on each side. Remove from pan. Wipe pan clean. Add about a tablespoon olive oil. Crack 6 eggs into skillet. Cover and cook 4 minutes. Remove from heat.
serve with salad lightly dressed in olive oil.
What We Spent
We spent $164.34 at Safeway and Sprouts this week. I usually don’t spend so much on food at Safeway, but they had their “spend $75 and get $10 off your next purchase” deal this week. I went 3 times and spent just over $75 each time. One of those trips was for food, the other for household items we needed. So I have $30 for groceries next week.
I spent $40 at the farmers’ market–most of this was on an impulse buy at the Hummus Doctor. Lute wanted hummus and it was buy 3/get a free container of chips. It was overpriced and less than mediocre.
The grand total: $204.34.