Tag Archives: Whole Foods

Lettuce entertain you!

What could be more fun than taking a break from the school day for a run around the garden?

I went grocery shopping yesterday, not so much because I needed food (although I did) but mostly because I had received a Facebook notification that our local Whole Foods grocery stores were giving 5% of yesterday’s sales to the Farm at Walker-Jones Elementary School, not too far from where I live here in DC. That pushed Trader Joe’s right off the list as the grocery store of choice, because I am a sucker for anything to do with local farms and public schools: I’ve been a DC public school parent for 12 years thus far and I waited patiently for 7 years for a spot in the community garden around the corner from my house. ‘Nuf said.

Upon entering the store with my reusable bags, I stopped to check out the display about the beneficiary of the day and had a lovely conversation with John, who, along with his wife, runs the Farm at Walker-Jones. It’s always nice to meet a kindred spirit and it was great to see the pictures of the kindergarten class that he works with — amazingly, for an hour each day!

Watkins Living Schoolyard

My daughter went to Watkins Elementary School in our neighborhood several years ago and her class was only lucky enough to get about an hour a week working in their Living Schoolyard, but it was worth every moment. I’ll never forget when the kids in her class wanted to use some particularly tall sunflowers for a measuring project — their 3rd grade teacher gamely helped uproot the plants in question and they all carefully carried these 6-foot-tall specimens from the garden up two flights of stairs, while a clean-up detail swept up all the detritus left along the linoleum tiles.

In any event, as some of you have begun to figure out by now, the meals I cook are often inspired by the moment — in this case, looking at pictures of 3/4 acre full of lovely green leaves at Walker-Jones and also by the “Top Chef” finale in southeast Asia (Singapore, to be exact), which aired last night. At Whole Foods, you are immediately swept into the produce section, glistening wetly in every color of the rainbow, and I was instantly greeted with rows of beautiful local lettuces. Lettuce = lettuce wraps = Korean yumminess.

This is my version of a perfect Indian Summer meal (it was 85 degrees yesterday) — it’s quick, nutritious, low-fat, budget-conscious, and is also a really fun meal for kids. I made it with a simple tangy sweet potato salad on the side; remember that you can really use any toppings you like for the filling, such as chopped tomatoes, sliced cucumbers, even pickled beets. Just don’t forget to break out some extra napkins!

Tell me that's not a beautiful plate of food. And a snap to make!

Korean-Inspired Lettuce Wraps

1 pound ground protein (I used a soy product, but turkey, etc. would work, as would rinsed and drained cooked black beans)

1 onion, chopped

2 Cubanelle or other sweet peppers, chopped

3 TB Gochujang Sauce (Korean sweet & spicy condiment; barbecue sauce would work too)

2 TB canola or vegetable oil

salt and pepper to taste

1 head of green leaf lettuce, leaves removed, washed, and patted dry

1 cup grated carrot

1 avocado, sliced

1/2 cup chopped cashews (optional)

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onions and saute for 5 minutes, then add peppers and cook for a further 5 minutes. Add protein and stir to combine and cook until completely browned (especially if using an animal protein). Stir in Gochujang Sauce and allow to warm through; add salt and pepper to taste.

To assemble wrap:

Lay a piece of lettuce on the plate and place a large spoonful of the hot filling in the center. Add grated carrot and a slice of avocado on top and sprinkle with cashews. Fold the lettuce around the filling and enjoy!

Sweet Potato Salad

4 large sweet potatoes, cut into 1-inch pieces and cooked until tender but not soft. Rinse in cold water and set aside.

for the dressing:

3 TB almond butter

2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped

1/4 cup olive oil

juice of 1 lemon

1 TB soy sauce

1 tsp red wine vinegar

salt and pepper to taste

Put all ingredients in a food processor and process until smooth. You may add up to 1/4 cup of cold water if the mixture is too thick.

to make the salad:

Place sweet potatoes and dressing in a bowl, folding together to coat. Sprinkle with 2 TB chopped fresh herbs, such as chives or cilantro (0ptional).

Serves 4

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Safeway Snobbery

A fireplace and wifi at Safeway? Okay, that is kinda nice.

Two new Safeway grocery stores have opened up in Washington, DC in the past couple of weeks. One is just off Capitol Hill in the Waterfront neighborhood and the other is in Georgetown. The one at Waterfront is nestled between public housing projects and riverside condominiums; the Georgetown store — long dubbed the “Social Safeway” in reference to the well-heeled single yuppies eyeing each other longingly across the cereal aisle — has a parking lot filled with Lexus SUVs tagged with diplomatic license plates.

I will say up front that I am a Safeway Snob, and not necessarily in a good way. My experience with Safeway in DC goes back more than 20 years, when I first frequented the “Soviet Safeway” in the Adams-Morgan neighborhood, nicknamed for its tendency to run out of everything, leaving its shoppers to peruse shelves bare of pretty much every basic necessity except the occasional loaf of Wonder Bread and a half-eaten banana.

Things didn’t improve when I moved to Capitol Hill, where my husband and I would wheel our portable shopping cart on the three-block trek to what some called the “Social Security Safeway”; that particular store’s claim to fame came from some snappy investigations in the 1960s by local resident and Washington Post columnist Marguerite Kelly, exposing the store’s practice of raising prices — coincidentally, of course — on the same day that welfare checks were issued to low-income families. There were not a whole lot of grocery stores in the city at that time, so the aisles were so crowded that you could barely move your cart. We used to try to shop during Redskins games, since we didn’t really care about football and it was the one time when you could count on the store being empty.

My hairdresser was really excited about the new Safeway by the Waterfront and told me that it was beautiful and that I needed to check it out — she’s a Safeway Snob, but in reverse. Actually, I have a lot of friends who swear by Safeway and shop there religiously, but it has just never been my cup of tea; they just never seem to carry the kinds of foods that I like to buy. I’m sure my friends think I’m a Whole Foods Snob or a Trader Joe’s Snob, and they could be right.

But there was such a hubbub about the Social Safeway on opening day last week that I impulsively pulled into the underground garage as I was passing by. Crowds of shoppers streamed up the escalators clad in carefully-distressed jeans and Gucci loafers; my first vision was a gleaming sushi bar nestled beside a gourmet cheese display where a cheerful employee gave out samples of an imported Gouda being sold for $17.99 a pound. Black truffles were located in a locked plexiglass case in the produce section for $999.99 a pound. Welfare moms need not apply.

I’ll admit that I called my husband and gushed “Wow, this place is really cool!” I was standing next to the automated deli kiosk where I had just placed an order for a roasted vegetable sandwich on focaccia with garlic aioli, which seemed like a steal for $6.99. Excited shoppers were lined up at the gelato bar, bursting with over two dozen exotic flavors, the cabernet gelato beckoning like an amethyst jewel.

Alas, I had no time to shop, so my husband and I decided to stop at the Waterfront store on Sunday. It was all there — the sushi bar, the Starbucks, the wi-fi café featuring a central gas fireplace. And, as we began going through the aisles in search of food, there were all the other things I remembered: the Wonder Bread, the cans of Hormel Chili (on special with your Club Card), the towering pyramids of Spam. The produce section was definitely better than I remembered from the past, and I was pretty intrigued by the fresh garbanzo beans, like miniature tomatillos in their papery green husks.

But, yeah, for me, it’s still just Safeway. Some people dislike Trader Joe’s in the same way, while I can look past its deficiencies (like those shrinkwrapped packages of zucchini — why, Joe, why?) to find well-priced food that I want. Safeway sure doesn’t need me, serving its purpose for so many others as it continues to thrive, building a Shining Store Upon a Hill that brings yuppies together to share cappuccino and coy glances and provides candy-free checkout lanes for tired working moms with three kids under the age of 5 stuffed into a shopping cart with a week’s worth of juice boxes and Rice Crispies.

Still, I have to admit, the fireplace and wifi is pretty nice, especially on a rainy and unseasonably cool spring day. Maybe I can learn to live with Wonder Bread.

Wonder Bread Soufflé

I used to adore this dish when I was a kid — it was a recipe that my mom would make only for dinner parties. She made amazing cheese soufflés from scratch using the recipe from the huge Larousse Gastronomique that graced our kitchen, but she also liked this recipe when she had to whip up something elegant after a long day at the office.

One loaf of Wonder Bread, crusts removed and each piece buttered

3 eggs

2 cups milk

1 teaspoon nutmeg

salt and pepper to taste

3 cups shredded cheddar cheese

2 teaspoons snipped fresh chives

Make the custard by combining the eggs, milk, nutmeg, salt and pepper in a bowl. Butter a 13″ x 9″ baking dish and place a layer of bread in the bottom of the pan. Sprinkle 1/3 of the cheese, then continue with two more layers of bread and cheese. Pour the custard evenly over the whole dish, being sure that all the bread is soaked in the custard, then sprinkle the chives over the top. Place in the refrigerator for at least one hour and as long as overnight, then bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for about 40 – 45 minutes, or until risen and golden on top. Serve immediately.

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Feeding a Broken Heart

The antidote to the break-up at our house was the anti-boyfriend meal, featuring all of his least favorite foods, and, of course, an assortment of classic love stories.

My daughter is nursing her first broken heart. It is a terrible thing to watch, since I am helpless to heal the pain of “Why?” and “What went wrong?” — that endless litany of unanswered questions that tend to fill an overanxious brain in the small hours of the night. The only tiny perk that comes of the whole sad situation is that I get a rare opportunity to comfort my increasingly independent girl; I always remember a friend saying years ago that she perversely enjoyed her daughter’s break-ups because it resulted in her daughter wanting to snuggle up with her mom for hours on end, strewing the bed with damp Kleenex and wailing over the cruelty of boys.

I had to pick Madison up from a class at 7 o’clock last night and I asked her beforehand if there was anything special she wanted me to get for dinner. Her answer: “Comfort food.” This seemed like a reasonable request, except that my child does not care for what I would consider traditional comfort food such as mashed potatoes and macaroni and cheese, unless I mix in copious amounts of salsa, blue cheese, and wasabi. So, I stood in the middle of a crowded Whole Foods grocery store at 6:30 p.m., without even a clue of what to get. I finally ended up perusing the hot food and salad bars, hoping for inspiration, especially because the clock was ticking and I wasn’t sure I wanted to get home at 7:30 and still have to cook a complete meal. Suddenly, two things caught my eye and I knew what to get.

For the purposes of this next paragraph or two, we’ll call my daughter’s former love “Connor”.

I grabbed the eco-friendly food containers and loaded them up, before slipping into a line that ran halfway around the salad bar so that I could pay for my comfort food and speed down the street to my next destination. As soon as Madison jumped into the car, she said “So what did you find for dinner?” Clearly, comfort food was on her mind. I told her “Spicy Buffalo tofu, blue cheese dressing, and olives stuffed with feta cheese.” She looked at me archly before replying “That doesn’t exactly sound like comfort food” — and then the choice of foods suddenly dawned upon her. She smiled broadly — for the first time in 24 hours, actually — and said “It’s an anti-Connor meal!”

Let me say, I actually think Connor is a lovely young man, and I have often said that I wish he and Madison would meet up again in ten years, because they are perfectly suited to each other in many ways. But, my first priority is my daughter, and the goal last night was to get her to lighten up, if only for a few minutes. An anti-Connor meal was just the ticket. He gravitates towards burgers and pizza (in fact, I was specifically told not to get pizza because “that’s what HE likes”) and doesn’t like spicy food or olives — two things my daughter adores — and I just took a shot in the dark that he probably has no love for blue cheese either. It was a welcome respite in a difficult day, even if it didn’t last for long.

This whole experience got me thinking about breaking up and food. I don’t remember eating much after a break-up, as alcohol tended to take center stage (I will never forget weeping in a wine-induced haze, stretched out on the floor in front of the stereo listening to “Purple Rain” set on repeat. My roommates were extraordinarily tolerant.). I think that my break-up food was really hangover food — greasy fries, cheese omelettes, and big stacks of pancakes, generally eaten at the all-night diner at 4 a.m.

I asked a few of my readers to tell me if they had any break-up foods that they craved in the aftermath of a failed romance. Margaritas pretty much took top billing, but after that, the actual food centered on chili and cheese Tater Tots (love that one), Cadbury’s Caramello bars, and waffles. One friend mentioned “Folks intuitively head for carbs and they are right to do so. Low carb diets have been associated with low mood.” It’s true — several studies have shown that carbohydrate intake boosts serotonin production, which then acts as a natural tranquilizer on the nervous system.  I knew it was good to love pasta and bread!

Now I have decided that the next meal needs to center on keeping my child out of romance for a while, mostly because I can’t take the emotional upheaval anymore. I’m thinking garlic could do the trick.

Linguine with Brie and Garlic

This is actually a great break-up dish — perfect comfort food. It has the carbohydrates to boost your mood, some fat to coat your bruised soul, and plenty of garlic to keep would-be lotharios at bay until you are ready to get back into the game.

One pound linguine

One good-sized wedge of brie, cut into chunks

2 cups of grape tomatoes, halved

1/2 cup fresh basil, roughly chopped

3 – 6 cloves of garlic, crushed (how many you use depends on how bad your break-up was)

olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

Cook the linguine according to package directions. Reserve a cup of the hot pasta water, then drain and dump the pasta immediately back into the pot; drizzle with a little olive oil and toss quickly to coat. Then throw in the brie chunks and toss them with the pasta until they begin to melt and form a creamy coating on the pasta; add hot pasta water as needed to help aid the melting process if the pasta becomes too sticky. Add the tomatoes, garlic, basil, and salt and pepper, tossing together until all the ingredients are well-incorporated. Serve immediately.

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