Saturday, September 14, 2013

Loaves & Fishes

Michael and I shop or do take-out almost every day for lunch or dinner.

If we purchase groceries too far in advance, food gets wasted, or worse, we risk getting sick.

Things either rest safely inside our freezer forever hidden among the bits of frozen bread and bags of frozen vegetables in 'the land that time forgot' or are kept in the refrigerator, stored appropriately in plastic or glass containers, often without labels and 'sell by' dates. Or what we do have that's fresh and ready to eat, by mealtime no longer appeals to us.

So we shop or do take-out almost every day for lunch or dinner.

When shopping for groceries, we either wander the aisles looking for ideas, clueless about what to eat, or know exactly what we crave and dart between carts and customers at record speed as if on a mission... grab 'n go'.

Today we're in Whole Foods on such a mission.

There's a pound of antibiotic free, hormone free, ground beef sitting in our refrigerator ready to turn green if not cooked today or by the latest tomorrow. If we can locate a jar of mild 'Liberty City Chili', some homemade cornbread and a small container of 365 Organic Plain Greek Style Yogurt, nonfat and less calories than sour cream and just as good, we'll be home free... Mission Accomplished!

But there are no jars of 'MILD' chili anywhere... just 'HOT'... cough, cough.

Busted we move to Plan B: Burgers.

We head to the bread aisle for a bag of ultra soft mini potato buns, but we're told they are all sold out. A new shipment will be in tomorrow, but tomorrow doesn't help today.

So we carry on with Plan C: Cheese

Well not just cheese. Since we already have the ground beef and plenty of boxes of De Cecco Thin Spaghetti no. 11 at home, we're hoping to pick up some grated Parmesan cheese and butter beans from the olive bar to compliment a meal of spaghetti and meatballs. So what are the odds of nabbing these two items today? Apparently, 0:0, zip, nada, giant goose egg, zero! Okay, so neither the cheese nor the beans are crucial to the dish, but hey... we weren't exactly married to the idea of pasta in the first place.

So in a last ditch effort it's Plan: D

Dump the ground beef for one more night and go with... whatever!

Only 'whatever' isn't making itself known to us.

'Mission Impossible' is now 'Mission Aborted'.

Defeated, we decide to head home where Michael will do magic with leftovers and I'll have a bowl of Trader Joe's High Fiber Cereal and Organic Valley Lactose Free, Fat Free Milk or some 365 Brand standards, Organic Salt-Free Peanut Butter and Organic Strawberry Conserve on Unsalted Saltine Crackers, my go to food by default.

But just as we're ready to leave...

I spot a stack of baguettes on the counter in the bakery department... and they're warm! Fresh from the oven!

Most unusual as most of the French and Italian loaves of bread are kept at room temperature... cold, stored upright in vertical bins, hard and crusty on the outside, sometimes just as hard and crusty on the inside. Not today and probably never again, will these loaves ever be as wonderful.

I grab some goat cheese and a jar of fig preserves both in eye shot while Michael chooses Seaside Cheddar (cheese from England) and then takes off for organic produce.

I find him in the seafood department waiting for some salmon to accompany his intended side dish of melted cheese on toast topped with spinach and tomatoes.

I stand next to him in front of bins packed with ice that hold whole fish... the shimmery silver kind with heads, bodies, tails, intact and sad eyes that appear glazed.

Fish doesn't appeal to me, but they sure are mesmerizing this little seven-year-old boy, who managed to wedge himself between the bins and me. Instantly, I'm reminded of Walker Evans, his photograph titled: "Roadside Stand Near Birmingham, Alabama" and his words:

"Stare. It is the way to educate your eye, and more. Stare, pry, listen, eavesdrop. Die knowing something. You are not here long."

"Roadside Stand Near Birmingham, Alabama" by Walker Evans

Staring long and hard, the boy turns to his father and quietly asks, "Daddy, can I have fish for dinner?... some Tilapia?" You could tell dad was proud. Hey, a boy who knows fish by name and knows how to eat healthy, I'm impressed. But not so impressed when the boy's younger sister, sitting in a cart, shouts out for the entire Baederwood Shopping Center to hear... "DADDY! I WANT McDONALDS!!"

"Maybe she'll order the Filet-O-Fish," I say encouragingly, while 'Fat Chance' is written all over dad's face.

I was raised on McDonalds... McDonalds and Swanson TV dinners.

Truth is... our family didn't have money to burn.

My father's mantra was either..."HOW MUCH does that cost??" or "What do you need that for?" Either way, his words always managed to kill my desire to buy anything. On the flip-side, when it came to food, my dad was a VERY generous man.

On weekends, he'd go to Waldbaums for fresh bagels, lox and whitefish. Then stop at Bambi's Bakery for a box of assorted pastries: jelly-filled powdered donuts, bear claws, and Danish topped with fruit or filled with cheese. This was breakfast.

For dinner, he'd drive the distance to Zorn's for a large bucket of the best ever fried chicken and containers full of potato salad and coleslaw. On special occasions, we'd go to a restaurant, Italian or Chinese, where my brother would deliberately order the most expensive item on the menu, making my dad cringe without any comment.

During the week, meals consisted of take-out hamburgers and fries from McDonalds, TV dinners baked in the oven, or food prepared by my mother, usually frozen minute steaks, directly from the freezer into the broiler, twenty minutes on each side and a side of potatoes.


Other than potatoes, I don't recall eating vegetables or cooked fish, but what kid would remember except maybe the seven-year-old at Whole Foods Market.

I think it made my dad happy to be able to provide for us and put food on the table, something I still appreciate to this day.

My dad retired early. I'm glad he did. He lived a brief life of just 57 years.

In the book I'm reading by Tom Shadyac, 'Life's Operating Manual: With the Fear and Truth Dialogues', which asks what's wrong with the world and what can we do about it, there's an interesting parable about a man who lived in a cottage by the sea... 

Every morning the man went fishing and caught just enough fish for the day. Afterward, he would spend time playing with his son, take a siesta, and enjoy lunch with his family. In the evening, he and his wife would meet friends at a local bar, and they'd tell stories, play music and dance the night away.

One day a tourist saw the fisherman and his meager catch and asked, "Why do you only catch 3 or 4 fish?"

"That's all my family needs for today," the  fisherman replied.

But the tourist had gone to business school and could not help but offer advice: "You know if you catch a few more fish and sell them at the market, you could make some extra money."

"Why would I want to do that?" the fisherman asked.

"With the extra money you could save up and buy a boat. Then you could catch even more fish and make even more money, which you could use to buy an entire fleet of boats!"

"Why do I need so many boats?" queried the fisherman.

"Don't you see? With a fleet of boats, you could sell more fish and with the extra money, you could move to New York, run an international business and sell fish all over the world!"

"And how long would this take?" the fisherman asked.

"Maybe 10 or 20 years" the businessman said.

"Then what?" The fisherman said.

"Then you could sell your company for millions, retire, buy a cottage by the sea, go fishing every morning, take a siesta every afternoon, enjoy lunch with your family and spend evenings with friends, playing music and dancing!"

For now, Michael and I shop or do take-out almost every day for lunch or dinner. Other times we enjoy dining in restaurants.

Food is a necessity. For some, it can also be a luxury and a pleasure. From food stamps to four-star establishments, we've lived both lives.

Sometimes life is easy, sometimes hard, sometimes profound and sometimes straightforward like ... a jar of 'MILD' chili... temporarily unattainable.

~ May food always be readily available to you and plentiful on your table ~

What are some of your favorite foods, food routines or dining experiences?

Here are a few links you might find interesting:

"Loaves and Fishes" a poem by one of my favorite poets David Whyte here.

'Big Appetites' by artist Christopher Boffoli viewed here.

'Cheese Portraits' by artist and friend Mike Geno here and an article about him titled: "Like the Mona Lisa, but on a Cracker" here.

A short written history of the TV Dinner here, with a short video version here and a British take on it here.

Cool Food Facts here.

Here's to Those Who Make a Difference.


Our favorite non-profit organization whose 'Mission' is to 
'reduce hunger and food insecurity in the Delaware Valley
by providing food access to people in need,
in partnership with organizations and individuals'.

A brief behind-the-scenes look at Philabundance here.

XOX... Dyan


  1. So, did you end up having the salmon and the cheesy bread with spinach & tomato for dinner that night? What happened to the ground beef?

    There isn't a Whole Foods store in Dayton but one is coming soon. Unfortunately, it won't be any where even close to my side of town. I shop at our Kroger Market Place which is a supersized Kroger where you can buy not only groceries and the usual assorted other items but you can also buy furniture, home goods such as bedding, curtains, rugs, towels & artwork, booze, sushi, and see a nurse practitioner for a flu shot. Unlike you, I only go to the store once a week with my trusty shopping list and my clipped coupons. I've been going there for many years and am on a first name basis with many of the employees. This Kroger does something that I really like: They hire many people with disabilities. There are baggers that are deaf, mentally challenged and one poor guy with a severely deformed spine.

    My dad was a very picky eater so meals at our house were limited to foods he would eat. Plus my mom had her dislikes too. She hated garlic so I never tasted anything with garlic in it until I left home. Dad hated fish so the only fish we ever ate were fish sticks and he didn't like meat either but he did like hamburgers so we had those often. Another thing we had often was Kentucky Fried Chicken. I swear we had it at least once a week when I was in high school. Because there were 6 of us, it was expensive to go out to a restaurant for dinner. The only times I remember eating dinner in a restaurant with my whole family was when we went to Niagra Falls for a vacation once and when my sister graduated from high school.

    I was surprised to learn that your dad died at such a young age. Was it sudden or expected? Either way, it's really hard to lose a parent. My dad was 65. It makes me so sad to think of all he has missed.

    Loved the parable.

    You asked about favorite foods. I always have trouble answering that question. There are so many foods that I like it's hard to pare it down to just a few. It's probably easier to name foods I don't like: liver, chickpeas, cilantro & rosemary, Brazil nuts & hazelnuts, okra.

    Favorite food routine: eating on our screened in back porch during the summer.

    Favorite dining experience: breakfasts at the B&B we went to last year for our 40th anniversary. The food was beyond belief! It was a feast for the eyes as well as the palette. Some of the diners with us took pictures of their meals.
    I remember a while back you were going to try a new diet where you were restricted on some days and on others you could eat what you wanted. Are you still doing that?

    About two weeks ago we saw Christopher Boffoli on CBS Sunday Morning. His photographs are very amusing. It was interesting to hear him explain his procedures for taking the pictures.

    I enjoyed reading and watching the history of Swanson TV dinners. We ate our share of those at our house growing up.
    Also enjoyed the Fun Food Facts.

    Philabundance is a wonderful organization! (Love the name too). Looks like they will be having an increase in the number of people they serve thanks to the Republicans in Congress.

    1. As always Bevo, I enjoyed reading your many comments.

      Wow!... a supersized Kroger that sells food, furniture, art and home goods. I guess you'd call that a Target store around here, but Target
      sells a lot of stuff and only a small amount of food.

      Speaking of food, I agree with some of your dislikes... cilantro and rosemary though my dislike list is a lot longer. There's this guy who works in the kitchen at Whole Foods Market. I refer to him as the green sprinkler. Part of his job is to sprinkle green stuff, sometimes cilantro, sometimes parsley, on the top layer of everything in the hot bar to make things look fresh. My job is to get to the food before he does so I don't have to spend ten minutes picking off the green stuff before I eat anything. Guess I'm a 'picky' eater like your dad.

      To answer your questions:

      'M' had the salmon while I had the goat cheese and fig preserves on great tasting bread.

      The ground beef was eaten the following day... spaghetti & meatballs with a side salad.

      Yes, sadly, my dad died suddenly of a heart attack at an early age.

      And yes, I'm still on 'The Fast Diet'. It's no effort with positive results.

      Thanks again for writing. I wish I had known about Christopher Boffoli on CBS Sunday Morning. I would have liked to hear him describe his work.

      Looking forward to more comments from you!

    2. What was it about our parent's era that made canned and frozen foods so appealing? Convenience? A sense of the new? Time? Anti-tasty-food instincts? For whatever the reasons, I must say that my daily gratitude reveries usually include some fresh food that I prepared. My cupboards have never seen canned peas, instant anything like Kraft mac-n-cheese. ( I often wonder if ingredients in things like this aren't made by Du Pont). The freezer is allergic to packaged dinners , which I must say as a child I enjoyed for lunch.
      For a first generation Italian American, I am amazed at how quickly my mother assimilated the new trends in food. Thanks to my Aunt Viola, the oldest of my aunts, who contined the old ways and made fresh food evryday, I have devloped a taste for everyday shopping and a joy of cooking.

      With Whole Foods around the corner, the Reading Terminal a mere 4 blocks away, and the Italian Market being a pound of linguini (uncooked and lined up horizontally) away from mi casa, options abound. Dinner parties with friends are as good as vacations and eating in restaurants is a once in awhile event. FAV FOODS-ravioli, cream sauces, veal cutlets, almost all fresh veggies with the exception of brussel sprouts, and let me stop here before I tease myself into a food frenzy. (Today happens to be my FAST DAY!)
      btw: Do no fish ever.

    3. If I had Whole Foods, The Italian Market & The Reading Terminal Market all in walking distance of my home, I'd shop everyday for fresh foods too. Don't forget you also have that grand Farmer's Market at Rittenhouse on Saturdays... what a bustling place that is!

      When we lived in San Francisco, we shopped every day for fresh food daily because we could with a mom and pop grocery store on every corner.

      Anyway... your writing is hysterical... loved that DuPont comment. So what's in your freezer exactly... air?

      A while back, the people at 'The Sketchbook Project' in Brooklyn, asked artists to photograph the inside of their refrigerators... an interesting project with interesting results. I'd like to see a photo of the inside your freezer. Right now ours is mostly filled with bags of frozen vegetables, something you probably don't have, and loads of bread bits.

      Yea! Today you can eat... I'm guessing no fish :) Enjoy!