Archive forAugust, 2012

You need to go to Fairfax Whole Foods

Attention fellow Northern Virginians! The Fair Lakes Whole Foods in Fairfax has updated their bulk food section and it’s incredible!

I have a few vivid grocery store memories I don’t think I’ll ever forget: the first time I walked into Super H in Fairfax and immediately messaged Mark (on my gen 1 Sidekick to give you an idea how long ago this was), “I want to live in this store;” the first time I walked into Wegmans and saw their produce section (I had been doing a drive-by of the house we are now renting to check out the neighborhood and afterwards stopped down the street at Wegmans, and immediately messaged Mark, “WE ARE RENTING THAT HOUSE BECAUSE THIS STORE IS AWESOME”); the first time I went to a Trader Joe’s in Virginia after moving to DC from Maryland…which meant I was able to buy wine (grocery stores can’t sell wine in Maryland; I probably messaged Mark something full of wonder and awe and warned him he’d have to help me carry 5 cases of wine into house when I got home). I had no idea Whole Foods was remodeling their bulk foods section and I think that the moment I realized what they had done will be another of those enduring memories. (Is it weird to have a collection of favorite memories of grocery stores?)

Just a couple of weeks ago I casually mentioned on this blog that when I go on bulk food buying binges, specifically for my trail mix, I skip the much larger Fairfax store and shop at the Vienna Whole Foods, which despite being much smaller has – HAD – a much better bulk food selection. Well, no more, friends. On what was meant to be a quick breeze through the store tonight to grab some tofu for making jerky, I hustled through the produce section and then was stunned to see THIS:

That’s a huge wall of grains, flour, etc., then bulk spices (yay!!), then dried fruit (which I won’t be buying because I love my new dehydrator!) and mushrooms (which I won’t be buying because mushrooms are gross!), and to the right of the picture is various salts. Be still, my heart!

I was so excited I took those two pictures, then merrily turned around to continue on my quest for tofu, feeling very pleasantly surprised. But wait, the surprise was not over! Not by a long shot! Turning around, I ran right into …

That is one side of one of two beautiful wooden bins of dried beans, varieties of which I’ve never even heard of! And as you continue through the back of the store, there are more and more bins and tables full of all sorts of bulk items! THERE IS A WHOLE TABLE OF BULK GOURMET POPCORNS! I can’t believe I just ordered Mark a couple of popcorns on the internet – I should have just driven down the street! Their granola/trail mix selection, which used to be quite small, is now an entire plaza. There’s a dried pasta station, but it hasn’t been filled yet – it has labels though, and half of them appear to be whole wheat varieties. There’s an entire “sprouts” station, which all sorts of sprouted nuts, cereals, and flours. There’s a table with “liquids”, with lots of different honeys (which I wasn’t interested in), agave, Bragg’s, and tamari – I got some tamari because I needed some. I’ve never seen anything like it! It all looks very nice, too; it’s very well displayed, and the aisles are wide and open. It all gets a huge thumbs up from me. The guy in the check-out line ahead of me and I were gushing over it all; he said, “did you see all the salt?” and I responded, “SEE it? I PHOTOGRAPHED it, I was so excited!”

In addition to the tamari and some turmeric, here’s what I got (and this is me showing extreme restraint, by the way):

Applewood smoked salt. I have been buying Maldon smoked salt, and don’t get me wrong, I adore Maldon, but their smoked salt is not very smoky; I can hardly tell the difference between it and their regular flaked salt. This salt smells heavily of a campfire.

Black barley. Never seen it before!

Steuben yellow eye beans. Never heard of them, but aren’t they GORGEOUS?

Jacob’s cattle beans. Never heard of these either but they are so pretty I couldn’t not get them.

Tongues of fire beans. Okay, how am I possibly supposed to resist a name like that???

I had been getting low on beans and was thinking about placing a Rancho Gordo order soon, but this (and subsequent purchases I know I will be making to check out the tons of other beans they have) will hold me over for a while. These are some of my beans:

I’m so hopped up about this I’m not going to be able to sleep tonight (seriously, does that mean there’s something wrong with me??). Enjoy this picture of a raccoon rubbing his belly; I’m going to gaze at it and hope it calms me down. 🙂

PS If any of you have had any of the items I bought and have cooking suggestions, let me know! I need to pick one of those beans to make tomorrow night!

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Rasam from Cooking at Home with Pedatha

I’m pretty sure I’ve raved about Cooking at Home with Pedatha before. I can’t share today’s recipe because it was a faithful following of the rasam recipe in that book, but I do want to urge you to consider buying this book if you are at all interested in Indian food. Although it’s very pretty (there are pictures of all the dishes, and even a picture glossary), there are a few factors that would ordinarily prevent it from being one of my favorite cookbooks: it’s quite short, it calls for some ingredients that I have difficulty obtaining (and I live in an extremely ethnic food-friendly area), and the authors use unfamiliar names for even those ingredients I can get, requiring me to have to translate many of the recipes. Several of the recipes call for other recipes, increasing production time.

But don’t let those things scare you away! Where this book excels, other than its inherent charm (it’s a loving tribute to a grandmother compiled by two family members), is the podis and all the dishes that call for them. A podi is a “powder”, or spice combination, usually calling for various whole spices to be roasted then ground together, which is then used to flavor dals, rice, and soups. Every podi-related dish I have made from this book has been magical. When I commented above that some recipes call for other recipes, I was referring mostly to the use of these podis. It’s unfair, however, to ding the book for this because the podi recipes make about a cup and the recipes calling for it use about a tablespoon each, so once you make a podi, you won’t have to go through that process the next several times you make the recipe. And believe me, you’ll want to make these recipes again and again.

Friday night I made up a batch of the rasam podi and made Pedatha’s rasam. Rasam is one of my favorite soups. I did a post on it a long time ago, and I posted a picture of some homemade rasam a co-worker sent me home with when once I proclaimed my love of it. Pedatha’s rasam is, of course, AWESOME. Mark and I ate the entire batch in one sitting. And the great thing is, now that I have the podi prepared, I can whip some more up from some late summer tomatoes in mere minutes!

In other food-related news, I bought a dehydrator last week and am currently going crazy dehydrating everything possible. I’ve literally had the dehydrator going non-stop since it arrived. Skeptical Mark has pointed out that I tend to enthusiastically start projects and then quickly lose interest in them and he seems to think dehydrating will be another such fad. I don’t think so. Dehydrating is so easy that I don’t think it will take up much time I could later decide I’d rather be spending doing other things. Really the only time investment is chopping and I enjoy chopping. And buying dehydrated fruits and vegetables in incredibly expensive, so I’m very excited about the money I’ll save, for example on my trail mix. Plus, I can use the dehydrator for making tempeh and yogurt, both of which I’ve been meaning to get back into doing and now I have a great reason. I can also raise dough in it. I’ve never had a problem raising dough in the house, but if I want to time it a bit more precisely, the dehydrator’s temperature regulation will allow that. Also, although there are a couple of months left before I’ll need to come to terms with it, at some point the farmers market is going to close for the season and I’m going to freak out. So I’ve been trying to capture an essence of it by dehydrating what I can so I can use it over the winter.

Here’s what I’ve dried so far: tomatoes (there a another huge batch of tomatoes nearly ready to leave the dehydrator tonight), bananas, strawberries, (I have another quart and two huge bunches of bananas to get to this week), onion powder, carrots, and bell peppers. The latter two I may combine along with some potatoes, onions, and celery into a “soup mix”. When I’m desperate for a lunch to take into work, I’ll sometimes whip up a super-quick soup from a can of tomatoes, some bouillon, some dehydrated veggies, and orzo. I used some of my dried tomatoes on pizza last night and they were quite good.

I have also dried some garlic and am drying a whole bunch more right now, which I’ll grind into garlic powder. The dehydrator will also save me money at my notorious Penzeys binges! I’m also planning to make tofu jerky as a treat for Mark. I’ve made it before but it’s been a long time – anyone have a favorite tofu jerky recipe? What are your other favorite things to dehydrate? Any other creative uses for the dehydrator?

Not much else food-related has been going on. I’ve been super busy lately; annoyingly so. I can’t even remember what I’ve been cooking, I’ve been so busy. Lots of stuff involving farmers market fare, but I guess nothing earth-shattering enough that I’ve felt compelled to make a post, or maybe I just haven’t had time. I’m enjoying blackberry season; my current favorite snack is Daiya jack on crackers topped with blackberry:

As for animal news, I transported a baby chimney swift the other day and he was by far the cutest baby bird I’ve ever seen. This is a bad picture, but it’s all I have:

Today as I pulled into the raccoon sanctuary, there was a family of deer standing about five feet from my parking spot, so I wasn’t able to drive down the driveway. Instead I slowly got out of my car and started snapping pictures.

They eventually got tired of that and ran off, so I was able to park. Today was a big day for the last six raccoons in the nursery, who graduated to the big outdoor enclosures! I coined a new saying to replace one I hate, “curiosity killed the cat”: “curiosity captured the raccoon”. Unfortunately, out of context it sounds like a saying I would dislike just as much as the original because in general capturing raccoons is a bad thing. But raccoons who want to leave their baby cages in the nursery and move to their big-boy (and girl) enclosures outside need to be temporarily captured in a carrier in order to be transported. Many of you with cats may be familiar with the difficulty of putting an unwilling cat into a carrier. It CAN be the same, possibly even worse due to their super-dexterous fingers and toes, with raccoons, however, we were lucky with these six. We put some pork rinds (a raccoon favorite) in some carriers and simply waited for their curiosity to prevail and soon enough all six had climbed into a carrier and were briskly locked in and carried out to their new home. Raccoons are so curious we probably didn’t even need the pork rind incentive, but it sure didn’t hurt. I was so into this task I forgot to take pictures, but here is a picture from last week that I love, which incidentally is of a raccoon eating a pork rind…and smiling about it!

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Family Vacation Food

Mark and I have just returned from a week in the mountains with his family, where it seemed my camera was permanently attached to my hand, except at mealtimes. Since I didn’t take any pictures of our food, I can’t rightly do a “real” food post about it, but I would like to mention a few of the things we ate because I think Mark’s family is really good at jointly feeding a large group of people with diverse diets. When I met them 11 years ago, I was delighted to find a few pescatarians and vegetarians in Mark’s family. For that reason, their communal meals were never very meat-centric to begin with, but when I joined the family (and Mark later converted to veganism), all their family meals became almost entirely vegan, and everyone was perfectly happy with that. Which, by the way, made me feel extremely welcome in their family, from the first day.

Mark’s family does an annual family vacation, during which each willing adult or household chooses a night to make dinner. Usually when I return home from a vacation, I’m sick of restaurant food and feel like I need to get back into healthy eating habits. After vacations like this, however, I feel great: we ate very well and very healthy all week. Although most of the group are omnivorous, only one meal of the week contained optional chicken for anyone who wanted it. The rest of the meals were all vegan, but they were the sorts of meals that don’t cause you to miss meat.

Mark’s aunt pre-made a large batch of vegan chili and froze it in a few containers, which then doubled as ice in the large cooler they brought, keeping several items that didn’t fit in the fridge at the lodge (which we had filled with an awful lot of beer) cold for a few days. She also pre-breaded pieces of okra and eggplant and froze them, then baked them for a quick side dish our first night there. Mark’s uncle maintains a large and diverse vegetable garden in Charleston, so it’s always a pleasure eating whatever he and Mark’s aunt make, as it’s always chock-full of delicious homegrown vegetables. His uncle pre-made and froze a huge batch of veggie-heavy pasta sauce, which he served over penne one night, with a huge tossed salad made from his own produce. Another uncle made linguine with garlic and local kale and turnip greens (and optional herbed chicken). Mark’s mom made tabbouleh, a potato and green bean salad, and offered fillings for making wraps. His cousins made veggie fajitas with seasoned black beans and lots of sauteed veggies.

I made summer rolls and “drunken noodles”. I brought rice paper wrappers, mung bean threads, and rice noodles with me, then we stopped in a local grocery store to pick up vegetables, fresh herbs, and sauce ingredients. For the summer rolls, I soaked the mung bean threads and snipped them up into smaller pieces with kitchen shears, then rolled them into rolls using rice paper wrappers, along with some “broccoli slaw mix” I found in the store, sliced avocado, julienned carrots and cucumbers, and fresh mint and basil. For a dipping sauce, I mixed together peanut butter, soy sauce, garlic, sriracha, a couple splashes of vinegar, a little brown sugar, and the juice of a lime – some of these ingredients I found in the pantry and were different than I’d have used at home (e.g. white vinegar instead of rice vinegar), but everyone raved about it.

I had had the idea to make some fairly mild drunken noodles as the main for my meal (I figured those of us who like stuff extra-hot could add our own heat on our plates), but I forgot to pack dark soy sauce, and the grocery store in town didn’t stock anything like it, nor did they have vegetarian oyster sauce or anything else vegan I thought would make a decent sub. The closest thing in their small selection I could find was a sichuan bean paste. So that’s what I used, although I think in doing so I gave up whatever flimsy right I had in the first place to call my dish “drunken noodles”. I mixed the bean paste with some low-sodium soy sauce, however, as well as some vinegar, lime juice, and brown sugar. I chopped up a bunch of vegetables and some garlic, but I forgot to use the broccoli and tofu I had purchased. I had two different shapes of rice noodles, so I made two batches of noodles, one mild for children and non-heat-loving adults, and a hotter one. My throat is sensitive to chilis – I often choke when I’m preparing them though I love to eat them – so I made Mark mince some jalapenos for me, most of which I served on the side, but some of which I put in the “hot” wok. I stir-fried the veggies, added the noodles, then the sauce, and lastly stirred in as much basil as I could get my hands on. I also served sriracha and lemon and lime wedges on the side.

Our last night was “leftover night”, which is where we all simply raid the fridge for dinner in an attempt to clean it out. I made a super-quick stir-fry from my forgotten tofu and broccoli, and I served it over the rest of the mung bean threads. For the sauce, I used up the rest of that sichuan bean paste and my small bottle of soy sauce, and added in other stuff I found in the pantry. I was surprised that others in addition to Mark were interested in it, but it was gobbled up.

I do have one food picture from the trip for you, although I took it today at home. I regularly make a trail mix that I keep at my desk at work for snacks, and I took a whopping 4 liters of it with me to North Carolina, where it was devoured in a few short days. It’s mostly nuts, but I’m not crazy about most commercial nut mixes because they are super salty. So what I do is go to the Whole Foods with the best bulk foods selection (in my area of Northern Virginia, this is the Vienna store) and just buy a bunch of everything I like, then mix it all together. Typically I include:

  • raw cashews
  • raw almonds
  • sesame sticks (these are a must; Mark picks them out and eats them all, so I have to buy a huge amount of them)
  • walnuts
  • pecans
  • hazel nuts
  • Brazil nuts
  • dark chocolate-covered almonds
  • dark chocolate-covered raisins
  • roasted soynuts
  • roasted corn
  • raisins
  • dried strawberries
  • dried banana chips
  • etc.

So, a few pictures from the trip. We stayed in this lodge between Highlands and Cashiers, NC:

Overall the weather was great because, being so high in the mountains, it was a relief from the unrelenting heat at home, although it rained briefly most days (and most of one day). Wildflowers on a misty hike:

The Highlands Botanical Garden was pleasant; I particularly liked the lily pads …

… where I chatted about lenses with a friendly old gent and spent longer than I should have taking pictures of a dragonfly.

I also enjoyed the bumblebees ..

… who enjoyed the wildflowers.

There are a lot of waterfalls in the area. This one is under the Iron Bridge.

From the ground on the opposite side:

I especially enjoyed Sunset Rock, a large rocky cliff that affords a stunning westward view of the tiny town of Highlands. The sunset was nice.

As we speed-walked up the trail to the rock (being a bit late for the sunset), we passed another couple walking back down, who somewhat disgustedly warned us, “it’s cloudy.” Well, it turns out I was delighted that it was cloudy because it afforded me the opportunity to capture lightning for the first time.

And now we are home, where it is, surprise surprise, hot. Mark’s Jeep will display the external temperature and I watched it rise from 84 to 96 degrees practically as I crossed the Fairfax County line at 6:30 p.m. Although it looks like it’s about to start lightning here now, an hour or so ago, ole Torticia was feeling extra lazy in the heat.

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