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A Romance of Cole Slaw and Gardinera

Last night was comfort salad night. Salad is emotional stuff, not the lettuce in a bag with a few carrot shavings. My moom thinks bagged salad is not sanitary. I just think it is tasteless. I'll eat it if I'm served it. It is inoffensive once dressed with a few additions or even by itself, but why I would buy and serve something so bland is beyond me. I will even say the same for romaine or leaf lettuce. They taste OK, but they are filler and more trouble than they are worth. In a single person household, they go bad long before their time.

The salad of my childhood, of long winters in a cold climate, was cole slaw or cabbage salad. Cabbage is the green of rich and poor alike. It is the salad you eat when you need a salad and nothing else is good. Lately, cabbage has been prohibitively priced. At .49 a pound, I can spend twenty more cents a pound and buy nappa, football shaped loose leaf cabbage. This is good for Open Door since it makes a softer cole slaw that is easy for people with bad teeth to enjoy.

Last week, however, the nappa in the Farmer's Market looked awful and tasted bitter when sampled. Cabbage was down to .39 a pound. I bought two heads of it and resolved to cut it as finely as I knew how to make slaw. Cutting cabbage is strange work. Grating carrots requires patience, strength, and brute force. One prepares carrots in groups of five, peeling and nubbing them first and then sitting listening to the radio as one makes sure to run up and down the grater throroughly and with the right strength. If the carrots are large and fresh, they grate themselves. If you grate a lot of carrots, you get a "grater hand" and the process is a kind of soothing, second nature.

Cole slaw starts out with grating carrots, but soon leads off in other directions. Preparing regular cabbage is tricky. You remove the outer leaves, and slice each head in quarters. Cabbage is hard as a rock. It can be bitter, especially this late in the year. It needs salt. It needs increased surface area. Cutting it up finely (my version of shredding) takes a sharp knife, patience, and a peculiar sort of mindfulness. Seeing the cabbage in thin shreds on the cutting board is a pleasure. Seeing it pile up in the bowl until there is too much of it is less a pleasure. Adding the chopped dill and scallion tops (The white part goes in cooked dishes because dragon's breath is not fun!)is anticlimax. If the salad bowl is really full, cole slaw spews out on to the cutting board when you mix it with dressing.

Some old Jewish ladies thing "cole slaw without mayonaise" is the Holy Grail. I make it that way a lot so for me, it is just one more way to make it. I use oil (plain old soybean oil is fine. You don't need olive oil for salads), lemon juice, salt, ginger powder (not expensive and you probably have it and it is good!) and either Spike Seasoning or Mrs. Dash. These last are the secret ingredients. I learned about Spike from the Ithaca Food Co-op (aka Green Star) and about Mrs. Dash from the cook at Zeta Psi. The Zeta Psi cook used Mrs. Dash to liven up macaroni salads for Yankee palattes and to provide a flavorful dish to fill bottomless, frat boy bellies.

Of course cole slaw was not the only salad I made last night. I also made gardinera. There are other ways to spell this. Gardiniera comes to mind. To me gardinerea is marinated Italian style vegetables, namely cauliflower and carrots. It can also include blanched pole beans or raw zucchini and the ubiquitous scallion tops. My gardinera last night was cauliflower and carrots with leftover salty peppers in a jar (They're Marzetta tricolor peppers) and black olives. I am now out of black olives. Where is Publix when you need them? Libby's natural canned olives rock. And yes, I busted up and blanched the cauliflower and sliced and blanched the carrots. That was one big blanche job. Cutting up carrots is easy, and so too is cutting or breaking up a cauliflower. Cauliflower comes pre-perferated after you remove the outer leaves. It tastes OK raw, but blanching it improves the way it absorbs dressing.

My gardiniera has an experimental dressing. I used Hot and Spicey Spike which is strong stuff and has salt in it, salt, Bragg's Perfect Pinch (I never met a spice I didn't like!) and a combination of unfiltered cider vinegar and rice vinegar and soybean oil. You don't need olive oil with good spices. The dressing came out tasting really good. I do need more vinegar though. It's amazing how much oil I use up.

All this is a lot of work, but now there is a big container of gardinera in my fridge, and the folks at the Open Door are happy. Tonight, I get to cook Taco-Roni salad. Frontier Herbs' taco seasoning inspired me. Also I have the last of the season's crowder peas, unshucked. Oh well that will change tonight. At least one can shuck beans and play Second Life at the same time. It is my night for my avie to go dancing.

Eileen H. Kramer -- October 27, 2010

Polenta and Rutabega

Last night I made polenta. I dreaded making polenta. I dreaded letting the corn meal slip through my fingers into the boiling water. I dreaded stirring the hot spatterning mixture over and over again. Don't ask me why I dreaded all of this? Don't ask me why I dreaded making polenta the night before, because like many things, it's easier and better used cold.

Still after I got the hubbard squash seeded out, cut up, oiled and in the roaster, and cooked the beans in an hour and fifteen minutes (I've been eating field peas instead of dried kidney beans), it was time for the polenta whether I liked it or not. It worked like clockwork. It did not take over the stove, even when I spilled a bit of corn meal. It was not too lumpy and if anything came out too spicey. It also was nice and thick. It has congealed in the refridgerator over night which is what it is supposed to do. It is going to be the crust for a collard, tomato, and kidney bean casserole. The hubbard squash is on deck to become squash with apples and figs. Friday night suppers are special!

Now I'll probably make polenta or corn pone some time soon. Fall somehow is corn meal season. Corn meal is also dirt cheap. It's recession buster food.

Now, you are probably wondering about the rutabega. Rutabega is American for Swede. It looks like a yellow turnip but I am told that it is not a turnip at all, though it is a crucifer. You can peel it with a carrot peeler and cut it up with a sharp knife. A trip to the knife sharpener seems to begin a night of kitchen rituals almost every time. You can blanch it and make it into salad. Some people eat it in salad shredded raw, but blanched pieces are better. Think carrot money with a kick. Last night's rutabega became roasted rutabega, carrots, and brussel sprouts. The frozen brussel sprouts are much better than the fresh ones which come with a bitter skin at no additinoal cost.

I'm not really dreading tonight's cook night. The whole house smells pretty good since I cleaned litter pans. I don't mind cooking. It's a break and a change. I just shouldn't dread polenta.

Eileen H. Kramer -- October 21, 2010

Squash Parade and Ambition

It's that time of year. As I was passing the Methodist Church on my way home from the Farmer's Market, I saw this at the pumpkin sale. It's edible. It's not a pumpkin. It's cucurbita maxima, not cucurbita pepo. I am a geek about vegetable taxonomy, but if you like squash and eat exotic ones, you need to know what you're eating, and taste is no guide, except maximas do taste better than pepos. Sad to say, most of these beauties will go to waste because they aren't being bought for the cook pot. I may bring one home for next week instead of my hubbards.

Hubbard squash number two sits atop my refridgerator. It meets its fate Wednesday night. Hubbard squash number one is nearly gone. I did not make it into a savory dish. I did not have enough carrots and radishes. They went into ranch style macaroni salad made with whole wheat spirals and zipper peas. I made squash and tropical fruit instead. Canned tropical fruit is better tasting than pineapple chunks, not that pineapple chunks taste bad. Both are in fact delicious, but canned tropical fruit salad is in a class by iteslf. It makes excellent carrot salad and a great twice baked squash. Just spread the all ready roasted or steamed winter squash in a greased casserole and add the fruit, and bake. You can add another layer of squash if you have enough and put a bit of fruit on top for decoration. My smallest casserole finally bit the dust some weeks ago when I burnt rice in it. It had to happen some time. I now want a fancy cast iron casserole dish. Oh well, I can dream or I can spend my hard-earned salary.

This week's hubbard squash is going to be squash with figs and apples. This is my dish, where the fruit sweetened dishes with pineapple, orange, or tropical fruit are a souped up version of my grandmother's way of preparing frozen squash. Squash with raisins is mine too. Squash with apples and figs is a Rosh HaShannah dish, but as I explained about a week agao, there was no hubbard squash at Rosh HaShannah. There is now though.

I am also making polenta pie for Shabbos. This is a dish wtih a sauteed vegetable or red sauce and vegetable underbelly and a polenta crust. Polenta is easy to make. It just takes time and a bit of patience to stir it. If you can give it twenty minutes, it gives you fine corn meal mush. It is also dirt cheap because corn meal is dirt cheap. Cooking with corn meal expands your repetoire if you are kosher. I also think corn meal dishes are good for my irritable bowel.

The filling for this week's polenta pie is going to be collards, sun dried tomatoes, and kidney beans. The kidney beans get soaked tonight. I get to cook them and roast teh squash and make the polenta Wednesday night. Thursday night, I put it all together. Tonight is salad for open door and a "beta side dish" of rutabega, carrots, and brussel sprouts. This one is easy. Cut up carrots and rutabega, open brussel sprout bag, toss with oil, salt and spices, and bake in a roaster. Once in the oven, this dish takes care of itself. The casserole dishes in my kitchen stay very busy. None of this is really all that ambitious though it sounds that way.

I feel I sort of need dark greens to build me up. Some foods are folk medicine for being logey, out of sorts, dealing with female issues, that sort of thing. I'm not really logey, but I am out of sorts. Getting older stinks but it is much better than the alternative. Either way, there is something enticing and comforting about dark greens. I prefer kale, but for some reason, the Farmer's Market always sells out of the one pound bags of ready to go kale. Collards are what is available. Either way, I need that dark green bitterness in the worst way.

I also bought more bosc pears on Sunday. The last batch were decent, no disgusting rotten spots, and they were sweet and satisfying late at night. I guess that makes for a repeat performance. Of course I probably won't buy one of those light green sweet keeper squashes pretending to be a pumpkin from the missionaries at the Methodist church. Right now I want to make shredded beet salad for Shabbos. My feeling on this one is why not. I love sweet and sour and never get enough of it. Oh well, it's easy to fall into ruts again. I'll have to think of something new and interesting to make.

Eileen H. Kramer -- October 19, 2010

Squash, Apples, and More

Though the late spring brings papayas, winter brings blood oranges, and the summer brings peaches, apricots, and plums, fall is the true food season. I had planned to make spaghetti squash for Shabbos. Farmer's Market had them from California for .89 per pound. They also had calabazza for .49 a pound. Calabazza would have been fine for making pumpkin bread since it is milk pumpkin by another name. But the Famer's Market also had hubbard squashes from Michigan for .89 per pound and worth every cent. They were the red hubbards (I think these also go by the name red kurai), and they are a seasonal delicacy. There are no hubbards from California or Mexico. They ship them out of the north for a few weeks, and that's it. The real hubbards, which I have not seen, and which Whole Foods calls blue pumpkins, are blue-grey and covered wtih worts with rinds as tough as steel. The flesh is squash tasting but not overwhelmingly sweet or as dry as kobacha. You can use it in savory as well as sweet dishes. My current game plan is to make either curried or Mexican style hubbard squash. I think of hubbard squash as a Rosh HaShannah dish, but the hubbards did not come down out of the north until this week. Go figure. The squash on top of my fridge was probably not field cured which means it will slice easily. If I have a hard time of cutting it open, that will be a good sign.

I found both Cortland and Empire apples in the market bins. I know from my friend who used to work at Twin Orchards just outside Utica, New York, that by October, apple pickers are harvesting drops for cider. These were fancy grade apples, so they came out of a store room somewhere. Someone was filling the Empire bin and while I was waiting, I saw that the Farmer's Market had Rome apples from Georgia! OK, it's North Georgia, but that is a lot closer than New York. And yes, there were Honey Crisps as well. Honey Crisp is a fine tasting apple, though one occasionally gets a bad one. They are, however, overpriced. I stuck to Rome's and Cortlands. The Rome apples are surprisingly good. They taste old fashioned with tough skins and a kind of "just off the tree" flavor. Like most older varieties, they are good for both cooking and eating out of hand. Honey Crisps are a modern variety designed as a strictly dessert apple, so too are Empires.

I also impulsed several bosc pears that are ripening for Shabbos on my table. Another lady was commenting on the pears when I bought them. She said she really liked Boscs because they "stayed crunchy." I concrred. Boscs don't have to get mushy to get ripe. I think the two best varieties of pears are bartletts (red or yellow) and boscs. People make a fuss about comice pears. I have tried them, and think that if youw ant a soft pear, Bartletts definitely taste better. Maybe I've had poor quality comice and excelent battletts. Maybe comice pears have snob appeal, which was what got me to try them in the first place. I'm not sure, but give me bartletts or for that matter boscs any day of the week.

There were even field peas at the Farmer's Market. Here it is week two of October and there were crowder peas and zipper peas. Zipper peas get their name because they shuck easily, as if they have zippers. They are plump enough for salads, and their white appearance goes well with whole wheat shells. Yes, bean and pasta salad is a staple of my house, but home shucked, fresh field peas make it a gourmet treat. And no autumnal salad is complete without brussel sprouts. Imagine finding big green globes nestled among the pasta and other ingredients. Frozen brussel sprouts came in a two pound bag. I'll have a pound left for Thanksgiving. It's not Thanksgiving in my house without brussel sprouts!

Eileen H. Kramer -- October 12, 2010

Where Have the Norms Gone?

OK, folks it's amateur social scientist time, but you can play along with me. And yes, this is in the food section because it's an answer to this article and others like it at The Atlantic's web site. Quite simply, soda doesn't make you fat. If you don't believe me, remember that junk food and soda, have been reasonably cheap and available and cheap for close to a century. The obesity epidemic is about fifteen years old. Clearly something else is going on, but what....

Let's go for a tour. Stop number one is the AM-PM Minimart out in Tucker or any other AM-PM Minimart of your choice. They have a special: forty-four ounces of soda for .99. I've seen similar specials elsewhere QuikTrip has sometimes sold thirty-two ounces of soda for .79. Welcome to the world of recession busters, but take a step back. Let's go to the good old days when parents and grandparents bought a glass of soda for their kids and having a soda was part of going out. We did not drink soda much at home unless we were sick, but except for the caffeine, no one much worried about a child having a soda when she went shopping, or letting her stop in a restaurant and purchase a soda at the counter. Today good parents would consider this horrible, though I am sure there are many who let their kids indulge.

Now the soda often came out of a machine. This was in the age before pop tops. A paper cup came down first and then the machine squirted syrup and soda water into a glass after the ice fell from a chute. My favorite flavor was lemon-lime that glowed a toxic green. It was good stuff, all ten ounces of it. Today the routine portion size for soda is twenty ounces. This makes a twelve ounce can feel skimpy even though twelve ounces is also a reasonable portion.

I can't buy a twelve ounce cup of soda at the QuikTrip. I can't even buy a sixteen ounce cup of soda. The smallest fountain glass at the QuikTrip is twenty-two ounces. And there are bigger ones as I mentioned before. No one says: "Hey wait a minute! I can't drink a whole quart of soda!" We are good to ourselves when it comes to indulging, and QuikTrip and AM-PM Minimart are happy to oblige.

OK, let's head for stop number three. Your favorite sub shop. Measure the twelve inch. Measure the six inch. Look at the chips and yes, you can have all the soda you can guzzle. They give you a twenty ounce cup, which yours truely has drained and then refilled as one for the road. Do the math.

There is a single word for the huge portion sizes: gluttony, except that's not true. In most circles (There are probably exceptions somewhere) it is perfectly acceptible to drink a forty-four ounce QuikTrip concoction. If you don't believe me stop number four on our trip is the MARTA bus or the train if you can't stand buses. Look what people eat and drink in public. No one has to hide their forty-four ounce QT cups. Gluttony is a sin, but a forty-four ounce soda is just a big drink.

Some time between 1970 and the present our norms about what is acceptible to eat and drink changed. Norms are not rules. They are more like custom and you are free to defy them, though people think you are weird. If I fill a twenty ounce QuikTrip cup and buy that soda, someone might remark that I am not getting my money's worth. I would be wimpy and dainty because that is: "too much soda." Conversely, imagine a woman from 1970 plunked down abruptly in the QuikTrip. She might exclaim at least to herself: "That's a whole quart of soda! Do they really drink all that at once?"

Habitually eating junk food and fast food, eating more of it, and not moving around are all norms, and our norms are not rational. That's the way we do it, is a pretty poor excuse for anything and it's not a rational reason most of the time. Home made food is fun to make, cheaper to buy if you have your supply chain set up correctly, and healthier, but just as with social network choice (The software is better at MySpace and people still don't leave Facebook) marketers, advertisers, peers etc.... have convinced a lot of people that eating out is more enjoyable, cooking is a horrendous chore, and everyone else eats a lot so why not you. It's a dirty word to say someone is fat. We don't say "fat" in polite company.

Now don't ask me how you change norms without leaving some people feeling like walking dog turds. Usually changing a norm means leaving those who don't make the changes feeling inferior, weird, left out, and strange. This is social pressure. If we changed the norm about soda consumption, the person with the forty-four ounce soda might have to hide it in his/her coat. Perhaps QuikTrip would offer special reinforced bags with handles that let one carefully carry and conceal the oversized drink; for no one would want to be accused of gross, gluttonoy in public. Actually, right now the gluttons are in the majority so it would take something like a movie star or an Olympic athlete to reverse the norm against overconsumption.

One last point, one third of the population is the right weight or skinny. Even with a huge marketing campaign to make us fat, one third of the population manages to escape. What behaviors keep those folks on the straight and narrow. Clearly it has to be more than just will power. Maybe it is something one can teach, but of course, those who follow the prevailing norms must be willing to learn.

By the way here is a way I learned one food norm. It's a personal norm, really a preference. I was on Cornell Dining for a couple of years during early adulthood. The food was great, and every lunch and dinner featured at least one cold, composed salad. I have always liked these. I consider them "happy cafeteria food." I seek out this sort of food when I go out to eat, and when I learned to cook, I learned to make this kind of food. I ate some of it at home, but ate more of it out as a kid. Seeing it served and enjoying it out, told me that this is what people eat when they want to make a good and proper meal. I learned a norm from Cornell Dining. A friend of mine became kosher around the time she was nineteen and went to seminary in Israel. Her husband is frum from birth. Neither of them were exposed to all sorts of interesting side dishes and cold salads. As a result, neither of them crave them or make them. They do not share my norm of "happy cafeteria style food."

Oh well, I don't have to make policy, but one thing is for sure. You don't break norms with rules. Rules can be arbitrary. Rules carry force behind them. Forbidding the sale of soda for food stamps in New York City is an example of trying to change a norm with a rule. It won't work and may be counterproductive. Residents can travel to the suburbs to buy soda for food stamps. Merchants at corner stores can look the other way. Worse yet, if poor people buy soda for cash, there is nothing to stop them from purchasing a recession buster if they have such things in New York City. If they're paying cash, they may as well get more for their money. A two liter bottle of soda, which is frequently cheaper, is a much better alternative to a recession buster. It is resealable and NOT a single serving. If four people share a two liter bottle, they each drink sixteen ounces at one to two sittings. If a poor person buys a recession buster, you can guess what he or she drinks, all at once. The law of unintended consequences works.

So don't ask me how to fix this problem. Renorming hurts because it involves shame. No one likes shame. If I were going to institute rules, I'd make a law that a convenience store has to sell sixteen or twelve ounce cups of drinks or charge for them at a reduced price whether they have the appropriate cup on hand or not. I'd also make sure they advertise that they have smaller sizes available. You really can have less of a good thing. Could less be more?

Eileen H. Kramer -- October 8, 2010

Not Quite Without a Cart

My good grocery cart broke on Sunday and I had to abandon it. I need a new, better cart, but it will be a while before I buy one. All this domestic stuff hanppens more slowly t han I would like. A friend gave me a ride home, and I bought a cauliflower. I had planned to make Veg-All substitute. Veg-All no longer carries a Kosher certification or hecscher on its cans. Home style Veg-All is a canned mixed vegetable I can eat because it contains no corn, and it is comfort food. In her prevegetarian days, my mom put Veg-All in her meatloaves. It's also good in cole slaw. Canned mixed vegetables in cole slaw is the original poverty salad.

I bought potaotes and carrots. I have frozen green peas, and I got fresh lima beans to shuck. I needed something else. Scallions will do the job. You get the idea so far, but there were the cauliflowers. The big ones were down to $1.99. I bought one. I planned to use it only in tomato cauliflower and olive soup with speckeled lima beans (These come frozen.), but this was one big cauliflower. The broken up pieces are in a plastic container in my fridge. They and some carrots will meet the blanch kettle tonight and get combined with the shucked and cooked limas and some roasted red peppers cut into strips. Goodbye Veg-All. Hello gardinera.

Gardinera has a story of its own behind it. It is a product that is unavailable in kosher form, at least here in Atlanta and is easy to make. The problem is obtaining good quality, fresh cauliflower. The frozen product will work in a pinch, especially if one wants more cauliflower, but fresh blanched is really better. Now gardinera which is m arinated cauliflower, carrot, and bean salad with or without peppers, is a strange food. I thought everyone ate it, especially Jews and Italians. Marinated vegetable salads in various forms are just soul food when you think of it, though Jews, Italians, Greeks, and others who eat them debate on the best way to make them, kind of like the dispute between those who make cabbage rolls or stuffed cabbage and those who make glumpkes. Glumpkes are gross while most cabbage rolls are made in Heaven. Go figure is all I can say.

Well, one Shabbos afternoon I was talking about the lack of cauliflower on the kiddush table with a lady who shall go nameless and I mentioned how much I wanted to make gardinera. She did not know what gardinera was. I was shocked and explained it to her. She said she preferred the salad that came in bags. Well, there is no comparison. To me salad in a bag is just lettuce. Even the romaine is feh. One's own is always better, and what is better still are composed salads with no lettuce at all. Lettuce does not keep well in a small household. The bags bring on bacteria. I eat bagged salad at friends homes out of politeness and because it is certainly better than no salad at all, but I prefer to do it right when it is my turn. I told the lady that I did not touch bagged salad with a ten foot pole in my own kitchen. I think I will never be invited to her house again. I just was so sure she was pining away for gardinera or agri-doche or sweet and sour cauliflower or au gratin on dairy night or any one of a number of cauliflower dishes. Live and learn.

Buying fresh lima beans is another cultural lessson. Most of the purchasers of field peas are long time southerners and the butter bean buyers are African American, except for me. This is odd, since any one who keeps Kosher should (operative word here) be on the lookout for pareve delicacies and shelly beans are just that. I will not use them in soup. The African American women who wail in the butter bean bins shell them and then freeze them. If I want frozen lima beans, Publix and Kroger's can always supply me. The South is lima bean heaven. Anyway, only the elite purchase butter beans in the shell. Shucking beans becomes a home ritual and there is an art to getting beans that are full in the pod. I am still an amateur with butter beans. Chick peas and crowder peas, and those super easy zipper cream peas are no brainers compared to lima beans. I can tell if there are mature beans inside each pod, but not how many. The woman who showed me how to feel a pod was an expert. I figure a full pod is good enough for me.

This late in the season the beans shucked easily. A good squeeze opened any mature pod. Less mature pods required nailing. All the pods were nasty with field dirt which got under my fingernails. The beans themselves were remarkably weavil free. They have been cooked and are now in the gardinera. I just have to make corn bread (Yankee style with butter, sugar, and yellow corn meal!) tonight. It will be warm this Shabbos, so I might as well have one more fling at warm weather food.

Eileen H. Kramer -- October 7, 2010