Monday, January 31, 2011

A Delicious Spot to Be In

There are so many delicious places to be in Buffalo, even in February. I'm waiting for the last day of January to release me into my February obsession with songwriting; at midnight, I begin writing 14 songs in only 28 days. This is my third year as a FAWMer,, and this year, I've set myself a harder challenge... I'm doing it twice over! So instead of a song every other day, I have to write one every day of February.

I might not cook much.

But it's good to know I have places like Amy's, Falafel House, Mike's Subs, Avenue Pizza & Lake Effect Diner very nearby. I can get more than just a cheese sandwich at any of these restaurants, and that makes me happy. I can go up to Plaka on Delaware for garden souvlaki. Or order from Jacobi's, Mamma Mia's, TC Jr.s. Or send the hubby-man down Sheridan to The Buffalo Tap Room, Mariposa's, Anderson's. This is luxury, to me, and I intend to make use of it while I'm writing 28 songs this month.

Of course, I'll still be responsible for making lots of breakfasts, not to mention setting up the man with his lunch. Mornings will be simple: oatmeal in the crockpot, Almond Joy Cream of Wheat, buckwheat pancakes... I vary the toppings on our hot wholegrain cereals everyday so we don't get bored with them. The other day, bereft of fresh fruit, I decided to mimic my favorite cheap candy bar, and that's how we ended up with bowls of Creamy Wheat topped with almonds, mini chocolate chips and shredded coconut. Yes, it was good. Anytime you can have chocolate with breakfast and still have some nutrition in there, it's very good.

Chances are, halfway into Feb., we'll be craving chili, soups, casseroles, and all the home-cooked favorites, so don't count me out yet. Do share your own favorite places to catch a meal, though. I'm saving up ideas for when a friend visits from Indy this Spring, and I'm looking to branch out of my own neighborhood, tasty as it is.
Peace, Mari

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Why Pick Up A Pizza...

When you can make it at home in the same amount of time?

This has been a crazy week in more ways than one. I need a good carbo slump tonight.

Forgive the lack of recipes-- I'll make it up to you, promise. This is a veg-filled soysage masterpiece; it's out of the oven by now, and it's delicious.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

A Toad in the Hole is worth two in the garden...


and a piece, ready for syrup...

From "The Splendid Spoonful," by Barbara Lauterbach, adapted** to veg by ME; variations, also by me.


1 C AP/unbleached flour

1/2 tsp salt

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

1 1/4 C whole milk ( or soymilk, which works sooo wonderfully, or almond milk, which works but doesn't rise as high and light; 1/2 & 1/2 is excellent, too)

freshly ground black pepper

12 oz. link breakfast soysage, or 3/4 package Gimme Lean sausage style, rolled into link shapes, or small patties

2 Tbsp canola or olive oil

warm syrup & Frank's hot sauce, for serving

In a medium bowl, sift the flour and salt together. Make a well in the center and pour the eggs in the well. Stir in the milk in a slow, steady stream, beginning in the center and gradually working in all the flour from the sides.
When the mixture is well-blended, add pepper to taste and strain through a sieve into a bowl or large measuring cup.

LET REST for 30 minutes.

Place oven rack in middle of oven and preheat to 475 degrees F.

Add the oil to a 9x11-inch baking pan (I use my 10-inch iron skilllet, it's perfect!) and place the pan in the preheated oven. When the fat is very hot but not smoking, place sausages in pan and pour batter over. Return pan to oven and reduce heat to 425 F.

Bake the custard for 25-30 minutes, until puffy and golden brown. Cut into squares, (for us, four triangle portions) including some "toads" in each portion. Serve immediately with warmed maple syrup, or for Mari, hot sauce.

This couldn't be easier, takes almost no prep time, and uses pantry ingredients and not a lot of added fat. Nothing better in front of a fire with some coffee, syrup and hot sauce. Very satisfying: it's a cold weather staple around here.

**The original recipe uses meat breakfast sausages or British bangers that are basically parboiled before using.

Two frequent variations-- and their variations!

Chocolate Mandarin or Cherry-Chocolate

Follow above recipe, subbing 3 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder for an equal amount of flour, and adding 1 Tbsp vanilla sugar or regular sugar and few drops vanilla.
Drain a small can of mandarin oranges OR tart cherries in syrup, reserving syrup/juices from fruit, and use 1 C fruit, or a lttle more, in place of sausages. Right before pouring batter over fruit, fold in 1/3 C chocolate chips, if desired. Bake as usual.
While custard is baking, add 1 C water and 2 tsp cornstarch (dissolved in the water) to reserved juices in small saucepan, stir and simmer until thickened to a nice syrupy consistency. Serve this sauce instead of maple syrup.

Apple Cinnamon

Peel and chunk 1-2 small apples and saute in butter with cinnamon and a sprinkle of sugar till soft. Place in bottom of pan instead of sausages in key recipe. Add a dash each of cinnamon and ginger, and 1 tbsp sugar, to batter as well. Bake as usual. If desired, you can add a handful of butterscotch chips or cinnamon chips with this one-- but thoroughly grease your baking pan first, use the oil but don't preheat pan, as batter sticks a little with this one. It still comes out well!

Eat something goood today! Peace, Mari

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Ghosts of an Appetite

You’ll never hear me stop complaining about Indianapolis; what a bad place to be a food lover, with it’s tight-assed feel and omnipresent burger chains; but now that we’re back in WNY for the known and unknown future, I can admit it: there are a few places I miss, and some of them are even restaurants.

I miss my frequent mornings at Patachou having the Omelet of the Day with my pal Abby, a big glass of cold tomato juice with a slice of lemon and a giant bowl-sized mug of good coffee to round things out. We’re talking a fluffy 3 egg omelet with several delicious filling ingredients, like spinach, tomato and feta, or swiss, onion and whole grain mustard; along with several slices of fresh, heavily buttered toast and a cup of their perfectly simple fruit salad, for about $7.50. Somehow Patachou could always get decent strawberries, even in February. It’s a big meal, and we couldn’t finish it most times.

I miss my nights of hiking the canal or bar-hopping with Mike that wound up by hitting Paco’s in Broad Ripple at 2 am for a quesadilla. At Paco’s, (long since gone), they’d grill a huge flour tortilla and fill it to bursting with rice, cheese, jalapenos and sometimes olives, then throw in salsa. They had a wall of hot sauce, and I’d always choose 3, a sweet one like the hot banana ketchup Jufran, a very spicy one like Melinda’s, and maybe a vinegary one that reminded me of Frank’s. For $2 flat, it was a meal. Mike usually had two.

Don’t I miss running into Meijer’s grocery store for a loaf of bread and a bottle of wine, or the Georgetown Market where you could by honey, maple syrup, shampoo and natural detergent in bulk as well as nuts, grains, cereals, flours, beans? They had a little café too, and once in a while I’d treat myself to one of their expensive, tasty vegan cookies or tarts.

And let’s not leave out the Cornerstone Café on 54th and College, home of Black Thunder coffee-- a potent, raise-the-dead brew. The service was friendly and deadly slow, but the coffee rocked and the menu was full of fresh and comforting goodies for everyone. It was a funky little student neighborhood hangout sporting mismatched couches and a slow hippie vibe before it’s makeover, when it went all dark wood chic NYC on me. Loved it both ways. However often I stopped going there, because my life and schedule had changed, I always drifted back. My veghead sister and her husband visiting from Amherst adored it too, and we have great memories of the meal we shared in a window seat, sunlight pouring over the edge of the high-set veined glass window down onto our table.

You’ll notice, none of these places I’m swooning over is a 5 star destination restaurant or precious little upscale bistro. Thing is, each of them somehow correlated to a place back here in WNY; to places I felt at home. It’s hard to get that feeling in a different city, different region of the country than you grew up in, and when you find it, even a tiny piece, you hold on. The place becomes your haven, and like Norm on Cheers, you know you belong when you walk in the door.

So Patachou and the Cornerstone may have started out subbing for Amy’s and the Juicery and Preservation Hall & all the Greek diners Indy doesn’t really have, but their particular rhythms and vibes got to me, and I’ve been casting about for replacements. Without the right people, it’s slow. But I lucked out, in moving into a neighborhood with Premier’s adjoined Liquor & Gourmet stores, with myriad Greek diners not to mention Mike’s Subs, and just a cool fifteen minute drive away from Amy’s… and I’ve found new spots to “claim,” like Reid’s and Condrell’s and Star of India, and old spots I’m closer to now-- Kosta’s redo, Frank’s Sunny Italy, Lone Star Fajita Grill, Gramma Mora’s. Just thinking about Lone Star’s guaco taco gives me insane cravings…

There is one old haunt I didn’t mention, a place that was central to my life in Indy for years and years, a place so piled with memory & importance, I don’t know where to begin… guess I’ll leave The Aristocrat Pub for another post.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Barbecued Spam and Other Childhood Traumas...

My late sister Linda, or Lynne as we called her, was a decent cook and baker for most of her life. She did tend to use too many convenience foods, but having 4 children by the age of 28 will do that. Her sons and I still joke about her famous Barbecued Spam, a thrifty dinner that the kids liked. Simple dish, with a salt content that could fill the daily sodium needs of a small army per slice: Cut a can of Spam in thick slices, put it in a small baking dish, pour bottled Barbecue Sauce over, and bake till hot and bubbly. You can even add a chopped green pepper in there. Truth is, as a teen I liked it too. (I was a salt freak then). Scarily, I can still taste it, just now, having called it to mind. It’s rich with memory and chemicals, painfully salty.

Her better dishes were based on fresh, real foods-- chili sauce she made in the summer, sometimes, to go with hot dogs; full of peppers, sweet and sharp and perfect. I still crave it with a soydog now and then. And Lynne’s was the only apple pie I really enjoyed at all until I started making my own. Double crusted and heavy on the cinnamon, she used shortening to get a flaky textured crust instead of the butter I use for mine. She’d make two instead of one, and never bitch about rolling out the way I did when I first tried pastry-making. She baked most of the cakes we ate for years, and I hated her too sweet frosting but loved the cakes. Her iced tea was the best, to me that’s what iced tea is-- a strong black concentrate, sweetened with at least 1 C sugar and lightened with cold water and many lemon or orange slices. I remember figuring out for myself that she used 12-14 teabags to make a gallon’s worth of tea-- she was still alive when I started trying to copy her method, and I tasted hers and mine and finally knew I’d gotten it right. Of course, my other sisters and my nieces all think they do it right too, but their’s is too weak. Good, but not like Linda’s. I’m making a pitcher of it now, to help soothe my sore throat. And I’m thinking about making a version of her best, most loved recipe in our family, Lynne’s 6-hour Beans.

These are the only baked beans in the world, to me. Tangy, super tangy, and more flavor in every bite that anything not fried in bacon fat can be. Unlike most baked beans, they don’t rely on pork for their flavor, although she would usually throw in something porky, like bacon; but it wasn’t a key component. The acidic tang of tomatoes balanced by chili-flavored spices and sweetened just a bit, not like canned versions, is the big taste profile of this dish. It cooks in the oven for a full six hours at 350 F, and after years of experimenting I can tell you that long bake is essential-- the beans gather more flavor than you can possibly believe, caramelizing and getting just barely saucy in the process.

Lynne always used a pound of navy beans, soaked overnight and then cooked for one hour in water to cover, before draining and tossing them in the oven with the rest of the ingredients to let the flavors soak in slowly. I often use black turtle beans, though, because they’re prettier and I like their taste better. They take well to this treatment. As for the rest of the recipe, it’s tough to communicate without giving you a spoonful to judge by first. When I asked her what went into the beans for baking, she said: Throw everything you can think of in there. That helps!

What I saw her use, and know from my palate is needed is: lots of good canned tomato, preferably puree or crushed; some molasses and/or brown sugar (but not too much!) and even a bit of maple if you like; chili powder, cumin, and cayenne; onions, chopped fine; a little garlic (fresh for me, dried for her); prepared mustard and/or barbecue sauce; I throw in some hickory smoke drops or cooked soy bacon for smokiness, and vinegar towards the end to help the acid balance if needed. Salt as little as possible. Keep them covered at first if you like, but at least a couple hours uncovered-- they will need more tomatoes, in the form of crushed or ketchup added, and maybe a little water so they don’t dry out, but at the end, they should be just barely ensconced in a little bit of thickened sauce. So tangy delicious every spoonful gets eaten. If I start the process tonight, they’ll be done for dinner tomorrow, and I can share leftovers with the fam for Monday night’s Baked Potato bar. If I think they deserve it.

A little view from my back door; our ailing shed in the low winter sun.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Hot Friday, cool knitting.

Today I can’t get excited about food too much, ’cause I went grocery shopping. At Target. At the request of the hubby-man, who likes to go there and check out the Star Wars toys. I blew out my enthusiasm before 2pm, after a great knitting club/class at Brighton Place, where I learned to cast on-- again. [Knitting Club is free and informal, and takes place on Fridays at 10am or Tuesdays at 6pm. The regulars are more than pleasant and knowledgeable. All skill levels welcome.]

So tonight it’s an old standby for us, tacos with some fajita-style veggies, and Meyer lemon salsa. The taco fillings are simple- -broccoli, garlic, zucchini and peppers sliced thin and cooked on a fairly hot griddle (no oil needed) so they get cooked through but still retain a bit of crunch, and fat-free refried beans. It’s easier to find FF than vegetarian refried beans in a can and they’re still safe for us, although I rarely buy them. But there they were, in front of me, cheap and easy, so I didn’t resist this time. Even with 3 cups of cooked lentils in the fridge-- sometimes, temptation is too much, but at least I’m only tempted by overly salty convenience stuff once in a while. Well, maybe other temptations make their way behind my eyelids, but this is a food blog, so let’s keep it clean.

It’s too cold out this week not to eat a hot meal, and when I say hot I mean spicy! I love Frank’s, ’natch, but also Melinda’s, our own local Koop’s made and bottled right on Richmond Avenue, and in summertime I buy plums or peaches or nectarines and make my own fruity habanero sauce. I’m testing out a vegan Worcestershire, too, as soon as I can retrieve my block of tamarind paste from where it’s stuck in the lazy-susan shelf under my kitchen counter. Speaking of hot vegetarian, don’t you wish we had Biker Billy Cooks with Fire on local TV or the Food Network? If you don’t know him, find out. He’s raucous fun, never backs down, and has had his own vegetarian cooking show for more than a decade. Would be wonderful if the powers that be gave a rat’s bum and put up some serious veg cooking shows that aren’t beginner only… I might even start watching TV again.

Anyway, the night approaches, and the lemon salsa* needs making… and tomorrow I’ve promised myself to take down the sparse Yule decorations still cluttering up the house. Have a hot night. Peace, Mari

Oh, I've included the link to the original recipe for the lemon salsa, by Nigella Lawson, despite it's use in a fish dish. We like it with lots of things other than fish, and make it mild or spicy as needed. Tonight, switching out regular lemons for Meyer lemons that were graciously gifted to me from a friend in San Diego, and using just fresh parsley and dried dill as herbs, with maybe a dash of crushed red pepper for heat. I like a recipe that is flexible!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

What kind of veghead are you?

There are at last count three vegetarians in my local family. We're not too spread out right now (in Buffalo, Amherst & Kenmore) but interestingly, each of us has lived in another state or country at some point-- unlike the balance of my immediate fam and their own fams. I think that speaks to the questing nature of the average veghead here. You have to be ready to explore a little bit, just to survive in wing city.

Then again, something about WNY, beyond family ties, brings you back. It's the wealth of diversity in the food & the seasons, it's the artisitic vibe, the relatively cheap cost of living. It's neighborhoods made out of mostly houses with sidewalks people actually use. It's Hertel Avenue and The Broadway Market and Elmwood and UB's South Campus area and Black Rock & Riverside and the Fillmore area and Parkside & the Delaware & Cazenovia Parks and places I don't even know; yet. Who needs to be an adventurer when you can get a different style of pizza from a different pizzeria delivered everyday for two weeks if you want without repeating? This is a great place to be a food lover, no matter what you crave, just about.

My niece loves Japanese and Thai food, Vietnamese food; she makes it herself more often than not, and believe me, her recipe for soy caramel is to die for. My older sister goes in for baked mac-n-cheese, grilling, and comfort type foods. I do soups, salads, breads, Mediterraean food, baked pastas, burrito bars, sloppy lentil sandwiches, gourmet stuff when I can, new stuff all the time.

We all get together, 12 of us or more that are local here and that can make it, most Monday nights, for what we call Family Dinner. It's a big group to feed, so the host (a revolving honor) decides the main, and what else they'll make, and each of the other family units pitch in, bringing the wine, salad or the bread; my Mom, luckily for us all, often does the dessert. (She's an ever-evolving rock your socks off baker). It's a vegetarian meal 98% of the time, and veg based the rest.

Over the last three years of my particpation in this ritual, which is pretty close in effect to my childhood dinner memories, I've seen the differences in how my sister, my niece & I express our veg-ness. We're lucky to have a family that has learned to appreciate our foodways, I think, but then there used to be 5 veggies, not 3. Another sister, another niece, both have gone through changes in life & love that took them back to meat, but they still cook for us gladly and well.

My niece L. has been vegetarian her whole life, and she is completely relaxed in her attitudes because of that. But she still doesn't eat as wide a range of veg as me. She's a student of international cuisine, a burgeoning foodie and a damn good cook, and someday there won't be any vegetable she hates. Maybe.

My sister is more strident than L. or I, though she's mellowed in her approach. Possibly because none of us feels embattled in our little circle, and that helps-- true support, instead of lip-service tolerance, is a subtle source of strength. And we all know however widespread vegetarianism really is, a large part of our county here views us as weirdos for not crunching bones and tearing flesh.

I just like to feed people, try new things, and serve a meal that makes everybody happier and feeling good in all ways possible through the plate. I've never gone around talking about Vegism much, but I have changed a few people's minds about how we eat by feeding them. That's my way, and it's not the only way at all. I came to this through health needs first, and have grown into the wider set of reasons gradually. My approach to vegetarianism comes secondary to my whole food philosophy: boiled down, it's Pleasure and Nurture. I love that I get to feed my big family nutritious, interesting food that they openly appreciate. It's a kick you can't really get if you don't cook.

This coming Monday, we're hosting; I'll be doing a baked potato bar, with several toppings and a veg side or salad. It's going to be festive, I hope, in the middle of our coldest snowiest part of the year. A little spot of warmth. And I don't have to argue about the food or the political/spiritual ideas behind it, just cook and share and enjoy. Lucky me.
What kind of veghead are you, and who has your back? Anybody? I hope so.

BTW, I'd love to hear about your favorite vegetarian meals and foods, whether you're veghead or not. And how your path of eating is progressing. Keep warm, & thanks for reading.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Friday, January 14, 2011

Sick, Tired, Hungry.

Being sick makes eating a chore, when you are the chief cook (or only cook, as in my home) and bottle-washer. There’s nothing good, nothing that sounds good, except what you don’t have or can’t get. And the work to get it can seem overwhelming.

I’ve been sick for over a week now, and my appetite is low most of the day, right up until the point when I become ravenously hungry-- usually not until I’m too starved to think straight. The pleasures of takeout appear greater than they really are, and my bank account more expansive, too. But I don’t want to give in. I want a healthier meal, a supper that will nourish me and maybe even help me feel better. I know it’s possible; I just don’t know if it’s going to happen.

Part of being a good cook is learning how to deal with times like this, times when it is sooo much simpler to pick up a phone than a Wusthof Trident. Some people fill their freezers or cupboards with semi-convenient options, some people plan menus and do extra cooking in advance, some people are content with a quick, cold sandwich.

I generally just soldier on. Especially if other people are involved, waiting to be fed; I somehow find the energy, and put together a decent meal in an hour or less, from whatever I have on hand. Talk myself out of the hunger stupor I’m in and walk into the kitchen. I’ll make a pizza, a casserole, a savory bread pudding, a skillet sauté, a quick pasta sauce of shredded veg and olive oil. It’s always a good meal that makes me feel virtuous for having avoided the expense and extra cheesy calories of takeout.

If it’s just myself, I might skimp on the healthy food. That’s not fair, is it?

A good meal is more necessary, when you’re ill. More important than ever. You know that you deserve it-- making and giving out the benefit just don’t seem to go together.

At least we are lucky to live in a city here where delicious food can be delivered to your door in an hour on a Friday night, even when you don’t eat chicken wings. I’m having pizza, from Mamma Mia’s on Highland near Colvin. Green olives on half.

And maybe I have the energy to chop a broccoli salad, too, since the main dish is on it’s way. One of my favorites, from Cooking Light magazine a few years back-- it’s all raw, and it has apples in it, which my Mom told me today are “good for your lungs.” So, I’m easing up on the healthy meal tonight, mostly. But I’d love to know what you do, in similar circumstances, or how you prepare in advance.

It’s very very cold here in Buffland, and I want to drink some tea and steam my lungs before the delivery guy arrives, and I just got my new, plum purple ukulele from Amazon. It’s like a little piece of Hawaii in my hands, just when I needed it. I’m glad I ordered pineapple on the other half of the pizza. Mahalo! I hope you’ll eat something good tonight.

Sweet, crunchy apple and broccoli create a refreshing, light side dish. Prepare this salad up to eight hours in advance for best flavor and texture.

**Mari's notes-- I use olive oil, myself, and any onions or apples I have on hand-- but NY macs taste best, to me. You can make this a more appley or more veggie salad as you like. It is far more than the sum of it's parts.

Yield: 8 servings (serving size: about 3/4 cup)

2 1/2 tablespoons sugar
6 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon canola oil
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 (1 1/4-pound) head of broccoli
1 1/4 cups chopped Braeburn or Fuji apple (about 1/2 pound)
1/4 cup minced Walla Walla or other sweet onion

Combine first 6 ingredients in a large bowl, stirring well with a whisk.

Coarsely chop broccoli into 1 1/2-inch pieces, and place in bowl with vinegar mixture. Add chopped apple and minced onion, tossing to coat.

Nutritional Information
Calories:72 (30% from fat)
Fat:2.4g (sat 0.2g,mono 1.2g,poly 0.6g)

by Joy Zacharia, Cooking Light, SEPTEMBER 2006

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Rawmesan and other things I didn't do last year...

There's nothing that gets the calendar year off to a new start like facing your failures. My very first post in this blog, I was planning on making Rawmesan, Ani Phyo's cashew version of the ubiquitous cheese-- she calls it a cheeze, which is fine; except that being a former English major, I cannot abide that type of lingual slurring, or the sticky sweet cuteness of phrases like Krispy Kreme. So I won't call it that. And I didn't make it, because one of the necessary ingredients was lacking, the lemon.
Going out to a grocery store on New Year's Eve is crazy, but we tried-- only when we saw the craziness in the parking lot at Dash market on Colvin, I admit it, I couldn't stand the thought of being in there for a single second. It was a total clusterfuck, not worth the irritation. The point of having a well-stocked pantry was borne in on me (yet again) and I wished for the days when I lived closer to a store that sold lemons by the bag instead of by item. Wonderful Wegman's does, but they are not close enough to make it into my weekly shopping habit, and their produce, while lovely, is generally too expensive.
Where you shop, defines how you eat. When I lived here in WNY before my long sojourn in the Midwest, I shopped at the University Plaza Tops; living on Minnesota Avenue, it was an easy straight shot up Bailey, and not a hassle to be in during most of my shopping hours-- I liked to go late night, when I could, and my downstairs neighbors were barfly guys, so they weren't inconvenienced by me traipsing up and down the side stairs at 11:30 pm or worse. That changed, but so did my eating habits.
In Indianapolis, I shopped at a bunch of stores-- Trader Joes (we could use one here), Marsh (a poor version of Wegman's), the Georgetown Market (sort of a cross between health food store and co-op), very rarely at Wild Oats, the new Sunflower Market that had opened in Broad Ripple, (now closed) but mainly, my one-stop-including-booze-store, (a straight run down Moller Road) Meijer's. This was a huge huge store: even stopping in for just a few things would take 20 minutes because of the walking, but it had everything. Bulk items, housewares, choices, good produce at reasonable prices, with plenty of pre-cuts (not that I use those), plenty of organic, and very well-stocked with all kinds of specialty veg and fruit for a wide array of ethnic/geographical groups. Any kind of fresh pepper you wanted, you could get there. About the one thing I could never find was good ladyfingers for tiramisu, so I learned to make them myself. The bakery was also not wonderful, but that was widespread in Indy, a lack of good bakeries, and I'm a baker anyway. My cooking style solidifed, there-- fresh being the first ingredient, whim of the moment second, making use of what I had third: I could stop in on the way home from any of my three/four jobs without much trouble for a last minute idea or a bottle of vino or salad greens. Often, my weekly shopping was done on the way home from a job. Not a good time crowd-wise, but it meant I'd have a plan for dinner, and it was on the way.
At Meijer's, I could always get a bag of lemons for $2.99 at the most, so I had fresh lemons on hand all the time. I used them lavishly, without thinking about it, without worrying about the expense involved in shipping a fruit in from Florida, without remembering how hard it was to find them at a decent price in Buffalo. Lemon in salad dressing, in sauces, as a last minute tweak to a soup or stew, lemons sliced and roasted with potatoes, lemons in countless breads and muffins and pies. It was a staple for me, the bag of lemons on the bottom shelf of the fridge, and I rarely let it run down to less than two before getting a new bag. After moving back to WNY, and being super poor our first few years, I had to rethink my whole food strategy, rethink every lemon-influenced dish I made, re-imagine my entire cooking style and repertoire.
Now I have a greater distance to travel to get to affordable lemons, I'm thinking about the overall cost more. It's not just that they are more per bag now at Wegman's. I can see that they don't fit as part of our natural diet here, whether we're surrounded by opportunities to purchase them or not. And what about other super-nutrient items that vegetarians are supposed to eat, like flax seeds and such? Where do they come from? Should we bother?
It's a toss-up: eat something citrusy and try to shrink your carbon footprint other ways, or give up the lemon and the orange, the grapefruit that zings and sings on your tongue, limes that you need for a good Margarita, zest that virtually every cookbook calls for somewhere. If we stuck to regional recipes here, we'd still have to buy a lemon or two, they've been available so long. You can't make a basic Ice Pick without a lemon wedge, and the next most popular version is, of course, the Stoli O and orange version. How could we get through summer without them? (Let's not even get into it over the tea...)
I'm considering trying to grow a little lemon tree, for one. When I wanted to 20 years ago they were literally impossible to find-- a spreading disease had blocked off all transfer of the plants. Now things have changed. We don't have the best climate for it, but it's worth a shot, and the still swelling popularity of Meyer lemons has made growing citrus here a hot possibility. Meanwhile, I'll concentrate on buying most of my other produce locally and seasonally, as I have been since moving back to Buffland, thanks in large part to Dash and to the Kenmore Village Farmer's Market.
Yesterday, we had our nutball heroes with Adirondack Cheddar instead of Rawmesan. They were delicious, and they're very delicious when completely vegan as well. After I get used to making Rawmesan, and maybe some raw breads when that dehydrator gets here, an utterly raw version may be in the cards and in this blog. Who can tell?
For us pagans, it's been the new year for a while and we've worked with that energy; but for all of us here in Buffland, it's a new calendar year and a new decade. I hope we can all think more about about the real costs of our daily habits. I hope we all have a great season of thinking, period, coming at us. But if you know me, you know I'll be thinking about food in all its aspects 1/3 of the time or more. I can't help it, and I don't want to. There are worse ways to look at the world. Right this moment, I'm thinking about what to do with those last couple of nutballs in the fridge, and thinking about making guacamole with my two ripe avocados (a California crop!); only, I have no lime to season it with, just a few Clementines. And now I'm thinking about Ani Phyo's taco nut meat, and how these things might fit together. And I'm getting hungry.
Oh, just remembered one of the few restaurant meals in Indy that I miss; ironically, as there are no real pizzeria style pizzas there, and it was a torture to me for 14 years of living there-- Bazbeaux's Garden pizza, with artichoke hearts, avocado, spinach, green pepper, red onion, black olive, ricotta, that my friend Mike N. and I always ordered on a thin, crispy whole wheat crust. Mike was a more-is-more kind of guy about pizza toppings, so we usually got green olives on this as well. It was beyond awesome. And I have fat-free ricotta in the fridge, for some reason, and some olives, and I can always make pizza dough, so-- guess what we're having? Don't you wish you could have the same?
Then we'll be at the Regal on Elmwood, I hope, watching one of my favorite Narnia stories being destroyed on film. So what we have is, one goal for the new new shot to hell, one (stated elsewhere) brilliantly upheld-- to spend less money on a willy-nilly grocery budget and on takeout; and how better to do that than by using up leftovers along with what we have in the house to make a fantastic and satisfying meal?
I've already thrown together a sauce of chopped tomatoes and olive oil, seasoned with dried basil, clementine peel, garlic, onions, and thickened with a little ground coriander and the remains of the sauce from around the nutballs in their pan. Pizza dough you can find recipes for anywhere, and I don't use a recipe for something that basic and variable... I'm sauteing zucchini slices in EVOO with fennel seed, onion and some green peas to stand in for the spinach and artichoke. And I have leftover feta and more cheddar. There are salad greens ready, radicchio, organic purple kale & some romaine, to toss with a basic vinaigrette. And there's one bottle of Champagne left... hmm. Maybe we'll see the movie tomorrow.

Eat something good tonight. Peace, Mari

Oh, and Jim? I am practicing my guitar!

*Hysteria update!* The Rawmesan recipe DOESN'T use lemon. The basic cheeze does. That's what I get for wanting to try new recipes on a holiday. Sorry, Ani, I didn't mean to mess it up. Here's the recipe for it, anyhow.

Ani Phyo's Rawmesan Cheeze: from Ani's Raw Food Essentials

SHE SAYS: "Sprinkle an extra layer of savory goodness on soups, salads, wraps, and pizzas."

Makes 1/2 C.

1/2 C raw cashews**, ground into a powder
1/2 tsp minced garlic
1/4 tsp sea salt

Mix the ingredients together in a small bowl. Will keep for 5 days in the fridge.

**in a separate section of the book, Ani notes that all seeds and nuts should be soaked or even sprouted before use in recipes. The given soaking time for a cup of cashews is 4-6 hours. Drain and probably pat dry before use in cheeses. The remainder should be kept covered in the fridge, I believe, and will doubtless keep better dry.