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Some of the many cookbooks in my house. The big one on the bottom is a binder full of some of my favorites.

Some of the many cookbooks in my house. The big one on the bottom is a binder full of some of my favorite recipes.

I have a bookcase full of cookbooks. It’s not a little bookcase, either. In fact, I found a bookcase at a garage sale recently for $5, and bought it because it had one extra shelf. Now each kind of cookbook has it’s own section, which makes the slightly obsessive part of my brain happy. I’ve got the spiral-bound-community-fundraising type cookbooks, the binders of recipes I’ve collected from my family, friends, and random places, cookbooks from bloggers and famous people, dessert books, seafood books, cookbooks of the more ordinary variety, Asian food cookbooks, and “the collection”. I collect odd cookbooks. Ones that rhyme, ones involving insects or spam or roadkill, ones with entertaining titles like Retro Food Fiascos and She Cooks to Conquer.

All of these cookbook plus lots of fun and useful wedding gifts plus a new guinea pig husband plus a dearth of restaurants (good or bad) nearby means that I’m spending lots of time trying new recipes. Which leads to my problem…

Add x amount of ingredient y (you can find this in your local z store)

Where x= any amount of the specified ingredient,
y= an ingredient not normally carried in a chain grocery store,
and z= health food store, Asian market, or any other specialty store found in more… populated… areas of the country.

Substitutions are becoming my new friend. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes I wonder about cookbook authors who write recipes calling for ingredient y, be it fresh shiitake mushrooms or flax seed oil or “the freshest fish you can find” (usually with helpful hints on how to determine if the fish is fresh, a test which the fish in our grocery store always fail). Sometimes, our stores do have ingredient y, but it is not very fresh.

By the time fruits and veggies get to us, they tend to be a little “sad”. Garlic is usually sprouted. Avocados are mush. Mushrooms are moldy. There’s also no fresh seafood. Those last two are the ones I miss the most. And the cheese. Sonoma and Marin counties in CA have many, many yummy local cheesemakers whose cheeses are not to be found in small Arizona towns.

Our closest grocery store with a health food section (not a whole store, just the section) is a little over an hour away. Our closest Asian market is two and a half hours away, along with most other specialty stores. This has taken some adjustment on my part. Eight months ago, I could find just about any ingredient I needed within a 10 mile radius of my house. If I had a hankering to try something new, I could run out and get the ingredient that I was missing and make the recipe right away.

Now, the recipes I run across that call for ingredient y tend to be put back, and the ingredient in question goes on the list on the right of the fridge board for the next time I’m in the “big city” (population 74,000). We will occasionally order dried ingredients online (or have friends and family send it to us in care packages) if it’s something more unusual, but usually I just put those recipes back or come up with a substitution if possible. It’s become an exercise in patience and creativity for me.

Don’t get me wrong, I love living here. Small town life has many advantages. We run into friends whenever we go out. Traffic is mostly nonexistent. It’s possible to run all of my errands in one day, with time left over to read, play with the dog, and cook dinner. We can take Sugar for a hike and not see another person. A ten minute drive takes us to a place where the night stars are incredible. The trade-offs have been worth it, for me. I had been looking forward to living in a small town for a while. But there are days (Oh, are there days!) when I just want to stuff myself with fresh Tomales Bay oysters…

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