Grocery stores

8 06 2009

I need to grumble.  I do most of my grocery shopping at MOMs or The Common Market, depending on whether I’m feeling more loyal to my former employer and friend or my vague socialist leanings.  But sometimes I do need to go to a “regular” grocery.  Leaving aside the heart palpitations I get when I see what other people are eating or, worse, feeding their kids (and this is not a money thing, really, non-organically-grown apples are still FAR better for your kids than green apple fruit gushers.  Whole wheat gross soft bread costs the same as the same brand of white),  the check out is leaving me snarly.  I’m a union supporter (see “vague socialist leanings,” above), so I like to go to a store with unionized employees.  I used to shop at Giant before Izzy retired and it all went to crap.  When I lived downtown, I shopped at the 7th street Safeway, where the employees never. ever. change (that’s the sign of either a good employer or a hostage situation).  Now that I’m in Braddock, my conventional grocery needs could be met by the Middletown Safeway.  But oh  my  god  it is the slowest store in the world.  When gas was $10 a gallon, I shopped more at Giant Eagle so that I could get gas credits and I came to looooove that self-scan thing where I can ring up my groceries as I go and check myself out in about 2 minutes.  Love.  To go from that to the…European service at the Middletown store?  Oh the pain.  I have rung groceries and I have bagged (see “former employer,” above) and it is not that hard, people.  It doesn’t even require a lot of focus, really. Ringing should not take that long.  Bagging should not be that…”inept” is too passive.  It was almost aggressively contemptuous.  Bananas never go on the bottom.  Ditto tomatoes.  Someone bringing her own bags is not license to shove every thing in one bag, with the apples on the tippy top, ignoring the PILE of spare cloth bags just laying there.   GAH!  Friendly and relaxed is nice.  It is.  But efficient really is what I’m looking for.  Rant over.  I thank you for your time.


Garden 2009

1 06 2009

This weekend was glorious and the weather motivated me to get cracking on this year’s gardening experiment.  Last year, I started Square Foot Gardening and made 3 raised garden beds.  This year, I gave over one of those beds to flowers, one has greens and sugar snap peas, and the one on the deck has tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers.  The big garden went to seed last year, and was home to Mildred the chicken the previous year.  But this year, I was determined to use it.

I joined Seedsavers during the winter, and when the catalog came, I was just stunned by the sheer variety of dry beans available.  An early bout of I Must Win at the Fair kicked in and I decided that my goal would be a ribbon-winning soup bean mix.  I have no idea if that is even a category, but surely mine would be so amazing that they’d make one just so I could win it.  I filled out order forms to get a nice range of colors and waited for spring.  With spring came weird weather, a gazillion end-of-school-year child obligations, and little spare time, which meant I didn’t get down to the garden until this weekend.

Confession: I really only like gardening until about mid-June.  Then I’m done.  That’s why square foot was nice–little weeding, and I could just slap a flower in a spot I no longer felt like dealing with.  The big garden is alllll the way down in my yard.  It is a pathetic fact that I seldom go down into the yard b/c that means I have to trudge back up the hill to get to the house.  One generation out of the mountains and I’m already spoiled.  In past years, that garden has been abandoned toward the end of the summer, crops left to rot and pestilence.  I know what I’m up against–my lazy is strong–so I am planning accordingly and trying out something new.

I hoed and weeded the whole plot and covered it with newspaper and straw.  I’m told this will inhibit weed growth.  I hope it is true.  Then I dug little holes, placed a paper cup that I’ve cut the bottoms out of in the hole, dropped in four beans, and covered them with earth.

I’ll pull out all the the strongest of the sprouts.  My hope is that I’ll have this nice straw-strewn plot with bean plants poking up.  They’re all bush beans, but I’m wondering if I should have cages ready nonetheless…

I’ve planted between 3 and 5 each (or it will be once I’ve thinned) of 11 varieties of bean.

see?   Look how far DOWN it is!

see? Look how far DOWN it is!

“Damn Girl,” you must be thinking, “you must eat a lot of beans!”  No.  Actually I do not.  I have nothing against them, but canned beans are mushy and I just don’t have good luck getting dried beans to cook.  I don’t know if I have a lousy source or a cursed house, or what, but I’m hoping that growing my own will be the ticket.  Plus, while listening to The Splendid Table, I heard of a book about heirloom beans from Rancho Gordo.  So I ordered that and it looks fab, plus there’s a pretty cool, if not particularly vegetarian, blog.  And, of course, I am always inspired by Mary Jane Butters and fancy the FarmGirl life.  in the abstract, of course.  In reality I am deeply suspicious.

Aleko’s–Great Greek for Vegetarians!

1 04 2009

Oh happy discovery!  Aleko’s Village Cafe has opened in Middletown.  It’s inside the Fountaindale Sunoco, where there used to just be subs and ice cream.  There are still subs and ice cream, but they no longer matter at all b/c there’s super yummy vegetarian food…and baklava (insert Homer Simpson drooling noise).

Owned and operated by the Tsinonis family (the NICEST people), Aleko’s offers plenty of standard carnivore fare (well, it might be fantastic, but I don’t need to care about that) as well as the spanikoptia and Tiropita that we veggies turn to, but the big difference here is Vegetarian Gyros.  They’re made with Morningstar Farms steak strips, which are pretty processed and far from actual food, but oh the yum!  It’s the real deal (except for the absence of lamb…the silence of the lamb…sorry), tasty strips, tzatziki, feta, lettuce tomato, onion, and french fries–yes, french fries, as god intended.  So good.

I popped in for lunch today and got a gyro and some sweets.  There are several kinds of cookie and mini baklava, as well as big ol’ baklava and rice pudding.  This afternoon, I tried the Melomakarona (honey cookies), the Koulouraki (Butter Cookies), and Kourambides (wedding cookies).  The gyro, as mentioned, was great.  The honey cookies were good, they tasted like gingerbread soaked in honey.  Crazy sweet.  The butter cookies were just barely sweet, with a dry crumbly texture that called out for a cup of coffee to go with them.  The wedding cookies were that cookie that every culture seems to have–Russian teacake, Mexican Wedding cake, Shortbread–these are almond instead of the pecan that often turns up, and are good.  Covered in powdered sugar, though, so be prepared to dust off.

Lunch was good enough that I decided to get take-out for dinner (Oh, really there can only be take-out.  In nice weather, you can sit at the picnic tables outside, but there is no inside seating) since I run a 4-H meeting on Wednesdays and don’t have time to cook dinner.  I called ahead for 2 Spankakopita, 2 Tiropita, one Veg. Gyro, and an order of Feta Fries.  When I got there, the owner (lovely woman) told me that they had run out of Spanakopita but she had more in the oven.  She offered to have someone drive it to my house, but didn’t think it would get there before 8.  Since I was feeding 3 kids, I said I’d pass, but then she suggested I could just finish baking it at home.  Brilliant!  I also grabbed some rice pudding (made, apparently, by the owner’s son) and a slab of the big baklava as well as one each of the wee ones.

While the spanakopita baked and the tiropita warmed, we ate the feta fries–they’re boardwalk-style, which isn’t my favorite, but the feta made them worth eating.  The kids hoovered them.  The tiropita was a huge hit with the kids and I’d be quite happy to eat it again.  The filo is super flakey and not at all greasy.  The spanakopita was still baking, so we took a sweets break: The baklava–available by the mini pan or by the slice–made my eyes roll back in my head.  Buttery, honey-y, nutty yum.  The minis are available by the pound.  They were good, but after the big baklava…no contest.  Then the long-awaited spanakopita was done.  It was a bit too spinach-y for the kids.  I thought it was fantastic, as I usually don’t think there’s enough spinach in my spinach pie.  It isn’t at all heavy, which is a nice change.  The rice pudding was our end note.  Delicious, good old-fashioned kind.  This is not Kozy Shack (not that I won’t eat that by the vat, too), but a product that clearly contains rice.  The kids were licking the bowls, so I’m thinking they approved, too.

When I mentioned to the owner that vegetarians were going to be so excited to find the meatless gyros, she exclaimed over how many vegetarians she’d seen.  Then she said, “I can make lots of other vegetarian things, just ask next time.  So I’ll be back. Oh yes.

The Village Green Grill

31 03 2009

I’ve lived in Frederick since July of 95 and I hadn’t ever even gone into The Village Green Grill.  The “Fresh Pitas” sign was always enticing, but it didn’t strike me as a vegetarian sammich place, so I hadn’t gone in.  Plus, well, it’s in kind of an ugly location.  The Giant Eagle there is my grocery store of choice (when I’m not hitting The Common Market and MOMs, of course), but it is just the saddest strip mall.  There’s that empty, trashed building in the middle of the lot that used to be the fabulous and lamented Mongolian Grill.  Dollar General never classes up a joint.  The SuperPets is the most depressing pet store ever.  It’s not a location that inspires me to eat.

Once again, however, Steve and I tried to go out to lunch on a Monday and were confounded by closures, so we ended up giving it a try.  I had the vegetable skewers.  The service was…European, but the waitress told us that the fryer was down and that was slowing everything.  My vegetables were cooked well enough, but I’m always a bit bummed when I get green pepper on my plate. It came on a bed of well-cooked white basmati rice.  There was a wee “greek” salad on the plate as well.  You can tell it’s greek b/c there’s a dice of feta and one black olive.  The pita was, in fact, tasty, but the dish was not one to bring me back.   They have an all-day breakfast menu, but we’re unlikely to abandon our beloved Mountain View for breakfast foods.  The only other veggie options were grilled cheese and salad.

I’m hoping to try the little greek stand that opened in Middletown this week–vegetarian gyros!

What does Vietnam smell like?

21 02 2009

According to my war-vet Dad, it smells like cilantro and fish sauce.  What moves a person to name a restaurant Viet Aroma?  And Frederick just got a Greek place with Aroma in the name too, didn’t we?  It just seems to be begging for jokes.  But anyway, the food was good.  And while there was cilantro whiff in the place, mostly it smelled like pho.  Steve is a big pho phan, so he goes there so often that they don’t even take his order, they just bring him what he always orders.  He was surprised to find they even HAD menus.  But I was glad, since soup is seldom a good bet for a vegetarian in a non-veg restaurant.  They had a good selection of vegetarian dishes, I got a coconut curry.  I opened with summer rolls.  I’d asked for them to be meatless, but they came with some manner of critter inside.  I just plucked it out, since I’m not THAT strict about what has touched my food. But it left the roll kind of sad.  An Loi (over on TJ) used to have SUCH good summer rolls.  I miss that place.  The curry was really good, though.  Sweet but not cloying, nice mix of crunchy veg.  Just very lightly steamed, the way I like it.  I had a similar dish at the new Vietnamese place over on Rosemont…cannot recall the name, but it’s in the old 7-11 that was Lillies for a while–and this one was better.  I haven’t been to Lucky Corner in a long time…I should pop back in there.  Now I’m hungry.

Indian Buffets

4 02 2009

Dear, I haven’t been around much, have I?  I’ve reached the Food Doldrums.  My excitement about fall food has worn off and I’m growing tired of thinking of new ways to fix potatoes and cauliflower.  Budget dictates that I’m not eating out as much as I’d like, either, but when I do, it tends to be lunch.  On the weeks that Steve is on the East Coast, we like to go out for lunch on occasion.  While I’m generally not a buffet fan, I find that Indian food lends itself better than most to this presentation.  And I do love little bits of several things (hello, Isabellas!), so that’s often our choice.  The closest stop is Clay Oven, on Rt. 40.  It’s really hit or miss, however.  My favorite is Nilgiris, over next to the Common Market on Rt. 85.  They have fantastic pakoras and have a few more veggie dishes than Clay Oven usually has.   Also, Bollywood on the TV!  It’s the only place that the TV doesn’t make me angry.  Recently, we wanted Indian on a Monday (Nilgiris is closed on Mon) and we realized we hadn’t been to Bombay Grill in a coon’s age.  We lived in an apt. in that building back when it was The Alpenhof and then–for about 3 hours–Circo.  When we bought a house on 3rd St, we went to Bombay Grill a LOT.  Wee Julianna used to just eat rice and fennel seeds, and have a mango lassi.  She was never one for the spicy foods (It’s too ‘PICY! she’d yelp about something with a touch of salt).  But once we moved to Braddock (and had a less picky and larger crowd to feed), we stopped going.  So  we popped in for lunch on a bitter, bitter cold day.  And, sadly, meh.  Partly, it was that the dishes were not my faves–eggplant, a bland dal, vegetable biryani–and partly, well, they just weren’t that great.  Not bad, but not worth walking in the arctic chill from the parking garage.  Not as good as Nilgiris.  The Kheer for dessert was super good, though.  I’ll grant them that.  

When we lived in Germany, we ate a lot of Indian food (lord knows I wasn’t eating the German food) and the most popular dessert was Firni.  It’s similar to kheer, but firmer.  I’ve made it myself to mixed results, but it’s pretty labor intensive.  I never see it here, though.  Anyone know why?  Maybe it’s from some region that isn’t well represented in America?

So.  Nilgiris remains champion for the buffet.  Am I missing any?  Some hidden gem I don’t know about?  let me know…


ETA:  Hail Google, I have answered my own question.  Firni is primarily a Pakistani dish.  Must be a difference in who settles where.


3 01 2009

I went out to dinner at Lotus for the first time in…probably close to 10 years.  We’d eaten there a few times when we first moved to Frederick, but abandoned it for Hunan Gourmet’s more extensive vegetarian selection.  I found it wholly unchanged.  I ordered the Yellow Bird, a dish made by wrapping sauteed veg in yuba (a tofu skin).  It was okay.  Not bad at all, but heavy of sauce and just uninspired.  The sauce tasted like whatever brown sauce Chinese restaurants buy from whatever is the Chinese restaurant equivalent of SYSCO.  meh.  My dinner mate ordered the curried vegetables and it tasted like SYSCO yellow sauce.  Fine, but workmanlike.  No vegetarian soups on menu.  I can’t say it’s worth the trip for a meat-free dinner.