Friday, January 11, 2013

Tried & Tweaked Thursday, Gone Bad.

During my first solid year of 100 % veghead living, I wasn't frantic as some get, since I'd long been used to eating veg-centric meals; but I did want to increase my repertoire, if only to have a better chance at pleasing my picky-eater of a partner. He still ate meat, and I wasn't wild about making the whole meal-with-meat-on-the-side thing happen every damn day. In those days we frequently had dinner guests, too, and I was determined to show them all that plant-based food was not going to leave them starved and unsatisfied. In Indianapolis, saying I was vegetarian was often taken to mean I dined only on salad, tofu, and a side of self-righteous anger.

So I stretched out, subscribed to some new food mags, and went on a deep search of my old cookbooks for overlooked recipes. In Rose Elliot's Complete Vegetarian, I discovered a world of easy, adaptable recipes that didn't strain a grocery budget. There were fancy mains, inventive and classic salads, sauces I'd never dreamt of, and simple, pleasing family-style dishes like Veggie Hotpot. This was a casserole of sliced potatoes, layered with some chopped veg and a walnut-studded tomato sauce, flavored with oregano. The kind of fireside comfort food best served with a plain green vegetable side and maybe some rolls.

Once we tried it, and it passed muster, I made it again and again, learning to slant it towards whatever flavor mood I was in. As written, it was a great and easy meal for a busy university student (as I was at the time), because I could throw it together in minutes after coming home from my last class and then stick it in the oven while I wrote papers, read chapters, or did laundry.

Back then I mostly chunked the potatoes, and often used jarred salsa in place of the chopped tomatoes-- still a good way to go. I rarely bothered to pre-cook the taters, preferring to add more liquid (like a cup of vino and a splash of soy sauce), so that they would just cook through while adding their starch and absorbing enough of the liquid to make the sauce, well, saucy.

 Yesterday, when I opened the old book to refresh my memory, I decided on another tweak-- one I've done in the past, though it's been years. I mashed the potatoes, along with a rutabaga. And layered everything with some leftover cheese fondue (otherwise, it's a perfectly vegan dish) and served it bubbling hot to my (current and final) hubby-man.

 Who hated it. In fact, he said it was "bland and depressing," which I didn't agree with or even understand. He clarified for me, saying it tasted like something you'd feed an orphan in a Dickens novel. Not the reaction I was hoping for. I spent the evening calling him Dick Whittington (not actually from Dickens), but was crushed anyhow.

 I make it a policy not to share things here that haven't garnered a good response from others, so I won't share this recipe yet, not till I've gotten my zing back and found a version that is LOVED. But I feel it's possibly helpful for others to note that we all make cooking mistakes, have failures. And I am enjoying the leftovers, and would disagree heartily with my man's assessment. Taste varies, and we can't get around that sometimes.

 Maybe I'm just attracted to picky guys. Peace, Mari

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Refreshment: Changing the Way We Shop

During a time of year that many are making resolutions to eat differently, I'm finding a need to shop differently, too, hoping to combat a growing problem. It's an issue we've all encountered, I believe--

 I've been going stale in the kitchen.

 Low income, outside pressures and the will-o-the-wisp palate of my hubby-man have combined lately, giving me a less-than-enthusiastic outlook on our daily diet. THIS is hard to face, coming from a person that loves cooking and eating more than almost any other activities. And when I'm not actively cooking or eating, I'm reading about them. Yet when it comes time to make dinner, I've felt stalled, bored, dull. Wishing someone would just come and feed me for a week; but feed me with nutritious, fresh food such as I dream of making in my best moments.

 The dream is there; but when you're in the grocery store you've been going to for years, the same products sit on the same shelves (and I bitch crazily if they move those shelves around too often!!!) and you find yourself responding to your same budget by buying the same old things.

 Tough to break cost-related food habits, isn't it? Well, I tried by adding a few new items, intending to make stuffed grape leaves, soy spread, whatever... and so I have an unused jar of vine leaves taking up cupboard space, and a year-old packet of organic soybeans that will now take ages to cook.

Not helpful! While the urge to change up the cuisines I borrow from was a good one, I'm sure, I may have gone too far into hopefulness-- it's been years since I made grape leaves, or cooked soybeans from dry. Too much extra thought required to use them, and so they sit, a waste of money that could, back when I bought them, have been spent on more immediate needs.

 Ruminating on the situation while rereading old cookbooks for inspiration, I realized that a new store, a new set of them really, could help. It was a strategy of mine back when I lived in Indianapolis, to switch up the places where I did the bulk of my shopping. It means traveling farther, and getting used to new traffic patterns, but it has the benefit of forcing me to think outside the usual parameters of what we eat. The possible downsides include temporarily increased costs, since it's easy to go a little nuts over new items; and more outrageously overconfident buying.

 That's why, when I tread the aisles of my new stores this week, I'll have just a few newish recipes in mind-- and a list of necessities in hand. I guarantee I'll still be buying oatmeal, for its many virtues, and some kind of green vegetable. Sooner or later, I know I'll be excited to go back to some of my old haunts, hopefully with a cartful of awesome new vegetables and other goodies.

 Where do you shop? What's always in your cart? I'd love to know.

  Peace, and Happy New Year--