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Good grief, are they SERIOUS?!?!?
9 October 2008

Yikes! No kidding. Have you tried to buy groceries lately? Even a couple of
months ago I would occasionally go into my routine at Walmart. 911! 911!!!
You've gotta be pulling my leg, there's no way this stuff could cost THIS much.
This is WALMART, for cryin' out loud! Like, I'm not in Los Angeles shopping
at some boutique grocery store with valet parking, right?
Well, what can I say? Prices have now reached a ridiculous level. They make
June's prices look like a walk in the park. We're talking a pretty normal version
of a Super Wal Mart in La Place, LA, not in La Jolla (!) or Aspen. And they're
charging $1.44 for a 15-ounce can of Le Sueur "Very Young Small Sweet Peas".
No way! Way. And I can't even remember how much they were asking for plain
ole ordinary ground beef! Hamburger! I just walked away in disgust. Chances
are I have blocked out the price per pound. I do know I would have had to pay
over $5 for a "normal" package. That's what the "911!" is all about... there's
no way this is happening. Obviously I have gone off the deep end...
Yes, it's true. I do have what I choose to call "discriminating" taste. Some folks
just think my taste is downright expensive, if not totally extravagant. Why don't
I buy Brand X generic sweet peas? Simple. I don't LIKE them. Despite the fact
that I was raised in a relatively low-income family, I was taught to know the dif- erence between excellent, good, mediocre, and totally unacceptable. I'd much
rather have a bowl of good navy bean soup (and cornbread!) than a serving of
lousy generic canned peas on my plate. And chances are you've noticed the
price of frozen vegetables, not to mention fresh organic produce... Merciful
Father! I had to give that up months ago!
Okay, so gas is not over $4 a gallon... not here anyway, and not today. But
chances are we all remember when we were freaking out that the price was
rapidly approaching $2 a gallon, right? And that was not so long ago!
So just exactly what is going on here, anyway? I certainly don't know. Sad to
say, but I am not at all sure that anyone out there really knows. The economic
gurus appear to be circling their wagons. I really do hope that there is some-
one among my faithful readers who can make some sense out of this crisis -
not so much in terms of an explanation as in terms of a solution. (And if so,
please do let us know!)
In the meantime, what are we supposed to do? Tighten our belts, right? That's
what my grandparents always used to say. "Times are hard. We'll just have to tighten our belts." That really doesn't make any more sense to me now than it
did then, because starches are a lot cheaper than protein, vegetables and fruit.
And we all know that eating a starch-based diet winds up making us loosen our
belts, not tighten them.
Despite finding myself "telling it like it is", my goal here is to offer you not
only words of encouragement during these tough times, but practical advice
as well. I've given this a great deal of thought over the past several weeks.
What food IS cheap these days? Have you found any? Seriously. You can rule
out hamburger and chicken, that's for sure! It ain't like I've been eating steak
and rib roasts and now I've got to sacrifice and buy pot roast! Let's get real
here. Rice and corn are not cheap, either, or canned tuna. Check out the price
of a can of condensed soup and see what that does for you! So much for tuna casserole! (Husbands everywhere are cheering!)
So. Where does that leave us? I suppose it means cutting corners in every
way we can, and trying our best to look at things from a relative point of view.
Maybe what we really want is Beef Stroganov, but the best we can manage at
this point is Mom's Meatball Stroganoff or Gigi's Hamburger Stroganoff or Nelsonian Beef Stroganov. We could do worse. Much worse!
I guess what I'm trying to say here is that I'm doing my best to come up with
some recipes that don't cost us an arm and a leg. And as much I love good
bean soup (I really do!) a little variety would make our task much easier,
and certainly more palatable!
Let's start with the bean soup though. Very basic, classic, traditional bean soup
(the kind both of my grandmothers used to make on a regular basis) is simple and
to the point. You start with a pound of dried beans (navy, Great Northern, pinto, etc.), rinse them in a colander in case of any grit, place them in a soup pot/kettle
and cover them with about 6 inches of water, then soak them overnight. Or if
you're pushed for time (like some of us are not????) you may choose the "fast-soak" method: Place the pot of beans and water on the stove, bring to a boil,
covered, then turn off the heat and let them stand for 1 hour, still covered, They
 are now "soaked". My grandmothers always added some kind of meat, although
you certainly don't have to. It could have been a ham bone, hog jowls, pork neck
bones, or maybe pieces of bacon rind... And by the way, have you noticed that
you can buy bacon "ends and pieces"? You certainly don't have to buy expensive
bacon to make soup. You'll be paying more than enough for whatever meat you
buy! The idea of the meat is to add flavor. And certainly there would be at least
1 chopped onion and maybe some chopped celery. A word of caution though -
please do not add salt to this soup until shortly before serving, otherwise the
bean skins will be tough. Simmer the bean soup, covered, stirring occasionally,
for about 2 1/2 hours or so. Be sure to keep the heat low. As with any home-
made soup
, you can jazz this up as much as you want. You may choose not to,
though, as beans have a delicious flavor all their own.
And just in case you think world-renowned chefs look down their stuck-up noses
at the lowly white bean, think again. Don't miss this white bean soup taken to the
next level
! Wow!
Following is a favorite family recipe, which we have come to call

German Bean Soup

Why "German"? Well, because it has potatoes in it, and because this is
the way my German mother-in-law-that-was made it. And so did the vast
majority of her daughters... This recipe is not written down anywhere,
as far as I know, so I'm presenting it here as best I can, from memory.

About 1/2 cup or so chopped bacon
(ends and pieces)
1 large onion, peeled, diced
1 large carrot, peeled, diced
1 large potato, peeled, diced
Approximately 2 cups chicken broth or
stock or water and 2 bouillon cubes
Two 28-ounce can white beans
Black pepper to taste

In a heavy-bottomed soup pot or kettle or Dutch oven, sauté the bacon in
a little oil (unless you have leftover bacon grease, which my mother-in-law
always did...) until it is just starting to get crisp. Add the diced onion and
continue to sauté, stirring. When the onion is tender, add the diced carrot
and potato and cover with about 2 cups chicken broth or stock or water
and bouillon cubes. Stir to blend, cover, bring to a boil, and stir again.
Cover, reduce the heat to a simmer, then cook until carrots and potatoes
are tender, about 20-25 minutes. Add the beans with their liquid and some
black pepper to taste. Continue to cook, covered, over low heat at least
long enough to heat the beans through. The soup will be better if you let
it stand for an hour or so, then warm it up to serve. The magic ingredient,
in my opinion, is something I've not yet been able to find in the good ole
U S of A: Maggi Klarefleischbruehe mit Suppengruen. Believe me, this
stuff is a good cut above your everyday bouillon cubes, but just do the
best you can with what you have. People always love this soup!

And while we're talking Old-Country soup, let me just throw in another
mother-in-law standby. Mama Mizzi called this one

Rennfahrer Suppe

Rough translation is Racer Soup. Race-car-driver soup, if
you will. That is to say that this soup can be made in a flash.

Hamburger (even for a lot of soup, you
won't need much, maybe a pound or so)
1 large onion, diced
1 carrot, diced
1/2 head green cabbage, chopped
A quart or more of chicken broth or stock or
water and 4 bouillon cubes
Large package frozen soup vegetables*
Pasta of your choice, such as small
shells or rotelle, about 1/2 cup
Minced parsley or herbs of your choice

* Readily available in Germany. Any combination of
vegetables that appeals to you will do nicely.

That's it! Just sauté the meat in a bit of oil, add the diced onion and
carrot, sauté a bit more, then add the cabbage and broth, stir, and
cover. Bring soup to a boil over high heat, then reduce to a simmer
and cook just until the carrot is tender. Add the frozen vegetables,
stir, cover, and cook over low heat for another 15 minutes or so.
Check the seasoning and add salt and/or pepper if you like. Add the
 pasta, bring soup to a boil, and cook, uncovered, just until the pasta
is tender, 10-12 minutes.
You can imagine how much room for improvisation there is here. Make
it as soupy as you like (which I do), or as thick as you like. Use whatever vegetables you like. And spice it up as much as you want. The addition
of minced parsley and/or other fresh herbs is a great touch, especially if
you are fortunate enough to have an herb garden, which Mama Mizzi
always did. As a matter of fact, depending on the season, all the vege-
tables for this soup came from her garden, as did the roses on the table...


So where does that leave us? I'm not sure. As for me, I'm doing my best to hang
onto my optimism and economize as best I can. When items once considered
economical no longer seem so, my frustration mounts. I suppose I could remind
you of all the ways my grandmother used to economize in the kitchen - using less
expensive cuts of meat, for example. Braising less costly cuts would be a good
choice, as opposed to firing up the grill for steaks or opting for a "real" roast,
right? Well, yes and no. Short ribs are more economical than a prime rib roast,
for sure, but those short ribs are not exactly cheap these days! A soup bone,
 when you can get one, isn't cheap either. Go figure. You are probably much too
young to remember this, but I know there was a day when your friendly butcher
would toss in a soup bone for free. We'll just have to do the best we can...

Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy

Featured Archive Recipes (work in progress):
Beef Shanks Braised in Soy Sauce
Black Bean and Macaroni Soup
Black Beans and Rice, Spicy
California Casserole
Chicken Legs Puttanesca
Cream of Lima Bean Soup
Gumbo Ya Ya
Hamburger Stroganoff
King Ranch Casserole
Lentil and Brown Rice Soup
Macaroni and Cheese
Main-Dish Mexican Cornbread
Meatball Stroganoff
Meatball and Vegetable Soup
Meat Loaf, Old-Fashioned
Mediterranean Beef Stew with
Olives and Pimientos

Mexican Pinto Beans and Pork
with Avocado

Minestrone with Sweet Sausage
and Tortellini

Parmesan Polenta with Ham
Pasta e Fagioli (Pasta and Bean Soup)
Pepper Steak Meatballs

Potato Soup, Old-Fashioned
Red Beans and Rice
Short Ribs, Beer-Braised
Short Ribs, Red-Wine Braised 
Short Ribs, Texas Smoky
Split Pea Soup
Swiss Steak
Tamale Pie

Thirteen-Bean Soup

That hold us for a while... at least until Thanksgiving! Be well, stay safe,
enjoy yourselves. Make the most of every day, be grateful for every breath
 you take. Live with passion! Give a hoot! And until next time, remember,

"Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into
enough, and more.
 It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order,
confusion to clarity.
It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a
home, a stranger into a friend.
 Gratitude makes sense of our past,
brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow."

~ Melody Beattie

"As you go through each day, are you mindful of the little blessings
God has given you? The air you breathe, the family you have, the
reliable car you drive. If you were to sit down and list all of the
blessings in your life, big and small, you would begin to cultivate
a thankful spirit. Today, look for blessings in unexpected places
and be sure to express your gratitude to our loving and gracious
Father in heaven."

~ Dr. David Jeremiah

Comfort Food
Comfort Food for Times of Loss
More on Comfort Food
Nursery Food

Nursery Food, Take Two

"It seems to me that our three basic needs, for food and security and love,
are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think
of one without the others. So it happens that when I write of hunger, I
am really writing about love and the hunger for it, and warmth and the
love of it and the hunger for it… and then the warmth and richness and
fine reality of hunger satisfied… and it is all one."

~ M.F.K. Fisher, The Art of Eating icon icon



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