Anything in Moderation?

I’m wondering whether the US knows how to do anything in moderation. I’ve temporarily relocated to an RV where I’ll be living for a couple of months. As with all tiny house living, my 100 sq ft of living area mean space is critical.

My cabinets are plentiful, and I have a large closet, but I still have to think carefully about what I purchase. This morning, I placed my first grocery order and realized it’s next to impossible to get containers of condiments, dishwashing soap, and butter in the amounts I need them. Travel size is a bit too small for my length of stay, and regular sizes are waaaay too big.

This time, I was shopping at an average chain supermarket where I expect to find a variety of brands and all the basics. If I had chosen a wholesale club, the packaging would be even larger. I could have picked a specialty market with expensive brands in smaller containers, but then I’d have to pay more for everything or shop at multiple stores.

It seems crazy to me that we can have acres and acres of ground covered by supermarkets and lack right size options in popular brands that reduce waste and require less cabinet space. I understand the efficiency and economy of buying more, but if that creates waste on the back end, those are diminished.

I don’t know why this surprises me. We are a culture of excess living in an era of increase.

Following an energy crisis in the 1970s, we didn’t abandon the SUV or ever larger pickup trucks, we shook off our initial panic and filled the roads with them.

Over the past 20 years, our bagels have grown from 3 inches to 6 inches and 140 calories to 350 calories. Even turkey sandwiches have doubled in calories.

The average American employee spends more hours at work than workers in Japan, the UK, and Germany at an average of 37.5 hours per week. And that average is lower than the hours put in by many of my acquaintances for whom a 60-hour work week is not uncommon.

It has become a sign of good parenting for children to be enrolled in multiple organized extracurricular activities. Without moderation, this leaves little time for sitting still, experiencing the wonder of a sunset, or lying in the grass watching the clouds.

And we don’t just purchase larger grocery items. Our closets are filled. My grandmother had two or three Sunday dresses, one pair of pants for lawn and garden work, and a couple of casual dresses. She didn’t own 5 pairs of shoes, much less 15. I packed more clothes in my RV than my grandmother owned, and it is a tiny fraction of what I have.

I even have two TVs. TWO in just over 100 sq. ft. I wouldn’t call that moderation. And I haven’t even turned them on. Clearly, I don’t need one, much less two. And yet, the multiples are considered a selling point.

The more I look around, the more I observe excess. And it has momentum. There’s a push toward more, longer, faster, bigger. Minimalism pushes back but is not winning the culture war in the US.

Surrounding ourselves by excess, doesn’t seem to make us more content. It just leaves me wondering why we don’t do anything in moderation.

https://www.cooking2thrive.com/blog/my-efficiency-is-killing-me-or-the-importance-of-balance/

A Little Dab Will Do It

A little dab will do it when you’re taking a dish from good to great! A few years ago, I was talking to a chef who remarked, “I taste things all the time that are good, but if they just added a spoonful of honey, would be great! I just don’t understand why they don’t add that one little thing that would take the dish to the next level.”

I think of this often when I’m testing recipes. Last week, I created a gluten-free, dairy-free lasagna. Unlike many recipes, this first try was remarkably good. I sent some out to tasters. They voted it a keeper.

But as the week wore on, and I tasted it cold, then hot again, I was nagged by the vague feeling that something was missing. It took me a moment (by which I mean days) to determine what.

Nutmeg. I hadn’t thought to grate in a little nutmeg. Once I realized I wanted that flavor addition, I was surprised. I’ve eaten plenty a lasagna wondering why anyone bothered to add nutmeg. Now, I guess I know. The flavors just call for a little dab of it.

I had a similar experience recently in which I created a dish that was nicely balanced and tasty but was missing a standout flavor. I thought of serving it with pico de gallo, but then decided liberally garnishing with cilantro would work better.

I tried it and it was better. That bright pop of flavor worked well, but it still wasn’t quite right. My tasters tried soy sauce, Cavender’s® All Purpose Greek Seasoning*, Tony Chachere’s® Creole Seasoning, and Goyo® Adobo All Purpose Seasoning with Saffron. We also discussed cardamom, turmeric, and orange juice.

Finally, I decided to add another dab of a seasoning blend that was already in the dish – a combination of salt, pepper, garlic, lemon peel, and onion. That did the trick. That 1/2 tsp changed an okay dish to one that left you wanting more.

And you don’t even have to taste a dish to know it needs something. Sometimes all you need to do is stand over the pot and breathe in the aroma. You can smell when something needs salt, or garlic, a savory undertone, or a citrusy top note.

Adding a little dab at a time gives you the opportunity to add more if needed. It’s much easier to add than to dilute, so I like to start small. I say that. I’ve been known to liberally shake spices over a pan before smelling or tasting. Usually, I’m happy with the result, but I’ve overdone it a time or two.

And it’s possible to add a little bit of too many flavors. The first example that comes to mind is gin, specifically Monkey 47. I find the 47 different botanicals less than pleasing (give me Hendrick’s® any day). But the same thing happens with food. Too many flavors can send your taste buds scrambling to decipher what they’re experiencing. That can overshadow the pleasure of cohesive flavor.

Sometimes I like to pretend it doesn’t matter I left out a 1/4 tsp of something or other. But it does. It may not mean the food is inedible, but that little dab does make a difference. It may even be the thing that makes a dish great!

*The Cavenders were customers of my parent’s business. We gave jars of this spice blend as gifts to family and friends for years before it was widely distributed. It was a hit every time!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Happy Belated Birthday, Crock-Pot!

Join me in wishing your crock-pot a happy belated birthday. About a week ago, this slow cooking device turned 50. Well, technically the device itself is a little over 80, but its incarnation with the name crock-pot began in 1971.

I’ll confess that I primarily use my crock-pot for parties. I’ve owned the brand name and something similar that doubled as a griddle. Both work similarly. They cook food at a slow pace.

My first crock pot lived in my college dorm room. We used it to make cheese dip out of cheddar cheese soup and RotelR tomatoes and peppers that we greedily dipped original Doritos into. While the thought of that cheese dip now makes me cringe, I miss the buttery flavor of those original tortilla chips.

Next, came the wedding gift crock pots. I think I received three. One was huge. I still have it. As much as I like one pot meals, you’d think I would have put a lot of miles on these pots through the years. I haven’t, which seems odd since I love one pot meals. I think it’s because I view one pot meals as something quick I can throw together last minute. Crock-pot cooking requires forethought.

Perhaps that’s why many of us opt for the convenience of fast food rather than the convenience of a crock-pot. But there’s no question that crock-pot cooking can be healthy and easily adapted to any dietary restriction.

As a recent convert to braised beef, which I’ve discovered is much like my grandmother’s pressure-cooked beef, I increasingly appreciate slow cooking. It’s great for pulled pork, ham & beans, chili, and vegetable soup. The home economists who developed recipes for the crock-pot swear it’s the best way to bake cheesecake.

It can also be used to bake pineapple upside down cake, chocolate lava cake, banana nut cake, and breakfast foods like cinnamon rolls, French toast casserole, and scrambled or boiled eggs. Clearly, I have not allowed my crock-pot to fulfill its potential.

Like any small electric appliance, part of that is due to access. A crock-pot is the kind of thing that needs a place to live that’s convenient or I forget to use it. Out of sight, out of mind, I guess and mine lives near the back of a shelf in a closet in the dining room.

It seems fitting to attempt a cake in the crock-pot to celebrate its birthday. Although I’d love to test that claim that it makes the best cheesecake. And I used to ask for lemon meringue pie for my birthday, so birthday cake doesn’t have to be birthday cake!

Anyway, I’d like to salute Irving Naxon who patented the Naxon Beanery that became the crock-pot. He created an efficient way to slow-cook food that costs only pennies a day to operate and does not heat up the house. His machine may not have been a commercial success until it was bought by Rival, but without him we might not be able to buy one of the 12 million units that are still sold each year – 50 years later.

So, thank you Irving Naxon and happy belated birthday, crock-pot!

Grocery Delivery Update

In 2018, I was eagerly awaiting availability; today, I have a grocery delivery update.

Delivery finally became available in my zip code just before the pandemic. Ordering was easy. It was a natural extension of the grocery pick-up I’d been doing for a couple of years. The first available service was Walmart. Next came Kroger® via Instacart®.  Then Whole Foods Market entered the picture.

My first delivery order with Walmart went smoothly and the merchandise was consistent with my pick-up experience. Whether you choose Walmart, Instacart, or Whole Foods, the ordering experience is similar. Each interface has a feature that shows items previously ordered, allows for substitutions, and has a space for special delivery instructions. The look is different for each, and the items captured by a search will vary in range.

Walmart’s search captures a wider group of products than I would prefer. A search for gluten-free cereal yields many varieties that aren’t gluten-free. That’s annoying, but okay. I want search results to be wide. The problem is that the gluten-free items aren’t always grouped together at the top of the list. Instacart works similarly. Whole Foods captures items beyond gluten-free cereal but seems to group and prioritize better.

September 13, 2021 update: I feel compelled to note that Walmart recently updated its website. Now you must choose pickup, delivery, and (for most items) shipping for each item before you add it to the cart. It’s cumbersome. It’s easy to accidentally end up choosing multiple delivery methods. And it feels like there are less products available for delivery. I don’t know if there are fewer, but it seems that way. Because of additional delivery problems and this website update, I have subscribed to Imperfect Foods. My first order will be delivered this week. We’ll see how that goes.

Online shopping carts have taken the place of my grocery lists. When I recognize the need for an ingredient or cleaning product, I add it to the cart. I also add personal care products, flowerpots, potting soil, garden trellis, tools, hardware, RV supplies, and toys when shopping Walmart grocery delivery. At the end of the week, I review the cart and place my order.

Walmart, Whole Foods, and Kroger carry basic grocery items and store brands. And all three rotate through other offerings. During the pandemic, it’s sometimes been hard to tell if an item has been discontinued or will be back when inventory is available. We all experienced the shortages of toilet paper, paper towels, and disinfecting wipes. Laundry sanitizer, rice, beans, and other staples were also in sort supply. That has gradually improved.

But while some things have gotten better, the Walmart produce quality has continued to deteriorate to the point some items are now spoiled upon delivery. The good news is that my garden, the farmers market, and Whole Foods have filled the gap.

Whole Foods delivers cold food in insulated bags. Some frozen items come in additional wrapping. I recently threw away a pint of ice cream that was so well wrapped I missed it. (Oops.) Today, I received some pre-washed lettuce from Whole Foods that has some browning on the stems, but still smells fresh. The sugar snap peas and raspberries in my order are perfect.

Occasionally, I try ordering produce from Walmart to see if they have fixed the freshness problem, but last week, the stench of spoiled vegetables greeted me when I opened a bag of sugar snap peas minutes after they were delivered. I empathize with the difficulties working around a pandemic brings, but I’d rather not have to throw away food the minute it arrives at the door.

For the past month or two, I’ve been splitting each week’s groceries between Walmart and Whole Foods. I order the majority of my produce from Whole Foods along with Imagine Chicken Stock and raw nuts.*  While I sometimes supplement with a Kroger order, those instances are limited. I don’t enjoy the voluminous number of texts included in the Instacart experience. I also feel like there are always more substitutions from Kroger.

There are rare exceptions, but most orders arrive within my chosen time frame no matter which store I choose. Walmart sometimes sends me surplus items or doesn’t deliver my whole order. I haven’t had this problem with Whole Foods or Kroger.

For the past year, I’ve relied on three vendors. I now have more options. Natural Grocers, The Fresh Market, Costco, and another locally owned franchise recently joined the mix of available delivery. Drugstore delivery choices have also multiplied along with discount and big-box warehouse stores.

I’m happy the choices are increasing because I like grocery delivery as much as I believed I would. It’s allowing me to stay in when the heat index is 110⁰ and that feels good.

For younger moms, it can mean shopping while the kids are asleep or working on virtual school. And it eliminates the need for putting a toddler in a hot car seat.

There are so many pluses to this service, grocery delivery will remain my primary means of shopping when in-person purchasing becomes safer. If you live in a location where it’s available, I recommend giving it a try.

*Raw nuts from Walmart are another item that’s become questionable. If I need a variety of gluten-free flours as well as nuts and/or dried fruit, I order from Nuts.com. My whole family gets excited when they see a bright colored bag from Nuts.com. It’s one place I can find dried mango and papaya without added sugar.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”