episode 65 :: ghost in the machine

This annual Halloween episode of My Life as a Foodie has been possessed by a demon by the name of Pazuzu, and is now under his control. As is the tradition every year around this time, there is a contest involved. But knowing exactly what you’re looking for may prove more difficult than before, due to Pazuzu’s decision to cleverly scramble a few things.

Listen carefully, pay attention to the details, and good luck. The winner will receive a DVD copy of “Skin Walkers” courtesy of Lionsgate Films, as well as your own pet Ghost that you can grow yourself. Details of the contest are contained in the episode. Best of luck.


Listen to episode 65

In this episode (in no particular order, thanks to Pazuzu):
• Paula Deen’s Widowmaker sandwich seems to have influenced some people in the Midwest
• She’s back for more – Paula Deen in “The Comedyville Horror”
• May I interest you in some turkey nuts?
• Walmart gearing up to sell local produce from small farmers
• Ghost Hunters – real, or complete wackos?
• Could there really be a ghost following me?
• Stone’s Vertical Epic 10.10.10
• So, Cat Cora’s been a lesbian all this time? That’s a secret ingredient I can get into.

Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter, and become a fan of the show on Facebook.

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Wal Mart

You might think it’s a sign of Armaggedon when the Walmart logo appears on this web site, but you’ll understand in a minute.

It’s rare when I get a chance to show off a guest blogger, but even more rare when the guest blogger wants to stay anonymous. When this person sent this to me, I couldn’t resist sharing it. Even though the person wishes to stay anonymous, it’s definitely one of the better pieces I’ve read in a while, and I’m proud to share it with you.

The subject matter is timely, as we’ll be discussing this story in our next episode (the annual Halloween edition – in production right now).

Wal-Mart
by Anonymous

Wal-Mart. The name alone causes the localvores and supporters of small business shutter. They’re too big, they’re too cheap. They drive small business out of business. They pay too little and apparently treat their employees too poorly. The negatives are great. Truth be told, one of my first jobs in high school was working at Wal Mart in Southern Oregon, in the Shoe Department. It was a crappy job, but in high school there isn’t really a lot of better options. After leaving Wal-Mart for college I think I can safely say I shadowed their doorstep about a dozen times in fifteen years (I used to love buying my fishing license there, don’t ask).

Then a couple years back they started making small changes. I’d read in the news that they were to start buying / selling local produce, a move I was notably conflicted about. See, I love shopping at the local (hip) grocers like Trader Joes, Whole Foods and Raley’s / Bel Air here in Sacramento. These stores, for whatever reason, are ‘nicer’ than discount grocers. Right? I mean, the aisles are wider, the prices aren’t that expensive and the food is fresher. Right? Well, maybe not.

Fact is Trader Joes buys in bulk from national brands and rebrands the product under their own name, or they contract with producers to make products especially for them. The veggies and fruits? Well, turns out they’re not as local as I wish they were (especially here in NorCal). Whole Foods, for all their great organic and healthy options, does a better job at supporting local business, but the bulk of what they carry seems to be common and pricy. Other local chains are equally expensive, but really offer little for the extra money spent. Sure, there are specialty items in all of these stores that are truly better than you’ll find in discount chains, but for the average family that is short on time and cash, 95% of the items found at any of these stores are the same as items found elsewhere, for cheaper.

All this brings us back to Wal-Mart, literally. Recently I’ve made some life changes that have seen much of my disposable income less disposable. I’ve had to make significant changes in the way I live, but believed firmly that I could still eat the way I’d grown accustom to these last five years or so. It was with a great deal of hesitation that I made my way to the Wal-Mart nearby and grabbed a shopping cart – I had never used a shopping cart before at Wal-Mart, this act alone was a big step. I started in the bath area, picking up the necessary toiletries, then moved on to the grocery part of the store. I was surprised to see some organic eggs, local milk and a hefty frozen veggie section with a lot of organic options. The bulk of what I buy is likely the same as the bulk of what you buy: bread; cheese; milk; eggs; chicken; beef; Cheez-Its; Flour; Sugar; Spices; Canned chiles; Produce. I was a bit dismayed, actually, that I found everything I was looking for. I mean, I’d come to buy food for the week and had a dinner menu that consisted of chile rellenos; braised chicken and leeks; roasted whole chicken; soup and even the buffalo wings recipe from Dude Food. I found everything – and I mean everything – I needed for the week, right here at Wal-Mart. And the price? Shocking.

I’m cooking for a family of four (two adults, two teenage boys). The grocery & toiletry (and pet) bill for the week? $175. Take away the non-food items (roughly $40) and that equals $1.88 per plate for 72 meals (3 meals per day; four plates per meal; six days worth). Now, this is without any discount coupons or real effort to compare prices – I mainly shopped for the brands I knew.

Here’s a couple caveats to consider. First, while the produce is mostly procured regionally, the meat is not. This bothers me a bit, as in an ideal world I would support more local ranchers, but given the point of the exercise is to cook as much good food at home for as little money as possible, local meat just isn’t an option at this time. Also, there just aren’t any local bread options here – or locally roasted coffee. Granted, if you have the time and ability, they do have all the ingredients needed to make your own bread at home, and you can always roast you coffee at home for about $6 per pound.

Would I rather shop at the local Co Op or specialty market? Yes, yes I would. But like so many families in America today, the bottom line really needs to be the bottom line. Until our own personal economy changes, the luxury of buying from local producers and independently owned grocers just isn’t going to be a reality. I know, just by listening to NPR and seeing the news, that my story isn’t unique. I find myself in a situation where I have more time than money and am making the choices to feed a family the best meals possible for as little money as possible. With that in mind, I applaud the moves Wal-Mart has made in the past couple years. I still dislike so many things about them and won’t buy non-grocery store items here when possible, but on this alone they are providing options for families that are healthy and affordable. Really, there is no longer any excuse for a family to eat unhealthy anymore – no reason except laziness and a lack of curiosity to learn to make good food at home. It’s easy, it can be a learning and bonding experience for the whole family and you might just add a few precious years to yours and your kids’ lives.

I guess that’s the point of this story. We as a country need to eat ‘better’ – not more. We need to eat meals together. We need to create something at home that bonds us, not just allow each member to float on his or her own island. Cooking at home, eating at home is the best way I know how.

Other Tidbits . . .

Soda
I hate soda. Well, I hate the abuse of soda in our homes. If your family goes through a lot of soda or root beer, do you know you can make your own at home for dirt cheap? Engage with your teens and get them to help make root beer from extracts. You can control how much sugar you add (or even the use of sugar substitutes) and the end product is enjoyable and fun for everyone. You can typically make five gallons of root beer for under $15 – roughly $0.28 per 12-ounce bottle. For more information, just look to your local homebrew store (for home beer & wine making).

Chicken Stock
I cannot believe how many people I know that love roasted chicken, love chicken stock, but for some reason can’t figure out how to make chicken stock for free at home. Sure, it’s only “a couple bucks” for chicken stock off the shelf, but that’s still a couple bucks! Here’s a tip. Next time you buy a whole chicken to roast at home (olive oil, salt, pepper, 400 degree oven, 1 hour – done), take out the neck (tip: buy whole chicken with the giblets inside) and add it to a small pot of water, then boil for about an hour. There you go, you now have your very own chicken stock – perfect for soup, gravy and stews.

Chickpeas

Last month, in the midst of my suspicions that many of the farmers selling produce at our local farmers market were not actually growing a lot of the produce they were selling, I had a pleasant discovery. Gonzaga Farms from Lindsay, new to the market, brought a handful of items that we had not seen available at the market since we started shopping there. Among the various pepper varieties (some hot and some not) were massive bushels full of pods, looking very similar to snap peas.

Katrina immediately pointed to the sign above the plants. “Chickpeas” it said. We looked at each other in silence for a second before she asked “Should we?” I gave her my customary look for “Fuggetaboutit” and away we went with two large bushels for $5. I gave the purveyor my card and asked him some customary questions about his farm – as I’ve been doing to every new farmer I meet there. But unlike most farmers I’ve asked at that market,, this guy seemed real, believable, truthful in the greatest sense of the word. I trusted that he grew these. And a quick Google search when I returned home proved the farm’s legitimacy.

Also known as a garbanzo bean or indian pea (among other names), the chickpea is very high in protein, and is said to have roots dating back 7500 years. Having only eaten garbanzo beans dried or rehydrated all these years, we were excited to finally find them fresh. We were excited to open one of the pods and taste what was inside.

Wait a minute. They’re green? Who knew? So we tasted a couple, and they were pretty fantastic. It tasted like a freshly picked green pea – just firmer, nuttier, and pastier. But it’s not what I was expecting. I’d only ever had white garbanzo beans. Were these too young to eat? Why aren’t these white?

An education was in order, and an education is just what I received when I returned home. As it turns out, chickpeas come in various varieties. There are white chickpeas, which we’ve been used to eating, and green chickpeas. The flavor of these green chickpeas were a lot closer to a fresh sugar snap pea than that of the white garbanzo we’ve been making hummus with for years.

However, the question still remained. Why do they call them chickpeas?

Now it makes complete sense.

A text to my friend Chef Nathan Lyon, host of “Growing a Greener World” and “A Lyon in the Kitchen” was in order. Of all of the people I know, no one can bring out the best from fresh produce. I had no idea how to prepare these, and I certainly didn’t want to do the wrong thing and ruin them, especially considering the amount of work it took to shuck these things from their pods.

The texts went something like this:

[me] Nathan, I just scored some fresh chickpeas from the Farmers Market. Not sure what to do with them. Green hummus? Should I dry them first?

[nathan] Dude.

[me] Thanks. Appreciate your help.

[nathan] Fresh in a salad, or lightly cooked. Treat them like fresh peas.

So that’s exactly what I did. Lightly poached in a tablespoon of unsalted butter over low heat, these green protein-rich nuggets made good company for grilled pork chops and roasted beets one night, and alongside roast chicken and potatoes another.

While restoring my faith in our Farmers Market, it helped write another chapter in my life as a foodie. I try to make every day a learning experience when it comes to food. I make it a personal goal to try to taste new things, learn more about food each day. Experiences like these are enriching, and takes me further away from the processed, artificial food items being manufactured and eaten by Americans more and more each day.

Why are destinations like Applebee’s, Chili’s, and The Olive Garden more popular than fresh food stands?

It makes me feel sorry for those people not able or willing to experience food like the fresh chickpea. This is a food item that has been around 7500 years, and not until now am I getting around to experiencing it fresh from the plant.

It makes me wonder what’s around the corner, what’s next. It’s that anticipation that gives me hope, keeps bringing me back, and confirms that I’m doing the right thing by devoting my life to food.