Sunday, March 30, 2008

A Welcome Easter Surprise

Never, ever allow a stomach virus to descend on your household when you have visitors. That is my lesson from the last two weeks. Over the course of three days, all five adults and two toddlers under our roof got violently ill. Food was just not on the radar for quite a while.

And then Easter showed up. I had resumed eating small, plain meals, but I hadn't had the energy to plan something tasty for Easter. Not that we're big on the religious celebrations anyway, but it's nice to have an excuse for a good meal. But there I was, without a plan, without much choice in ingredients, without a huge appetite. Then, Husband comes home from work bearing large bags of fresh produce from his co-worker's garden. Yes, we have one acquaintance who has lived in the desert long enough to coax miracles from the soil. And he sent just the right things at just the right time: asparagus and fresh herbs, the vegetable world's signs of spring.

I couldn't believe my eyes when I opened one of the bags to find about a dozen good-sized spears of asparagus; asparagus that had been picked an hour before it entered my kitchen. I combined the asparagus with the grill my parents gave us as a combined Christmas/housewarming gift (a grill the illness had left untested until this moment), used the herbs to make a slightly-thicker-than-I-meant-it-to-be sauce, and cooked up a package of Fresh and Easy's spinach-cheese ravioli. Easter Dinner was born.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

A Short Post On Current Experiments: Pad Thai

Visitors have descended on Desolationville, so I don't have a lot of computer time, but they just went out to see if any of the gas station convenience stores carry reading glasses and Baby Girl is asleep, so I thought I'd slip in a quick post. Without visuals, unfortunately.

I finally got tired of being Thai food deprived and decided to re-embark on a quest to make a decent Pad Thai.

Sometimes, a girl needs noodles.

I had most of the necessary ingredients, but I was missing tamarind paste and it really does add a lot. Then I noticed some Mexican tamarind chewy candies at one of the above-mentioned convenience stores and, for 89 cents for a bag of them, I thought, why not? They have sugar and chile, two ingredients I'd be adding to the Pad Thai anyway, so I auditioned them for the role. They work perfectly. They dissolve reasonably well when mixed with a little vinegar and microwaved, they add the tang, and you don't have to mess with the sticky mess that is a block of actual tamarind paste.

I'm a complete convert. I recently bought some real tamarind paste and using it was the usual sticky job and I decided that unless the flavor was significantly better, I'd stick with my candies. The truth is that I couldn't taste the difference in the final product. That's good enough for me.

So the sauce (enough for 7 - 8 ounces of rice noodles) for my Pad Thai looks more or less like this now:

3 Tamarindo candies dissolved in 1 TBS of white vinegar and 1 TBS water
2 TBS fish sauce
1 TBS soy sauce
2 TBS palm (or brown, in a pinch) sugar

I know it's not all that authentic, but it IS tasty.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

A Slightly Less Isolated Foodie Returns

After months of silence (including some silence from my actual kitchen), I'm hoping to get back to blogging here regularly. Since my last post, we moved a few thousand miles from the distant shores of nowhere to just about the dead center of nowhere. So, an improvement, right?!

Well, maybe. Instead of an hour and a half flight to the nearest real supermarket, etc., it's now just over an hour's drive to not only a supermarket, but a Trader Joe's, a Chinatown, a CITY. This is a deceiving blessing. Because I can get good produce in an easy day trip, I feel like I should, like I have to, like it's preordained that I should do so on a regular basis. Thus, our new car has almost ten thousand miles on it in four months. Husband's 70-mile-a-day commute has helped, too, of course, but the fact that many weekends see us doing 200 mile road trips to shop doesn't help.

Our new town is about the same size as our old town, just over 500 people. It's very, very different in all other ways. In Isolationville, the biggest employers were the federal and state governments. Here, in what I'm dubbing Desolationville, the biggest employer by far is the fast food industry because Desolationville is a pit-stop on an interstate highway. I've gone from having one year-round restaurant to having more than a dozen; they just aren't the kind of restaurants I'd typically choose. On the plus-side, our traditional Junk Food Night has a whole new sense of self here. Isolationville, as you all know, was on the tundra. Desolationville is in the heart of the desert. There will be no wild salmon or gallons of berries to pick here.

I had none of my own kitchen stuff for the first month we were here and still haven't quite settled in to the kitchen. It's a fine kitchen. I HATE the counter-top, but there is a lot of it, so I can't complain too much. I'm finally cooking with gas again, which makes me happy, and there's a decent view from the kitchen, which helps ease the pain of giving up my river views from my kitchen in Isolationville.

Anyway. I'm back. I hope to get some new posts about food up and running soon. My cooking needs a kick in the butt and joining food blog events is one of the best kicks out there.