Saturday, July 31, 2010

so, about those vegetables...

Betsy and I went out for ice cream after dinner today. As I slurped through most of my one (giant!) scoop of coconut ice cream in a waffle cone and Betsy her two (giant!) scoops of cookie dough ice cream, I had two important thoughts.

Important Thought #1: Coconut ice cream is one of the best ideas ever.

Important Thought #2: Before the project, all we talked about was food, and how healthy food can taste really good. During the project, all we talked about was the project. After the project, we realized with delight that we were talking about food again just like the good old days.

But it isn't the good old days. Things are winding down: we'll be out of Toledo in less than a week. Relief, nostalgia, and perseverance are blending together like salt, pepper, and garlic in our sauteed vegetables. We're just plugging through these last few days, trying to eat up all our perishables and ration the amount of produce we buy at the market.

We aren't even eating healthy anymore. Sure, we're eating pasta primavera and tomato soup for dinner. But we've learned that we can eat plenty on $10-$15 per person for the week, and we're still both putting $20 into our food money jar every Saturday. And we're spending the extra on ice cream and chocolate.

We went out for ice cream this evening after dinner. We went out for ice cream yesterday, too, at about 5:30 p.m. somewhere between Maumee and Perrysburg. Having ice cream before dinner is kind of like... well, it's not a good sign.

A grocery store in Toledo sells champagne grapes and plays classical music; its employees wear green polos. It also sells bulk candy, and we were always careful to have a good supply of chocolate during the project -- when you're stressed, you need chocolate. As soon as our project was done, we went back to this grocery store and came back with a nutmeg grinder and a big bag of dark-chocolate-covered peanuts. To celebrate. We finished them today while we watched most of 30 Rock Season 3 Disc 1.

I sauteed carrots for a snack this afternoon. Didn't think anything of it. I made tomato soup the other day and I was pleased but not in the least surprised that it tasted like... how do you say it? my taste buds were dancing in a completely joyful and utterly wholesome way, like swing dancing without freshmen. And it didn't matter; I just ate. Good food, really good food has become mundane here at 605 Heatherdowns (not our real apartment), and we've resorted to chocolate and ice cream. And the worst part is: there are two or three other ice cream shops we've made mental notes about all summer and we only have a week to hit them all up.

Analysis? I don't know, but this is weird.

Friday, July 30, 2010


It's summer. Two college students are sharing an apartment in Toledo. The $12 bookends cost more than any of the furniture in the apartment. The closet door is open and hanging over it is a beach towel -- both students are too stingy to pay for the dryer. Washrags are draped over rungs of chairs and dress clothing lies flat on the floor for the same reason. The vinyl tablecloth is masking-taped under the table and the fan clicks as it spins. Two sunhats flop over a chair.

On the windowsill: an assortment of pots (origins, left to right: antique store, flea market, Mom's garage, brother's beer mug collection, thrift store; contents, left to right: dead basil, rosemary, empty because the spider plant got spilled, live basil, ivy), two tomato paste cans (one with quarters, one with pens), a pile of receipts, a glass of water, and a mason jar.

On the floor: a Mac, a PC, six pairs of shoes, one pair of socks (about four feet apart), two mugs, a pair of sunglasses, a mixing bowl, Early Christian Writings, a DVD of 30 Rock Season 2, a laundry bag, a pile of newspapers, a postcard from an indie/hippie store, a camp hat, a mirror, and a draft of a big project.

On the walls: a drawing of Ernest Hemingway, a map of Michigan, and an art print that looks like horses if you're a girl and dinosaurs if you're a guy. No curtains. A broken air-conditioning control.

On the bookshelf: a pen and a pencil, a crochet hook and an unfinished project, a few stamps, a pair of cheap binoculars, a 4x6 file box, a copy of the lease, a box of frog notecards, a coaster with a parrot on it, a pile of bulletins from several churches, a flyer for the art museum's psychadelic 60s exhibit, a long receipt listing now-overdue books from the public library, craisins, and the little thing that broke off from the air-conditioning control.

On the other bookshelf: overdue library books (lots), a frisbee, and a little cardboard box.

In the cupboard and drawer: three forks with blue paint on the tips, five knives from various thrift stores, too many spoons, a borrowed set of (matching! china!) plates/saucers/teacups, four bowls from somebody's Greek grandfather's restaurant, four boxes of South Beach Diet Strawberry Harvest cereal, one empty box/jar/food container that Betsy hasn't found yet, and too many frying pans.

What are they eating for dinner?

a) pizza
b) macaroni and cheese
c) hamburger helper
d) salmon and vegetables sauteed with spices and a hint of lemon on top of farfalle with olive oil

it's good to be back

We used to be really proud of our refrigerator. "Most college fridges, it's just beer and maybe an onion. But look at our fridge! We've got a pound and a half of leafy greens from the farmers market, a gallon of milk, lemons, hummus, farmers market eggs, carrots, minced garlic, homemade vegetable stock, homemade jam (credit to my mom), and serial commas!" (Betsy and I both like serial commas. We don't actually have any in our refrigerator.)

Betsy was in Hillsdale last weekend and my brother visited Saturday, so we didn't make it to Saturday's farmers market. We were desperately awaiting Wednesday so we could go to the Wednesday market. But something came up Wednesday evening and we missed the Wednesday market. Our refrigerator looked pathetic. I ate a bowl of Cookie Crisp for dinner.

When we got back from work Thursday, our big project was done. We went out and bought chocolate and a can of tomato sauce, then chopped up tomatoes and made soup. After dinner and dishes, we sat on the couch with our chocolate and watched about six episodes of 30 Rock.

It's good to be back to normal.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

necessity's child

Betsy was out for the night -- this was a while ago -- and I was having dinner by myself. This meant... shells! (I have some weak evidence for Betsy not liking shells.) This meant... red sauce! (We had some left and I was happy not to share. It is really good.) This meant... ricotta cheese! (Not actually my favorite, but I couldn't think of any other way to stuff shells.)

I set the shells to boil, and when they were almost ready, got the ricotta cheese from the fridge.

"There was a huge thing of mold in the ricotta cheese!" I told my brother later. "It was the size of... well, my pinky fingernail."

He laughed. Well, okay, that was dumb, so I laughed, too.

"But if it's in your food, any mold is huge," he said.

I agreed.

I threw the ricotta in the trash. What else to stuff in the shells, already irredeemably boiled?

NB: Tossing the ricotta cheese in the trash turned out to be a poor decision. I didn't notice the smell emanating from the cupboard until the next morning when I was scrambling to get ready for work. I should have scooped the cheese into the sink or taken the whole thing to the dumpster outside.

First, the Swiss chard. That was going in anyway.

Um, onions? I chopped up some onion and threw it in the bowl.

Parmesan cheese, too. I put the lid on the bowl and shook it up. The parmesan dusted the leaves nicely, like frost that's sort of clumpy-roundish and comes from a green cylinder. So, yeah, maybe not really like frost.

The shells came out and looked floppy, pathetic, and sad. It was going to be a floppy, pathetic, and sad dinner.

Wait! Olive oil! So I drizzled olive oil into all the shells, and things improved significantly. Then I added some generous shakes of basil flakes (make that into a Dr. Seuss poem, someone) and the red sauce. It wasn't going to be fantastic, but I could eat dinner with red sauce.



It was pretty much amazing. I was surprised. I'd make these over the ricotta ones any day.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Mary is Not Stingy

Today the apartment smelled funny, so we went over to the stove to see if we'd left it on and something was burning. Nothing was burning, but I told Betsy there was a dime under one of the burners. I had seen it a couple days before when she was out. Betsy took a knife and started poking around under the burner, trying to get the dime out.

"We can put it in our farmers market fund," she said.


I would like to point out that Betsy's hypothesis is incorrect. It's silly to waste all this energy dichotomizing (that's a horrible word, just for you, Betsy) food. Food doesn't (and shouldn't) come with an immutable "like" or "don't like" tag.

For instance, I don't really like cake. If we're at so-and-so's birthday party, it's a lot easier just to eat cake like everyone else than it is to politely (and awkwardly!) excuse myself from the cake-eating bit. So it's probably better if I don't bother telling you I don't like cake, which means there's no reason for me to think about whether or not I like cake.

So mostly I just eat food and don't think too much about whether or not I like it.

To get to Betsy's argument:

First off, I don't have any problem with pasta primavera. Betsy and I have had conversations that go something like this:

Betsy: I bet we could sautee [list of vegetables] and put it on [specific type of pasta].
Mary: Isn't that the same thing as pasta primavera?

How that translates into not liking pasta primavera, I don't know.

Second, beans. I don't really like beans (in general). Betsy loves beans (in general). Black beans and pinto beans taste pretty much the same to me (mushy) and black beans don't start with P. I have put pinto beans in things, though, voluntarily, without prompting from Betsy. (I do like green beans, though, especially fresh/raw. You pop them in your mouth and they go crunch, crunch.)

Third, pesto. Greens and nuts aren't supposed to go together. I also don't really like almonds. I like cashews, pecans, and peanuts (two of which, by the way, begin with P), but what makes them good is the soft munch, munch in your mouth. If you grind them into pesto, they don't go munch, munch the same way. (I do like peanut butter and basil sandwiches, a desperate I'm-out-of-almost-everything college discovery I made last year.)

Fourth, I like peaches, pears, plums (probably - it's been a while since I've had plums), potatoes, pasta, pepper (as a seasoning), pecans, pancakes, and lots of other things that start with P.

I don't really like penne pasta, though (score one for Betsy), because I don't really like tube pasta much. I don't really like popcorn, either, but that's because I almost choked on a kernel once. Popcorn doesn't really taste like anything, anyway, unless you put salt, butter, or cheese on it. Then it tastes like salt, butter, or cheese. I don't really like pop, either, but Betsy doesn't get a point here because it's soda where she comes from.

I also like tomatoes.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Pesto for Paupers

I think I've figured out Mary: She doesn't like foods that start with the letter "p".

Por ejemplo:
-Pinto beans
-Pasta Primavera

I think this could be based on some weird Freudian association with her last name, which also starts with the same letter.
She makes a few exceptions, of course, including pork and peanut butter. But everyone likes those, so they don't really count.

So with that said, Mary has not endorsed this pesto; it is for the penniless, not the picky.

The reason I can say it's cheap is that it's made with cheap grocery store green tube parmesan, swiss chard (the whole bunch was $1.50; I used literally 1/10 of it), a little Kroger-brand olive oil –– you could substitute canola if you wanted to save even more money –– and cashews.

To make it, I threw all these ingredients in a blender, starting off with the oil:

1/4 cup olive oil
1 cup torn swiss chard
1/4 cup cheapo parmesan
1/6 cup cashews

Then I blended it all until it turned into magical velvety green mush.

Because the cashews were salted, I didn't add any seasonings. Garlic and black pepper probably would have been tasty, but this was fine on its own. The entire process took less than 10 minutes.

Friday, July 9, 2010

dry potato soup

You need to read this first.

Essentially, we cut up a bunch of vegetables and sauteed them.

Three potatoes. Couple carrots. Some squash, green onions, regular onions, Swiss chard.

Swiss chard we threw in at the end. It looked great. Bright green went well with everything else.

We put in a lot of sage (a lot a lot of sage) and some of our homemade vegetable stock. We let the vegetable stock boil off, then tasted the potatoes, poured more vegetable stock on and let it boil off, ad tasteum. And added more sage. Pepper. Some minced garlic and salt.

Mmm, warm food on a rainy day.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

vegetables and gender philosophy

A heat wave had crashed into our beloved Toledo, leaving us sweat-soaked and grumpy all week – I even let Betsy turn the air conditioning on. Thursday was an especially busy day, and when we got back to the apartment, we crashed into our beloved couch and chair.

Then the rain started.

We made a dry potato soup (recipe forthcoming) and sat on the porch to eat. The food was good – warm, uncomplicated, spooned from my grandfather’s bowls, comforting. The rain cooled the air and our bare toes curled around the wet stone porch steps. We laughed and reminisced (already?) about how much we’ve grown in the past month.

We’re planning to write a cookbook, and we talked about how to market the book to everyone, not just thin, vegan, environmentalist, outdoorsy women.

“Guys have to be able to cook from this, too,” I said.

“There’s nothing unmanly about cooking,” Betsy said. Her boyfriend is a stellar cook, from what I hear.

“Right, but there’s a difference a young, respectable Italian man and a big, muscular football player who probably smokes pot.”

Just then, the door opened – we both jumped. We turned around and saw a big, muscular guy with a cutoff gray T-shirt.

“Scared you guys, huh?” he said, and (I bet his little brother adores him) smiled.

A Cottage Inn van pulled up, and we watched the guy pay for the contents of the white Styrofoam box he now held. He turned and came back toward the building as the Cottage Inn van drove away.

“Hey,” said Betsy, just before he reached the door.

He turned around.

“Do you think it’s unmasculine to cook vegetables?”

He smiled and gestured a little with his free hand. “Well, me, I don’t really like vegetables,” he said.

“No, no, but what if they were really good?” Betsy and I were both saying something along these lines. “What if they were really, really good?”

He smiled (I bet he loves his little brother) and nodded a bit, ready to go back inside.

“Do you think,” Betsy clarified, “if a guy cooks vegetables, does that make him less manly? If they were really good vegetables, I mean. Is that beyond gender?”

Neither of us is really sure what he said after that. He mumbled something maybe, still smiling (I bet his little brother is really annoying) and went inside to enjoy his Styrofoam-box dinner from Cottage Inn.

I looked at Betsy. “Beyond gender”?

Score one for the Hillsdale Bubble.