Unashamed Old Lady In Training

Last night, during the Food and Wine Festival, where I was stationed yet again in Patagonia (five days straight! I’m an empanada master!) I was able to meet some new Cast Members who were a part of the Disney College Program. We ate lunch together while I shamelessly asked them questions about their Disney experience like I was some sort of interviewer. I love learning about why people come to work at Disney.

Partway through, one of them looked down at my lunch –a large salad with almonds, tomatoes, cucumber slices, mushrooms and dried figs — and asked quite frankly,  “Why are you eating… old lady food?”

“Old lady food?” I repeated. I looked down. My salad looked unassuming. There was a side of tabouleh salad and a cup of coffee.

“Are those prunes?”

“Figs! I like dried fruit.”

There was a beat of silence before, sarcastically, someone asked, “Do you knit, too?”

My lack of response was answer enough. They started to laugh. I tried to elaborate– I can only do scarves. I’m working on hats. But no one would listen. Knitting, to them, meant I was practically a grandma.

I returned to my kiosk, chatting with one of the workers as we plated. “Hey!” I said,  “If you have an empanada-shaped pinata,  is it an em-pinata?”

I was met with blank stares.

“Don’t ever do that again,” he said, seriously but not unkindly. “That wasn’t funny. That was old lady humor.”

So I had to set the record straight. “I thought that was clever,” I said. “I’m not afraid to admit I knit, I eat prunes and I like cottage cheese and I watch black and white movies more than any other kind. My favorite TV show is Bewitched. I bet you don’t even know who Elizabeth Montgomery is, and that’s a shame. I bake cupcakes for people who are mean to me and that’s how I make friends. And if I want to joke about having no empanadas in the window, I totally will.”

(My other empanada joke goes like this: if we have no empanadas plated, we have. … empa-nada! Get it? Nada, as in no more in Spanish, which fits because I’m in the Patagonia kiosk.)

Let’s face it though. I think I am an old lady in training. I jumped light years ahead to the time of life where I complain about Kids These Days and can’t work the internet. My coworkers totally have a point.

But that’s okay. I’ll just knit cozies for my cups of tea and watch The Dick Van Dyke show. If you want to laugh at my jokes and eat cupcakes, come on over! It’s bound to be a wonderfully low – key time. (No shame.)

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Rocky Mountain Foodie Love

As much as I love Florida, there are times when those steaming summers can seem a tad bit overbearing. Between the hundred degree temps and the hair -frizzing humidity, the last thing I want to do is go outside. Something about it being eighty degrees at eleven PM is just wrong.

So when I have the pleasure of escaping to the Rocky Mountains for even a weekend, I want to do nothing but breathe in that fresh mountain air.
Oh, and eat. Because that seems to be my forte lately.

Today was a stunning day for food. After a mid-afternoon arrival in Steamboat, Colorado, my posse of hulking brothers (who work out religiously and look like Abercrombie models while I literally do nothing but cook and eat 24/7) and I had lunch at The Paramount at the foot of the slopes. A sleek, modern ski-rustic atmosphere with loud funky music and chalkboard menus, The Paramount was the perfect welcome into the midsummer ski town. My sandwich was beautiful, served on a wooden plank with thick toasted slices of bread, copious amounts of goat cheese, cucumber slices, walnuts and fresh sprigs of dill.

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As if that weren’t enough, we later hit up the bookstore downtown for some coffees. Well, actually, I had a steamer that came recommended by the barista. I have a weird habit of taking advice from locals, no exceptions. It was delicious, albeit a bit filling.

And then, not two hours later, came dinner.

The ribs my dad had so carefully prepped and slow-cooked were so mouthwateringly tender they fell off the bone. Fresh corn on the cob, light pasta salad and a bleu cheese pomegranate salad played supporting roles. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven.

But it does beg the question: was the food so good because of the fresh Colorado air? Because it was eaten surrounded by the people who mean the most? Or was it simply that my dad makes the best ribs?

It must have been all of the above. Because that’s the best meal I’ve had in a long time.

Like Bisquick, But Better!

I am a relentless thrift shopper and deal scavenger. And because I am unable to resist good deals, I sometimes buy things I don’t really need. Like jars, for instance. Pretty, see-through sealed jars that were on sale.

And, thanks to Pinterest, I have now filled these jars with breakfast items, like Cheerios and pancake mix. Yes, pancake mix–no more Bisquick! (Unless you like Bisquick. I know I do.)

But if you’re looking for something a little more homestyle, here’s some premade pancake mix that can be reconstituted into the perfect fluffy Sunday breakfast. Or, given as a gift in those cute Mason jars the way so many Pinterest users seem to have success with.

Enjoy!

Instant Pancake Mix:

4 cups flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoons baking soda

1 tablespoons sugar

dash salt

Any spices/seasonings you desire

Combine all with a whisk in a large bowl. Transfer to airtight container and keep in cool, dry place.

To reconstitute:

Combine 1 cup of milk and 1 egg. Mix in pancake mix gently, careful not to over-mix. This is good for the full 4-cup recipe above.

Pour onto hot, buttered griddle and cook until golden on both sides. If desired, stir in mix-ins, like chocolate chips or fruit. Serve warm with butter, syrup or whatever suits your fancy!

The Clueless Northerner Discovers Aldi

“Good food always comes to those who love to cook.”

If we are to take those words from Auguste Gusteau to heart (and yes, that is the chef from Ratatouille) it seems only natural we assume being broke isn’t a problem for foodies. This is a (usually) wrong assumption since, as we all know, food costs money. And money does not exactly grow on trees. (Cotton does, however, and that’s what our money is printed on, but I will not digress.)

It was with this idea in mind I tackled my dinner problem last night. My dinner problem is a reoccurring issue–empty fridge, empty wallet. I always have eggs, milk, butter and flour on hand, usually a fruit or vegetable on the brink of turning to the dark side and some bottles in the back of the cupboard that look like soy sauce, balsamic vinegar, olive oil and vanilla. There is also usually rice. If I’m lucky, there are some tortillas or half a loaf of bread floating around. It doesn’t matter if the bread is stale–crutons! Panzanella! Bread pudding! Yes, those I can manage. Microwave French toast in a cup (thanks, Pinterest!) has saved my hide many a time.

But last night was just plain sad. My fridge was bare and sad and hollow. Not a cup of Ramen or stray turnip in sight.

Where should I turn? Publix? No, I spend too much money at Publix. Walmart? Ehhh. Any time after dark, my local Walmart is sketchy at best.

With ten dollars in my pocket, I jumped in my car and headed for an adventure. Aldi.

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Aldi, the German global discount supermarket, is an unfamiliar company to me. We don’t have Aldi in Wyoming. But my friend Biker Bill swears by it, and I knew there was one nearby, so I decided to give it a shot. If all else failed, I would fall back on buying a bag of apples and a jar of peanut butter to live off of for the next few days.

I don’t know what I was expecting, but I walked into Aldi and found myself in the center of a large, wide aisle stacked top to bottom with boxes of fruit snacks, vitamin water and applesauce. It felt kind of cold and not particularly friendly, no music playing to ease shoppers under the florescent lights. There was no one in the store under fifty except the cashier, who just stared at me as if I didn’t quite belong. I didn’t blame her.

There was a very limited selection of fruits and veggies, but I took it as a challenge to create a dish based off of the cheapest items I could find.

I picked up the following items: a five pack of frozen tilapia, a can of cannellini beans, two lemons, a head of garlic, a container of crimini mushrooms and a package of eight Roma tomatoes.

The cashier was the most unfriendly woman I’ve ever encountered. She thrust my items at me, saying, “You don’t need a cart for these.” A kind man in line behind me found an empty cardboard box to keep me from juggling my dinner to the car.

I took my box home, pan fried the tilapia, cooked down the garlic and mushrooms, added the cannellini beans, chopped up the tomatoes and added them all to the pan with some olive oil and a squirt of fresh lemon. Salt and pepper, of course, made an appearance.

I served the fish with the bean/mushroom/tomato mix and had enough left over for two more meals.

And you know how much I spent at Aldi? $8 even.

Was the store surgically cold? Yes. Did I feel a little like a rat in a maze of discount surplus? Yes. It was like the love child of Ikea and a cardboard box.

But I got a great deal on dinner.

Am I the only one new to Aldi? Has the rest of the world spun on with this knowledge that I have been so deprived of? I don’t see how it is possible for me to have lived in Orlando for almost a year without this glorious discount knowledge.

I, Erin, The Clueless Northerner, will definitely be going back to Aldi for my groceries from now on. And I will bring my cardboard box and most disarming smile with me.