Sunday, July 5, 2009

What's For Dinner?

I have an Italian American mother who doesn't like much -but tomato sauce, pasta (family says macaroni for all shapes) cheese, and meat. So, no surprise I tend to cook this way. But after leaving home, you start eating other people's food and growing your taste. Unlike Ma, and whatever Batali says about real Italians liking mushy broccoli, I like broccoli sauteed firm with garlic and drizzled with a good olive oil, salt and pepper. I chose bread instead of pasta cause it was hot enough in the apartment without a steam engine going. Fairway in Red Hook (across from my wife's studio on Van Brunt) was having a crazy deal on fresh mozzarella (3.99/lb). I bought three -froze two. A can of LaValle san marzanos I had stored from some crazy deal they had on those a few months ago. Basil -garden. Fairway again, they had a deal on filet mignon (4.99/lb) in one of those wet-age bags that I do not prefer -but still a deal for this meal. I cut it up and froze some. Sliced the rest 3/8ths thick, covered it in breadcrumbs and fried it up in xv olive oil, lightly browned. Then into the dish with the sauce and cheese. Its very hard for me to cook for one, which I'm doing all summer. Fortunately I'm learning that leftovers are good. My mom always told us we needed to finish the pot (that meant the rest of the pasta) insisting we'd be hungry and this left an indelible urge to eat everything.

On Thanksgiving we used to eat an 8-inch thick lasagna at 1pm, then move onto the turkey at 7pm! The turkey was stuffed with something we call gaunza (spelling? who knows, never written). Check out the recipe here at WNYC. But, add romano cheese to the recipe, because I forgot to add that. Funny story -I met Ruth Reichl at a residency program the same year I talked with her on the air about that stuffing recipe. She couldn't recall -how embarassing.

Now I am going to go on and on about food. This past week I moved my wife up to a residency program in "upstate" NY. We went grocery shopping at a place that chops prices. In order to participate in the chopping, we needed to wait on the line for both lottery tickets and the chopping card. It was a long line in this economically depressed area. So I began reading all the hanging signs with neighborly faces, women always, stating how much they chop off their grocery bill by shopping at the chopper. It started to make me feel uncomfortable -all this chopping. The goal in america seems to be to spend as little as possible on food. I know, I grew up this way. My father did the grocery shopping (or was that chopping?), and probably wouldn't let my mother because she would be extravagant in some way or another. He would clip coupons, go to double coupon stores, the whole nine yards of saving on food.

Anyway, the signs made me wish we were saving somewhere other than food. The attitude seems to suggest that calories mattered most, no matter what form. Get those calories cheap! What if the advertising, the zeitgeist of american food shopping was different? Can I tell you, I participated in the chopping zone! Oh, dear, get this one -its cheaper. Chop-chop! Let's chop those prices! I stepped into that environment and I became a chopoholic.

Back in NYC, I have stores that I go to because they are less expensive. A place called Golden Farms (they're all called 'farms' around my neighborhood) has the lowest price on Organic Valley milk (3.79 1/2gal) and Peace (whatever its called) cereals (2.99/box). I think they sell them close to cost just to bring in the customers! But I won't buy meats or much veggies there. I go to a variety of butchers or grocers depending on what I need. The farmer's market has the best vegetables in season, but the prices are much higher. I buy there anyway (Cortelyou farmers are less expensive than Grand Army farmers, but I am so eager by Saturday I go to Grand Army). I spend way more time shopping for food in NYC than I suppose I would if I lived in the suburbs or rurals.

When I was on residency, I found food in Wilton, CT to be really expensive, but completely ordinary. Was it because I had only one choice, one store? I hate food cards, where they sell your info as a trade for a deal on sliced mushrooms once every few weeks (like the chopper). In upstate and western NY, things are hard, it's been a bad economy for 30 years. But there are still many family farms across NY state. I hope they are producing more than corn and soy. If people are willing to spend more on food, locally grown can be a reality in season. If the lowest price is all that matters, then it's unlikely it will come from those farms. It would be unethical to have those upstate farmers producing for a NYC market, while those who live around them still buy frozen or shipped "fresh" from name-a-place. It will be up to the retailers to make the push for local, more expensive food in their stores, although I suppose there will always be a market for cheap food and those who will sell it.

Chop chop.

1 comment:

  1. That looks positively scrumptious! How 'bout a recipe for that delicious picture!


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