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Fear of Pears and Love of Chickpeas

First, the good news about the chickpeas. Fresh chickpeas are worth their price. They are the food of the gods. They are not overly difficult to shuck. They cook in five to ten minutes and taste both sweet and earthy with a surprisingly smooth texture. They make the dried ones taste old and the canned ones taste...you can guess how they taste. People who have only eaten canned beans don't know how good fresh ones are.

It always amazes me the foods people don't eat. There are the folks who find fresh tomatoes slimey, and those who complain beets taste like dirt. There are those who remind me that lima beans are migraine triggers. I don't get migraines. There are even sad souls repulsed by raisins. Go figure on all of this. I don't have much sympathy. It must be terrible to go through life without waiting for the next bit of good produce to come into season or not trying new fruits and vegetables. It must be dull and sad.

I am thinking a bit differently now since I bought some pears at Farmer's Market. They came from Argentina, but they sang to me. They were red bartletts. They glowed a brilliant scarlet on yellow ground. Bartlett pears are usually quite tastely. They are what pears should taste like. They do not have to be overripe to be good, though one can't eat them as crisp as boscs. Bosc pears are sweeter than bartletts, but bartletts have a fuller flavor.

I like pears. Maybe I love them. I am perfectly content with the fact that pears when ripe don't win beauty contests. A ripe bartlett gets covered with little brown nicks and blemishes. That means if you bring a pear to work and it rides in your purse or backpack, it is not going to look half as good as it did when it came out of the fridge. It just won't. The bruises and nicks mean nothing. I have a friend who does not usually eat pears who routinely performs surgery on any pear I hand him, carefully removing any blemish he finds. I wince when I watch this.

So when I ate a pear on Tuesday night, I did not mind that it had a brown spot on the skin. I bit into it and discovered, it had a soft, rotten core. Blech! I wondered if all my Argentine, red bartletts were as miserably afflicted. I was scaird to bring pears to work and scaird to eat them. I finally, steeled my courage and ate a pear Wednesday night. It tasted fine. It had no problems. I had another pear at lunch today. My score is two good pears, and one bad pear. I am still dreading that half the pears I bought are bad. What is it that people say about one bad apple? I'm still not going to be one of those peopple who "doesn't eat pears."

Eileen H. Kramer -- 4/30/10

Don't Believe Everything You Read

Groceries and food are regional. Say that ten times fast. That means when the Atlantic touts a new and exciting spring delicacy, don't expect it to be at your stores. Out west there is a bumper crop of morel mushrooms. Now, morels don't come cheap, but I figured I'd spend four or five dollars for four ounces worth, cut them up small, and add them to a csserole. Well Whole Foods had morels at $39.99 a pound last week, and Your Dekalb Farmer's Market did not have them at all. So much for The Atlantic.

This week the Atlantic had an article on fresh chickpeas. I knew I had seen them around. They were not cheap, but I could afford the usual bit over a pound. I went off to Farmer's Market expecting not to find them. Suffice it to say, the chick peas in their pods are in the fridge, and I am shucking them tomorrow night. I'll let you all know how they come out.

It is still a while until rhubarb comes down in price if it ever does. Mangoes are sky high. There are no English peas. I guess I am jumping the gun on spring foods. On the other hand, I feel it is almost about time.

Eileen H. Kramer -- 4/25/10

The Cost Out Part I -- The Ten Dollar Smackdown

I promised a cost out, and here it is. There are a variety of ways to do cost outs. All of them prove that it is cheaper to cook and buy food in the supermarket than it is to eat fast food. Fast food is NOT CHEAP..

This cost out is a ten dollar smackdown. You have four people to feed. You have ten dollars. You are not much of a cook. You are pressed for time. Off you go to Kroger's on North Decatur Road. You get lucky in some ways and have a hard time in others. Here is what you buy:

1 jar of Kroger's Peanut and Honey Spread (Yummy stuff) -- $1.89.
1 20oz loaf of 100% whole wheat bread (on sale!) -- $1.99
2 packages of your favorite Kroger's frozen vegetable (This can include the fancy mixes with the mushrooms in them if you like or zucchini. It does not include the private label stuff.) -- $2.50
1 bag of tangerines (Fruit is very expensive. Apples are beyond reach.) -- $3.49

Total cost for all this is: $9.87

And what's better is that there is enough food here for not just one, but two meals. The meals contain enough calories because they include sweetened peanut butter. There is fruit for dessert, and the vegetables are NOT bargain basement. Smack! Smack! Smack!

Of course you can raise a whole pile of objections to my smackdown. You can say people don't like peanut butter. You don't like peanut butter. You find that honey peanut spread is the work of the devil. You probably can tweak the menu and still do a competent smackdown.

A better objection is that nobody buys just one meal of groceries. The smackdown yielded two but if you gave me thirty dollars and said, buy a bunch of meals, I could get you more. If you wanted to cook, you'd have even more variety, and if I could get out to Your DeKalb Farmer's Market for some of this shopping and wasn't tied to that pretty good Kroger's, I could really add some variety to my diet, including less expensive fruit and more variety.

Likewise I have also assumed an empty kitchen. Nobody has an empty kitchen. Chances are there is oil, butter, or even mayonaise, some season salt etc... lying around. You get the idea.

Now all of these objections are fine. The fact is that cost outs usually prove their point in that supermarket food is affordable and healthy food is not particularly expensive.

The other fact is that cost outs are bullshit. Here is why. First, to buy a thrifty bag of nutritious food, you have to alter you supply chain. The fruit in the convenience store is expensive and gross. The fruit at Kroger's is OK. The fruit at the DeKalb Farmer's Market is fantastic. All of these sites are within walking distance or served by public transportation so any one with a cart or large pack can buy there, but your pack and cart are going to weigh a lot. Nutritious food is heavy and bulky. It is astounding how many pounds of this stuff a family of four would eat. I know how much one person eats. If everyone hits the fruit bowl regularly two or three times a day, you are going to need case quanitities to keep a family of four in fruit for a week.

Once you start cooking, you are going to need a kitchen to process all these fresh goodies. The fruit bowl is part of that. It lives in your fridge on a shelf, not in the crisper. It comes out for company. Hey was that easy? You need kettles for blanching and stew pots for sauteeing and not leaving your stove a total mess. You need a big cutting board (also a kneeding board) and a big salad bowl, grater(s), peeler(s), paring knives, plastic storage containers, which also double as bean soakers. You cook late at night. Have your boom box ready to go with CD's or talk radio for company. Most stuff tastes better if it stands.

All that aside, cost outs are also bullshit for another reason. Most adults have their autonomy under attack. Rational adults are not supposed to admit this. After all it is the children who are vulnerable to obesity. The adults are beyond hope or help. Uh... who gives the kids their pocket money and takes them out to eat? This is especially true in the world of current economic hard times when fewer teens have jobs. Who brings the junk into the house and pays for it? Take a walk around a typical shopping district and see all the signs for restaurants and ready made foods. The barrage is endless. The poor adults are being hammered. Television tells them it's a chore to cook. Magazines tell them fresh food is expensive. Similar publications tell them to eat local and organic, which does up the price. Adults have a lot of lies to which to stand up. Adults need an education.

Finally, even nice, sane adults are not entirely rational. Given the hammering of advertising and media messages that rains down on them, and given that they don't know any one who is an ardent scratch cook or who buys thrifty, nutrtitious fare, all the cost outs in the world are bull shit. People aren't rationally driven by price. If they were, the fast food places would find themselves selling mainly sodas and little else. Soda at a dollar something, is a quick, impulse snack. A three dollar meal made from dollar menu items is a bit steep considering that one can almost buy enough materials for multiple sandwiches for that money.

Eileen H. Kramer -- 4/15/10

Almost Ready to Go

Nothing much is here yet, but the proverbial test post.

Eileen H. Kramer -- 4/14/10