My Asian Pear Dealer

I’ve written before about the amazing farmer’s market we have in my current city of residence. I’ve gotten into a routine where I go there every week as close to opening as I can, buy whatever fruit is in season (peaches in the Summer, apples in the fall) some salad things, eggs if I’m going to be baking, and then I get out of there before I get persuaded to buy things I really don’t need but which are delicious.

But there’s a problem with this. The Asian pear dealer.

One week in October, I’m walking through (our city has also stupidly inserted parking meters all around the market, so I try to get in and out as fast as I can) and there’s hardly anyone there yet. I had already bought a box of honeycrisp apples and was looking to see who had the best price on turnips when an older Asian gentleman steps into my path holding a pear. “Would you like to try an Asian pear, miss?” he asks. A whole pear. I mean, I’ve been offered slices of fruit before, but never a whole damn pear. I go to the market before breakfast, so I was in no position to say no. I thanked him and took the pear as he explained to me that all his produce is completely organic and that the fruit will say fresh in my refrigerator for a long time.

The pear was delicious, of course, and the man had given me a whole pear for free, so I felt obligated. Plus, there were no other customers around, so it wasn’t like I could just sneak away while he was distracted by someone else. Fine. I spent $4.50 I really shouldn’t have on a box of Asian pears.

Which were delicious. Seriously, I can’t tell you how amazing these freaking pears are. I’m not even crazy about pears, but these things were life changing.

So the next week I go back determined I’m just there for apples and some smoked cheddar if the Amish cheese people are up and running (they weren’t) and maybe a black bean and goat cheese tamale if the tamale vendor* is open (he wasn’t). And as I’m walking through I see the pear dealer. And I remember how wonderful those pears are. And even though I still had a few left, the market will soon be closed for the season and I won’t be able to buy any for months. And he says they keep in the refrigerator for a long time…

So I bought another box of pears.

That was the trend for the rest of the run of the market. Every week, I bought a box of pears from that man. Sometimes he threw in a couple extras from his secret box of not-pretty-but-still-delicious pears.

And then it occurs to me that this man stole his technique from drug dealers. Sure, the first pear is free—that’s how they get you hooked. Now I’m addicted. Problem is, the market is closed for the season and I just ate my last pear. Oh sure, they sell them at Kroger, but are they going to be as good? Of course not. What am I going to do?

Give me a month and I’m gonna be lurking in dark alleys buying contraband pears off some guy in a trenchcoat. Dammit.

*They aren’t real tamales. They’re what Midwestern gourmet snobs think tamales are. But they’re still good.

A Culinary Travesty

I had my first strawberry shortcake of the season this evening. It was brought to my house by a friend. In this incarnation “strawberry shortcake” meant fresh sliced strawberries served over those pre-made dessert cups with whipped topping. Synthetic and processed, but good if not outstanding.

 

Growing up we had strawberry shortcake at least once or twice per summer. My mom would cut up a bunch of strawberries and put them in the refrigerator with a little sugar so they would release their juice. Then she would make a pound cake and we would eat the strawberries on that with some whipped topping. (Mom wouldn’t use the real stuff because she hates freedom). Occasionally if she was feeling lazy and/or there was a sale we would use a store bought angel food cake. Actually for several years I hated soggy cake to the point I would have just a bowl of strawberries with whipped topping.

 

But when I moved to the mid-Atlantic I found out some people do something very wrong with their strawberry shortcake—they make it with a biscuit. Seriously? Biscuits are a side. They also make a tasty breakfast. They are not a dessert. Why would you put your strawberries and cream on a biscuit?

 

And they don’t just do this out of ignorance either. I tried to introduce some of the biscuit crowd to the wonders of pound cake, only to have them insist it was better with a biscuit. Is this some kind of Protestant guilt thing where they can’t stand the indulgence of a full dessert? Is it just because they know they make biscuits better than Yankees and have to show them off?

Whatever it is, it needs to stop. I hearby will make it my business: If I do nothing else with my life, I will make someone who would have otherwise eaten just a soggy biscuit to eat a good grilled cheese.

Venting About an Idea

I know my love of grilled cheese sandwiches is well known. And I believe I’ve also mentioned my love of quesadillas. But I’ve recently become frustrated by a problem that eating either of those presents. I’m sure you’ve all experienced it. You fix your grillie, you cut it in half, you eat the first half, and in the meantime the other half has gotten slightly soggy on the side that was facing the plate. Maybe like me you try to remedy this by flipping it periodically, but it only helps so much. It’s even worse with quesadillas because I tend to cut them into more pieces.

It occurred to me that this is a great product idea. Why don’t they invent some sort of vented plate for serving grillies and quesadillas? Or some sort of rack that fits on the plate to allow the steam to escape. It seems like it’s a fairly basic idea—is it out there already? If so, why don’t I have one?

I will tell you this: when I drop out of school to open my ice cream shoppe that serves gourmet grilled cheeses, we are definitely going to find a solution to this.

Visiting hours are over…

My parents had to jet off to their current continent of residence today after one of their semi-annual visits for medical, dental appointments, etc.  So, after a couple of weeks of coming home to real people, I came home to a very empty house.

For as much as it drives me nuts when they blast in here, I still get those post-visit blues when they depart.  The inevitable let-down that comes after any company heads home.

Sure, while you have visitors, you’re off your regular schedule, you have to be considerate of someone else, you compromise on TV shows, but when the place goes back to normal, even with the relief, it’s a downer.  Even more of a let down when it’s a visit like this one–where Mom, ya know, cooks awesome food for me to consume in massive quantities (she’s so stoked about getting back into her own kitchen, she goes nuts cooking and stocking the pantry)–and Dad dives into yard work like a kid in a candy store.  Not only am I left with a quite house, all my chores are back, too.

*sigh*

 

Don’t Mess with Nanaimo (Bars)

I’m not a purist with much.  I’m not a purist with food.  Generally speaking, the more wacky culinary combinations you come up with, the happier I am.  Cucumber basil lime sorbet?  Yes, please!  Pineapple black bean enchiladas?  Delicious.  I have my limits.  I’m willing to try bacon in my ice cream, but not oysters.  But generally, I’m very flexible.

 

But I think we all probably have some dish that you just can’t mess with.  Back in college I once made something with red potatoes, I couldn’t even tell you what it was anymore, but I remember Cammy thinking it was a crime against nature.  Her comment on trying my dish was something along the lines of, “It’s good.  But this is not what you’re supposed to do with red potatoes.”  For me a big one is the use of whole wheat tortillas in enchiladas.  Or brown rice or whole wheat pasta in dishes that normally call for their whiter counterparts.  It’s one thing if you make a whole new dish and throw some whole wheat spaghetti in there.  But don’t just throw marinara on there and expect me to not taste the difference.  Then there’s my mother’s tendency to add salsa in dishes where it doesn’t belong.  Like lasagna.  It’s just not right.

 

Well I discovered a couple weeks ago, that Canadians have a recipe you don’t mess with: Nanaimo Bars.

 

If you haven’t tried Nanaimo Bars before, let me recommend that you go out and try them right now.  There’s an official recipe online, go try it.  We’ll wait.  They are that good; you don’t want to miss them.  I love Nanaimo Bars, but, of course, being an American, I didn’t grow up with them. I didn’t discover them until I was in my late twenties.  (I first heard about them on a soap opera message board of all places.  Incidentally, new rule: anyone who makes fun of my soap obsession cannot eat my Nanaimo Bars!)  But it seems for Canadians (and I have a whopping sample size of two) they have a special place in their memories.

 

The first time I made them after coming to Indiana my friend S. walked into a party and gasped, “Who made Nanaimo Bars and can I hug them?”  She practically got misty over them talking about how they were just like the ones her grandmother used to make (her grandmother is from Nanaimo).  I felt all warm and fuzzy at helping her revisit nostalgic memories.

 

What I didn’t know, because no one told this hapless American, is that you really shouldn’t play around with that recipe.  And here’s the thing: the interwebs are full of all sorts of different flavored Nanaimo Bar recipes.  My Newfie friend sent me a bunch of variations (all folklorists have at least one Newfie friend—Newfies actually care about folklore) from a bakery someone in her family used to own.  So when my friend D threw a tacky party I decided to make Cherry Nanaimo Bars.  They use maraschino cherries, which, let’s face it, are inherently a little tacky, and the middle layer of the bars turns an almost neon pink color, so they look extra tacky.  Also, they are delicious.

 

Except the reactions from my Canadian friends, S and K were much like Cammy’s response to my red potatoes.  “They’re good, but this is not how you’re supposed to make Nanaimo Bars.” Now I don’t think either was that offended; both ate several.  K’s favorite part is the bottom later, the recipe for which was unchanged.  But you could just tell from their faces they were thinking, “Why would you do that to a Nanaimo Bar?” K informs me that mint ones have become common enough to be acceptable.  But neither had seen cherry ones before and… let’s just say no one asked to hug me for making them.

 

Clearly in our culinary experimentations, we need to be careful not to tamper with other people’s childhood memories.  No matter how well we do it, they will not thank us.

Folklife Festival Worth the Sensory Overload

For those on the internet who are stalking me (I’m sure there’s at least someone out there) who are wondering where I’ve been, well I won’t tell you where I am, but I’ll tell you where I was.  Yesterday to be more precise.  Yesterday I managed to squeeze in a last minute trip to the Smithsonian Folklife Festival.  It was the last day and some of the exhibits were looking a little worn and some of the participants were looking a little tired and some of the presenters were looking a little sad.  But still a treat to visit.

If you’ve never been to the Folklife Festival it spotlights the traditional cultures of various places or groups.  Usually, but not always, it’s divided into three segments—generally a country, a US state and some separate theme.  This year it was Columbia, Rhythm and Blues, and the Peace Corps.  It was a lot to see in one day.  Too much to be honest.  I’m personally someone who goes into sensory overload very easily and when you add in all the sounds and smells and images my brain starts going wonky after about an hour.  Fortunately it wasn’t a weekend so that cut down on the craziness a good deal.

Nonetheless it was an awesome time.  My favorite parts are always the cooking demonstrations.  Maybe because I once worked at one of them and maybe because I love food. Either way I got to see a woman from the Columbian Amazon make stew, see Peace Corps workers recreating Zambian dishes they learned in the field, and a man from Mali making a traditional dish with lots of substitutions because of a lack of available ingredients.  And in one of the most fun cooking demonstrations I’ve ever seen I learned the difference between how rich people and slaves made manjarblanco in Columbia and while the rich stole the slave method because it tasted better and was more fun.  By the end there were probably ten people crammed behind a tiny booth and someone explained, “This is what always happens in Columbian kitchens too—everyone congregates in the kitchen.”

Also particularly enjoyable was the fact that one performance tent in the Columbia section specifically focused on workshops rather than static performances.  Thought I was too tired and too shy to participate in any, I did enjoy watching instruction on counterpoint dance, tango columbiano and circus arts.

Particularly moving were the large boards that were set up to help former Peace Corps volunteers and people from their host communities get in touch.

What I love most about the festival is its ability to bring together so much variety.  At one point I was standing on the Mall and could simultaneously hear music from the Columbian Caribbean and “I want to Sex You Up.”  Where else does that happen?

The Mystery of Food

In one of my most dastardly schemes yet, I convinced my mother to buy my father an ice cream maker as a Father’s Day present.  Well, I convinced her to buy it (in my defense, it was a fantastic price for the model in question), she was the one who decided to make it a Father’s Day present.  This is absurd mostly because my father is never going to make ice cream.  But, as my mother pointed out, he’ll get to reap the benefits when we do.  For me, this means I can make frozen treats when I’m here visiting.  Score!

We stewed a little over what to make first and finally settled on raspberry sorbet.  So today I was getting the batter ready (sorbet won’t be made till tomorrow since I neglected to tell my Mom it needed to be put in the freezer ahead of time).  My father walked in and asked me what I was making and I told him.  He asked me what sorbet was.

I managed not to laugh.  I suppose it’s a valid question.  Except that I know he’s had sorbet because I made him sorbet the last time they visited me.  So I reminded him of that occasion, thinking it had slipped his mind.  He said he remembered, but he still didn’t know what the heck it was.

At first that made the whole thing seem even more absurd until it occurred to me I’m sure he’s not alone.  I’m fairly confident there are loads of people who eat foods every day without having the first idea what they’re eating.  I know that there was a British study done about five years ago where they discovered that most school children had no concept of what animals their meat came from.  (This perhaps says something about British cooking as well as modern ignorance)  It’s horrible, but perhaps not unexpected.  I know where my meat comes from, but I make a conscious effort not to think about that as I eat it.

My father’s a farm boy, so he knows where his meat comes from.  But that’s probably where his knowledge of food ends.  He got married in college (where he lived in places that provided his meals) so aside from a two year stint in Korea for which my family did not join him the man has never been responsible for preparing his own meals.  (And I suspect he ate out a LOT in Korea.)  He’s a fairly typical man of his generation in that he does everything possible to stay out of the kitchen and therefore does not know what goes on in that mystical world.  He once stated that he really loved my brownie recipe.  Wanna know my brownie recipe?  Buy Ghirardelli brownie mix.  Follow directions on box.  But I can give them to him and tell them they were from scratch and he’d never be the wiser.  I could have probably just given him the sorbet and called it ice cream and he’d have never questioned why it didn’t seem creamy.

In 18th Century Virginia cooking was considered a life skill.  Rich, poor, male, female, free slave all children were essentially kitchen staff.  Everyone grew up watching food prepared until they gained a working knowledge of it.  Enough that if responsible for their own meals, in a world with no instant prepared meals, they could do so.  How many people today could say the same? I’m never one that advocates reverting to the old way of doing things except some times when it comes to food.  Maybe we could pull the kids away from the game system and make them carry water in the kitchen for a while until they know sorbet from sherbet from ice cream.

Fuzzy Orange Time Vampire

Many of you have noticed that we’ve been unusually quite here in the domain of legume spreads.  On my side that’s mostly been due to the end of the semester.  Cammy’s had her own time vampires.  But since blogging about paper grading and paper writing is less than riveting, here’s another little Time Vampire that’s not helped add to my blogging time.

Now you all know that I adore my new kitten Wash.  He’s a little orange ball of adorable and schmoopiness.  He’s also a discount anti-depressant.  But he has one problematic idiosyncrasy:  Having been feral for part of his early life he still believes he’s responsible for hunting his own food.  He does not trust for a minute that I will continue to feed him, so he has to find other things around the apartment to eat.  In the past he’s had an obsession with peanut butter cookies.  I found this out the hard way when I had one (wrapped in plastic) hidden on a high shelf.  I didn’t think he could reach said shelf because there had been a bag of catnip sitting on it for a week and he hadn’t bothered it.  Well I got up one morning to find the partially eaten peanut butter cookie on the floor and the catnip untouched.

He has since put holes in my purse and my lunch bag because he knew there were peanut butter cookies inside.

Last Monday I came home from Cammy’s with among other things a couple of Reese’s miniature peanut butter cups.  Keep in mind they were in a ziplock bag inside a plastic grocery bag inside a cloth grocery bag.  I dropped my stuff off and ran out to a meeting.  I came back several hours later to find that someone had ripped open the Reese’s cups in order to get the peanut butter out.  It was obvious that was what he had done, as most of the chocolate part was still there, but I knew he had to have ingested some of the chocolate, which, as most people know is toxic to cats.  Also his paws and face were clean so I knew it hadn’t just happened.  Needless to say I spent the rest of the night searching for information on cats and chocolate and debating whether to drive him to the emergency vet in Indianapolis.  I decided not to because I didn’t think he had really eaten enough to be dangerous, he seemed fine, and chances were it had been more than two hours which would mean it was already in his system and too late to induce vomiting of anything.  I didn’t sleep at all I was so terrified I’d made the wrong call.  For the record, Wash slept just fine.  (and clearly is doing fine or this wouldn’t be a funny story)

The next day I was in my room grading papers (due to things related to the chocolate incident that are gross enough I’m not going to mention them) my couch was unusable.  Then I heard some plastic crinkling and went to investigate.  Apparently in my sleep deprived state I had left a package of shredded cheese on the counter and he had ripped into it.  Cheese is more an upset stomach food than a dangerous food for kitties, but still I felt awful.  And I pointed out to him, “Wash!  Your little tummy is going to be so unhappy with you!”

The next day it got even weirder when he opened a package of wasabi peas.  Now to be honest I think this was more about getting to play with the fun little rolly things than it was about eating them, but I still had to research kittens and wasabi.

I love the little guy, but he needs to stop giving me heart attacks!  There are limits to how much I can take!

Huzzah for Company!

I’m delighted to say that not only has my co-blogger Kristy showed up at my door for a visit, I also have two of this blog’s readers, Teapot and Mary crashing here at Casa de Cammy.  Despite attempts of flight crews, weather and mechanical issues to thwart this little shindig, by 11:30, we were all ensconced in my vehicle, headed out of the airport.

The docket is not set in stone, but BBQ and a museum dedicated to a sunken steamboat are basically given at this point, as is much catching up, snacking and consuming alcoholic beverages. In fact, these activities have already been taking place, hence the delayed post.

Should whackiness ensue, rest assured it will be cataloged here (to the extent that it would not result in criminal penalties).

 

Kitty Calorie Counts

Lately I have a new minor obsession.  I’ve been doing a lot of research into portion sizes and calorie counts.  Turning to the internet for more information than comes on the food labels.  Looking at weight charts.  I’ve even been thinking about getting a scale.

Those of you who know me well enough are probably thinking at this, “WTF?”  I don’t count calories.  I loathe the concept of dieting.  I flat out refuse to own a scale and the only times I ever get weighed are when I’m at the doctor.  So what gives?

The answer?  None of this is for me.  It’s all for my cat.  Yes, it’s poor little Wash whose calories are being monitored.  Now let me be clear that Wash is not overweight.  Yet.  The problem is house cats have a tendency to get heavy.  There are a lot of health issues that are associated with overweight cats—more so than there are in humans.  And I’ve been in the position of trying to make an overweight cat lose weight and it isn’t fun for anyone involved.  So we’re trying to head it off at the pass.

On top of that I’m up against Wash’s lingering feral mentality towards food.  He doesn’t yet believe that I’m going to keep feeding him.  So if there is food he can reach, he must eat it ALL!  As fast as he can!  Someone might steal it!  And occasionally he finds it necessary to steal peanut butter cookies from his Mommy.  *Kristy tries to give Wash a dirty look, but he’s too adorable sleeping in her lap*  This means if I don’t closely control the amount of food he has access to, he’s gonna get heavy real fast.  Especially since he’s getting fixed on Thursday and that slows down their metabolism.

So at the vet’s suggestion I’ve been incorporating some canned food into his diet because it’s amazing how low in calories that stuff is compared with the dry stuff.  He can have a whole can of food, plus another third of another can per day or half a cup of the dried stuff.  We’re mixing it up so he gets canned food right before mommy goes to sleep (this means his tummy is full so he’s less likely to wake up Mommy) and dry food the rest of the time.  The problem is cat food does not include calorie information.  So I’ve been having to search for all this info online.

And I’m happy to do it because he’s my baby and I love him no matter what size he is (or how many cookies he steals), but sometimes I pause and think, “When did I become this pet owner?”