25 June, 2011
Shopping beyond the norm
Growing up, I was often reminded that it’s unseemly to brag. However, no one ever fully explained the advantages of being “seemly”. So here goes.
Today’s shopping trip is a multi-faceted exercise in 1) straying from the beaten path, 2) frugal entertaining, and 3) thinking on your feet. With an annual potluck at hand and my own contribution in the works, I decided to expand on last year’s lavash wraps, which were so popular that I couldn’t roll them fast enough — they disappeared before half the guests had arrived. Clearly, I’d struck a gastronomical nerve. As a proud Armenian girl (despite the red hair and freckles — I’m only 1/4 Armo), I was particularly pleased to be able to share the wealth of tasty food in our ethnic repertoire.
So off I went to my favorite Middle Eastern stores, rediscovering exactly how much I love them, even for everyday shopping. George’s Produce & Deli in Glendora is only about ten minutes from me, the people there are very nice, and they have jaw-dropping deals on cheeses, nuts, dried fruit, and spices. Regardless of what the locals may be cooking at home, the store has become very popular in the area for their great deals on fresh food. The owners routinely buy produce, for instance, in large quantities, then bag them, selling the bags for $1 each. This means that you might get five onions, six nectarines, mixed bell peppers, four peaches, or a bag of another luscious seasonal goodies…for a buck! It’s a fun place to shop because of the great deals, but also because buying in set amounts like this (instead of a lemon here, an onion there) encourages me to try new recipes, dig into the best of the immediate season, or just have a pile of strawberries for dinner when they’re on sale. It keeps me on my toes, and it always feels a bit like an adventure. Today I bought:
- fresh Italian parsley for $.33,
- a bag of pre-peeled garlic for $1.29,
- a bag (about 1/2 lb) of strong, fragrant cinnamon for $2.11,
- 11 whole, dried pineapple rings for $2.20,
- 2/3 lb of gorgeous walnut halves for $3.53. and
- six nectarines for $1.00.
(Wouldn’t you be a little smug?)
Since George’s is closed on Sunday, people flock there on Saturday mornings and clear out their produce and bakery shelves. I didn’t get there until about 4pm, close to the end of their store hours, so there was no lavash (Armenian flatbread) left. I headed to Basha Market, just about five minutes away, and also run by very friendly, knowledgeable staff. I don’t cook much meat at home, so their busy halal meat market isn’t where I personally spend much time. But they get fresh-baked ethnic breads from several excellent local bakeries, they have good deals on fresh produce (not as cheap as George’s, but a wider variety), and their selection of staples like tea and jam is marvelous. Today I bought two packages of whole wheat lavash for $1.79 each (this will feed a crowd), and three types of spreads (two types of hummus and an eggplant appetizer), for less than $4 each. (This was a splurge, but still cheap for the number of people I’m planning to feed!) I also picked up some gorgeous fresh apricots, and a few little candies for me: they have open boxes of various nougats, sold for $9.99 a pound, so five pieces were a total of about a buck and a quarter. These luscious treats are chewy and flavorful, and I rarely want more than one — they’ll last a few days. Pictured above are A) apricot nougat (with apricot fruit leather on the outside, giving it a tangy kick), B) pistachio nougat, loaded with little meaty emeralds, and C) lokoom, a fruity/flowery jelly candy known as Turkish Delight in the UK (and the Narnia books, of course).
–> You may already have had lokoom in the form of the popular Aplets & Cotlets, boxes or bars of jelly candy made by the wonderful Liberty Orchards in Washington. Founded by two Armenians in 1918, their assortments of “Near-east Locoum** are unusual and may take your breath away. If you haven’t tried this confection yet, check their website for a great postpaid trial offer.
*The Armenian language uses a different alphabet than English, so the names of these ethnic dishes are transliterated, and vary widely. I grew up with “lokoom”. You can pick the one you like best — there are plenty more where those came from!
End result: At the end of a very difficult, frustrating week, I came home feeling refreshed, motivated, and even invigorated. Good deals and great cinnamon do that for me.
Homework for you:
Man shall not live by cereal alone! Once every month or two, make time to visit an ethnic grocery store you’re not entirely familiar with. Skip one meal out (even if it’s just fast food) and spend that money on something new and unusual. Take that item home and look it up online. Find out how it might be used in various recipes. Even if you never try a single recipe, and eat whatever it is as it’s handed to you, it will stretch your ideas about cooking at home. These little inspirational jaunts will challenge your boring day-to-day habits. After all, wouldn’t even your PBJ be better with pomegranate jelly or fig jam? Hmmm?