Day 28: Dried Cherries

Saturdays are the worst. This Saturday was no different. 

It started OK – I inventoried the fridge and had the ingredients for a spinach casserole of sorts – roughly based on an old kitchen experiment. Here’s what I did:

  • 20 oz bag frozen spinach
  • 4 oz shredded cheddar cheese
  • 5 pats butter
  • 1/4 cup parm cheese
  • 1/3 – 1/2 lb deli ham, chopped into bits

I mixed all the ingredients, then put in a circular baking dish, put the pats of butter on top, then cooked in the convection oven for 20 minutes at 400 degrees. As I used the spinach frozen, it wasn’t cooked in the center when I took it out, so I nuked the dish for 4 minutes, and all was well.

The major flaw was my laziness in not defrosting the spinach. It made it watery. If I had nuked the spinach first, and drained off the water, it would have been a flawless execution.

The taste was great. I liked it, my 2-year-old liked it, and my wife liked it. My older daughter cringed at the listing of ingredients, so didn’t even try it. Her loss.

A small plate was breakfast, and a slightly larger plate was lunch. 

Then the family decided to trek to our local organic farm.

Cherry Grove Farm is just outside of Princeton, near Drumthwacket, the Governor’s official residence in New Jersey. The Governor could conceivably jog over for some fresh eggs – if the Governor actually lived there, that is. The New Jersey Governor has more money than God, and has no need for free housing, so I believe he chose to stay in his own house.

If you want to know your food, you can do it here. You can talk to the people that tend the chickens and cows, and talk to the people who make the cheese – they tell you about their experiments with new recipes, their successes and failures, and it makes the brie we picked up have just that much more gravitas than the stuff in the supermarket that has no voice, no face attached to it. 

The prices are certainly more than the supermarket, but not so much to stop us from buying – and part of Me feels I’m not just paying for organic eggs and cheese, but to allow something that is fast disappearing to continue to exist. If you read Michael Pollan’s book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, these are people practicing ‘Beyond Organic’. I support their effort, and if that means a premium on my eggs and cheese, then I am willing to pay it.

By the way – the book is a great read. The fellow could write about doing his laundry and make it fascinating. It exposed me to topics I thought I’d never be interested in (like farming and hunting), and that is always welcome.

We got our eggs and cheese, then headed to Trader Joe’s. If you do not have a Trader Joe’s within driving distance, you have my sympathy. They are a strange grocery chain, with offbeat products and great prices for a lot of them. For instance, I got a large bag of macadamia nuts for $6.50. I would only find small jars of the the stuff for $4 or more in the regular store – I’d probably have to pay $20 for the same amount. 

The store has a quirky quality – employees wear Hawaiian shirts, there’s a nautical theme, and a local feel, even though it’s a chain. If Jimmy Buffett had a grocery store, it would probably be something like this. 

Cheap Trick’s I Want You to Want Me played on the store’s music system…like I said, not your normal grocery store.

Another item besides nuts that they have a particularly extensive variety of is dried fruit. My wife loves their dried cherries – we’ve seen them nowhere else. As we have to drive 40 minutes to get here, we stocked up on dried cherries, their house brand mayonnaise (the best I’ve ever had), almond butter (again, the best), Korean style ribs (we’ve never seen these anywhere else) – and a bunch of other stuff. Trader Joe’s has a con artist’s ability to pick your pocket while you’re smiling about it – and it did that to us again. We did do some stocking up, which is what we say each time this happens, but we certainly spent more than we would have if we went to our local store.

When we had got home, I had some of the Brie cheese, some low carb bread with butter, and the rest of the London broil soup left in the fridge. My wife and I cleaned out the fridge, and I had bought an eggplant to use as a noodle replacement in a lasagna experiment.

Here’s my recollection of the ingredients:

  • 1 large eggplant
  • 1/2 jar pasta sauce
  • 1/3 cup basil pesto
  • 20oz. ricotta cheese
  • 3/4 lb mozzarella cheese
  • 1/3 lb ham, chopped
  • 2 tsp garlic powder
  • 2 tsp oregano

The crux of my strategy here was to have the eggplant substitute as the lasagna noodles. Some might debate that I was really making eggplant parm, but let me have my delusion, please. I cut the eggplant lengthwise, as thin as possible with my dollar store ‘cut everything’ knife. You’ve seen these on TV, cutting aluminum cans in half. This one dollar knife has become my fave, along with my meat cleaver. If I threw away all my other knives, I could get along with just these two.

I succeeded in slicing the eggplant pretty thin, mostly.

Next up, I mixed the cheeses, the pesto, the garlic, oregano, and ham in a bowl to create a uniform goop. I then got my rectangular baking dish, spread a thin layer of sauce on the bottom, then a layer of the eggplant, then the cheese goop, and repeated until I ran out of stuff. I tried to go light on the sauce as I didn’t want it to be too soupy.

This went in an oven at 375 for 50 minutes and it came out great. 

Unfortunately, my low carbing for the day didn’t come out as good as my recipes. I had some of the dried cherries – then some more. I probably ate half a bag. My wife had also picked up some other sweet goodies, and I tasted them all.

The weight this morning showed what dried fruit abuse can do: 209 – up 3 friggin pounds from yesterday and 5 down from the start of 214.

What can I say? The cherries were good.

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