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Do you pray before a meal?

The short answer to your question is that we have been married a long time!

The slightly longer answer is that we come from different backgrounds, but we have been talking and thinking about religion, spirituality, belief, observance, tradition, ethics, morality, culture, festivals, memory, family, ritual, community, and love for more than twenty years, and we have arrived at a family tradition that works for us, for now.

The even longer answer would have to be a big thick doorstop of a memoir, which I have not yet begun to write.

Jul 29, 2015
Tartinet in Not About Food

Do you pray before a meal?

I grew up in a Protestant family that said grace at dinner every night (something something mindful of the needs of others, in Jesus' name, amen). I married an atheist, and I'm a questioning type, but we say a blessing every night with our family. It's more about having a moment of gratitude than it is a God thing with us. It's a halfway translation of the Selkirk Grace from Scotland:

Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some would eat that want it;
But we hae meat, and we can eat,
So let the Lord be thankit.

My brother's family, which is even less religious than mine, replaces the last line with, "So let us all be thankful."

I think it's a nice family tradition, and helps dinner time feel like a calm moment in the day, when we are grateful to be together, eating good food.

We do not say grace when we have guests over, unless we know they're down with religion and/or blessings. I would certainly never ask a guest to say a blessing unless I knew they'd be both honored and prepared!

I saw a young couple praying before their meal in Whole Foods the other day-- heads bowed, eyes closed, palms pressed firmly together. In my largely heathen city, it was quite a sight. Maybe they were missionaries?

Jul 29, 2015
Tartinet in Not About Food

An Inconvenient Truth and environmentally friendly food choices

My dad is a climate scientist, and he's very much a numbers-and-science guy, rather than a soap-box haranguer. But he has passed on a few ideas of what kinds of personal choices would make the biggest climate impact. His (food-related) advice boils down to this:
-Reduce your food waste
-Eat less meat
-Avoid beef altogether (yes, even pastured or grass-fed)

The choices he scoffs at as meaningless to the climate are GMOs and (to a lesser extent) organic vs conventional produce.

Just to be clear, issues of healthful eating and ethics (to do with animal welfare and fair trade) are totally outside the scope of this advice.

What is worth making from scratch to save money?

I sometimes make homemade crackers, and while they are much, much cheaper than store-bought, they can be kind of tedious to make. My new favorite way to make cracker-type things is to take slightly stale bread (usually pretty dense and hearty with grains and seeds and things), slice it very thinly, and bake it low and slow until thoroughly dried out and crispy. It's pretty easy since the only real work is in slicing the bread, and the baking does not require a lot of close attention.

Jul 24, 2015
Tartinet in Home Cooking

What is worth making from scratch to save money?

It partly depends on your gear-- if you have a pressure cooker, a crock pot, a big freezer, or a bread maker, some things will be very very simple to make yourself, with almost no hassle. Without those tools, those same things may not seem worth it to you.

You certainly do not need all those gadgets, but you might keep an eye out for them at the thrift store or on Craigslist (or if you have an auntie just itching to get you a baby present, ask for a crock pot instead of a baby monitor!)

But go easy on yourself, and accept help! Remember, that while you will be home a lot with a brand-new little one, they do tend to require a lot of your time and attention. As my brother-in-law once said, "Taking care of a baby is super easy, as long as you don't try to do anything else (and that includes eating and going to the bathroom)."

Young families

You've gotten excellent advice already. I'll just add two things that help me: I keep a couple running lists posted where I can check them quickly (for me it's the front of the fridge and taped inside a cabinet door).

One list is perishable things that need to be used up. This helps me cut down on wasted food, but it also gives me a jumpstart when I'm trying to think of what to throw together for dinner. "Cooked lentils" could lead me to lentil soup, or lentil salad, or rice/lentil pilaf or lentil "hummus" for sandwiches.

The other list is dead-simple things I know my whole family will eat. Before I started this list I would find myself standing in the kitchen after work, wailing internally, "I know they eat things, I just can't think of any of the things!"

My current list includes:
Frozen dumplings, kimchee, and cucumber sticks
pasta and red sauce with frozen broccoli
Refried-bean-and-cheese quesadillas with salad
pita, hummus, and various leftover vegetables
Chicken sausage, pasta, grape tomatoes, and frozen peas

I'm realizing that the common thread here is a store-bought item (dumplings, red sauce, refried beans, hummus, chicken sausage) that comes pre-seasoned. That, plus frozen vegetables, are lifesavers for me.

And the third thing (on my list of two things) is buying vegetables that keep well and can be used a bunch of different ways. For me, it's red peppers, grape tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, and celery (and some good-quality frozen veg too). If I have some kind of vegetable, some kind of grain or starch, and some kind of protein in the house, I can usually make a reasonable family dinner without too much bother. It may not be the height of gourmet achievement, but it's good enough, and that's all it has to be.

Good luck, and don't feel bad about smoothies, pancakes, and carry out!

One night in Providence

I would choose Birch or North.

Jul 16, 2015
Tartinet in Southern New England

Knife Skills Demo/Class in Providence

There's another one coming up on Tuesday July 21st at 6:30:


Jul 02, 2015
Tartinet in Southern New England

Knife Skills Demo/Class in Providence

I think I heard about it on Facebook-- either from Stock or Urban Greens. If you'd like to find out about future events, you could "like" both of them on Facebook. Or call Stock-- they are so friendly there.

Jun 19, 2015
Tartinet in Southern New England

Knife Skills Demo/Class in Providence

I just took a knife skills class at Stock Culinary Goods on Hope St-- it was a fun evening, and helpful. I think they do it monthly. It's sponsored by Urban Greens Co-op, and run by chefs from My Chef Lara, a personal chef service.

It was very thorough, but really geared to beginners, so everyone felt welcome, and everyone learned things. I'm a fairly experienced home cook (twenty-two years of home-cooked meals and food geekery), and I definitely learned some good stuff.

I got some basic reminders of proper knife technique (the hows, the whys, and the why-nots), and learned that I could totally buy a new knife (yay!). Namely, a serrated knife that has a chefs-knife-like curve to it. Super useful for getting through winter squash, sweet potatoes, and corncobs.

If anyone is looking for a quick knife skills brush-up (or introduction), I really recommend this class. One night, a couple hours, lots of good info.

Jun 16, 2015
Tartinet in Southern New England

Cooking Podcasts for Kids?

Thanks, good ideas!

Jun 15, 2015
Tartinet in Food Media & News

Cooking Podcasts for Kids?

This sounds perfect, thank you!

Jun 15, 2015
Tartinet in Food Media & News

Do you really need to *cook* frozen vegetables before using?

Yep, you live in vegetable heaven! In the northeast, there's a long wait between growing seasons. I'd rather eat quick-frozen vegetables than "fresh" ones that have been on the road for days and days before they hit my market. And I admit, I like the convenience of using frozen vegetables, as long as they're of reasonable quality.

But, oh, to live in the produce heaven that is SoCal...

Jun 11, 2015
Tartinet in General Topics

Do you really need to *cook* frozen vegetables before using?

I get Whole Foods 365 Haricots Verts. I really like them. I've had guests compliment how fresh they were. --Yep, freshly frozen!

Jun 10, 2015
Tartinet in General Topics

Cooking Podcasts for Kids?

My six-year-old is an enthusiastic helper in the kitchen. I'd like to find some podcasts to listen to with her, to support her curiosity.

There was a post asking the same question back in 2010, but the links were broken.

Any tips?

Jun 10, 2015
Tartinet in Food Media & News

Do you really need to *cook* frozen vegetables before using?

I make a lot of vegetable salads in the summer, and I'd love to be able to thaw a bag of frozen vegetables (either on the kitchen counter or in the fridge) and have a head-start on my prep work.

Now, if I want green beans for a salad, the best way I have of prepping them involves the whole blanch/shock/drain process. It gives me lovely crisp green beans, but uses a lot of time and dishes. I use the microwave if I'm rushed, but there's a real quality difference.

The kind of frozen haricots verts I buy says "For food safety and best product quality, cook to 160 degrees F"

Aren't frozen vegetables blanched before they're frozen? Shouldn't it be fine to thaw and eat if you want to eat them cold?

Jun 10, 2015
Tartinet in General Topics

Raid spray all over stovetop and countertop

Open the windows or turn on the exhaust fan for a bit, then just wipe down the counters and stovetop with damp paper towels. It'll be fine! I'm glad you didn't get stung! Allergies can be scary.

Green Onion Rant

Part of the problem is the out-of-sight, out-of mind nature of the fridge.

I used to throw away a lot of scallions (and cilantro, and parsley, and mint...) but I changed my strategy. I've started keeping a running list of perishables posted on my fridge-- that way, when I'm doing the Whatevershallwehave Dance in the kitchen, I consult the list and make a plan. That way, I don't have to obsessively plan each meal, but I waste much less food.

I try to plan just enough so that we actually have the major food groups available in the fridge/pantry, but not so much that it becomes a part time job.

May 28, 2015
Tartinet in General Topics

Meal Plans That Aren't Too Meal Plan-y

I think of groceries in three categories: pantry staples (long shelf life, used frequently), perishables (meat, fresh vegetables and fruits), and pantry extras (long shelf life, infrequently used).

Whenever we run out of a pantry staple, I automatically replace it, and as long as those are fully stocked and I have some kind of produce and protein on the house, I know I can make a meal with little notice.

I keep a "Use Up" list posted prominently on my fridge and I put all perishables and any pantry extras on that list. It's amazing what meals just jump out at me just by scanning the list. I check that list before I shop, and add any ingredients I know I'll want (like buying soba noodles to help use up some kimchee).

This has saved me from my old ways: building up a packed pantry and fridge full of things I had used once. I still try new things, but they don't sit around for months (okay, years) gathering dust and taking up space.

When I'm at the store, I see what produce and meat look good and affordable, and I buy that, doing some casual planning in my head as I go.

I also do what MidwesternerTT recommends and make a huge batch of chili, curry, soup, or stew for the freezer about every two or three weeks, so I have a few ready-to-thaw options in the freezer, ready to go with just a vegetable and a starch.

I use a lot of frozen vegetables, which used to horrify me in the pre-kid days, but now that I've figured out which brands and varieties actually resemble home-prepped food, I'm a happy convert.

Sincerely delicious sugar-free brownies or cookies or bars?

Both those ideas are pretty compelling. I saw that cheesecake recipe, but dismissed it as too unwieldy for the office. But individual cheesecakes-- totally workable.

Thank you, Ttrockwood!

Jan 21, 2015
Tartinet in Special Diets

PVD/RI * January '15 * Open/Closed/Coming Soon

It's been a while since we updated the scene. I noticed that Pepperoni Grill in Pawtucket seems to have closed. I am very sad about this, since I never managed to try it, and the promise of a Real NY Style Pizza with good crust and no unnecessary rigamarole was so exciting. The one time I stopped in, it was a few minutes before noon, and I was hoping for a quick slice on my way to a meeting. Alas, they had no pizzas ready and they seemed short-staffed and scrambling a bit. They were very sweet, but I just couldn't wait. Maybe they were slayed by the Dread Pirate Personnel Problems.

Any other updates in the area?

Jan 21, 2015
Tartinet in Southern New England

Sincerely delicious sugar-free brownies or cookies or bars?

There's an idea! An actual human conversation. As a tightly-wound introvert, that does not always occur to me. :-) Thank you.

And savories sound compelling... maybe something with bacon or cheese... super-thin-crust mini quiches?

Good kickstart! Cheers, Littauer!

Jan 21, 2015
Tartinet in Special Diets

Sincerely delicious sugar-free brownies or cookies or bars?

Four people at work just helped me out with a huge project, and I'd love to bring in some home-baked treats to thank them. The problem is that one of them is diabetic, and I really don't want to bring in a big pile of yummy brownies for three of them, and then some strange pudding-based chemical concoction for the other person. I know nothing about sugar-free cooking! Does anyone have a tried-and-true very tasty recipe for something that can be enjoyed by both diabetics and people that are used to eating white flour and sugar? I'm hoping to find that elusive recipe that people don't compliment by saying,"That's very good for something sugar-free!" I'm really really hoping for just a straight-up, "Mmmmm!"

I'm hoping for a very specific recipe for an office-friendly dessert, but bring on the out-of-the-box suggestions too. Thanks, folks!

Jan 21, 2015
Tartinet in Special Diets

Potential Find: Authentic Sichuan in Providence

Thanks for this tip! I went to Yamafuji a couple days ago and I'm looking forward to eating my way through that menu. Lots of things I'm unfamiliar with and can't wait to try.

We were warmly welcomed by the hostess (maybe one of the owners?) and the waitress, both of whom were helpful, polite, and very ready to advise us on the long menu. We didn't even open the sushi menu-- the Sichuan menu was plenty to keep us occupied.

We ordered a couple of their cold dishes to start-- green beans in ginger sauce and spicy cucumber salad. I was expecting small appetizer-sized plates, but they were pretty big portions-- plenty for all three of us to have as much as we wanted while we waited for our entrees to arrive. The cucumber salad had lots of red oil, so it looked like it might be super spicy, but it was mild enough that my six-year-old ate quite a lot of it. It did have a small kick to it, but nothing aggressive. The green beans were perfectly cooked and crunchy, with a sweet, tangy sauce.

For our entrees, we ordered three noodle dishes. One was called something like Shredded Pork with Sichuan Pickles and Noodles. I was expecting something rich and pungent, but it was a mild and lean dish-- a nice change from overly salty broths, but quite plain tasting. The other two were more flavorful: Cellophane Noodles with Ground Pork (nice and spicy, with a soupy sauce) and Braised Beef Noodle Soup, which was from the appetizer section of the menu, but just as big a portion as the other two. This was the winner, flavor-wise: hearty, flavorful, meaty broth, long-cooked meat (with admittedly some pretty tough chunks of tendon in there), ginger and garlic, and tender noodles.

The hostess came over to check that we were enjoying everything, and commented that everything we ordered was a traditional Chinese dish. She recommended several more dishes to try next time, including the tea-smoked duck, and a whole fish dish. She even showed us some delicious-looking photos on her phone! We were really touched by how enthusiastic and friendly she and the waitress were.

The portions were so big, we went home with a giant bag of leftovers, and plans to come back soon.

Lunch for three (two starters, a pot of tea, three noodle dishes) came to 41.75 before tax and tip.


Dec 30, 2014
Tartinet in Southern New England

Alternative raclette methods?

If you have a fireplace and a cast-iron (or other oven-safe) pan, you can do it old school. When I was a kid we used to do this, and it was great-- everyone sitting (kids on the floor) around the fireplace, big hunk of cheese in the frying pan propped next to the fire, scraping the melted layer off the cheese to eat with our boiled potatoes and cornichons. So great. We'd take turns for the melted cheese, which slowed down consumption nicely. Otherwise, I could put away a substantial chunk of cheese in no time.

Since you have slices and not a big chunk, you could probably serve more people at once.

Dec 22, 2014
Tartinet in Home Cooking

Now Eating Rhode Island: 12/14

After hearing recommendations from every corner, I finally tried Los Andes the other night. What a place! There was a line almost out the door (Friday night at 7) so I was so happy our party of four had made a reservation. We were seated promptly, by a warm and friendly hostess. The atmosphere is perfect: warm, special-feeling, unstuffy, festive, but in no way too loud. The tables were clearly full of people enjoying themselves, but it was easy for our table of four to have long conversations.

We joked that they matched our waiter to our party perfectly-- we were four professional women on a girls' night out, and our waiter was handsome, chipper, friendly and knowledgable. We had a group swoon, I admit it.

He recommended the stuffed mushrooms as an appetizer to share, along with the calamari. Both were delicious-- very flavorful and well-composed. We had heard that the portions were enormous, so we shared two appetizers and two entrees. It was the perfect amount of food.

We had a lamb special and a fish dish-- both delicious and perfectly executed. This is not quiet, exquisite food. It's enthusiastic, jolly, celebratory food, made to be shared and enjoyed with friends.

We will be back, all four of us, both together, and with anyone else we can drag along. I've heard it's our mayor-elect's favorite restaurant, and I'm impressed and heartened by his taste. It's a well-run place, full of people who enjoy their work. What could be finer?

Dec 14, 2014
Tartinet in Southern New England

Now Eating RI Vol 2: 9/14

I had a great lunch at the Wurst Kitchen the other day-- their weisswurst (plus a plain dog for the little one). It's by far my favorite lunch place: reasonably priced for the excellent quality, friendly, and fast. Chez Pascal is a twice-a-year splurge for us, but I'm delighted to go to their Wurst Kitchen almost every time I go out for lunch (admittedly, not often).

The only thing that would make me a happier (and more frequent) customer would be if they offered one hearty salad or other vegetable-centric dish. But having said that, I can appreciate that they intentionally have an extremely focused menu and mission.

Sep 11, 2014
Tartinet in Southern New England

Quick's Hole Tavern [Woods Hole]

I second everything mvi said-- it's really good. In addition to the good tacos, I think they have the best lobster roll I've ever had. It seems like places that serve lobster rolls have one of three approaches: Cheapest in town, best in town, or only in town. Quick's Hole goes for that middle one, thankfully. Not cheap, but massive, fresh, and delicious.

Aug 12, 2014
Tartinet in Southern New England

Tallulah's Taqueria, Fox Point Providence

I think the black bean taco was vegan. They may have more choices now-- I think they're slowly expanding their menu during their soft open.

It's worth a call to check. I think this is their number:
(401) 272-8226

May 19, 2014
Tartinet in Southern New England

Tallulah's Taqueria, Fox Point Providence

I went to Tallulah's Taqueria for take-out yesterday-- they are still in their "soft opening" phase.

I had the black bean taco, the carnitas taco and the chicken taco. I probably should have stopped at two, but in the interests of research, I persevered. I'm glad I did, because the chicken was my favorite: smoky, tender, flavorful chicken, with a fresh crunch from pickled radishes and a nice salsa verde.

The carnitas taco was pretty greasy, but not in an un-delicious way. It's just not first-date clean-shirt food. I was surprised that the black bean taco included rice, but it was tasty. In fact, it was still good the next morning, cold from the fridge-- a fate no taco deserves.

My only real critique is that there was too much filling in each taco-- they were all ungainly to eat. They are hefty for tacos-- big hungry guys could probably down three or more, but I could have been done at two.

The shop itself is gorgeous-- clean, modern, no-nonsense design. Great crisp colors (safety orange, faint pale blue) and honest materials (live edge wooden bar, galvanized steel, cement block).

The food and the interior both agree: this is a confident place that cares about quality, attention to detail, and satisfying, no-fuss excellence.

Highly recommended.

Soft opening details (from a sign posted in the restaurant):

Thursday to Sunday
11am to 8pm
May 8 through May 26

Grand opening May 29 11am

May 12, 2014
Tartinet in Southern New England