A journalism friend used to describe the daily pressure to fill the newspaper as “feeding the beast.” Some days, as today, this blog feels a bit like an insatiable animal (very like my cat, Precious). So I fall back on random musings.
Musing 1: Have you noticed that some old, familiar products have changed the color and shape of their packaging? Kingsford Cornstarch is one. Those utilitarian yellow boxes are now marigold-bright yellow plastic “stay fresh” tubs. I noted this because, in common with most experienced grocery shoppers, I think, I scan for shape and color when I’m looking for a familiar product. If I want Campbell’s, I look for red, white, gold 14.5-ounce cans, for example. That’s easy because every store stocks Campbell’s and the brand dominates the shelves. But when it’s a more obscure product — such as my favorite Inglehoffer mustard, which used to come in dear, wee, squat glass jars and now comes in boring plastic squeeze containers — I have trouble finding it! Besides, as big a waste of energy as it is, I’m old enough to have begun to find change distasteful.
Musing 2. Also grocery related. I’m sorry but, just how convenient do products need to get before you’re not really cooking at all? The other day, I saw Nestle’s Choco Bake, 8 ounce pouches of pre-melted, unsweetened chocolate for baking. What? You can’t operate a microwave for 30 seconds? Then there were 15-ounce squeeze bottles of Contadina pizza sauce (tomato sauce, corn syrup and spices). While I can see how that would be kinda cool for a quick snack — just squeeze some onto a Boboli or a slice of country bread and bake or broil it — I can’t see that it’s worth the price (which I record but which was much more than making your own or buying sauce in larger quantities). I already went postal about the tiny little pouches of spices with attached recipes that have appeared in the meat department. You buy the pork chops or whatever and the “kit” (for uku-many dollars an ounce) and make something that you could do from scratch, with less salt and more potent flavor, by using fresh herbs from your garden or even dried herbs sold in cheaper form.
Musing 3. A dear friend who is, in other matters, as level-headed as they come, posited a business proposal to me. (When you’re unemployed, people can’t WAIT to tell you what you SHOULD be doing for a living — as if you haven’t thought of every possible thing as you lie awake at night trying to decide whether to pay the rent or the car payment — but I digress, as usual; digressing is one of my best things). Here was her idea: For $15, she’d make dinner for your family. You bring her the ingredients, she makes the meal, you pick it up ready to pop into the oven. She suggested stuffed pasta shells in hamburger-spaghetti sauce. Made with bottled sauce. Saves time which is worth money, she said. What about the time on the phone or on the computer putting in the order, the trip to the grocery store then to the caterer’s house, then back to the caterer’s house again? And why would I pay someone else to open a jar and put some hamburger in a pan? Dear G– in heaven! She said I wasn’t a good source on this topic because I’m a “cooker” (I prefer “cookie”) and a culinary snob. Busted. I WOULD pay $15 for someone to make us a heat-and-eat dinner but it would have to be something interesting from scratch and THEY’D have to do the shopping.
Musing 4. I have a friend who never cooks. She loves food, is very knowledgeable, used to cook a lot but is both too busy caring for her ill husband and too plagued by fibromyalgia to deal with opening jars, etc., now. Every day, they eat healthful frozen meals (Lean Cuisine, Eating Light and such). And every day they go out for at least one meal. Usually at someplace very casual and inexpensive (but not, usually, large chain fast food). She knows them all and her food reports have been a joy to me. As they’re reasonably light eaters, and choose carefully, and eat at off hours, sometimes taking advantage of Early Bird specials, they do all this within a very affordable budget. (I, of course, am at the supermarket, popping in for two things and coming out with 10 and a bill of $75).
Musing 4 Part B. I have another friend who eats all her meals on paper using plastic utensils. Never washes a dish, only cooking utensils and not too many of those, as she microwaves most things — again, in paper. Paper towels for napkins, placemats, towels. I love going to her house because it feels so carefree to just get up after eating and throw things away.
But in my own home, I recall an ecological principle that stunned me when I first heard it: “There is no ‘away.'” Whatever we throw out has to go somewhere on this planet. And paper and plastic utensils are horribly wasteful.
Still, sometimes, as I’m facing a sinkful of dishes, polishing my silver (yes, I own and use real silver flatware every day — and where the h— half my forks have gotten to, I can’t tell you!), laundering my table linens, trying to figure out what to make for dinner, standing in a long grocery line (and I ALWAYS end up in the line with the person who left their checkbook at home) …. meals more and working less hard for it?
Then I shake myself briskly, like a dog after a dip, and remember how much joy cooking gives me and how much I like my own cooking (embarrassing but true) and what pleasure it is to me watching my husband enjoy his meals. (He is, by the way, my sternest critic without ever saying a critical word — if he doesn’t grunt pleasurably, go for seconds, or ask for the leftovers for lunch, I missed the mark. I really get bummed.)
Gotta go, sink’s full of dishes, Husband needs lunch and I downloaded a new recipe from Cooks Illustrated site. Yep, I’m a “cookie” and a culinary snob, alright.
Musing 3: I agree she’d have to do the shopping.
I met a woman recently who described her friend’s job: Her friend was hired by a well-to-do widower to come to his home several days a week, after he has left for work, to clean the kitchen, prepare him an evening meal, lay the table, cool the wine, and leave before he returns home from work. When the man returns from work, he pops his prepared plate into the microwave, gets the wine and cool items from the refrigerator and sits down to a “home-made” meal eaten at the table which is set like his wife used to set it for their evening meal. The widower pays very well for this service. (It is kind of sad – I can almost see him sitting there with his lonely glass of wine, pretending that his wife has just stepped into the kitchen for a moment. But we all grieve in our own way, don’t we?) Anyway, it is a unique job opportunity.