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)
We spent about $220 this week–but we have more excuses. I won’t go into them here. I made my usual mistake of letting Pat go to the grocery store and buy all kinds of ridiculous and expensive food items. Better luck next week.
This week was back-to-school week. I’ve been busy freezing dinners I can pull out on hectic nights and I’m back in the habit of prepping the week’s vegetables. I try to slice cucumbers and peppers, string and cut the celery and wash the tomatoes as soon as I get back from the farmers’ market. I never pre-wash lettuce or greens—they tend to wilt. I’ll serve some of the sliced vegetables the same day, and save the rest for lunches the next few days. As soon as I need an onion, I’ll chop all I have—it’s much easier to do it all at once. I also like to serve steamed broccoli and/or cauliflower early in the week. I can pull out half when it’s only lightly steamed and reserve it for lunches and snacks during the week.
Sunday I made roja vieja, which means “old clothes.” It didn’t taste like old clothes, but it was unremarkable. I liked the Epicurious.com explanation: “Ropa vieja, or ‘old clothes,’ describes the shreds of meat, peppers, and onions resembling a mess of colorful rags. Robust stews such as this Cuban specialty are at the heart of West Indian cuisine.”
The stew meat from our steer was great. I dredged it in a little flour and browned it before I put it in the dutch oven.
I tried making squash chips on Sunday night. The boys like them and I wanted to send them in their first lunches. One tray was covered in little black circles of charred squash. Why didn’t I take them out earlier? you ask. Because I couldn’t see them under the tray of soggy, overly salted squash that refused to brown, that’s why. I ate the top tray to make myself feel better–it only kind of worked.
Isaac and I made Mark Bittman’s easy whole wheat crackers on Monday. We had chicken soup, the boys’ favorite, for dinner in honor of the first day of school. I used the broth I’d frozen from a couple of weeks ago when we barbecued those two chickens. It was smoky and rich and perfect. I added carrots and onion. If I’d had my wits about me, I would have served it with lime wedges. But it was still good old fashioned comfort food. We put egg noodles in them, but next time I think I’ll make matzo balls.
Tuesday, as usual, was curry. This one was fun. We decided on green curry when we looked in the fridge and saw purple bell peppers, green beans and okra. I love green and purple–it was pretty. Next time I’ll use Japanese eggplant for more purple. I shouldn’t have cooked the pepper very long–the deep purple fades quickly.
Pat works 12 hour shifts 4 days a week, so on those nights I eat with the kids and with Pat when he gets home. I don’t mind eating two dinners, but I don’t want to make two dinner. Anything in a slow cooker works: stew, lentil, beans, chili, green chile. As long as you get everything in the pot before noon, you’re fine. This week’s crock pot dinner was scarlet runner beans. I thawed out a giant ham bone from a baked ham we had at some kind of family function a couple months ago and used a container of frozen chicken broth (see Monday night’s dinner). It was perfect. The skins on the beans are a little tough–we had to cook them three hours longer than the 6 hours we’d planned.
The next day I made dip and the following day I made a bean salad.
Thursday was stuffed tomatoes. I got some great tomatoes from the farmers’ market–there were pretty green and red ones, but we ate them before I could take a picture. These are the easiest thing in the world to make, but you have to make sure to turn the scooped out tomatoes upside down to drain for 15 minutes or so. Save the extra juice for pasta sauce later in the week.
I fed the boys and, since Pat was working, put two in the fridge for later. I’m always looking for things I can make ahead and then cook (or heat) in separate servings. I had to bake Pat’s a little longer because they were cold. I served them with couscous, which takes about 8 minutes to make.
When school starts, we have to make meals that make good leftovers for lunch. Chicken, meatballs, lentils and beans (my kids love lentil madras lentils or pureed beans as dip).
I like to make quinoa or couscous once or twice a week. I make a lot. You can add anything to couscous and quinoa and come out with a good salad. My kids like dried cranberries, toasted pine nuts and little vinegar and oil. If I have leftover stock, I cook the couscous in that.
Tonight we had the lamb kabob I got Wednesday from JH Grass-fed (at the Wednesday Town and Country Market). It was spectacular.
My favorite thing this week was dessert: fresh figs drizzled with honey and Organic Valley whipped cream (with a little sugar and vanilla whipped in).
This weeks receipts.
- What We Spent and What We Ate: We did it! (phoenixfoodfighters.com)
- What We Spent and What We Ate: Recycled Lunches (phoenixfoodfighters.com)