Sunday, August 7, 2016

The Long and Whining Road: Real-Life Food to Table

Even when you know the recipe won't look like this at your house in the end, it usually starts with a picture. On the Internet or in a magazine. One that makes you stop flipping.

This one caught my eye (and my ear). I go to the za'atar part and "put it aside for another day." Whole Foods is on the opposite side of town from where I live, and there is no chance in hell any grocery store but Whole Foods with have za'atar in this town, I'm sure.

So it's Saturday. I've decided to serve my za'atar-roasted carrots with Grilled Salmon Kebabs and Spicy Lime Melon Salad. Because, Saturday. (When else during the week do you have time to cook like this?)

My husband hears about the salmon and says it's been a long time since we've had baby bok choy. (Please, please.) It's been a long time because there's only one place that sells it - a Chinese market in Ridgeland where you can get a whole bunch for only a $1. Insanely good deal.

Obviously. Because when I get there, it's closed. Closed is really an understatement. It is not even there. No trace left of it. It's a Salon and Spa now. I don't fully trust my eyes, and I have to go inquire at the business next door if that's really what used to be the Chinese market. (I mean I was just there last month!) It was.

This begins a flurry of text messages. I had promised baby bok choy in place of za'atar-roasted carrots but there is no baby bok choy, so this slush-pile recipe is back on. The flurry ends with my husband proclaiming that maybe we should just open a Chinese market on our side of the Reservoir to ensure that we can have baby bok choy in the future. (I let this one go unanswered as I allow it as just a step in the grief process.)

Off to Whole Foods. For this particular recipe, I think, gas mileage should also be factored in to the per-person cost. And that was before I found the za'atar.

I think it's the Z. My maiden name was Zehnder and I'm drawn to Z's. It feels like "Jumanji" on my tongue. Even though that's a J. And much softer. Out loud za'atar sounds almost military-like but inside my head it's much softer.

I break out the reading glasses. All of the spices are alphabetized so I'm thinking I just go to the last spot on the last row and grab it. Wrong. I can't find it. Anywhere. (If you would like to try my same experiment, go to your local Whole Foods and ask someone in the produce section near the spices where the za'atar is. There is no happy ending.)

I have that moment. When you've gone to Whole Foods for one ingredient and you can't find that one ingredient and it hits you that you're going to have to go to another grocery store anyways. Do you put what you've bought back and just leave? No, I decide. It's my Saturday and I'm not spending it grocery shopping (as I'm obviously going to spend it cooking).

I do what any rational person would. I start googling "za'atar replacement" on my smartphone. No replacement suggestions. Only recipes. I find a recipe. So I start searching for sumac next (which I don't have at home). Then I start googling sumac because I've never heard of it. No sumac. Back to Square One. (Special thanks to whoever took the time to comment on the Serious Eats site that if you can't find za'atar, you ain't going to be able to find sumac either.)

I see there are many spice blends at the top of the Spicely rack - taco seasoning, Mediterranean blends and such. I am now on the hunt for a "Middle Eastern Spice Blend" or similar. No such luck, but in reading every damn box, I find it. It's like that moment. In the movie. With the gold halo and the special music. ZA'ATAR, damnit! 

We were going to have za'atar-roasted carrots. (This would somehow make up for the fact that the liquor store next to Whole Foods did not have limoncello, so we would not be having Raspberry Limoncello Prosecco! In the end, we do not have grilled salmon kebabs either because it's pouring down rain. We have pan-fried salmon.) 

Za'atar-roasted carrots are damn good. But so are just plain roasted carrots with spices of your choosing - and it doesn't cost $3 for 3 tablespoons of those spices. 

I only used one tablespoon for this recipe. Online cooks have suggested I can sprinkle it on pita bread or hummus, but for now, I have it sitting on my spice shelf - right next to the gold, frankincense and myrrh.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Why is National Oyster Day in August?

Yesterday was National Oyster Day - and we went to Drago's in Jackson to recognize the observance (of course). The waiter was not aware it was National Oyster Day - and my husband asked, "Are you sure? Why would they make National Oyster Day in August? It doesn't have an R." The gentleman at the table next to us took my husband's side - and I had to pull out my phone to prove I had not made it up as an excuse to make my husband take me out for oysters on a rainy Friday night.

Growing up on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, as a child, you are subjected to watching your parents eat disgusting, slimy little critters - raw oysters - slurping them down gleefully like Jello with bizarre additions like stinky horseradish and spicy cocktail sauce. You are also subjected, it seems, to their oyster myths - like only eat oysters in months that contain an R. 

Later, inevitably, you "inherit" the oyster gene and slurp them down yourself every chance you get. Often, just as your parents did before. Literally. (I only found this out when my husband found it strange I had to eat my raw oysters on a Saltine cracker. I thought this was a requirement. So did my father. But not his, it seems.)

As long as your are buying oysters from retailers or restaurants (and not harvesting them yourself), you can enjoy oysters at any time of the year. Vibrio, a bacteria which has gotten much more attention in Mississippi as of late, is more common in the hotter summer months, for sure, which can make people sick when harbored in an oyster. (The USDA does monitor for their presence, but those with compromised immune systems should still be careful.)

After all, life's too short to only eat oysters in months with an R in them!