Monday, May 19, 2014

Who Needs Mushroom Madeira Sauce Anyway

I have not been in a grocery store since April. And we're not starving. Or even hungry. We have banana bread and homemade apple cinnamon muffins on the counter. No-knead bread is rising on the stove. The fridge is stuffed with leftovers from the last three nights, two different kinds of iced tea and eggs from the backyard. I've picked asparagus from the garden and I think I'll be picking arugula this week. We had sweet and sour pork chops with baked potatoes and butter beans last night for dinner. I've figured out three different ways to extend a ham for over a week and am getting pretty good at hand-rolling flour tortillas for burritos. We mad vanilla ice-cream last week and I think I'm going to try chocolate-coconut this week. (I still have a milkman, remember...) I figured out how to reduce the amounts of sugar and honey in my granola recipe in order to extend those ingredients a bit longer and determined that, just like aluminum foil, you can reuse parchment paper slightly more than three times when baking. It gets a little crunchy by the fourth round in the oven.
It worked. It actually works to stock your house full of food in case you need it or just don't want to deal with grocery shopping or whatever. Oh, we are definitely out of things and I will need to replenish some staples in the next week to ten days. The fresh version of every food was the first to go. I think the mangoes of two weeks ago were the last piece of fresh fruit to be eaten. The muffins were made with frozen homemade applesauce from last fall. The banana bread from two blackened samples sitting in a bowl on my counter. All vegetable matter for at least a week and a half has been frozen. Peas, corn, broccoli. You get the picture. I used the last scrid of cheese on burritos last week so there are no grilled cheese sandwiches or ham and cheese on rye or cheese omelettes. The yeast supply is getting scanty and I think I'm down to ten pounds of ground flour and ten to fifteen pounds of wheat berries for grinding. The rolled oats will be gone this week so we'll be stuck with steel-cut which means no more granola. I have five or six potatoes left in the pantry and three carrots and a couple stalks of celery in the fridge. So, while it really did work, it certainly doesn't make for exciting eating. Of course, if you are unemployed or living with fewer means than you are used to or, God forbid, illness has struck, you probably don't much care about whether your dinner was pasture raised pork, cooked with mushroom Madeira sauce. You just want dinner.
Not grocery shopping has put the focus on food but in a very different way than I expected. It has given me pause. It's absolutely, positively lovely to eat original, exciting meals which have been prepared with exotic ingredients. Truffles! Mole sauce! Confit! Caramelized pecans and goat cheese in a chicory salad! Balsamic this and Himalayan salt that! Green peppercorns and wood ear mushrooms! Yay! So delicious and precious and...completely unnecessary for day-to-day living. I have been made to realize that I carry a heavy load of guilt in this arena. For twenty years, I had subscriptions to Gourmet and Bon Apetit. I collect cookbooks and have been a member of our food co-op for decades. We had a farm share, shopped at the farmer's markets, bought our beef and pork and chicken from our local farmers and raw milk from a friend. I would regularly buy $15/lb. cheese and heaven to me was a visit to Whole Foods. We would rather drink warm water than bad coffee. It's true. I have been a food snob for over twenty years and have helped to create three more food snobs in my wake. I have children who will say to me, in all seriousness, "Mom, why didn't you get the blood-orange Greek yogurt?!" Or, "my favorite salad is the pear and goat-cheese with arugula and champagne dressing." What the hell?! I didn't even know what a blood orange was until I was 40 years old! I mean, don't get me wrong, the kids would rather eat a chicken finger or pizza or a cheeseburger than anything else, but they like to have rosemary-salted french-fries with that burger and isn't chorizo so delish on your pizza?! It's crazy!
These past three weeks have been very good for so many reasons. They have given me time to reflect on our relationship to food and all of the emotions that go with it. Time to observe my children's desires about food and how they behave when those desires can't be met. I have been forced to be more creative and thoughtful about each and every meal that is made and to have a running tally of what is left in the house. And I've watched the kids settle into an understanding that the world does not come to a grinding halt when the American cheese has run out. They've been awesome about it. No whining or complaining or tantrums. A sort of, "won't it be great when we can have cheese again?!" appreciation has set in that makes me feel very happy. It means that they understand that American cheese in the house maybe isn't just a given., certainly, there will be times in their own lives when they can't afford it. And they'll know that they can pull dinner together with some hamburger, salsa, elbow noodles and frozen corn.

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