Friday, May 29, 2009

Free food?

Morningstar brand barbecue ribletsOn occasion, I've been able to accidentally score free (non-fast or processed) good food. Like today, when I went to my friendly local health food store, Brown's Market, to buy Morningstar riblets. (Haven't tried this new product yet.) Now, the riblets were not free, but, because two of the store's freezers need to be repaired, after I paid for the faux ribs, Jay literally pushed (cool, shrink-wrapped, date-stamped) sandwiches into my hands, because they have tomorrow listed as the expiration date. Not being a complete fool, and lazy to boot, I took them. (Which also means no cooking tonight, as these hearty sandwiches will go well with homemade Asian cabbage coleslaw.)

Now, I realize that the reason I got free food was that the sammiches were close to expiring, and I happened to be at the right place at the right time, but also because I'm a semi-regular customer. Whether at small grocers or fine dining establishments, the "regulars" get the occasional freebie and discounts that less frequent customers do not.

I've taken advantage of end-of-day food store discounts, and have, at times, helped others to them. For instance, when I worked at the downtown Firehook location, on Fridays the remaining food that couldn't be taken to another local branch was (and still is) discounted by 50% in the final hour before closing, because that particular store is closed on the weekends. So, as a customer, I've periodically mozied down there to bring home tasty goods for the weekend, like cornbread (which is not painfully sweet like Whole Foods').

Of course, small restaurants like the Vegetable Garden (yum!) and chains alike offer loyalty cards, in which you get a card stamped after each visit, and get the number "x" purchase free. Of course, the best way to save money overall on food is using careful observation of prices and food amounts at all food stores and restaurants in your area.

loaf of Amish friendship breadNot-so-free food...

I got roped into baking loaves of the fabled, admittedly delicious Amish friendship bread (pictured above) after a friend handed me a giant ziploc of the infamous beige goo. One problem with this cakelike quickbread was simply the timing--it's not the right time of year for baking, especially sweet spicy cakes (or chocolate desserts). For some reason I assumed the friendship was a true sourdough. NOT. Thus, why all the fuss?

My real gripe with the fussy treat is not the number of days (10) or steps required, but the sheer number and variety of ingredients used, which boggles the mind. For instance, because the starter contains yeast, why the need to add both baking powder and baking soda? Also, since the recipe calls for eggs and oil just before baking, what's the point of adding instant pudding mix (which is mostly sugar and cornstarch)?

Granted, the final product tastes like cinnamon doughnuts in loaf form, but I've had, and baked from scratch, other delicious cakes that took a lot less effort and fewer ingredients. Hmm, I guess this bread was not so "free" after all.

Friday, May 15, 2009

City, Country, City

sign marking Arlington ChapelLike every other week, there have been good and bad things going on. In Arlington at a cattle call, aka job fair, earlier this week, there were lots of applicants. Who all seemed to come at around the same time, like a tsunami. What was surprising was that even the vaunted healthcare sector had few exhibitors. On the way back to the subway, I spoke with one of the hopefuls, who unfortunately emigrated from the UK to the US, thinking that, regardless, there are always jobs in America. Not.

* * *

Well, a few folks in Arlington have shown foresight, at least regarding gasoline usage, as they set up the Envirocab company, which tools around town in those spiffy painted Camrys (and other) hybrids.

Envirocab in Arlington Virginia As the Envirocab company is relatively new, it would appear that one perk of using one of its cabs, in addition to their spewing little to no pollution, would be that they're not on the verge of falling apart! That alone is change worth bringing.

* * *

Back in D.C., I decided to treat myself to Sticky Fingers Bakery, which was playing music appropriate for my mood--the blues. I didn't partake of one of those scrumptious cinnamon buns, but a more recent temptation, cupcakes topped with creamy frosting. I searched for the orange creamsicle ones, but they were not to be seen. I greedily decided on two others, the strawberry cream cupcake (which I had drooled over previously), and a lemon-filled one.

strawberry creme cupcake at Sticky Fingers BakeryThe strawberry creme beauty above was just as tasty as I had imagined it would be--moist, with a fluffy sweet frosting on top, lots of it. However, the lemon-filled one was a disappointment; seems like there was lots of lemon juice used, but not much lemon zest (certainly not in the frosting). I wish I'd chosen the chocolate-chocolate cupcake as my second choice, as that's usually a moist, tasty treat. Oh well. The cakes were nice washed down with a large cup of the excellent Intelligentsia green tea that Sticky Fingers serves--I forgot how good that tea is. All in all, the friendly staff, good street view, tasty snacks and drinks, and good music make Sticky a good place to hang out.

* * *

Treated myself to hard work, friendly people and dog, great views, and kites (?) flying about at Clagett Farm. As it's not yet harvest time, it was time for the decidedly unglamorous task of weeding and digging up various fields. However, you know it's spring when you look up and get a glimpse like this...
barn at Clagett FarmWith a blissful view like this, who would think that you're within five minutes of noisiness (particularly this week, as the air show's this weekend) of all the graceful jets and other aircraft swooping in and out of Andrews?

jet flying overhead

Thursday, May 07, 2009

There but for the grace of God go I...

paper snowflakes over window Visiting the county's only shelter for women and children was a bit of a shock, although our group had, a few years ago, made regular forays to the same place to serve meals there on Sundays (which can be a great need at many of them, as most volunteers serve meals there on Saturdays), because the population seemed a bit different. Of course the residents were different, of course, but this time, they weren't all young women with children, although most were.

Joining the young women were a few well-educated young ones, with whom we also chatted amiably. One of the few older women there was also well educated and traveled, and I enjoyed speaking with her--though I hope she gets back on her feet soon. Like many other people, health problems were the catalyst that brought her to the shelter; her problems began with bronchitis and snowballed from there--the second time in as many weeks that I've learned that bronchitis can be so serious. She seemed hopeful for the future, and appeared relatively healthy, but apparently could not be with her family.

This all-too-common shame of going to be with one's family (or, conversely, not accepting a family member who's fallen on tough times) is endemic of our go-it-alone individualistic mentality, and it's hurting us all. Even the motivational speaker Iyanla Vanzant had a rough patch a couple of years ago when she lost her home with a subprime mortgage (and still does not have health insurance) but still too many of us listen to people like former Senator Phil Gramm nastily refer to other Americans as "whiners."

* * *

A group trip to the Capital Area Food Bank to volunteer one weeknight (pre-Obama visit) was heartening--to see many different kinds of people willing to help others, with a quickness! They proved the truth of the saying "many hands make light work," for the apparent mountain of donated items were sorted within a two-hour span. Whew! My back hurts again just thinking about it. But it's a good kind of hurt, if that makes sense.