Tuesday, May 29, 2007

An asparagus sandwich and a new attitude

The small Texas town where I went to college had a surprising bounty of good restaurants despite its size. While I ate the majority of my meals either in Slater’s (what we called the cafeteria) or at home, once a week my friends and I would treat ourselves and go out to eat. Most of the time, we’d frequent joints that served those favorites that we hadn’t quite mastered in the kitchen yet—dishes such as chicken-fried steak, cheese enchiladas or fried catfish. But even though it was a small Texas town, contrary to the state’s beef-loving stereotype there was also a vegetarian cafĂ© called The Tiffin Shop, which was housed in the back of the local health-food store. And in spite of my notions about health-food stores, I grew to love this little place, especially its asparagus sandwiches.

When I left home to go to college at 18, after a childhood filled with carob milk, gnarly sprouts and wheat germ, I had had my fill of health-food-store fare and vowed to never step foot in one again. But in the spring semester of my freshman year, some fellow classmates and myself decided to take our English professor to lunch so we could get to know her better. And being benevolent, we let her choose the spot. So what did she choose? But of course—the dreaded Tiffin Shop. I groaned to myself about the prospect of eating a meal at a health-food store, but I also knew that to make a fuss or, even worse, to not attend the luncheon would be bad form. So I went, but was convinced I would hate the food.

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Monday, May 21, 2007

Ramping up some gnudi

I don’t have Italian blood flowing through my veins and I have to admit when I was little, my knowledge of that country’s vast cuisine ended (and began) with pizza, lasagna, ravioli (usually canned) and spaghetti. But when I was in my teens and started venturing beyond my limited culinary sphere, I discovered the joy of many new Italian flavors, including butter-and-cream sauce, which I became obsessed with creating at home. My mom has called this my white phase since most of what I ate was, of course, white. And one of my favorite snacks was baked ricotta cheese smothered in the cream sauce, garlic and freshly chopped rosemary, no pasta necessary (though it’s also sort of white and wouldn’t have been completely unwelcome). It was so rich, creamy and delicious, it could make me weep. And heck, I was still a kid so I had no concern about either my heart or my waistline and could indulge guilt free in such a decadent dish.

I’ve since moved beyond the white-food phase, and fortunately am now an equal-opportunity eater of foods of all colors. And while nobody would have predicted this 20 years ago when thoughts of fruits and vegetables were anathema to my diet, I now not only frequently shop at the farmer’s market but also am even (gasp!) toying with the idea of committing to a CSA share for the summer and fall. I’m excited about the prospect of getting a ton of fresh vegetables every week while also helping out a local farm, but I hesitate to sign on the dotted line because I’m afraid I’ll miss shopping at the market, which I’d be less inclined to do if I already have a fridge full of vegetables at home.

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Sunday, May 13, 2007

Mom's ginger scones for Mother's Day

Dear Mom,

It’s Mother’s Day and unfortunately I couldn’t spend the day with you. But that doesn’t mean you’re not in my thoughts! Of course, as always, I’m a bit tardy with your card and gift. We could chalk that up to my working at weekly magazines and always being a bit out of sync with the calendar. Though I’m usually thinking ahead, and by using that logic I should have thought last Sunday was Mother’s Day. No matter, it’s a bad excuse.

In any case, I just wanted to thank you for being such a generous, thoughtful and patient mom—I know that growing up I could be quite the handful. And while I didn’t appreciate eating healthy when I was a kid, I’m now very grateful for the education you gave me on organic and local foods. You’ve provided me with a solid foundation for making the right decisions with what I eat. Plus, I have fond memories of getting ladybugs for our organic garden and learning to savor the nuances of carob.

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Monday, May 07, 2007

Chess pie recipe

chess pieBaking has never been my strength. Perhaps it’s because I’m impatient or perhaps it’s because I have a hard time following directions, but when it comes to pastries, where precision is key, I leave those culinary tasks to the experts, namely my mom and my grandmother.

I’ve mentioned before my grandmother’s skill with pies. For as long as I can remember, I’ve stood by her side and watched her effortlessly roll out crusts and whip up fabulous fillings with seldom a measuring cup or spoon in sight. I’d like to have her ability as pies are one of my favorite desserts. But even when I use her recipes for guidance, mine always fall a bit short. Of course, with practice comes perfection. And if I had been baking pies for as long and as often as she has, I would probably be more proud of my efforts. But since I attempt one only a couple of times a year, I still have far to go in my pie-baking development.

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