HOPE-HOWSE (http://www.hope-howse.org) joined with the Laughter Yoga movement and the Levity Project during the Annual Laughter Yoga International conference 2010 in Albuquerque, NM.
"Food deserts," heard of them? Places where the only groceries available are chips, soda and corn dogs from a convenience store.
Earlier this summer Michelle Obama announced an initiative with major food chains to create more supermarkets for exceedingly under-served neighborhoods. The chains promised 500 such stores.
Now actor Wendell Pierce of the HBO show, Treme, has committed to opening four such stores in hard-hit neighborhoods of his native New Orleans. According to the WaPo, " Grocers have historically been reluctant to open locations in poor neighborhoods, citing problems with crime and transportation. "
The stores are set to open this spring under the name Sterling Farms. Apparently, “the New Orleans Sterling Farms will have a uniquely Big Easy feel— monthly crawfish boils for the neighbors.”
Nobody asked, but I am wondering why Target is trying to become Walmart, and failing. Target once was the place for innovative houseware design, decently styled clothes at lower prices, but little schlock. And few groceries beyond some cleaning products maybe, and dog treats, and soft drinks.
Now, as I am in Sportswear fingering an all-cotton hoodie with a terrific zipper, in the distance I see masses of bananas. And all the rest. And in the mail, I receive a thick promo booklet with a coupon on top enticing me with the exciting option of buying one Tostitos Chips and getting one free! Oh boy!
The copy reads: "Psst. There's a grocery store in your Target."
Psst, Target? Hallooo? You're disorienting/annoying this former customer, and ruining your brand.
Flitting from the magnificent and exuberant wound down St Petersburg Saturday Market, Florida, to the just gearing up for the season Corrales Growers Market in NM, one observes, alas, what a relative absence of water can achieve. The chard from St Pete was tall and plump, the chard in NM, modest. Both delicious, but...
This is not Chateaubriand, friends!
Gently start to sautee at least 3 cloves of garlic, crushed and chopped, in a decent olive oil.
Slice up the washed chard, even some of the stems--they are edible, but maybe not to everyone's liking, texturally speaking.
Toss them in. Move them about with tongs. (The moisture from the washing should be enough, but you can always toss in some wine, too. Never hurts.) Add ground black pepper, a tad of salt. Cover, briefly.
The chard takes somewhat longer than spinach, which quickly goes limp. But not tooooo much longer.
Eat--or---if you want to, blend in a generous dollop of cream or 1/2 and 1/2 first.
Then eat. Enjoy.
At the Saturday Market this morning I went nuts---2 giant gatherings of rainbow chard; 2 quarts strawberries; 2 quarts beans; 1 quart mixed squash; 2 heads lettuce; 1 quart Japanese eggplant; tomatoes; pink potatoes; Chioggia beets; Italian parsley....I could barely stagger with it all back to the car....then shot to Mastry's Fish place, hoping for porgie, a delicious white fish I just ate for the first time last week.
"No porgie today, but have you had triggerfish? You will love it," said the woman who sold me the porgie. "We'll ring it up here and you just give the guy who cleans it $2." The triggerfish looks like a large, flat tropical fish to me. ( Duh.)
Having paid for a pound of stone crab, and the triggerfish, I headed out to the shed, the heron and egret hanging out in the parking lot keeping keen eyes on the proceedings. A young guy ahead of me is waiting for his mango snapper to be cleaned. "This is the finest fish you can get here," he says. "Absolutely delicious. But of course everything is so fresh at Mastry's there's almost nothing that isn't good."
Mango snapper next time. And more porgie. And whatever else they suggest. I am putty in their fishy hands.
ps A fish caught in the morning and eaten in the evening, possible where we are spending several months of the year in St Petersburg, Florida, is unlike any other. Maybe this is utterly obvious. The chard, grown with ample water, is twice as large as the chard I can buy in Albuquerque. Obvious.
Albuquerque and St Pete: two unique, interesting places, each with great food. Grand.
Mastry's Seafood and Tackle in St Petersburg, since 1975. Inside, huge coolers with fillets, whole fish, and pink Gulf shrimp. If you buy 10 pounds, the mullet is only $1.19 a pound, baby!
We bought a dozen pink Gulf shrimp, cooked up some short grain rice with garlic, onion, green onion, red pepper, parsley, yellow tomatoes, veg broth, water and white wine, boiled the shrimp lickety split, and indulged. For greens? Baby bok choy. Plus, a decent rose wine!
The St Pete Saturday Morning Market was hopping today, with spicy red lentils from the Ethiopian stand. The Market features food eateries more than vendors of fresh veg and products to take home, but no one is complaining. (This topsy turvey growing season takes some getting used to--as St Pete winds down, our home growers market in New Mexico is just one month old.)
The live music today right before Fat Tuesday? Zydeco. Wiki tells us the term is a corruption of the French les haricots, the beans. Everything is food, right?
One small CSA stand sets up here for its customers, and sells extra lettuces to the crowd. But the bulk of the organic veggies and fruits are sold by Worden Farm, based in Punta Gorda, FL, an 85 acre operation, also a CSA, that may be one of the few farms anywhere owned and run by PhD's, the Wordens. The good doctors' expertise is in Crop Science and Ecosystem Management.
Open from October through the end of May, the Market may be unique in that it closes one Saturday in March each season for the running of a major road race, the Honda Grand Prix of St Pete. ( IndyCar series? Ask me about chard, please.) Powerful automobiles roar around the actual streets of St Pete, much as in Monaco only flatter, generating noise and depleting the world's oil reservoirs. Presumably the drivers, the crews and visitors eat and drink nicely between spins, while the rest of us gloomily wander supermarket aisles searching for greens we can relate to.
Brothers Theo and Karl Albrecht were/are two wealthy gentlemen of Germany. Their Aldi chain of thousands of discount food stores derives from a small shop in Essen, Germany, started in 1913 by their mother. Theo bought Trader "Be-Still-My-Heart" Joe's a few years back, then died. TJ is evidently owned by a trust set up by the family. Karl retired, as the richest man in Germany.
Their legacy in St Petersburg, FL: the droopiest, least inspiring place to buy food ever. Having taken a wrong turn today, I pulled into Aldi, remembering its link to my beloved Trader Joe's, and thinking maybe the store might have a large, reasonably priced wine section. Delighted to see a familiar European shopping cart/trolley system outside---you put in a coin to get a cart, get the $ back when you pop the cart back into its harness--I was hopeful of bounty within. ( Of course a Euro is worth more than the mere US quarter, used here, about $1.40, so clearly the cart-return incentive is not the same.)
O woe! The empty, aesthetically-challenged aisles of Aldi stretch as far as does the shopper's dollar here, evidently. ( I know, these are troubled times, but... sheesh.) The booze section was a tad longer than a metre, and half as high.The store was peopled with a handful of elders, none expressing the festive glee common to shoppers at you-know-where.
I gambled on a Spanish Red and a NZ Sauvignon Blanc at TJ prices, and trundled on, grabbing up TP, a decent looking Jalapeno Havarti, and no organic anything. But hey--cheap! And then I espied an extremely large vat of iceberg lettuces. A grim-looking customer was pondering the iceberg. She turned and appeared to frown at the meager contents of my cart, or was it the hootch?
Lost in revery over the ancient days of iceberg lettuce with Thousand Island Dressing, I checked out, retrieved my $.25, and fled, all Aldi-interest out of my system.
ps My son called to relate he had just sampled a delectable, oozing, cheesy, sweet-potato gnocchi at TJ's, new product. Waah! ( There are no Trader Joe's stores in Florida.)
NB I know already, I too am an elder!!
Back in New Mexico, I rarely hit a traditional ordinary supermarket. A quick pickup of toilet paper or tissues, maybe, or to snag a bottle of wine when my cache of Trader Joe's vino is empty, but...Here in Florida, I buy decent bread and fizzy water in one, and some minimal organic veggies, wine, and eggs, in another. The "health" stores are pricey, though I get apples and chard there, there is no Trader Joe's, the local stands rarely have organic, and....sigh.
The fish market in Gulfport, on the other hand, is reasonable and superlative. (See fishy post from Feb.1) Mazzaro's Italian Market in St Pete is fab! ( See post Feb 5.) And, we have IKEA a few miles away in Tampa.....just sayin'.
But as I wander the vast aisles of a supermarket, in search of unsweetened apple sauce, I marvel at the crap that people, some people, must buy. Acres of cereals, candies, and cookies. Canned string beans! The often lamented ( by me) multiple rows of sodas, the freezers filled with icky prepared meals. The bakery still turning out products loaded with partially hydrogenated oils. The fake butters, the diet foods, the tabloids and crappy chemical-laden gum at the checkout....AAAAGGGHHhhhhhhh! ( OK, there are still some dry pastas I might buy...)
ps Cute piece in WaPo today on people who have, or try to get dates at Wegman's, an unusual supermarket, extremely-people oriented, featuring multiple in-store cafes, in NY, NJ, PA, Virginia and Maryland. Wegman's is exceptional. ( See photo, folks!)
Mazzaro's in St Petersburg, FL, is so beyond description, or comparison with other entities--even in Italy--that we give up. I can tell you that select tour buses stop there. And that people drive hours from other parts of Florida to shop/eat/hang there. Their employees are loyal, and calm, and cheerful, even when customers are dithering over which biscotti to buy, or how much fresh pasta to haul home.Pear and gorgonzola pockets? Yes! A pound.
The crunchy, perfect, crispy panini sell out early in the day, and the coffee is roasted in front of your eyes. This celebratory, sprawling place, that is part deli, part bakery, part coffee bar, part cheesery and winery, part lunch joint, started out doing coffee roasting, and things just grew from there. Founded by wayward Pennsylvanians with major loyalty to Pittsburgh, Mazzaro's is where you jockey for parking, and then wait contentedly for your chicken parmesan sandwich, knowing both will work out beautifully.
Owner Kurt Cucarro's blog supplied these stats re Mazzaro 2010:
Sometimes a quest becomes damned depressing. This is the time of year when the lovely people at Ben and Jerry's come out with a pumpkinny ice cream---this time it's Pumpkin Cheesecake. Now I had spotted this at a local market but was not heading right home and didn't want either to slurp it all down, or to have it melt before I could even try it.
So later I stopped in at Smith's supermarket, having failed to find any at Trader Joe's, where the dim bulb manager seemed amazed that I even knew of this seasonal flavor, and wondered why the store didn't have it--the same store that was shoving Halloween down our throats in August, and pushing Thanksgiving and Christmas simultaneously as of November 1st.
Walgreen's was next--I knew they carried a few B&J items but no, said the manager, that's all decided at corporate and in truth all 7000 stores do not really have room to carry more than a few basic popular flavors. "You have a huge aisle always overflowing with seasonal, um, items," I said, but that does not extend to ice cream? "
"No--you see if they don't sell, then we have to pay for them and throw them out."
"What? What about donating them to the local food bank?" I asked.
"That's not possible. Management thinks the employees will steal the food, you see--or that they will deliberately damage things so as to make them unsaleable."
Temporarily silenced, I stood there while he pointed to a couple of security cameras. "See those?"
"70 percent of the cameras in the store are intended to watch the employees. And that's true in all the big supermarkets as well."
Lord. Makes you want to pour hot fudge over the pumpkin ice cream, if you ever find it, that is.
If you delight in letters--remember them?-- as well as food, American history, and familial fondness, read this book. It's called Slick as a Mitten, by Dennis M. Larsen, it's published by Washington State University Press , and it's about a character named Ezra Meeker.
The book, rich with old photos, is based on Meeker's letters, mostly to his wife, Eliza Jane. She and Ezra came west on
Unimaginable in this era of Bank of America et al? The mid to late 1890's were a time of bank closings and financial downturn in the US.
Once gold was discovered in the Klondike area in 1897, the race was on. But, unsurprisingly, so many masses of people arriving in an inhospitable area did not find enough to eat. People suggested that there was more money to be made in supplying miners than in engaging in mining itself. "There are no fresh vegetables of any kind here," said one.
Meeker took note of this and decided to supply both fresh and dried veg, as well as reconstitutable eggs to the populations springing up in Yukon tent cities. He specialized in granulated and sliced potatoes, dried cabbage, squash, sweet potatoes, turnips, pop corn, and fresh oysters from the east, hauling everything first by steamer, then along icy trails with "teamsters," and floating produce down the Yukon River.
He was 67 when he started. In three years he had made possible the movement of almost 100 tons of food. And throughout those years, he wrote regularly to Wife, back home in Washington, signing himself Husband. It was Eliza Jane who supervised the dehydration of the eggs, and the preparation and packing of the veggies.
As for the phrase slick as a mitten, Ezra lost his assets that way, he said, swiftly. I picture a thick leather mitten, coated with ice.
ps Meeker planned the town of Puyallup, and named it. The name honored the native people there, known as the "generous people," but whether their generosity extended to the deeding of their lands to white settlers for hop growing I do not know. ..
In a small local store here that specializes in healthy meats, and assorted groceries, I spent way too much time this morning reading a few marinade labels. I was waiting for the three pounds of chicken wings I had ordered for my dog. ( Yes, she eats them raw. No, not quite every day.)
First, I checked the sodium content. I love salty things, but sometimes these products, along with salad dressings, just taste like salt, period. Next, I pondered xanthan gum. It's in many products of this sort, but...
Now, back home, if the Wiki contributor is correct I know that xanthan gum is created when a bacterium ferments sucrose or glucose. How the happy little bacterium does this, I do not know, and why the result helps stabilize sauces and dressings......well.
The marinades contained actual ingredients, too---like garlic, lemon, chiles, sesame oil, ginger, and such. I put them all back. Not so much because of the "gum," but because I realized how silly it was to buy a product containing it, when I can zip together a marinade myself. Of course. I do it. Yes, we can.
And I have bought this kind of thing in the past and hated it on the first taste, thus wasting $5. In these troubled economic times, who needs that?
Annoyingly, however, I discover have no fresh ginger on hand. My marinading as well as my marinating will have to wait a day or two.
Eavesdropping on an informal gaggle of what appeared to be Trader Joe's' top bananas chatting hard against the coffee wall, I heard that they had just come from a meeting with "corporate." ( A second Albuquerque TJ's is opening any minute.)
So I stepped up and said, "Excuse me, but what about Florida?"
A big guy in a Hawaiian shirt replied--"Funny you should ask. FL was top of the list, but now it's a no go. That state has the most foreclosures, the first decline in population in decades, and high unemployment."
"But wouldn't that make space less expensive? And more people looking for the well-priced? offerings TJ specializes in? "
"That's what I thought," he said. "But corporate doesn't think it's a good bet."
Meanwhile, the WaPost reports that supermarkets in the DC Metro area are cutting prices, or rather as the writers hyperbolically put it more than once, prices are "plunging." On things like Folger's coffee and detergent. Stores who had upgraded with sushi and exotic cheeses to entice higher end consumers now are cutting the heck out of t. paper prices.
I, for one, am more likely to eschew sushi than t. paper in these troubled economic times.