It’s September – we’re tiptoeing toward autumn here, cooler nights and mornings although still hot during the day. Let’s talk about a new (but fun!) challenge I’ll call eating for one, and please chime in!
For decades I’ve been feeding a pack of kids (and often their friends), and meal prep became a mindless routine. I’m a decent cook, dining out is expensive, I bought groceries and cooked by volume so there were always leftovers in the fridge when hunger struck, my crew were okay eaters but not terribly adventurous, there were revolving dietary restrictions I might be working around, I had an eye toward healthful eating but wasn’t obsessive about it. The last year of the pandemic, our groceries came from Aldi (love Aldi!) weekly via Instacart, with the occasional quick trip to the corner store if we ran out of eggs or milk.
All those years I ate what they ate, and I saved any fancier food desires for the occasional dining-out-with-friends. Every now and again I’d be in a place like Whole Foods looking for some specialty ingredient, and I’d see folks browsing the expen$$$ive cheeses or the equally $$$pendy prepared foods and I’d feel a pang of envy. A fancy hunk of cheese or a tray of smoked salmon left unattended at my house would disappear into the maw of a bored teenager in five minutes, followed by a burp and a bowl of cereal, so I didn’t bother.
Now there’s just myself to feed, and within walking distance I have a Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, our local gourmet grocery, and the farmer’s market twice a week; this is a small town with a big interest in food. So, what do I want to eat right now, when I’m the only person I have to please? I’m enjoying figuring that out.
During the summer heat I’ve spent weeks doing variations on the antipasto board. Sometimes it’s more of a … Greek salad board, or a charcuterie board. I don’t have to turn on the stove, I just throw it together on a platter and add whichever fresh veggies make the most sense – sliced tomatoes, Persian cukes, top it all with some fresh basil leaves. My diminished sense of smell means I’m drawn to stronger flavors of cheeses, meats, brined or pickled things. I’m the only one here to finish off whatever I buy or make; the good news is my growing stash of pickled and jarred delicacies and cheeses and Italian meats and mustards won’t go bad in the fridge in two days.
Just going to a grocery store for a browse is exciting; does that make me weird? I’m not an ass about it – I go during off hours (wearing an N95 mask) and get out of the way of people who are clearly in a hurry. I wander slowly, hands clasped behind me like I’m at the National Gallery, perusing the options. I probably look like a loon. Do I want cold, grilled salmon and asparagus from the deli case? (Sometimes, yes.) I always have an eye out for interesting, flavorful things — hits over the past month include roasted herbed Marcona almonds; sweet-spicy peppadews; fig and olive crackers; and quince paste with Manchego. Anita sent me this article about chile crisps and I want to add one to my pantry (I already have two, I put them on/in all sorts of things for extra heat and crunch; the TJs one I have eaten directly from the jar with a spoon, I love the texture so much.)
And dessert? Now I don’t have to worry about sending my low-carb kid to the hospital with my stash, I can buy all the chocolate I want. There’s always a tub of the Trader Joe’s mini peanut butter cups in the fridge, and usually a bar or two of some odd chocolate (black pepper, anyone? Ginger? Red chile?) Cookies with extra punch like lemon or ginger thins. I’ve discovered an incredible no-raisin bread pudding from the bakery up the street, made with their day-olds and lots of cinnamon (this prevents me from eating eight servings alone, which I absolutely would if I made my own.)
Okay, your turn! What are some of your favorite, flavorful snack things? What condiment or cheese or dessert or combination-of-flavors must I try? I’m ready!
One vote for baba ganoush and other tasty spreads.
LOVE that, in fact I might go eat Greek food tonight!
Oh man, if I was living where you were living, I would just eat out for six months and it would be all Hatch chile and posole, all the time. That would be too expensive, obviously, and probably not good for my gut. So… hmm. I am totally in on your charcuterie and salad boards. I also quite like a ploughman’s lunch, which is kind of similar, as long as it has Branston pickle and either a good paté or a scotch egg on it. (In a nod to my heritage… although I believe scotch eggs were actually an invention of the hated English.)
Most of my fave condiments are Asian or Middle Eastern, and I can’t remember whether you like heat or not. I live on sesame/chili/miso sauce (we have a brand called Okazu here), yuzu kosho, Togarashi, kimchi, Rajasthani green chili pickle, harissa, dukkah, zaatar, schug, dried lime, sumac in general, pickled raisins and spicy tequila jelly. Luckily, the kids are both okay with all this — or at least S pretends to be and M would eat a whole boiled goat head with fish sauce if I served it. We just started getting one of those sort of pricey fresh meal prep services three times a week when I have the three of us at home, just to add some new recipes into the mix and cut down on my grocery shopping time and bill — M is an INSANE grocery shopper lately and she always insists on coming, so a grocery delivery service is actually cheaper, as well as quicker. When I’m on my own, I alternate between treating myself to eating out, lukewarm leftovers and popcorn dinners. So you’re doing much better than me.
LOL! I know your palate!!! You’re the one who introduced me to fresh curry leaves! M is a chip of her mom’s block!
Making a list … frankly it sounds like YOU did it right, since you have two kids who are adventurous eaters and will eat all kinds of things. Fortunately my kids were mostly uninterested in the shopping part of things (in terms of saving me some money lol) I have friends whose kids are really racking up some additions to their grocery bills. Hope you’re doing well!
I feel envy and longing, March, as I read. So many of those yummy things are migraine triggers or GERD triggers, so they’re off of my menu. I cheat in small ways, a bite here and there of “the good stuff.” Yesterday I had a salami and swiss on rye sandwich with French mustard. (But only 2 slices of salami, not a stack.) Amazing!
Oooof, sorry! Although it does sound like a bite here and there is a great way to go … I will say that too much chocolate is a migraine trigger for me, so I am careful to eat v small amounts over a longer stretch, which is a lot easier to do when nobody else is here to finish off that tub of pb cups lol.
I think it’s easier to ‘nibble’ when it’s just yourself – something about knowing someone will finish off your beloved (fill in the blanks) triggers that binge that you won’t get eating for one. I remember when El O made the mistake of eating my Mallomars. I was terrifyingly calm.. as I told him to saddle up and ride the 45 miles to Princeton to get another box. ‘I didn’t know they were Mallomars!!!’ as I brandished the box (and a chef’s knife)… hon, you can see that logo on the moon! LOL!
oh, Lawd. I SO don’t miss those days.
I am obsessed with charcuterie boards! A very small and simple treat for myself in lieu of dinner, or an elaborate affair for happy hour/dinner guests.
My favorite summer snack is sliced tomatoes with olives, a good olive oil and balsamic vinegar, blue or feta cheese, and fresh basil.. I attempted to grow tomatoes this summer with poor results, still buying tomatoes from the market.
I also love experimenting with spices and hot sauces when I cook.
Yum, totally agree on all! And a few years ago I gave up on growing my own tomatoes, between the varmints and the amount of time I was spending on them, I decided that buying at the farmer’s market was in fact WAY cheaper than trying to grow my own lol.
What a great post, March!!!
For someone who loves strong flavors I am not a huge charcuterie fan – you know my stance on olives and sausage meats (they’re okay but I won’t fight you for them) and stinky cheeses are good but not essential to my happiness. I do love strong Asian flavors and am gladAF that I have limited real estate for ingestion because IF I COULD, I would eat ALLLLLL! the dumplings. Alladem! And… Har Gow (little shrimp dumplings) for Dim Sum. And smoked trout spread (so easy to make) on water crackers. And smoked, flaked salmon…
Mostly, though, I’m enjoying not having to eat, if that makes sense? El O was fully 3 hots and a cot and, as with your kids, it just became rote. Now? I think I could cheerfully eschew dinner for the rest of my life! xoxoxoxo
ooh! and for dessert, a handful of honey roasted peanuts or almonds will almost always do the trick, though I have been known to wipe out a slice of tiramisu or that Newlywed cake we both love so much – both of those are perfection itself, not too sweet with just enough mouthfeel to sate my desires
See, those honey-roasted nuts are the opposite for me, I have trouble stopping! But yeah weirdly most desserts, as much as I love them, I can have one slice and I’m good. And of course I’m lucky I’m not living in a place where the only option is to bake an entire cake, etc.
That’s been part of the fun/huge change of this — I can skip the entire meal if I want to! Or eat when I am hungry, not thinking about anyone else’s needs. I … respect your feelings on charcuterie while not fully understanding them, since we share so many food likes haha. And dumplings will be coming in my fall rotation!
I have a phrase “ Tonight Alison is dining with Alison” On the evenings DH won’t be in for dinner.
Sometimes I’ve gone to the trouble of a roast style dinner but with lamb or pork chops or even a poussin. Other times it will be steak & salad with some homemade sourdough.
When it’s warmer I’m with you, cheeses, cold cuts, charcuterie, sourdough, good crackers and pickles from my stash. Since retiring not only do I bake sourdough but make pickles & preserves. I’m looking for North African & Eastern European veg pickle recipes.
My very favourite dingle dining meals are salads. Watercress, baby plum tomatoes, English cuces, wafer thin red onion, buttered baguette, a hunk of farmhouse cheddar or Wensleydale, a thick slice of roast ham, mustard vinaigrette dressing with big strong malt vinegar pickled onions.
My real treat is something sweet. I’m not fond of cake or muffins but ice cream always hits the spot. Phish Food or Praline will always hit the spot!
Alison, check out The Spice House (.com) which is Patty Erd’s offshoot from her parents’ original spice shop, Penzey’s (I prefer TSH because I adore Patty and their spices are much fresher) – anyway, they are Eastern European and North African spice lovers and do wonderful blends (and they have lots of great recipes, which is what you asked for and I didn’t squirrel out on you (almost did, but pulled myself back, just in time! 😉
My things from the Spice House were fantastic.
Thank you Musette. I shall certainly be throwing myself into exploring those recipes. I’m guessing the stores are in the US so I’ll have to search for similar blends in the UK but the recipes yep, I’ll give them a go.
I’m heading towards the end of my pickling & preserving for this autumn. The jalapeños are pickling before being jarred in olive oil & jumbo garlic to brine and pickle.
Just reading this made me SO HUNGRY haha it must be time for lunch! Or getting close to it… something about that spread sorta feels like a festive party for one, doesn’t it? My kids are HUGE ice cream fans, we mostly bought it by the scoop since it was an issue for the kid with carb issues (staying out of a carton in the freezer). Judging by photos of where they’re living now, they are still doing that! Weirdly, that’s one of my take-it-or-leave-it treats. I like ice cream with birthday cake, that’s one of my favorite desserts.
March I always wondered why diabetics were given ice cream as pudding when in hospital. Now I’m diabetic I know, the digestion of carbs are slowed down by the protein & fats, so small amounts are ok. Doing a Bridget Jones & eating Ben & Jerry’s by the pint is not good for any carb issues.
The offspring returns to uni in a couple of weeks and my plan is salads with ‘stuff’ (grilled padron peppers, cheese, bits of chicken, etc). Most of my food comes in a bi-weekly delivery from fancy grocery shop (not like Whole Foods — just a bit upmarket and able to provide interesting bits & pieces plus quality staples), the farm shop, Marks & Spencer and a local fishmonger. The farm shop provides interest — and an interesting place to wander round. Love peanut butter cups but tend now to do sugar fix from bakery and not keep stuff in house. I have zero self control when it comes to baked goods.
Okay, so I’m not the only person on earth who loves to do a leisurely wander in a food store! (safely, of course — I get that part of the issue.) And I am so thankful to have all these food/bakery options nearby since I don’t want to have to commit to (and then eat!) an entire cake or other 8-serving dessert.
WOW March! You’re doing the empty nest thing in a perfect place. All those food stores in walking distance!
Do you have a Korean Grocery in the area? They have extensive highly flavourful adventures in their fridges and freezers.
Also, their packet curry powder is now my favourite and chicken or pork schnitzel is all the yummier for using it as gravy, with all the veg in cubes or slices cooked with it. You can put the lot on rice or mash or coleslaw, mood depending.
Have you thought about buying a hibachi? It’s a small hot-coal table BarBQ that cooks meat, seafood and veg perfectly for one or two people. Once we’re full I use the leftover heat to cook sausages or steak for leftovers (or soup) the next couple of days. Make sure you have it on a wood base, just an offcut about an inch wider on all sides.
oooh! a hibachi! so perfect for one or two people! And I totally second the Korean/Asian market – there’s one in Peoria called (oddly enough) ‘Asian Market’ and they stock everything ‘Asian’, including Indian condiments! My favorite fish sauces come from there, as do the packets of fermented mustard greens and sesame paste essential to Dan Dan noodles!
You’re reminding me I need to get another fish sauce, pretty sure I saw the one I like at Whole Foods, along with that one Oyster Sauce you hooked me up with that was fantastic (which I used up, need another)
Okay wait, I did a little googling and I’m confused about the hibachi — are you talking about using it inside? Isn’t CO2 an issue? I do have access to a gas grill right outside my door which will get use all fall and winter, I just don’t like standing out there when it’s hot lol. Nearest Korean grocery is an hour away but that’s do-able, and I don’t think I’ve exhausted all the options here, there are a few “fancy” groceries which might have extensive international sections that I haven’t visited yet.
Oh, no, the hibachi is an outside event. We have a table on our balcony that plays host to it. Like this, but Jin threw away the porcelain inside fixtures and made a heavy wire replacement that lets more air through for better cooking results. (https://www.dicksmith.com.au/da/buy/gtmall-japanese-korean-ceramic-hibachi-bbq-table-grill-st-25/?utm_source=google&utm_medium=product_listing_ads&gclid=Cj0KCQjwkIGKBhCxARIsAINMioLKsHvJm4MH_IM7E9PPHG6B8UwtaNMeAEYuhm7T0Wm6W5Zh-xVML8IaAhhIEALw_wcB)
We do also have a large electric hotplate that we use indoors like this.(https://homeontheswan.com.au/products/electric-bbq-grill-teppanyaki-tough-non-stick-surface-hot-plate-kitchen-3-5-person-48cm?variant=37703382728869&gclid=Cj0KCQjwkIGKBhCxARIsAINMioI5jIr7CTlv66rwUks16Xuw-p0GM80pRlhKOefdFfXviQZlzRxK6DUaApa5EALw_wcB)
and yes, we also have a large cheap hot rock BarBQ for events
I think about 1/3, or more, of our evening meals are cooked on one of these apparatus’
I do the side dishes while the rocks are heating.
HA! Well that became quite a long response. Sorry.
Oh wow, I am so not a foodie, and my husband claims I’m not really a vegetarian, just a bad eater. Mostly I just hate to cook. I do enjoy eating really good food, but don’t like cooking or going to restaurants, so I end up eating the same simple things all the time. But I will say I’m a fan of pickled beets and a good spicy burrito, in the flavorful food category. Oh, and good stinky French cheese!
Haha I used to refer to a friend (and my daughter, early on) as Cheeto vegetarians — they weren’t interested in healthy food, just junk food. But I will take a good spicy burrito every day, and many days that is in fact what I’m eating if I’m not home!
I LOVE me a good charcuterie board. It, and sushi, I could probably eat every day. And don’t get me started on Marcona almonds! Enjoy!
Thanks! Several of those things I had not tried before, just knew/read about them at some point, so it’s been fun seeing how much I like them! So far there’s been no duds in the bunch.