Thursday, July 19, 2007

The Jam, at Least, Seems Low-Risk

Two yuppie types wander into a Russian grocery. The clerk is a swarthy blonde, who is buxom enough for two young women and dour enough for three old men. The yuppies pile their selections on the counter: some pickles, a cold six pack of something, and a loaf of bread that would make an excellent blunt object (after bludgeoning someone with it, you could eat your weapon, although you might require a lot of accomplices for that).

WOMAN: You know what this is?

YUPPIES: Non-alcoholic beer?

WOMAN: No, no! No alcohol! Not beer!

YUPPIES: Oh. ...Um, okay?


If the formidable clerk had been interested in full disclosure, the conversation would have gone more like this:

WOMAN: You know what this is?

YUPPIES: Non-alcoholic beer?

WOMAN: No, no! No alcohol! Not beer! Not non-alcoholic beer! Terrible, foul swill! Taste like a combination of stale lager, diet sprite, and cigarettes! Not for drinking! For killing slugs! Slugs not know any better!

YUPPIES: Oh. ...Um, okay?


Not having the benefit of that full disclosure, we tasted the not-beer when we got home, spit it promptly into the sink, and poured out the rest of the bottle. Then we moved the other five from the fridge to the gardening-supplies cupboard, to wait for a slug invasion.

The pickles were just okay, but the bread was excellent. Dense, sweet, earthy, chewy. After some trial and error, we discovered that it was made to be sliced an eighth of an inch thick, toasted, and topped with an eighth of an inch of cream cheese, a wodge of smoked mackerel, and some thin shards of onion. Mmmmm.

Now, six weeks later, we have finally eaten our way through the whole loaf (it kept beautifully sliced and frozen), and we have to go get more. But before we do, I feel the need to devise some kind of strategy for discovering the hidden delights of the Russian market with a minimum of spittings-out into the sink. Between the lack of English on the packages, the lack of English spoken by the management, and our lack of familiarity with the look of the stuff, shopping there feels more like gambling than marketing.

We could be systematic about it and buy the most expensive item in each category, with the reasoning that since this is a store for immigrants, the cheapest stuff is probably imported just for those who were weaned on it and have a bone-deep craving for it, no matter how nasty (kind of like how I feel about grits). And the more expensive stuff might only be worth importing if it's really delicious, and would therefore have a broad appeal.

Or we could pick the prettiest label in each category. Or the ugliest. Or the one with the least English on it. Or the most. Or we could choose three categories (pickles, jam, cheese), apply all of those selection criteria to each one (cheapest, priciest, prettiest, ugliest, russiannest, most englishy), see which criterion correlated with quality more often, and then apply that criterion to the rest of the categories in the shop. This last strategy would be a good opportunity for some chart-making, which is always a plus.

Or I suppose we could just embrace the uncertainty of the experience. Instead of comparing the financial risk of shopping at the Russian market to shopping at the regular market, we could compare it to the cost of a weekend in Vegas, which could get us an awful lot of preserved fish, homemade cheese and tinned fruit, not to mention the adrenaline that comes with a game of chance. It would just be harder to explain.

RELATIVE/NEIGHBOR: Going on any trips this summer?

YUPPIES: Yeah! The Russian market down the street! Want some Mechanically Separated Pork? Or some Wafers For Torte? Maybe a bite of Korean-Style Carrots?


Infinite Iced Coffee

I don't like to waste food and I don't have a very long attention span. This endearing/enervating combination of traits results in my having a habit of leaving multiple drinks half-drunk around the house as part of my trail of general detritus, a habit that my family finds somewhat annoying. But I have finally discovered a rationale for this behavior: I HAVE to, it's in a recipe. And now, it's in a recipe on the internet.

The Never Ending Iced Coffee

1. Notice that your refreshing iced coffee has become a tepid melted coffee. Try to do this before it has developed a sketchy-looking film on top.

2. Pour it into an ice tray. Freeze it.

3. The next day, make an iced coffee, using the cubes you froze the day before. Add milk and sugar to taste.

4. Drink most, but not all, of your delicious iced coffee.


Once you've done this for a few days in a row, the water from the original ice cubes will be all but gone from the mixture, and your ice cubes will have the exact ratio of milk, sugar, and coffee that you prefer. Fancy coffee places do sometimes use coffee ice cubes, which is a nice touch, but where can you get custom-mixed pre-flavored ice cubes? Now, nowhere! Soon, your house!

And just try not to think about the theoretical potential for trace amounts of truly ancient milk. It's probably a healthy challenge to your immune system. Or something.