The Food Column: She left new tenants a welcome mistake


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When you move, there’s always some sort of food failure involved.

In 17 years of marriage, my husband and I have moved five times, the most recent time being just one month ago.

The one triumph of the move: This is the first time I haven’t needed to rearrange my kitchen after actually putting the kitchen to use. I guess all the moves have finally taught me how to unpack and arrange a kitchen properly the first time around.

Unfortunately for the rest of my family, however, the move provided plenty of other opportunities to screw up.

First off, I tried to use up as many groceries as possible and buy as few as possible in the month before the move. This led to some strange combinations at dinnertime, on the order of “Open the pantry and dump it in a pan. Heat and serve.”

I also had to use up the last of the home-canned foods I’d made last summer. We ate applesauce at every meal for weeks on end. I guess I got a little overzealous with the applesauce last year.

In the course of packing, I also discovered how many half-used ingredients I had lying around -- stuff I’d bought for one recipe and never used again. I threw out packets of raw sugar that must have been five years old, half a bottle of hoisin sauce, half a bottle of some weird sweet-hot sauce that my son hated, two random decaf teabags lurking in the back of the cupboard, and who knows what else. Not to mention I finally swept up the popcorn that spilled in the cupboard a year ago. I need to move every few years just to ensure basic cleanliness.

My last act, upon cleaning the entire house and preparing to vacate it, was to test my key to make sure I was leaving the proper key for the next occupants. I tested it in the lock of the door leading from the garage to the kitchen, then left the key on the kitchen counter and drove off.

Two blocks down the road, I realized I’d forgotten to empty the contents of the freezer into the cooler I had in my car. So I turned around, went back and punched the code into the garage keypad, only to find that I had accidentally left the inner door locked -- with the key that I’d left inside the kitchen.

The landlord has a key, so it won’t be a problem for the next tenants to get in. But when they get there, they will find a spic-and-span house, freshly laundered and ironed curtains, absolutely empty rooms -- and a freezer littered with half a package of hotdogs, several bags of vegetables, half a bag of hotdog buns, a plastic baggie of grilled chicken, several blue ice blocks for lunchboxes, and a strip of freeze pops.

Fast-forward to the other end of the move. My husband was finishing work in another city, my kids were with their grandparents for a few days, and I had three days alone to get everything unpacked. I worked like gangbusters and lived on Egg McMuffins, Nutri-Grain cereal bars and Wendy’s grilled-chicken sandwiches. I don’t need another fast-food meal for a looong time.

When the rest of the family finally joined me, I had nearly everything put away, sheets on some of the beds, and groceries -- such as they were -- in the fridge. But between continuing to get settled and trying to figure out how to work my new microwave and oven, I was not ready for haute cuisine. I bought the biggest available vat of Ragu and we ate a sad facsimile of spaghetti for a week straight.

Now, finally, I am back in the saddle, both in the writer’s chair and in the kitchen. It feels good to be back on the Pittsburgh food scene, keeping tabs on all the happenings. And I’ve even managed some truly good meals, such as my son’s birthday meal of homemade pizza and lemon birthday cake.

Problem is, my husband’s new job involves a lot of evening and weekend duty, so I’m not sure my motivation in the kitchen will last. When he’s gone and I’m serving only my kids and myself for dinner, I find myself sorely tempted to revert to Ragu all over again.

Festivals

Rusyn Food Festival: About 150,000 handmade pierogies, plus other Carpatho-Rusyn foods such as haluski, breaded chicken, kielbasa-and-kraut, stuffed cabbage, borscht, nut rolls, paska breads and more, as well as live entertainment and crafters. 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. today through Saturday, Aug. 7-9, at St. John the Baptist Orthodox Church in Ambridge. 724-266-2879 or 412-749-0675.

St. Ferdinand Family Festival: Flea market, bingo, children’s activities, crafters, Italian buffet dinner (Friday), chicken barbeque dinner (Saturday), turkey breast or ham dinner (Sunday). Friday through Sunday, Aug. 8-10, at St. Ferdinand Parish in Cranberry. stferd.org.

San Rocco Festa: Italian food and live entertainment, Friday through Sunday, Aug. 8-10, at Cepull Field in Aliquippa. sanrocco.org.

Act One Winefest: 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 9, at Red Barn Theater in Fombell. $25 for tasting tickets; $5 for those under 21 and designated drivers. redbarnplayers.com.

Pittsburgh Restaurant Week 2014: Specials at various restaurants around town from Aug. 11-17. 412-586-4727 or pittsburghrestaurantweek.com.

Meals

Off-the-Beaten-Path Brunch: Pop-up vegan brunch. 1 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 9, at Schwartz Living Market, South Side. $20 to $40 per person. zestwishes.com.

Morris Organic Farm Dinner: Local foods dinner served in the fields where many of the ingredients were grown. 5 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 16, at Morris Organic Farm in North Huntingdon. $100. 412-841-8381 or farmerstable.org.

Farm Dinner: Five-course meal of rustic Italian fare, prepared with local ingredients and including local wines and fresh-baked bread from an on-site wood-fired oven. 5:30 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 24, on Grandview Park, Mount Washington. $100; a portion benefits Friends of Grandview Park. 412-431-2650.

Charitable efforts

Soup Take-Out: Borscht, chicken noodle or wedding. 3 to 6 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 13, at Sisters of St. Francis in Whitehall. Place orders by today (Aug. 7) at 412-885-7232.

Produce donations: If your garden is super-abundant this year, North Hills Community Outreach is accepting donations of home-grown fruits and vegetables for its food pantries. Produce can be dropped off at NHCO offices in Hampton from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays. nhco.org or 412-487-6316 opt. 1.

Recipe demo

Summer Tomatoes and Artisan Cheese: PG food columnist Miriam Rubin joins forces with Wheel & Wedge cheesemonger Alix Wiggins from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 9, at Williams-Sonoma in Shadyside. Miriam will sign and sell copies of her “Tomatoes: A Savor the South Cookbook.” Register: 412-688-9220.


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