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)
I fully intend to give trick-or-treaters Reece’s Peanut Butter Cups this Wednesday and then I will stay up late, watch The Daily Show and eat the rest of the bag (along with purloined selections from the boys’ orange buckets). But I’m still going to promote some alternatives to sugar for Halloween. Since many kids don’t go trick-or-treating these days (even though the razor blade in the apple was long ago declared urban legend), parents must attend events designed to take the place of this age-old tradition. These include such euphemistic gatherings as “fall festivals” and classroom “celebrations” (maybe to make Jehovah’s Witness children feel less like Halloween pariahs). Several mandatory parties make their way to the family calendar as well. At every function, kids are met with a barrage of candy the likes of which we couldn’t have imagined as children. At tonight’s fall festival, an annual fund-raiser, the kids supported their own educations by buying sugar in every conceivable form, including, but not limited to: soda, syrup, powder, floss and various polymers.
I think most developed nations use tax dollars to pay for education. But who am I to rethink the federal budget?
We could, however, re-think school fundraising. One local rancher provides grass-fed beef for PTO raffles. The Vig does fundraising nights and Khalsa Montessori Schools provide an amazing spread of local vegetarian cuisine at their functions. I’m sure other local businesses would be willing contribute.
In addition to fall fundraisers, many classrooms have parties. Despite legislation designed to eliminate junk food in schools, parents and teachers still provide candy and baked goods on many occasions throughout the year (one of my children’s classes celebrated every birthday with a sugary treat from parents).
I don’t want to ruin Halloween, but maybe we could limit the candy to just one night–Halloween night. For classroom functions and parties, we could provide healthier options.
What We Ate:
Saturday: Pat and I had a date night for my birthday. Luckily our favorite place, Little Saigon, is also one of the cheapest places to eat out. The back room has a little romantic vibe going on and they have the best Pho (with Pho Thanh a close second and Maxim maybe third) in Phoenix. It’s all about the broth and their broth is sublime. I always get the Pho with the ox tail broth, but I’ve tasted the chicken, vegetable and pork broths too and they’re almost as good. My birthday is usually the first time it’s cool enough to eat soup. This time of year is extraordinary–the city comes alive and there’s suddenly people everywhere and a million things to do–festivals, markets, food trucks, parties, concerts. The best part, though, is getting to eat comfort food again. Comfort food=Pho.
Sunday: birthday burritos
My mom and dad had a little family birthday party for me. My mom made her green chile burritos and Spanish rice. She promised she’d run through the recipe with me so I could post it–maybe next week. Her green chile is loved by all–it’s mild and flavorful, with perfect little cubes of browned pork. Then there’s the fact that it’s wrapped in La Purisima tortillas and deep fried. When you put a little sour cream on it, you feel like your life could not possibly be any better.
Monday: watermelon gazpacho, venison tacos
On Saturday I got what was to be our last watermelon of the year. We thought we should have a little farewell to summer (or F-YOU Summer. Take that!) party.
So I wanted to do something special with our ginormous watermelon. Gazpacho sounded good, since it will be too cool for that sort of thing in a few weeks. Pat got ground venison at Sprouts and made amazing tacos. It was a nice send-off if I do say so myself.
Watermelon Gazpacho that I should remember to make next summer:
4-5 large heirloom tomatoes (blanche and peel first, then remove seeds)–use your ugliest ones
¼ watermelon (cut in chunks) with juice
4 peeled diced Persian cucumbers (I removed most of the seeds, but you don’t have to)
1-2 cups watermelon diced in small, neat cubes
¼ cup minced green onions
one Serrano chile very finely minced
1 TBS minced basil
1 TBS minced cilantro
1 TBS balsamic vinegar
juice of one lime
salt and pepper
In a food processor, puree tomatoes and chunks of watermelon. Add vinegar, lime juice, chile, salt and pepper. Then, in a large bowl, combine puree, watermelon, cucumbers, onions, basil and cilantro. Chill for at least an hour. Serve with a drizzle of crema on top.
The tacos were easy, too. Pat carmelized onion and sauted them with diced green chiles and minced garlic. Then he added roasted, diced pasillas. Then cumin, chili powder, oregano and the ground venison.
Cook it slowly until meat is browned. Serve with tortillas, Cotija cheese, avocados, diced tomatoes, lime wedges and hot sauce.
Tuesday: pumpkin gratin, brussels sprouts (I know I don’t have to tell you) with bacon (for the boys) and greens for us
The pumpkin gratin tasted like quiche. It was really good–but if I’d wanted quiche, I’d have made quiche. So I’ll try again. In the meantime, if you’re interested in pumpkin quiche, here’s the recipe:
Pumpkin Gratin that tastes like quiche:
1 sugar pumpkin (remove seeds, roast at 425 in an inch of water, then scoop out the squash–or read this)
4 eggs (maybe if you only used 3 it wouldn’t taste like quiche?)
½ cup cream
1 cup shredded gruyere
1 minced shallot
some grated parmesan
some ground nutmeg
salt and pepper
Combine all ingredients in a food processor or blender, pour mixture into a buttered casserole, sprinkle with paremesan and bake at 350 for about 40 minutes. After the first 10-15 minutes, you can sprinkle ½ cup of dried fresh breadcrumbs (tossed in melted butter, of course).
Wednesday: parsnip and apple soup and baked salmon
I am no great maker of soups. But I nailed this one. One of Pat’s patients gave us enough parsnips to feed the free world, so I’ve been stretching my culinary talents trying to use them up. The soup was subtly sweet and delicately flavored. Pat ate three bowls.
I think what really made it was that I used the broth I’d made and frozen a few weeks ago. It was a chicken broth, but it also had a lot of celery, parsnips, carrots, bay leaves and onion. A good broth always makes a good soup.
Parsnip Soup that you will love:
About 10 parsnips, peeled and chopped
2 pears, peeled, cored and chopped
3 medium/large apples, peeled, cored and chopped
3-4 TBS chopped ginger
1 chopped onion
3 cloves garlic, sliced or crushed
2 TBS apple cider vinegar
salt and pepper
Sauté onion and garlic, then parsnips, apples, and pears, ginger and seasoning in butter, add to stock pot with 8 cups broth. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes or until parsnips are tender. Work in batches pureeing soup in a food processor or blender. Then strain mixture into a pot. Add about one cup cream, bring just to simmer and serve (with a little parsley on top).
Thursday: I thawed dal and naan from a few weeks ago for a crazy busy night of homework, piano practice, chores and Boy Scouts
Friday: Fall Festival at Madison Heights! Dinner was a hot dog, chips and a soda. Maybe we can do better next year.
What We Spent:
We only spent about $145 this week. $105.90 plus $10 for venison at Sprouts. Then we spent another $40 at the farmers’ market. My mother in law went to the Wednesday market for us and got us tomatoes, apples and tiny little cute pears. Yes, I am lucky to have her.
Study: Junk Food Law Help Curb Obesity (www.azcentral.com)