Foodie Tuesday: To Market, to Market

photoFarmer’s markets are a joy. The magnificent and munificent ‘food halls’ of many countries and cities are an abundant and slightly less-seasonal delight. I grew up with a father who, in turn, was raised by parents who had, so to speak, groceries in their blood–Grandma having grown up in her father’s grocery store near the turn of the last century, and Grandpa having been employed by a major regional grocery producer and supplier. So Dad was not only accustomed to a childhood spent roaming and critiquing every aisle of every grocery store his family passed on any given expedition but later also to having his own children cajole him into being the parent taking us on the weekly family shopping trips because with his genetic grocery cred we thought he was the more easily swayed into buying the weird and possibly deliciously bad-for-us stuff.

What this all leads to in my case, is the appreciation I have, deep down, for farmer’s markets and food halls and all sorts of grocery stores.

But the real source of that love is, of course, all of the grocerrific goodness found in said worlds of wonder. The ingredients for infinite feasting are all there at hand, arrayed in an artless or artful arsenal of endless recombinant recipes, and it’s not easy to spend any real time in the midst of such wonders without at least stumbling over a good number of fine meal, snack or menu inspirations.

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Some fruits of the shopping expedition are worthy of eating in their purest natural state and deserve no less respect and admiration.

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Even the best can be deliciously Prepared, though: why not the simplest of preparations. Steamed green beans with butter, for example. How can one improve on that?

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An uncomplicated recipe can also be a pleasurable way to showcase a beautiful ingredient. Here, caramelized Bosc pears–gently sautéed in salted butter and maple syrup with cardamom, then reduced in Riesling and vanilla.

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The occasional grand ingredient can be appropriately preserved for multiple happy uses. Diced fresh ginger root, for example, lives a good, long and productive life of transforming one dish after another when it’s been diced and saved in a jar full of vodka. Which, in turn, can be a delightful treat on its own later, this sprightly ginger infused vodka.

And what do I learn from all of this? I don’t change all that much. I always did rather like going to get the groceries. I still do. Living and lounging among the comestibles is a grand pastime and so often leads to good eating and drinking, doesn’t it. I do believe I hear the siren song of a grocery cart beckoning me for a little outing, or is that the gentle rumbling of my empty innards? No matter, one leads to the other, leading right back to the first, in an endless loop of hunger and deliciousness, craving and satiety that I hope won’t end for a very long and very slightly fattening lifetime.

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Fresh, alluring and beautiful. It’s never too much, but always a lovely temptation.

The True Breakfast of Champions

digital illustrationIn Praise of English Breakfast

Here’s to the English breakfast, dears,

That’s brought, for lo these many years

Sustenance to both health and heart

To give the day a proper start,

The source of warmth and vital grace

Beginning the day with our needs in place:

A rasher of bacon, an egg or two,

Some toast, some tea, some tomatoes; who

Wouldn’t love some beans, some mushrooms? Nay,

Don’t start without English breakfast, pray!

Foodie Tuesday: Sugar, Spice & Other Things Nice

Garnishes, condiments, flavorings and all the trimmings, oh my!photoIf God–or the devil–is in the details, well, either one might very well explain why I’m so enamored of them that the main ingredient sometimes feels like an afterthought.photoYes, I suppose I would notice if everyone started serving me meals consisting solely of garnishes, condiments, et. al. Can’t promise I would, though. ‘Small plates’ and all that. As it happens, I pretty nearly could live on the frills alone. Wouldn’t choose to, but seriously, what’s not to love about heaps of chopped toasted nuts, a multitude of exotic spices, a grand assortment of syrups and sauces, shavings of fine cheese, curls of chocolate, meringues, leafy herbs enough to furnish a king’s garden, and pretty little haystacks of finely grated citrus zest?photoThe plain and homely, the grand and glamorous, the simple and the subtle: these are all made into memorable foods and unforgettable meals by the company in which they’re enjoyed and the ambience of the location and occasion. But they’re made further into a special sort of magic by the alchemy of wise and clever additions of cardamom or cumin, condensed tomato paste, a tot of brandy or rosewater, candied grapefruit peel, sweet pea shoots, fresh violets, sieved hard boiled egg yolk, or a judicious sprinkling of crisply fried shallot bits. Get me candied, brandied and dandied up and I’m a happy diner!photoYes, I’m simply nuts about all of the lovely trimmings. Now, what shall I fix tomorrow that calls for a bit of edible decor? Maybe something with metallic sugar glitter on top. (And yes, I have that in the cupboard, too. Did I mention I have this little obsession–?) Stay tuned.

Foodie Tuesday: You are So Sweet!

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I'm bananas over you, my darling . . .

I love food of every kind enough that I’m often quite satisfied to have meals and days without much sugary content. But my craving for sweet tastes always returns at one time or another, and sometimes in overwhelming fashion, and then I may as well feed the monster with a little bit of indulgence rather than trying to be more abstemious than my nature will long tolerate–that always only ends in the eventual pendulum swing of brazen excess, if my history serves as any example. Besides, I don’t really have to be so very wild to find a little sweet solace.

Sometimes a great piece of fresh fruit will suffice for the need of the moment. Then, though I’m well aware I’m eating nearly pure sugar, it’s not so over-processed and hyper-refined as some treats and I console my conscience, if it’s at all nagging, that I’m getting a few dashes of vitamins or other goodies of however tiny nutritive value, as opposed to simply crunching down a fistful of plain sugar, which, you may be surprised to know, I don’t find all that compelling even when my sweet tooth is aching for appeasement. A glorious, juicy, perfumed peach or pear is pretty hard to resist, though, or a handful of brilliantly sun-ripened blackberries or strawberries bursting with juice. Now, I won’t lie: if there happened to be a piece of dark chocolate to nibble alongside said fruit, I would certainly not offend anyone offering it by refusing such an option, because I’m far too nice for that sort of behavior.

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With almonds, black and white sesame seeds, orange segments and pickled ginger and a citrus vinaigrette dressing, salad becomes close enough to pass for dessert . . .

Sometimes even the less dessert-oriented dishes, if I add a hint of sweetness to them, will happily assuage my yearnings for candy-like substances. The cabbage slaws and salads I make are by far most often on the sweet or sweet-tangy side rather than strictly savory, because I love the clean crispness of fresh crunchy cabbage and perhaps a little carrot or celery or cucumber or such when complemented with sweet tastes. A jot of honey or agave syrup, maple syrup (the dark, Grade B stuff, if you please–the whole point of maple syrup is lost if it’s refined to the point of tasting like sugar-water)–these bring so much, even in small quantities, to offset the heaviness or intensity of good fats, savory and umami tastes, and even to enhance them. Of course, if there’s any meat, especially a mild flavored one like pork or chicken, or maybe a nice solid seafood like sashimi grade tuna, wild-caught salmon or big meaty prawns on the plate, these can be so beautifully magnified in their satisfying richness with the addition of a bit of glaze: a sauce or a chutney, for example, with sweet or citrusy fruit, with reduced wine, with floral essences like rose or vanilla, that they can rein in my sweetness-compulsion quite nicely. Until the next time, at least!

Sometimes, of course, only something that seems genuinely like dessert will do. But it still doesn’t have to be an outrageously carbohydrate-centric sugar bomb to be perfectly marvelous and fully delicious. Rusticity, simplicity and even a little hint of good nutritional qualities can win the day when they’re just what I’m craving. Take the little baked custard I made when I was longing for pumpkin pie but really didn’t want to fuss over or consume a floury pastry piecrust: yummy as those can be, I’m finding the disagreement between wheat-based foods and my digestive system just isn’t worth the price of admission anymore. But when I took a plain little tin of prepared (plain) pureed pumpkin, stirred it up with a spoonful of vanilla, a pinch of salt, a good dose of raw wild honey, a couple of eggs and a big powdering of Vietnamese cinnamon, whipped it up and put it in a buttered ceramic bowl in the microwave (I ‘waved it, covered, on High, checking from about 4 minutes on until it was nearly non-wiggly), it came out willing to imitate a freshly baked pumpkin pie quite nicely and the sweet-toothed dragon was greatly mollified by the whole. It may not have been Thanksgiving Day, but I know I for one was thankful enough! And that’s all I really want from a bit of sweetness.

Ask my husband.

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I may be cracked, but the sweetness you give me keeps me feeling like I'm enjoying my just desserts . . .