Monday, March 30, 2009

Routine Lentils

It is a well established fact that I love soup. I write about it pretty often, it made my last meal list, and I really, really love my Williams-Sonoma soup book. I think one of the reasons I love soup so much is the routine. Not only does it insinuate itself deeply into a daily routine, it has a lovely routine all its own.

Almost every soup I've made starts with 1 onion, finely chopped; 1 carrot, peeled and thinly sliced; 1 stalk of celery, thinly sliced. Now I know that these are aromatics and that they play an important role in the soups. But there is a difference between what I know and what I love (sometimes). And I love the familiar routine of starting a soup. They start the same--the same steps, the same ingredients--and they turn into things so deliciously different.

I made a lentil soup that was a really pleasant surprise--also a surprise that lasted for abour 4 or 5 days (I ate a lot of soup last week). It had curry powder, lemon slices, and spinach--ingredients that all really brightened the flavor. It was a hearty soup that didn't feel too hearty. I was full and satisfied after a bowl of it, but I didn't feel the drdgery that goes along with so many hearty and healhty dishes (I get this feeling when eating oatmeal. Its good but so often, what a bore!). It was a delight, not a duty, to spoon up those lentils.

(In other more prosaic news, I recently acquired a camera. So i hope that soon Cheese or Death will come with pictures!!!)

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Eating Well; Within My Means

If I had a philosophy about food—which I’m not sure that I do—it would be that I aim to eat well, within my means. This means that I endeavor not to spend an entire week eating pizza and French fries, as that would neither be eating well or within my means. On the other hand, it means that I try to give my custom to the farmer’s markets because they have better produce and are nicer to my wallet. It also means that I’m not above splurging on a meal eaten out, or perhaps just picking up one of Fu Wah’s excellent Italian hoagies for dinner instead of cooking—eating well is not always synonymous with cooking for oneself.

Sometimes I get a little wrapped up in the mechanics of “eating well.” I stress out over how many fruits and vegetables I’m eating and what they are—are they in season? Locally produced? Am I eating enough protein? Too many carbs? Am I eating healthfully? Am I paying attention to my food or just treating it mechanically as just another part of my day? Whew. You can tell, that can get a little overwhelming and exhausting at times. Anyway, there are always the times, like last Saturday, in which eating healthily is just not the same as eating well—or eating good, as is said where I come from.

I have been walking past the Breadline Genuine Bread and Specialty Shop, in-between 45th and 46th on Springfield since I moved into my current apartment. So, about 6 months. And I never stopped, though I wondered what went on behind the steamy windows. On Saturday, I stopped. On Saturday, I found out.

I went in after a ramble around West Philadelphia with my roommate. We just stopped in because I wanted to see if it was a bakery or not; I was also following the barbecue smell hanging in the air to its source. I found a beautiful, magical of baked goods, cute décor, heart-throbbingly good home cookin’. The business was started by Doris Truluck and later joined by her daughter, Barbara Abe. In addition to rolls, cinnamon buns with real caramel on them (!!), cheese filled parker house rolls (!!!), French custard toast, pie, and other delectables, they also have a daily menu. You can choose from the assorted offerings, and about 20 minutes later you have a hot, home-cooked meal in your hands that only cost $6.50.

The meal options change from day to day. Each day of the week has a theme—I’m especially taken with Fish Friday, despite the fact that I don’t eat fish. They print a menu every month to let you know what’ll be happening when. I urge you to pick one up. This place is just too good to pass up!

I chose the fried chicken and my roommate chose barbecue ribs. As we sat down with the Styrofoam containers at the kitchen table, the only sounds were chewing and moans of culinary delight. That fried chicken was, hands down, the best I’ve EVER had—the outside was crispy and the inside was positively running with moisture. The mac’n’cheese was also sigh worthy—though, in the end, too rich for me to finish. The other side was my favorite—a tomato salad, with tomato slices, sweet red peppers (something like peppadews), and sweet onions in vinegar and oil and probably with a hefty dose of sugar thrown in. It was like being transported back to a picnic with each bite. I wished desperately for some sweet tea.

Breadline Genuine Bread and Specialty Shop
4529 Springfield Avenue
Tues-Fri 9-7
Sat 9-6

Monday, March 9, 2009


The first real strains of spring are being heard in Philadelphia right now. It is…marvelous. The air is warmer, the ground feels pleasant and, most of all, everyone looks as if they know what’s happening. I saw frolicing dogs, frolicing children, and more than a few summer dresses. That’s right—life is being breathed back into the air. It does hurt to inhale the sharp, cold air. I was even terribly lucky, this weekend, and got to smell spring (no small feat in a big city).

So what have I been eating? Oh, winter greens, of course.

I must have eaten almost a pound of kale last week. I just really love it. The first night I ate it, I braised it into submission. I’m not sure what I like more about braised kale: the way it soaks in the flavors of the garlic and the chicken broth or the way it makes my kitchen smell. Probably the former—it’s just so delicious! I served it, topped with a fried egg, alongside a serving of one of my favorite Trader Joe’s products, the Harvest Grain Blend. This blend has Israeli couscous, orzo, red quinoa, and baby garbanzos. I love the contrasting textures, especially the softness of the couscous against the baby garbanzo beans. I usually cook it in chicken broth, not water, for the added taste.

The next night, I just sautéed the kale with oil and garlic, exactly as my father has done numerous times before. I ate so much of it. I would have finished off the entire pan, had I not turned to discover my kitten standing half in, half out of the leftover kale. (He’s getting a little out of hand, don’t you think?)

As I said, I really, really love kale. But I don’t think I’ll be terribly sad to see its season recede (along with all those beautiful parsnips, apples, and Brussels sprouts!) into spring produce. The tang is in the air. I can smell it.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Winter Fare

Ah, it is the 2nd of March. And the Philadelphia area is getting slammed with snow. How foolish. I'm ready for spring (though, perhaps this is good practice for me, considering that I am contemplating a move to northern climes).

But maybe the snow is also a good thing--because it affords me more chance to consume roast sausages.

Now, I really hate the word sausage. I think it sounds strange--not at all something that I would like to eat. But I do love it. I adore sausages in most of their forms--right down to that stalwart staple of my daily breakfast, the veggie sausage.

But in its roasted form, sausage assuaged deep, deep cravings that I'd been having. All winter, I've been wanting hearty, rich foods--stews, beef dishes, things that stick to your ribs and warm you from the inside out. I mostly tried to assuage this desire with pizza and soups, but I knew that I could something else when I two small but beautiful parsnips called my name at the farm market last weekend. Sliced, joined by potatos, organic onion, and a gorgeous organic carrot, I roasted them in the oven until they were tender and their outsides were approaching crispy. In a separate dish, I placed 2 browned spicy italian sausages in olive oil and slid them into the oven.

I can't really describe why I like roasted sausages so much. They taste the same. But somehow they seemed heartier, more wholesome. Delicious, when accompanied by roasted vegetables. I even made a kind of a lunch casserole for the next day, slicing up the remaining sausage and mixing it with the leftover veggies and scattering a layer of parmesan and mozzerella cheese on top.

True. Winter. Fare.