Wendy’s Word

Not your mama’s blog….

Gelson’s January 29, 2010

Filed under: Food — wendy @ 12:01 pm

I’ve just discovered that I love Gelson’s.  For those of you who don’t live in L.A., Gelson’s is a fancy (and expensive) supermarket.  There is one in my neighborhood, but I only go when I need some gourmet ingredient that regular supermarkets don’t carry.  Last weekend, I did my weekly shopping there and it seemed like less of an ordeal than my usual supermarket.

The key to shopping at Gelson’s is to buy as much of your weekly shopping items at Trader Joe’s first, so you don’t get stuck paying a premium for all your groceries.  I always shop at Trader Joe’s before going anywhere else anyways, and occasionally I can avoid the supermarket altogether.  And believe it or not, Gelson’s has sales.

The first thing I saw when I walked in were the wines on sale.  I’ve recently begun buying wine at the supermarket, because during the holidays, Ralphs was offering 20% off if you bought six bottles.  I got tired of the Trader Joe’s selection, and Ralphs offered good variety.  When I saw Gelson’s offering a Rodney Strong Sauvignon Blanc for almost half price, I couldn’t resist.  I’m usually a red wine drinker, but I love Rodney Strong.  

I then proceeded to the deli counter where I bought the same Boar’s Head deli that I get at Ralphs for Gelson’s (higher) price.  But they do a great job at slicing, thin with paper between the layers so the slices don’t stick together.  I don’t think that’s worth paying a premium for, but whatever.  I then spied the prepared salads, which looked delicious.  I never buy prepared salads from the supermarket, but these looked like perfect lunches for me to pack for work.  Yes, I could make them myself, but then I’d have to buy all the ingredients, put forth the effort to make the salads, and then most would probably go to waste.  So I sprung for ½ lb of barley salad with bell peppers, almonds, vinaigrette, and parsley and ½ lb. of Waldorf salad (not the usual gross kind, but one with several kinds of apples, dried apricots, and light on the white sauce).  It’s much less expensive than going out to lunch.

The rest of the shopping experience was normal, other than the fact that the store is well-stocked, neat, and the salespeople are super helpful.  And they have items I haven’t seen elsewhere, like this good Kashi cereal with currants and walnuts. 

Some people love the bakery, which is called Victor Benes, but I think it’s overrated.  I’ve bought cakes and cookies from there and didn’t think they were that great.  They taste like attractive supermarket baked goods.

I think I’ll go back, but after my Trader Joe’s run, to control my food expenditures!


Pasta Sauce January 23, 2010

Filed under: Food — wendy @ 9:47 pm

The other day, I had a discouraging conversation at work.  We were talking about how to reverse the obesity epidemic and decrease sodium from people’s diets.  I asked a colleague whether she agreed that the best approach is to promote cooking at home with fresh ingredients, so you know what you’re getting.  There are many advantages to the family dinner beyond just nutrition.  I even read that better academic achievement is correlated with eating dinner as a family.

I know this approach is naive and maybe even a little patronizing.  I’m well aware that some parents work two jobs and are not home at dinnertime, or they live in areas with poor access to fresh fruits and vegetables, and that unhealthy food is all around us, is heavily advertised, and is cheap.  But what I wasn’t prepared for was the answer of another colleague — that even if you cook yourself, you still don’t know what you’re getting (true).  For example, he asked, do you make your own pasta sauce?  Like that’s something extraordinary that no one does.  Yes, I do, answered my other colleague (thankfully!), and so do I.

I admit that I resort to jarred pasta sauce sometimes, out of sheer convenience.  Especially if I’m making a multi-step dish like lasagna or chicken parmesan.  But for the most part, I make my own, and nothing could be easier!  No recipe involved.  So here’s my no-recipe recipe:

Pasta Sauce

Saute some garlic in olive oil.  If you want, you can add anchovy paste and red pepper flakes, or you could add chopped onion.  Add a large (28 oz) can of tomatoes.  They can be crushed tomatoes, diced tomatoes, or petite-diced, depending on how chunky you want your sauce.  (Use “no salt added” if you can but unfortunately, only the 14.5 oz. cans seem to come that way.)  Add some salt and pepper and some herbs.  I usually add Italian herbs (a blend that I get from Penzey’s) but you can add oregano or whatever you want.  If you add fresh herbs (like basil or parsley), add them at end.  Let the sauce simmer for about 15-20 minutes, until it thickens.  That’s it.  Much fresher and more delicious than jarred sauce and so easy.


French Women Don’t Get Fat, by Mireille Guiliano

Filed under: Books,Food — wendy @ 9:26 pm

I’m sorry but it’s yet another book about food and France.  But I’m running out really.  The next book (I’ve already started) has nothing to do with food or France!

French Women Don’t Get Fat isn’t such a great book, but it has alot of common sense in it that I totally agree with, and despite the common sense, isn’t practiced often enough in this country.  Guiliano says that by applying the French approach to food, you can lose weight and maintain a healthy weight.  She advises keeping a food diary for a few weeks to identify your triggers.  This is classic behavior change technique.  Then you go through the leek soup weekend to let your body know it’s in for big changes.  Then you go through what Guiliano calls “recasting,” which is avoiding trigger foods altogether, paying attention to portion size, cooking at home to control what you eat, drinking water, and learning to enjoy and savor food.  After the recasting period, you can reintroduce trigger foods, but in very small portions.  She also advocates exercise, but the French way — through regular activity and sports you enjoy, not by going to the gym.

I love this approach.  I completely agree with buying quality ingredients, cooking your own food, only eating until you’re full, and above all, enjoying eating.  Many times my mouth wants to keep eating even though my stomach tells me I’m full.  In Guiliano’s next book, “French Women For All Seasons,” (which I read before this one), Guiliano describes her approach to huge restaurant portions, which I now think about when I’m in restaurants.  She mentally divides her portion in half and eats half.  Then she assesses whether she’s still hungry, and if so, she eats half of what’s remaining, and so on and so on.

The book itself is a little hard to follow.  It’s not like an American self-help book, which would include sample food diaries and would end each chapter with a recap.  If you were really trying to use this system to lose weight, you’d  have to go through the chapters a few times to remember exactly what you’re supposed to do in the recasting period, how long it lasts, etc.  But I suppose Guiliano would say that it’s the French approach to food that’s important, not the exact method.  There are also recipes unevenly dispersed through the book.  Some are at the end of chapters, some are in the middle.  There were a bunch of them in the middle of the book — so many that I wondered whether the book was over and the rest would be all recipes.  I think “French Women for All Seasons” is better organized.

Guiliano’s attitude is amusing.  She thinks highly of the French and of herself, but in a way that I find sort of charming.  Some of her advice would be hard to apply in the United States.  For example, most cities do not have extensive public transportation to be able to walk everywhere like the French do.  And buying some of the ingredients she praises would be costly and difficult to find.  The average American working women is not going to go to several local merchants several times a week to buy high quality ingredients.  Bread is a good example.  A good baguette will go stale in a day, but we can’t go buying new baguettes every day, so we make do with inferior store-bought bread.  She also has a section about champagne — she is the CEO of Veuve Cliquot, after all (which she readily discloses) and how wonderful it is to drink with food on an everyday basis.  Dream on.  And the recipes don’t seem particularly low calorie — but I guess that’s the point.  Eat good food, not low calorie substitutes laden with artificial ingredients, but eat small portions.

Being somewhat suggestible, I’m sold.  But then again, a while ago I read “Japanese Women Don’t Get Old or Fat” and was ready to convert to Japanese cuisine.  (That’s also a very entertaining book, and informative about Japanese life and cuisine.)  I’ll just stick to my regular way of cooking — at home with as fresh ingredients as I can find without going crazy.  It’s worked so far.  And none of us are fat either.


L’Affaire, by Diane Johnson January 18, 2010

Filed under: Books — wendy @ 9:08 pm

Another book, this time fiction, about an American woman who goes to France.  I liked Le Divorce – not great literature, but a fun read nonetheless, so I gave L’Affaire a try.  It’s about a wealthy young American woman who moves to France to gain some culture and breadth of experience.  While she’s at a ski resort, there is an avalanche, trapping a couple.  The couple is rescued and are in a coma in the hospital and it looks like the man won’t make it.  The heirs all end up at the ski resort, and there’s much discussion about whether it’s better for him to die in France, where the children will inherit his property, or in England, where his will will be honored and his new wife and child will inherit all.  The American protagonist gets involved when she tries to help, and as they say, no good deed goes unpunished.  It’s a good story, but with a strange ending, at least by American standards.


We Are Our Mothers’ Daughters, by Cokie Roberts

Filed under: Books — wendy @ 9:00 pm

This is a series of essays about women, the women in Cokie Roberts’ life and women she’s interviewed.  Cokie Roberts has had a fascinating life, growing up with a Congressman father and mother who were friends with several U.S. presidents and other power brokers, and she has had an amazing career as a reporter with NPR and ABC News.  My favorite part of the book was getting a glimpse into Cokie Roberts’ life and her relationships with other women such as her mother, sister, aunts and cousins, and daughter.  Alot  of talent and drive in that family.  The essays are interesting too.


A Homemade Life, by Molly Wizenberg January 7, 2010

Filed under: Books,Food — wendy @ 6:46 pm

When my friend, who knows I love books about food, lent me this book, I expected another one of those middle-aged woman has a mid-life crisis and goes to France to learn to cook type of book.  Not so at all.

True, Wizenberg does have a crisis of sorts where she abandons her academic pursuits in favor of writing about food, and she does move to Paris, but the similarities end there.  Wizenberg grew up in a family that appreciated food.  She learned to cook with her parents, and more importantly, learned to love food with them.  Wizenberg’s book describes her family and friends, and provides recipes for food that is associated with someone she loves or an important event in her life.  Her relationship with her parents is so warm, and her description of her father’s death is moving.  But despite the homespun tone, the book includes recipes I want to cook.  I’m itching to make every recipe in the book — they all seem like things I’d eat in my everyday life.  Simple food, but made with good, fresh ingredients.

Once Wizenberg realized she’d rather do something with food than pursue an academic career, she started a blog, Orangette.  The blog gained notice and she ended up with a husband and a writing gig at Bon Appetit as a result.  Why does that not happen to me??  Ok, I have a husband.  And truth be told, Orangette is a pretty fantastic blog.  It’s got tons of recipes, and Wizenberg’s voice is fun to read, irreverent yet appreciative of good food and drink.  I went to the archives to read the first posting only to find comments from 10 other people who did the same.  If you’re sad when you finish the book, the blog continues the reading experience.

I’m definitely planning to read the rest of her blog, but more importantly, I’m going to start cooking some of her recipes.

P.S. I just went on Orangette to verify the spelling of Wizenberg’s name and discovered that she now has a podcast called Spilled Milk.  I could have sworn it wasn’t there yesterday, and indeed it wasn’t.  There is only one episode so far.


Nate and Al’s – Thousand Oaks January 5, 2010

Filed under: Food — wendy @ 5:27 pm

Nate and Al’s in Beverly Hills used to be one of my favorite delis.  In addition to the ambience, with everybody “taking meetings,” the food was good.  I haven’t been there in ages, but I recently went to the newly opened branch in Thousand Oaks and was disappointed.

It started out well, with a plate of good seeded rye and dishes of pickles, green pickled tomatoes, and sauerkraut.  Any deli that goes the extra mile and gives you pickled tomatoes is OK in my book.

I tend to be boring in delis, almost always opting for the standard pastrami or corned beef sandwich.  I ordered a half sandwich, because deli sandwiches are usually huge and I wasn’t that hungry.  The sandwich was fine, but was not that large.  (It’s like that old joke – the food is terrible, and the portions are so small!)  Smaller portions would be ok, but the price was a large portion price.  The potato salad that accompanied the sandwich was awful.  It was an unnatural shade of yellow and had a strange flavor. 

My brother-in-law ordered a Caesar salad.  I know what you’re thinking – if he orders salad in a deli then he deserves what he gets.  And yes, he is Jewish. The salad was literally lettuce and croutons with dressing on the side.  Not even a dusting of parmesan cheese.  It looked like it came from one of those salad mix bags, but not as good.  To be fair, the waitress brought him some parmesan cheese when he asked for it.  My father ordered a greek salad, which was also spare and had no olives.  Can you imagine a greek salad with no olives?  My sister’s matzoh ball soup was bland, and the kids didn’t even finish their mac n’cheese because they said it tasted funny.  The whitefish salad, normally a favorite of my niece and me, tasted like potato salad, with only a brief aftertaste of smoked fish.  The only good thing were the skinny fries that accompanied my daughter’s tuna melt. 

Don’t be tempted by the Nate and Al’s name.  If you’re in the area and want deli, go to Brent’s Deli in Westlake Village.  It’s not that far in distance, but has far superior food.