On cooking in California: Part 1

I figured that moving to California would change our cooking habits. But how? We’d probably eat more citrus, and our salad season would be extended–would maybe even replace our winter mac and cheese season. That’s as far as I got in thinking about it.

And both of those things are at least partly true, but they’re not all of it, and they weren’t even the first changes we noticed.

Three things just showed up in our regular stock of ingredients: parsley, ginger, and yogurt. Of those three, I might have guessed the yogurt if you had asked me what new things we would keep on hand in California. More fruit equals more fruit snacking. More fruit snacking plus my hypoglycemic need for protein equals a steady supply of yogurt to go with the fruit. Maybe.

Actually, it started off as cottage cheese, but I tired of that and moved on to Greek yogurt, which was more flexible in the kitchen besides. It could be used in Kaddo Bourani when we found our counter covered with squash after a trip to the Farmer’s Daughter pumpkin patch last fall. It can also be used in muffins, mac and cheese (which we still eat), and other recipes–handy, given that we’re not milk drinkers and so we don’t keep milk on hand.

After a few weeks of Greek yogurt, it began to bother me what a harsh mistress Fage was. The largest container I could buy ran out well before the week was over, and it was awfully expensive. What was different about Greek yogurt, anyway? Was there anything special besides its thickness?

The answer is no. So I bought cheaper, larger container of regular yogurt, dumped it into a fine-mesh strainer lined with cheesecloth, and placed that over a stockpot in the fridge for the night. Voilà, Greek yogurt.

Parsley has a sort of California connection, too. Fresh local parsley wasn’t available in Boston in the winter, and we couldn’t be bothered with the scanty plastic packets at the grocery. We became year-round fans of dried parsley, both for its own flavor and for the way it enhanced other flavors. But in California, fresh parsley is available, a huge bunch for a dollar, year-round at the nearest farmers’ market. We bought one and put it in a jar of water on the door of the fridge, where it immediately became a fixture. We use it in white wine sauces and sprinkle it on almost everything else, and it lets us make tabbouleh any time we like. (Thanks to Moosewood’s vegan chili recipe, cracked wheat was already a staple in the Cervantes-Ferguson pantry. And thanks to my grandmother, who swears by it as a cure for stomach upsets, I wouldn’t dream of not at least trying to keep a pot of hierba buena, or spearmint, growing. It languished in Boston; it’s thriving in San Francisco.)

Ginger first ended up in the fruit bowl because our wine bottles full of ginger syrup, which we mix with water and then carbonate to make ginger beer, wouldn’t have survived the move, so we gave them to friends at our last going away party. This left us in need of more ginger syrup, and there was ginger left over when I was done making it. We used the ginger in ginger-lemon-honey tea when we were sick this fall, but our favorite use has been frying it up crisp with garlic to sprinkle on any dish that’s even vaguely Asian, as Mark Bittman recommends.

Next time: The new things we’ve made an effort to keep in our California pantry.


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