Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Big City Grocery List

If I wanted to make frog legs for dinner, I would have no problems. While The Carnivore and Odd Toddler were digging our pond out a little deeper this weekend, we found the largest frog we've had yet as a tenant of our glorified mud puddle. The Carnivore caught him so Odd Toddler and I could pet him.

For the most part, I love living in the country. I love the privacy, the huge yard, the affordable housing, the small amount of traffic, the low crime, and most of all, the quiet. Where we live now, I'm only 10 minutes from the mid-size college town that I lived in for through my raucous twenties. And if I'm so inclined, its only a little over an hour to downtown Atlanta. However, I avoid Atlanta at all costs now, so if there are any big-city things I need, I'm mostly crap out of luck.

My girlfriend Tisha has for a long time now been my connection to the Big City. She traveled here for work every month or so for a couple of years, and she would always call me before she left California to see what I needed. "I'm in Berkeley," she would say. Or LA. And she would take my order for perfume oil (the kind I wear isn't available on the East Coast) or for a hair cream I got addicted to when we were in Los Angeles together a few summers ago.

I have no interest in living in California, and though Tisha is happier there than she was when she lived in Atlanta or Miami, she never really tries to rub it in that I'm caught in a vacuum when there are specific things I need. She easily made her point when she was here last month and I mentioned my utter dismay and frustration at not being able to find dried fish flakes anywhere. She matter-of-factly told me she would mail me some when she got back to San Francisco.

I haven't received them yet and its just as well because now I have something else to add to Tisha's Stuff-To-Mail-To-The-Hillbilly-List. I read a short column on tomato sauce last week in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution Food Section, and I'm eager to put into practice some of the things I have learned. Until recently, I had no idea that marinara sauce and tomato sauce were different things. Sure, I understand that you could purchase spaghetti sauce separately from the canned tomato sauces at the grocery store, but I was unaware that Italians make a distinction between these two sauces when dressing their pasta. Marinara, in a nutshell, is quicker cooking and involves basil and/or oregano, while tomato sauce is long-simmering and uses carrots and celery. Obviously, I feel I need to master this technique.

As a general rule, when making spaghetti sauce, I have used bottled sauce (like Ragu) and have simmered it for 30 minutes or so, doctoring it up with the addition of diced vegetables, parsley, red wine, garlic, rosemary and whatever else suited my fancy at the time. In my never-ending quest to reduce my consumption of pre-packaged foods, I will have no choice but to get cracking on a better recipe. But this is where my pain begins today.

I have heard of San Marzano canned tomatoes for a while, and had assumed that it was a brand name. When the ingredient was mentioned in recipes, I would substitute it with generic canned tomatoes without batting an eye. During my tomato sauce research over the weekend however, I learned that San Marzano refers to a particular cultivar of tomato grown in Italy. These things are referred to as "red gold" for heaven's sake and are supposed to have very low acidity. I must get my hands on some of these.

I tried two stores today (one of them a fairly upscale place, for around here at least), to no avail. Tomorrow, when I have to run about town to visit some of my clients, I have two other stores to try. If I bomb, I will curse the beauty in which I live, and then I will call Tisha. This is true friendship.

In the meantime, after sitting in my hot car and fuming today over the problems I have finding the ingredients I need (I also came up empty-handed in my search for arborio rice this afternoon), I comforted myself by going to the bookstore and picking up a copy of The New York Times so I could read their Wednesday Food Section. The absurdity of this particular (and far too easily found) purchase was not lost on me.

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