Plumgood Food: RIP


Just got the email about Plumgood Food going out of business December 5th.  Another victim of the faltering economy.

It’s an absolute shame.  Their service was first-rate, their produce very good, and I actually saved money shopping with them (just getting what’s “on the list” saves a LOT of money, even if the per-unit cost is higher).  They also introduced our family to many brands we would have never tried otherwise.

It’s going to be very hard to get used to going somewhere to get groceries again. 

If you ever had a chance to order food from them, you know that Nashville is losing a jewel.  Nothing gold can stay, I guess.

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My First Grocery Delivery Experience

Because I said I would, I’ll let you know how things went with Plumgood.  So far, I couldn’t be happier.  They delivered the groceries on Saturday while we were away (must have been about 11:00 am).  They came in those plastic bins that corporations use for mass document and media storage.  The cold stuff had a styrofoam insert and cool packs.  The frozen stuff had dry ice.

The quality of the produce was really, really good.  I worried, because it’s rough letting someone else pick out your fruits and vegetables for you.  The bananas were EXACLY as I would have chosen them (a little green).  The potatoes were a little smaller than I thought they’d be, but I’ll adjust to that next time.

My one splurge was sausage made by their butcher.  OMG, y’all – it is SO good!  Lightly spiced, I was able to form it into patties and make just enough for this week’s McMuffins (I used the same egg ring that I cook the eggs with).  Most store bought sausage is over-spiced, but this was perfect!

On the downside, we did miss a few things, so we ended up going to the Valley of the Shadow of Death anyway.  I’m afraid I drove everyone crazy, insisting we would stick to our list.  We were going to have to go anyway, because Lintilla needed shorts, Trillian needed hair clips, and Zaphod needed a hat to cover what he considers a bad haircut.  Will I ever be free of the grip of WalMart?

Hopefully, my grocery-list making abilities will improve, and we can skip WM altogether.

Next week, the kids are at a week-long overnight church camp, so we’ll need to order a whole lot less food.  That’ll be a nice, short break.

Oh, Trillian and I made homemade chocolate chip cookies Sunday morning.  They turned out heavenly (Ghirardelli was the only ‘mainstream’ choice for chocolate chips – yum!), at less cost than a couple of packs of Oreos.  The trick is adding a couple of packs of vanilla pudding mix to the dry goods of the cookie dough.

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Finally Made The Jump

Y’all know I have a love/hate relationship with WalMart.  On the one hand, I have no problem with the idea of WalMart.  In fact, whenever some crank starts railing into the company, I defend them all the more vigorously.  WalMart, and their lower prices, is probably the only thing keeping some people afloat right now.

Then there’s the other side.  I HATE going to WalMart.  I have nicknamed the place “The Valley of the Shadow of Death”.  I can think of few places where the shopping experience is more miserable.  The two exceptions I have found (we’ve been to every WalMart in North America) are the one in Cool Springs, and the one in Destin, FL.  And trust me, you do NOT want to go to the one in Destin on a Saturday afternoon when all the condo people are stocking up on chips and beer.  But that’s not WalMart’s fault.

Where was I?  O yeah.  There’s another, more important reason I hate going to WalMart. 

It’s more expensive.

That’s right, I said it.  I’ve got the receipts to prove it.

Now, on a per-item basis, WalMart is cheaper.  However, in practice, one always ends up spending more than they meant to, especially if one is there to get groceries.  It’s the nature of of the “superstore”.  I go to get groceries, and my “list” may have $75 worth of food on it, but somehow, every time, I walk out of there having spent $150.  This is the sort of thing that happens when you have borderline ADD.  Look!  Something shiny!

On a smaller scale, the same thing happens at traditional grocery stores.  I always spend $20-50 more than I meant to.  Well, I can’t do that anymore – I’m on a mission.

So, in the strangest of cost-cutting moves, something that is completely counter-intuitive even now when I think about it, I ordered this week’s groceries from Plumgood Foods.  I know – you’ve looked there before, and everything seemed so darned expensive, you closed your browser and headed down to Kroger.

But, upon analyzing it, I discovered that it is indeed, for me in practice, cheaper to have my groceries delivered.

A lot had to happen before it was a good idea to me.  Plumgood now has more than just trendy urban hippie food, they have what they call “mainstream” items.  Plus, they do have locally grown vegetables that are pretty much the same price as the grocery (I’m not close enough to Farmer’s Market to hop by there every afternoon).  Also, Plumgood no longer has a charge for delivery.  And they deliver on Saturdays.

I had a list, and I stuck to it.  And my week’s grocery bill is $84 with tax.  That’s about half what I normally spend at WalMart or Kroger.  With a family of four (and two males who eat like they are about to go into hibernation), that’s pretty darned good, and delivered to boot.  And I will be getting only what I need; hopefully there will be less wasted food.

It’s not perfect.  I didn’t like their bread choices, and I’ll have to stop by the day-old bread store on the way home today to get things like hoagie buns and white bread.  They didn’t have Life cereal.  And to be honest, I didn’t need to buy much meat because I’ve got a lot stocked up.  And I’ll still be getting things like paper towels at Costco (I’ll send my non-impulsive wife).

I’ll let y’all know Monday how the delivery goes.  Right now, I’m pretty excited.

I wonder if this would work for clothes, too?  Since we’re, er, getting older, we find Land’s End to be pretty hip and stylish.  If we were to start solely ordering clothes from there, just what we need, without traipsing to WalMart or a mall where we would no doubt buy all kinds of things we didn’t come for, maybe we’ll come out ahead there, too.

I must investigate.

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Playing With My Food

This past Sunday was not exactly a day of rest for me.  (Sorry, God).  I decided that while I had most of the day at home, I’d grab the kids and we’d pre-cook all most of the meals or this week.  We had a blast.  Since I enjoy cooking so much, maybe it’s not a Sabbath violation – I was just partaking in an enjoyable “hobby”.

We’ve eaten out FAR too much this summer (having the kids get home at 5:45 instead of 3:30 really messes up the family schedule).  We’re trying to save money for a Disney World ‘Grand Gathering’ next year with grandparents and my siblings – I must be crazy – and we’ve challenged ourselves to spend a certain amount less per month than we have been so far this year.  That means going back to the envelope system, and eating at home.  I swear, based on past results, just those two actions alone save us over $1K a month.

Anyway, I’ve been in a creative mood lately.  Since I was grilling steaks, I decided to use the free cooking energy from the charcoal and cook a couple of other meals.  Of course there were hamburgers (my daughter has a micro cake pan that forms perfect quarter pound patties!), and I did a little experimentation.  I used my wife’s very simple beef bulgogi sauce recipe as a marinade for grilled smoked chicken.  Soy sauce,sugar,sesame oil, garlic, that’s all.  I left out the green onions because I was using it as a marinade, but added onion powder for flavor.

I cooked the chicken using mostly indirect heat (with the sugar you do NOT want to cook these over high direct heat).  Y’all – they were scrumptious!  I served them last night with steamed rice and southern slow-cooked green beans.  The kids ate all of it!  I have a Korean/redneck fusion hit.

By the way, I suspect that beef bulgogi meat would make an awesome sandwich, with a vinegar-based slaw right on it – just like a pork BBQ sandwich.  I might try that next week. 

Last week, Alton Brown had a rerun of a show about pocket pies.  I thought at the time that it would be really cool to take a few leftovers (new potatoes, corn), and mix them with ground beef and onions and put them in a pocket pie.  I started to do a little research on my grand creation and discovered that there is nothing new under the sun: they call them empanadas.  Duh.  I finally settled on a recipe that was similar, and threw in a little cumin and garlic into the filling as well.  Later this week, I’ll make the dough for the pies (it’s basically well-kneaded biscuit dough), and cook them.  I can’t decide whether to bake, pan fry, or deep fry.  I think authentic empanadas are pan fried (baking would be too dry, deep frying is better for fruit pies).

I finally figured out a way to get my kids to eat salad.  Grow your own.  Trillian’s Aerogarden had been producing herbs nicely, but I sucked at preserving them, so we decided to switch.  We now grow salad greens in the Aerogarden.  This also solves another long-standing problem.  We would buy bagged salad or heads of lettuce over the weekend, and by the time we would get around to actually having salad, the lettuce would be brown.  With the Aerogarden, you pick what you need when you need it.  We’ve got it right there in out dining room.  So tonight, we’ll have steak fajita salads (no tortilla bowl, though).  My kids love it (crossing fingers they never figure out that it’s a relatively healthy meal).

Trillian is on a “cake kick”.  She is teaching herself how to properly bake cakes (please don’t ask how last night’s experiment went), and we’ll be signing her up for a cake decorating class soon.  I hope this hobby sticks.  She could pay her way through college, just doing wedding cakes.

So, anyway, that’s my adventures with food this week (the rest is simple stuff like chicken salad).  Boring, I know, but it was wonderful to actually get my kids involved in the kitchen this week.

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I Want Peaches

I’ve told you before, I love stories that follow the quest story line. I love the story of the travel, of the meeting of new people in new lands, and especially of spots where the hero rests and rejuvenates: an inn, an oasis, a familiar way-stop.  Think of Tolkien’s Fellowship of the Ring: the house of Tom Bombadil, The Prancing Pony, Weathertop, Rivendell, Lothlorien.  Each of these is a (most of the time) familiar place of rest on The Journey.

Well, I’ve been journeying between Nashville and the panhandle of Florida for well over 40 years.  For me, one of the sweetest parts of the long journey is stopping at Durbin Farms in Clanton, Alabama.  Nestled halfway between Birmingham and Montgomery, and consequently, at around the halfway point between Nashville and Destin, the open-air farmers market is truly like an oasis on I-65.

Produce at Durbin Farms

I know what you’re thinking: produce is produce.  Buy local!  Maybe you’re right.  But everything is better on the road, I say. 

And, what is REALLY special at Durbin Farms, what they specialize in, is peaches.  The peaches are just wonderful there, especially in season. 

I had forgotten how much I miss stopping in Clanton, AL, till this last trip to drop off the kids.  I’ll be stopping there again this weekend.  I can’t wait.

A Pinch Of Science, A Dash of Art

There is a certain duality to my personality which I’m sure drives everyone who knows me crazy. 

Now, every endeavor or facet of life has art to it, and science.  We have many words for this duality.  Left brain/right brain.  Art/Science.  Mars/Venus .  In Christianity we call it Spirit / Truth . 

Most of us have an engineer and an artist inside us, with one of them being the boss.  Not me.  My scientific and artistic sides are almost totally equal – at this point in my life, they have reached an uneasy cease-fire, and have even learned to cooperate somewhat.

(As an aside, I think this is where nm and I don’t see eye to eye about music.  I equally appreciate the artistry AND craft of songwriting and recording.  This is why I consider Dylan (artistry) and Phil Collins (craft) to both be masters)

Let me tell you a secret that successful people follow (in any undertaking): master the science, and allow the art to master you.  Know everything there is to know about whatever it is you are doing, but use that knowledge as a sail, not an anchor.  Create, but do so only after you understand the foundations on which you create.

I swear, if I didn’t claim Jesus Christ as Lord, I’d probably gravitate to Buddhism.

I’m digressing from where i wanted to go with this, but I think my two sides are having an argument right now.

What I wanted to tell you is that I’ve ordered a book I wish I had ordered years ago.  It’s called On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen by Harold McGee.  I think it will bring balance back into my “cooking” life.

Up till now, my time in the kitchen has been by the seat of my pants, fearlessly trying this ingredient or that method, many times with good results, many times causing my family to pay the price.  The Artist has had full control, with the Engineer only being an onlooker.  I think that reading this book will correct that.  The synopsis at Amazon:

A classic tome of gastronomic science and lore, On Food and Cooking delivers an erudite discussion of table ingredients and their interactions with our bodies. Following the historical, literary, scientific and practical treatment of foodstuffs from dairy to meat to vegetables, McGee explains the nature of digestion and hunger before tackling basic ingredient components, cooking methods and utensils. He explains what happens when food spoils, why eggs are so nutritious and how alcohol makes us drunk. As fascinating as it is comprehensive, this is as practical, interesting and necessary for the cook as for the scholar.

I’ve learned from young Jedi Alton Brown, now I need to learn from Yoda himself.  It’s my understanding that On Food and Cooking may be the single most in-depth study of food science ever assembled.  If I can learn the “whys” of ingredients and techniques, then, just like in music, improvisation will be (pardon the pun) a piece of cake.

This may take a while to get through, but I’ll let you know how it goes.

Posted in Books, Food. 6 Comments »

This Tickles Me

Arguably the biggest star in America, the person who outsells all others in pop music, with a hit TV show and an upcoming major film…

 …prefers Nashville restaurants to those in Los Angeles.

Miley Cyrus is looking forward to returning to her Middle Tennessee home on April 12 to co-host the April 14 CMT Music Awards and film her first Hannah Montana feature film…

…Believe it or not, she loves Nashville’s food over the West Coast’s. “I swear, I’ll gain 20 pounds by the time I leave there,” she said. “There are so many more better restaurants than here. There’s more variety there.

“I love Cracker Barrel, of course. J. Alexander’s is my all-time favorite.”

Gasp!  A chain!

OK, I know she’s only 15, what does she know?  She probably even likes Pizza Hut.

If she shops at WalMart, heads will explode all over Green Hills.


Kiss My Grits

When I was growing up, on those wonderful “big breakfast Sundays”, we’d have bacon and sausage and white gravy, and eggs over-medium, and my mom’s world famous biscuits.  The biscuits where there for three reasons:

1. They were incredible on their own.

2. They were necessary for sopping up the yolks of the eggs.

3.  “Dessert” was a biscuit topped with gravy.

 Did I tell you we had three teenage boys at one time?

Anyway, another thing we had on big breakfast Sundays was grits.  Mom would give us our individual servings, then each of us would proceed to sprinkle sugar over it.

I didn’t know this was weird for around here till I grew up.  Most Nashvillians, it would seem, go for the pat of butter with salt & pepper treatment for grits.  But, try as I may to fit in, I cannot have grits without sugar.

How did a family growing up in Nashville develop such a regionally uncharacteristic food habit?  I think it’s due to the fact that my grandparents were from other states (Alabama and Missouri).  I THINK sugar on grits is an Alabama thing, but I’m not sure.

Perhaps some enterprising food anthropologist can do some research on grits preparation and how it varies in the different sub-regions of the south.

So, how do you like to have your grits?

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Random Thoughts On Food

Paula Deen is right: butter makes it better.  More on this in a minute.

My love affair with food began almost 30 years ago.  I was your typical latchkey kid, with a twist.  The whole time I was growing up, my dad had real cool cars.  Camaros, Mustangs, a souped-up Ford Fairlane.  When I was a teen, he had an Olds 442.  It had the awesome paint job with the “442” on the sides, racing strips and mag wheels.  In 1981, due to the almost decade-long energy crisis, there just weren’t many sporty options in vehicles, so it was definitely the coolest car in my part of town at the time.

What the heck does that have to do with food?  Hang on, I’m getting there.  My parents were hard-working people; when they got home in the evening, they were too tired for cooking and cleaning.  For me, school let out at 2 in the afternoon.  So, Dad made me an offer: help out around the house, get to use the “cool” car on weekends.  I started with simple cleaning.  Then I graduated to cooking simple dinners.  On weekends, my mom would show me tricks, and have me help with her monster-sized southern dinners.  I learned just enough to be dangerous, then I got better.

After school, I didn’t spend a whole lot of time as a bachelor, so when I ended up marrying a woman who never learned the first thing about cooking,  I just naturally slipped into that role.  I’ve been honing my skills ever since.

I realized tonight that I am not really a good cook.  Not in the “foodie” sense of the word.  Oh, what I cook, I’m pretty good at.  But, my menu is limited to the southern, po-folks food I grew up with.  I make very little that could be called fancy.  I don’t use fresh ingredients very often.  Sometimes, I even make stuff with parts out of a box.

I make things like pork chop pie, chicken over eggbread, a mean chilli.  I make really good homemade Philly cheesesteak sandwiches.  After 30 years, I finally, finally mastered southern pan-fried chicken.  It’s probably the hardest thing to get exactly right.  My mother tried to teach me when I was young, and it’s taken years and years of frustrations to get right.  Don’t ask me the secret, because it’s not a science, it’s an art.  It’s something you feel your way through.

I spent 5 years in the pizza business.  I learned enough that my homemade pizza pleases even my kids.  I make my spaghetti sauce from scratch (it isn’t that hard), as well as my Swedish meatballs (ALWAYS served over egg noodles, thank you).

Tonight, we had pork chops and rice, the simplest of dishes.  You just brown boneless pork chops in an electric skillet, set them to the side, make Rice-A-Roni per the directions, and put the chops into the rice mixture as it is cooking.  It makes the most wonderfully flavored, juicy chops, and the kids can’t get enough of it.

I had lima beans with it. Limas are the one food I like that no one else in my family likes.  I guess everybody’s got one of those.

My mother’s lasagna is the best you will EVER taste.  Mine comes in second.  Yeah,I’m bragging.  Come on over, I’ll feed you some. 

Here’s an easy meal:  Place a filet of your favorite fish (I like flounder) in a small sheet of aluminum foil.  Brush it with butter.  Cover it with mixed veggies: broccoli, a little squash, peppers, that kind of thing.  Sprinkle lemon pepper seasoning over the whole thing, and close the foil  over it all, making your own little roasting pan.  Bake the recommended time for the size fish you have, and you’re done!

Breakfast is the hardest meal to get just right.  Everything has to be done at exactly the same time.  I grew up with a love for eggs over-medium, perfect for sopping with a biscuit.  I’ve passed this love down to my daughter.

I’ve already told you about my chicken and dumplins.

I’m realizing as I read over some of the things I like to cook, that food is the essence of who we are.  I’ve always felt the tug of war between my wish to be more sophisticated, and my common folk upbringing.  Deep down, I’m not very fancy, though I’d like to be.  When I was younger, I purposely lost my southern accent; it’s one of the few regrets I have in life.  I am glad, though, that I have that connection with my mother and her mother through the food I cook.  The fact that my kids like my cooking is a plus.

Oh yeah,one more thing.  For at least 20 years, I’ve been on the low fat kick.  I’ve pretty much always used margarine.  Recently, I decided to try real butter for cooking instead.  Folks, I had no idea what I was missing.  It’s like putting on glasses for the very first time.  It’s like sex.  It may even be better.  I am absoutely in love with butter.  Where has it been all my life?

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Please Put The Item In The Bag

The new Harris Teeter in Belle Meade will have a device to take your cart to your car. It’s like a parking lot conveyor belt. Damn.

What I want to know: does this mean my wife will no longer circle the parking lot like a vulture for 30 minutes to ensure a spot closer to the store?

I doubt it. She enjoys it too much. It’s not about being closer or saving effort, it’s about winning some imaginary parking game she has implanted in her head.

The absolute most important thing, however, is that the Belle Meade Kroger will soon have some real competition. I drive home on West End/Harding, so I’ll have my choice of the tiny Kroger, an overpriced Harris Teeter, where I don’t even have to push my cart to my car, or an equally overpriced Publix.

It will all boil down to who has the best produce, because when I stop at the grocery on the way home, it’s to get an ingredient for a side dish; I invariably forget the sides on my weekly grocery run.

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