The Best Time of Year: “Heavily Salt the Butter” and other Street-Food-Fest Anecdotes

Every year around this time, I wish I were back in Minnesota. You see, it’s State Fair season, that time of year when typically moderate eaters incrementally ramp up their consumption in anticipation of the Big Day, on which a person is expected to horq snack foods in incomparable quantities.

Fortunately, I’ve found the San Francisco analogue to the great Midwestern snacktogether. For the past three years — since the fest’s inception — I’ve attended the San Francisco Street Food Festival. It’s come a long way since ’09; what then was a huddle of booths has become a sprawling, kimchi-rich gathering. Some estimates place this weekend’s attendance at 80,000.

This year, I invited my friend John to join in the narfing revelry. John, who operates NewTree Cafe, shares kitchen space with a gaggle of food-truck owners, and he knew the gents who gave us watermelon agua frescas and lamb tacos garnished with neon carrot shreds. The tacos were solid, but man: that agua fresca. Not too sweet and with a surprise of muddled mint buried beneath the ice, it was the beverage of my dreams. I’d drink agua fresca every morning, if I could.


Unsurprisingly, these two are the only photos I took all day: ooops! I fell victim to my own laziness and the lack of napkins (didn’t want to get pork belly all over my phone, yo), but don’t be alarmed: most of the comestibles we enjoyed were quite photogenic.

Take, for example, Three Twins’ ice cream sandwich: a thick disc of lemon-cookie ice cream bookended between two ginger wafers, each of which glittered with granulated sugar (or, as Truman Capote wrote about a very different situation, “twinkled like Christmas-tree snow”). Gorgeous, without a doubt, but I was so focused on eating that I failed to make a pictorial representation.

Other dishes weren’t as top-notch. Love & Hummus’ falafel wrap was so-so — the falafel was dry, and the affair had too much bread (harsh words coming from this carb fiend). The ribs we had, origin unknown, were strikingly bland, offering only the faintest back-of-throat heat. If I’m going to eat exceedingly fatty meat from a bone, I want that meat to taste like something.

Then there were the foods both delicious and unphotogenic; I’m thinking here of the Scotch egg, with its deep yellow runny yolk, its encasement of spicy sausage. Tasty, natch, but not so easy on the eyes.

My favorite dish of the day, however, was home-cooked. Late in the afternoon, needing respite from the sun and the hungry hordes, John and I retired to my apartment to drink PBRs in the cool of the living room. Our discussion of the proper way to make scrambled eggs prompted John to prepare some, stuffed though we were. Heating a pan, John added a slab of butter* and salted it. He added no milk to the eggs. I didn’t watch the entire demonstration — I was occupied by cutting toast into toast points — and before I knew it, I was faced with a plate of creamy, pale-yellow curds.

They were so salty and so delicious. I piled them atop the points — Josey’s raisin bread with more of the aforementioned butter — and sighed.

“So you don’t add milk?” I confirmed.

“Nope,” said John, “just heavily salt the butter.”

A few bites later, I acknowledged the obvious: my scrambled eggs are something short of masterful. My toast points, on the other hand, are par excellence.

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*Organic, which I began buying at Ali’s suggestion. Might I just say that organic butter tastes leagues better than its conventional cousin? Doi, for sure, but I needed to put that out there: so long as I’m not living in the poorhouse, I will only ever again buy organic butter.

Return of the Fluff

Holy gawd: it appears I let half a month pass by without posting. OOOOPS! Life gets in the way of blogging, it seems. But, hey: I have updates! I started a new blog (kategarklavs.com — add it to your G-readers, yo!*), signed on as the content manager for LitBridge, continued the dating blitzkrieg, and spent a week in the glorious Midwest! Forgive me my absence? Oh, hell: forgive me or not, I’m still gonna post.

Fluff salad, a midwestern treat

As I mentioned, one of my favorite parts of visiting my ancestral homeland is eating junk food. I eat junk food in my Real, Everyday Existence, but not to the extent that I do while jammin’ in the flyover zone.** I’ll relate more of my junk-food experiences in another post, because what I really want to talk about now is Fluff.

Are you familiar with Fluff? I was not until three days ago. A cold salad of unknown origin, Fluff (aka Five-Cup Salad) is disgustingly simple to prepare and unsettlingly tasty. It’s a food you don’t want to cop to liking, but you will like it — unless you have a heart of stone, in which case you have larger problems to attend to. Are you ready for the recipe? Here goes:

Ingredients

  • One tub Cool Whip or other non-dairy whipped topping
  • Half a bag of miniature marshmallows. (You may use colored marshmallows, if you like.)
  • One packet pistachio pudding
  • One can cubed pineapple, drained
  • One can Mandarin oranges, drained
  • Approximately one-third bag sweetened shredded coconut
  • One tiny jar maraschino cherries, drained, stems removed

Method

  1. Dump your marshmallows into a large (and I mean LARGE) mixing bowl. Add the Cool Whip. Stir.
  2. Add the pudding mix to the Cool Whip/mallow mixture. Stir well to combine.
  3. Add the remaining ingredients; stir well to combine.
  4. Refrigerate before serving.
  5. Eat until you feel ill.

That’s it: really. You dump a bunch of sugar products in a giant bowl, stir, and devour. I was skeptical at first, but you know what? I’m a believer, so much so that I made my own batch of Fluff yesterday. Sarah and I ate some, and then ate some more, and then I had to put the leftovers away so we’d have some Fluff for tonight.


This isn’t the most flattering picture of yours truly, but it does depict me holding one of my favorite sugar products: frosted animal crackers. Oh, man: those things are good. Didn’t eat any while at home (surprisingly), but as long as I’m on the FluffTrain, I might as well add these lit’l dudes to my shopping list.

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*I will warn you, however, that kategarklavs.com is still under construction. There’s no About section, and I’ve only uploaded a handful of posts. Par for the lazy-ass course!

**Note: I do not consider Minnesota (or Illinois) flyover states, but some California residents do. They are missing out on the riches/wonders that would await them, were they to deplane before hitting the East Coast.

Road Trippin: What Are Your Ideal Snacks?

As I started my daily scroll through my G-Reader, I came upon this Blisstree post detailing food bloggers’ favorite healthy road-trip snacks. Really, I should have known better — the headline includes the phrase “No More Doritos,” which is unquestionably blasphemous. (It’s like, WHAT, are you going to take away my Jock Jamz and Gatorade water, too?) Still, being the semi-undiscriminating media consumer that I am, I clicked the link. BAD IDEA, Kate. Effing terrible idea.

The post begins with an irrefutably true statement (“Road trips are awesome.”), then moves into questionable territory: “Gas stations and truck stops offer a plethora of junk food…like you need sugar and salt-laden foods after sitting for hours in the car, yuck.”

Of course gas stations and truck stops offer junk food: DOI! They’re gas stations and truck stops — not, you know, highwayside Whole Foods. I was most certainly not on board with the judgey-mc-judgmental tone of the second part of that statement: “Like you NEED junk food, amirite, ladies?” Because, actually, I do need junk food for a long-ass road trip. Peanut M&Ms have saved my ass on more than one stretch of deserted highway.

Junk food — for me, at least — is emblematic of road trips. In my everyday life, I try to eat a balanced diet. I don’t always succeed, but dammit, I make an effort! Road trips, like trips in general, offer us a chance to break from our normal routines. No, I don’t regularly eat donuts for breakfast; yes, I will buy a breakfast donut if I stop at a Kum-N-Go in the middle of Iowa. Could I opt instead for a Luna bar and a sparkling water? Yeah, but I eat Luna bars most other days. Also, Luna bars sometimes taste like plastic. Also? Donuts are one of nature’s tastiest foods, and I challenge to a duel anyone who disagrees with me!

Some of my favorite road-trip memories are junk-food related. As a whippersnapper, I loved Burger King’s Whopper Junior. Go ahead and judge, readers: I don’t mind. I will take any/all heat for my avowed love of this sandwich (“sandwich”)! Whenever I took a road trip, I’d wait until 11:00 AM to eat, that being the time at which BK started offering lunch-menu items. Sometimes I’d eat in the car. Whenever possible, I’d park myself in the melmac-and-tile dining room of whatever BK I’d happened upon so I could really relish the Whopper Jr. experience.

I have similar feelings about Cheetos. When I was a senior in college, I dated a guy who lived about three two three? hours from Galesburg. Whenever I’d drive to visit him, I’d get a gas-station pumpkin-spice cappuccino and a bag of Cheetos. That particular flavor combination — ultra-sweet, moderately nutmeggy imitation coffee commingled with the distressingly salty Cheetos — brings me back: to Galesburg in September, to the flat stretch of highway between my podunk town and St. Louis, to Woody Allen and inexpensive Merlot and walks around Forest Park. I don’t drink gas-station cappuccino much these days — or ever — but now? I’m curious to see whether the drink would unearth more memories than those I’ve listed here.

Another point Carrie Murphy fails to address is the regional availability of certain foods. Dear readers, I’m sure you’re aware that your favorite food (junk or not) may only be available in certain localities. When my sis lived with me in Northampton, she grew to love this cornbread toasting bread — you know, sandwich bread flavored like cornbread. Guess what? It’s not available in the Midwest. Sis also loves Lays’ Limon chips, which are common in San Francisco and sold via Amazon, but aren’t stocked at her local Hy-Vee. When I studied in Berlin, I yearned for my beloved Cheetos; the nearest available bag was in Scotland.

This is the bread my sis loves so much.

When I visit Minnesota in a few short weeks, I’m going to eat the hell out of foods I can’t readily get here. What’s on my list?

  1. A kiddie-sized Dairy Queen Blizzard
  2. A danish from Uncle Billy’s bakery
  3. A veggie Chicago dog from Coney Island
  4. An orange scone from Panera
  5. Papa John’s Pizza

And so on.

I don’t feel one bit bad about this predicted junk-food binge. Part of a road trip is loosening up, letting one’s hair down, going with the flow, and all that other NorCal jazz. Yeah, I’m going to allow myself to become moderately sunburned! Why, yes, I’ll drink some daytime porchbeers, watch shitty TV, and drive when I can walk! Maple “syrup” made with HFCS instead of sap? Don’t mind if I do!

Food is so much more bound up with our memories — our perceptions of self — than we give it credit for. I was always the kid who got the cookie dough blizzard. I still am.

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Image sources: [1], [2], [3], [4]

The Best Things In Life Are Free

Some of the best things in life are free. Some of the best things also cost money.

This morning, Ali and I were hashing out some details about our upcoming road trip to GALESBURG(!) Ali said she’d pick up a 24-pack of bottled water to bring along.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” I said. “Back up, moneybags! I’ll use my Nalgene.”

“Don’t even!” Ali replied. “The 24-pack is $2.49.

To which I responded, “$2.49? I spend that much each time I blink!” Then we LOLd for a bit about the thought of money shooting out of my eyes: how I could just quit my job and blink myself toward financial solvency. O, to generate eye money!

Taken on my last trip to Galesburg, which was, believe it or not, in January of ’08. #blasphemy

This conversation got me thinking: about road trippin’, for sure, but also about the issue of food costs relative to geography. Where I live, a single bottle of water can (easily) cost $2.49. (Sidenote: An ex and I once accidentally paid $10 for a bottle of Pellegrino: NOT EVEN JOKING. The watery Manhattan I ordered subsequently did little to alleviate the sticker-shock sting.) Where Sis lives, you can get a week’s worth of water for the same cost.

I’ve lived in the Bay Area for almost three years, and every time I  visit the Midwest, I’m surprised anew at the outlandishly low food costs there. Yes, the general cost of living is lower there; I just focus on the food. “Five dollars for a hamburger AND fries?” I find myself shrieking. “I’ll eat ALL THE HAMBURGERS!”

MIDWESTERN DINNER! Gotta love it.

I love my Adopted Homeland and can’t envision moving anywhere else, really, but the cost of living here has required me to get serious about savvy shopping. Where before I might let a pint of raspberries sprout fuzz, I now find ways to eat all the berries within a day or two of purchasing them. I use odds & ends of veggies as stir-fry fodder; I don’t eat much meat, except at restaurants. I purposely generate leftovers.

And I do still buy frivolous and expensive and unnecessary foods — just not as often as I hypothetically could. True, I do not need salt & vinegar chips, Pop-Tarts, or beer, but I enjoy these things and like to have them on hand.

Annnnnnnnnnyway, that backstory was a real roundabout way for me to introduce the newest addition to my blogroll: Frugal Feeding. I stumbled upon this blog today, dove in, and loved it. It has all my favorite attributes of a blog: gorgeous, simple photos; a modicum of snark; and recipes featuring peas. (Holla atcha, English peas!) Check it out!

I enjoy shopping — so much so that sometimes I have portraits made in fitting rooms.

As I see it, shopping and cooking frugally* aren’t about deprivation: they’re about using one’s resources wisely. It’s gross to think about, but I used to waste a hell of a lot of food, and why? Well, I didn’t plan meals; I’d let myself be lured in by bright endcaps and pseudosales; and I just like shopping, period. I’m not out of the woods yet, either — just yesterday, I tossed half a package of green beans that were growing shriveled and dark. I’m making progress, though, and taking pleasure in my craftiness.

I’m also taking pleasure in saving money for other things: traveling, records, crazy hair procedures!, all the red lipsticks, etc. etc. amen!

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*And being Just Generally Frugal.

You Better Shop Around

Earlier, I came upon this post on NPR’s The Salt. It oh-so-briefly discusses the grocery shopping habits of Boomers versus Millennials, concluding that the latter group’s habits 1) are kinda random; and 2) don’t bode well for traditional grocery stores.

Why do I post this link when you could easily access it via NPR? Because I want to make a few comments, of course! As a Millennial,* I can confirm the post’s central argument. I, like many kids I know, am hella disloyal to grocery stores. I frequent Safeway because it’s the closest grocer to my house, but if I had a choice I’d avoid it altogether. (Safeway, take note: your look-and-feel is awful.) Often, I buy produce from Casa Lucas, a small, independently run grocery store, and I pick up candy and other sundries from package stores. On the rare occasion that I make it to Target, I’m sure to stock up on dry goods: pastas, canned beans, and CHIPS(!)

Alright, then: I’ve provided enough examples to verify my scattershot shopping habits.

More interesting, perhaps, is a consideration of why my [our?] habits are as they are. Why do I venture to four different stores when I could do a week’s shopping in one fell swoop of a trip? My answer: it’s a blend of cheapness and convenience.

First up: cheapness! I’m always looking to save a buck (when possible) so said buck can be spent on something shiny & exciting. MAC lipsticks: shiny & exciting. Garbanzos: not so much. If I had my way, I’d shop at Whole Foods all the time, tossing triple-creme brie and figs and prosciutto into my basket, all willy-nilly like, but were I to do that I’d go broke in approximately five days.

See this? Shiny & exciting.

Because I am not a lady of fortune, I shop at Whole-Foods alternatives: Trader Joe’s and Safeway. I’m not claiming these stores are on par with WF; they are simply alternatives.

In seeming contraction to my frugality, I also value convenience w/r/t grocery shopping. If I’m tired after work — and, let’s face it: I almost always am — and I need summer squash, there’s no way in hell I’m traveling to Trader Joe’s. I’ll swing by the Safeway at 16th because it’s already on my way home. If I’m craving a candy bar late in the evening, ain’t no way I’m going to schlep to a proper grocer — I’m going to the corner store.

And this is where I get all the candy bars.

Bottom line: I’m not brand loyal. My friends, if I may speak for them, are not brand loyal, at least when it comes to food shoppes. Frequenting one grocery store seems odd and antiquated, but maybe that’s just my Millennial brain/values system at work?  Maybe it’s the product of my geography? Regardless, here are some truths: I’m easily lured by cheese sales, I’m drawn in by grocery stores as near as possible to mine home, and someday — mark my words — I’ll do all my grocery shopping at Whole Foods.

Image sources: [1], [2], [3]

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*At least according to Wikipedia, be-all/end-all source of knowledge.

The Summer Scoop (or What I’ve Eaten for the Past Week)

Now that July is one-third over, I’m finally, officially in SUMMER MODE. Bring on the watermelon, the potato salad, the macaroni salad, not the egg salad, the hotdogs, the fluffy white buns whose interior texture mimics modified styrofoam! Bring on the funnel cakes and cotton candy: the inevitable gut rot.

Our July Fourth picnic (“Snax 4 America”) was a rollicking success. I was going to say, “To be fair, most picnics are,” but that’s not true. An overcast sky, an absent corkscrew, or a shortage of potato chips can turn a good picnic bad. We had a corkscrew, a jumbo size bag of Rip-L-chips, and a collective good attitude. Also, we had sunshine. And Tecate, and friendship!

Clockwise, from left: Trader Joe’s 100% pineapple juice (sold in overpackaged four-packs); Smirnoff marshmallow vodka; Rip-L-chips, which were two-for-one at my local Walgreen’s; Twizzlers; Trader Joe’s Good-N-Plenty-style candies; and the cocktail of the gods.

I discovered my new favorite cocktail quite by accident. The cocktail includes an adequate pour of chilled marshmallow vodka; ample soda water; and a splash of 100% pineapple juice. If you’re so inclined, add two ice cubes and a straw. Sarah and I sipped these marvels while readying for our picnic and listening to DadRock (i.e., John Cougar Mellencamp, more J.C. Mellencamp, Foreigner, CSNY, et al). If you add the proper amount of soda water, the drink is just the perfect amount of sweet; if you skimp, you will incur all the toothaches/headaches/stomachaches in the world. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

I have an ongoing, informal goal to bust out of the food ruts I settle in. I know, I know! I castigate myself far too often, and for what? Being a creature drawn to projects, especially of the self-improvement variety, I adopted this loosely formed resolution. This week, I actually stuck to it.

Friday, I made two new dishes: one I haven’t made for months, and one I have never made. Exhibit A: Black-bean tacos with mango salsa.

I know: this picture is exceptionally bad, even by my knuckle-draggin’ standards. I was hungry, though, and just wanted to eat! Had you been there in my living room with me, you wouldn’t have blamed me.

Preparing the black beans is the easiest: dump a can of black beans (liquid included) into a medium-sized saucepan. Add cumin, red pepper flakes, the juice of one lime, and two cloves’ worth of minced garlic to the pot. Stir occasionally, allowing the liquid to reduce. When the beans are the consistency you prefer, remove pot from heat.

The salsa, too, is easy. Peel a mango, cut it into strips of equal size, and dice those strips into tiny cubes. Halve a bunch of grape tomatoes. Mince shallots and finely chop parsley. Juice a lime. Combine all ingredients with salt and pepper, and you’ve got yourself a condiment.

The never-before-made dish was eggplant pomodoro, adapted from Eating Well’s recipe. I don’t remember the last time I bought an eggplant, but I snagged one last week because it was 99 CENTS! Duuuuuude: healthy food for less than a dollar! After the bargain rush subsided, I was like, “Damn, what am I gonna do with this eggplant?” Enter pomodoro. As luck would have it, I had tomatoes, olives, capers, EVOO, and the requisite seasonings on hand.

Aside from not having enough tomatoes — I’d used about half the carton making that salsa — I followed Eating Well’s instructions allllllllmost to the T. (Added more seasonings because I love me some spice.)

And? This dish was a winner! Hella quick to whip up, its flavor is elevated via the capers and olives. Moreover, the eggplant, cooked in a liberal amount of olive oil, was silky rather than tough n’ chewy. Finally, the pomodoro reheats well, which bodes well for an episodic kitchen slacker like myself.

There you have it: two new recipes and a picnic. Oh! And I visited Southpaw for the first time, too, but that’s another story for another day. Until then, keep on rockin’ in the free world. I’ll do the same, sandwich in hand.

The Victory Garden Strikes Back

Slowly but surely, I’m trying to work myself out of the food rut I now occupy. Here’s the thing about ruts: they’re comfortable, if not always glamorous or practical. There’s a reason I eat cereal with berries most every morning; that reason, aside from Cereal Tastes Good, is the ease with which the meal is prepared. Breakfast on autopilot. Certain situations call for not-thinking, for a series of motions that carry you from Point A to Point B without the need for higher cognitive functioning. Breakfast, for me, is one of those situations.

Ruts are behavioral shortcuts that can, in the right dose, streamline one’s morning routine: one’s life.

Such streamlining can lead to complacency, though, and I know this firsthand. My diet has become borderline snooze. Friday, I felt itchy to eat something I’d never eaten before. I worked under the additional consideration of wanting to use materials I had at hand. (Note: I may or may not have been wearing loungewear on Friday afternoon — a sartorial choice that may or may not have influenced my resistance to hit up the Safeway.)

I began with a pound of carrots, The Victory Garden Cookbook, and a dream. Half an hour later, I had a batch of marinated carrots: tangy, tender-crisp coins that are perfect mixed with fresh greens or just eaten with a fork, even.

Out of respek for my main lady Marian Morash, I’m not going to post the recipe here. Really, you all should own The Victory Garden Cookbook: not only are the chapters divided by ingredient (which, helllllllllo, ease of use!), but the book features photos of rad, early-80s fashions — the perfect accompaniment to any cooking project. Or any project. Not normally one to preach about what y’all should/should not do, I do encourage the purchase of cookbooks, especially those central to one’s formative years.

Be advised that these carrots are totally noshable. I found myself sneaking back to the Tupperware, picking out a coin, returning the container to the fridge, and beginning anew. Bonus v 2.0: the recipe is exceedingly simple to prepare. I prepared it while talking on the phone and halfheartedly listening to this Chuck Berry album I bought for $1 on the street, and if my carrots turned out well, I’m sure yours will, too.

Bottom line: if you’re feeling lazy, making marinated carrots will make you feel like more of a functional adult. If you’re not feeling lazy, you’ll be pleased at having made a healthy, colorful side dish in 20 minutes flat. We’re all winners here!