My Pita Poofed!

I’ve been sick for the past week.

That means not much cooking went on in my house
even though I tried to guilt trip Husband into cooking for me.

Instead, he picked up Lipton noodle soup at the beginning of the week
and got Chinese takeout at the end of the week.

Hot Pockets also made an appearance in there.

It was not a proud week
but it did remind me a lot of summertime as a teenager.

Back then I made what I could find in the pantry and freezer
and I guess that was a lot of Lipton, Hot Pockets, and eggrolls.

Saturday and Sunday still found me dragging myself from one flat surface to another
but I was going a little bit crazy from not cooking.

Since Husband was neither going to use up the tomatoes eking past their prime
nor the cucumber languishing in the refrigerator beside the bell pepper
I decided it was time to return to the kitchen.

Wasting food almost causes me to lose sleep at night
and since I was already coughing most of my nights away
I decided it was time to make some gazpacho.

Modified from Jose Andres’ Tapas: A Taste of Spain in America

Serves 4

INGREDIENTS

2 pounds ripe red tomatoes (about 10 plum tomatoes)
8 ounces cucumber (about 1 cucumber)
3 ounces green pepper (about 1/2 bell pepper)
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
1 garlic clove, peeled
3/4 cup Spanish extra-virgin olive oil

Note: I recommend a lighter olive oil. Lucini is great and doesn’t PUNCH YOU IN THE FACE with olive oil flavor. Depending on what olive oil you use, the flavor be overpowering, so stick with one that is on the buttery side.

Salt to taste

DIRECTIONS

1. Chop up all ingredients (peel cucumbers, remove seeds and top of bell pepper, tomatoes can be cored, but leave the skins).

2. Throw everything but the salt and oil into a blender.

3. Turn on the blender and blend until smooth. Take a taste and see if you need more vinegar. The sweetness of the tomatoes will vary from batch to batch. Add some more vinegar to balance out everything if necessary.

4. Add the olive oil and salt and reblend.

5. Strain mixture through fine mesh strainer. Your mixture should be smooth with a lot of body.

6. Chill. I like mine very cold.

I like to serve the soup with grilled toast brushed with olive oil.

Andres has an elaborate garnish component in the book
but I rarely prepare it.

Husband and I nibbled (sipped?)
on the gazpacho all Saturday
and by Sunday I was still self-quarantined
but could not hold myself back from cooking a full meal for any longer.

First I made pita bread

Post-roll, pre-oven.

I couldnt be arsed to break out the real camera
so just used my phone.

I make no excuses.

My fourth attempt at this recipe
finally succeeded
and my pitas poofed.

Like the elusive Big Foot, this puffy pita was hard to photograph.

Is that enough alliteration for you?

I slid pair after pair of dough rounds in the oven
and after a while my reward was this:

I would be inclined to say they we’re pillowy, puffy, pitas
but that might be pushing the ‘p’ theme a bit
so I’ll just say that they were soft and had the appropriate pocket in each.

I also made “New Bride” Chicken Curry with a red onion raita.

Both recipes are from Ruta Kahate’s 5 Spices, 50 dishes
a short cookbook with which I’ve had great success.

I improvised some saffron jasmine rice as well
which consisted of steaming some jasmine rice in chicken broth with saffron.

The chicken curry was pretty simple.

Brown some onions

add the spice paste and garlic, stir around for a while
then add the tomatoes

cook the tomatoes down a little bit

add water and the chicken
(I’ll use broth or stock next time)
and simmer until chicken is cooked through.

The book says to cook the chicken uncovered
but I covered it for the last bit of stove time
since I wanted a looser sauce.

I discarded the skin after cooking
because anything less than shatteringly crisp chicken skin is not for me.

The recipe calls a bit of apple cider and sugar to be added at the end
which I loved.

When I tasted the saffron rice straight out of the pot I didn’t care for it too much
but found was great with the curry.

Sunday lunch
in Technicolor!

I halved the recipe
because I only thawed a pound and a half of chicken.

I love rice with any type of soupy gravy or broth
so next time
even if I halve the recipe
I would double the base.

The onion raita didn’t go perfectly with the chicken
but I liked the flavor of it.

Next time I think I’ll serve it with something other than chicken.

I think it needs to accompany a stronger protein so it doesn’t overwhelm it.

Husband proclaimed the meal
a ‘make again’ meal
although he politely picked around his onion raita.

I have liver and onions with grilled polenta up next on the list
and I’m hoping that it turns out well.

My experience with liver has not been a good one
but this is from our meat CSA
so I’m hoping that it turns out better than other liver I’ve had.

We’ve heard nothing on our vegetable CSA.
The owner deleted my comment from her blog
never contacted me about helping them
and hasn’t updated anyone in three days about what is going to happen.

For all that arm flapping and doom and gloom
it doesn’t seem like she’s very serious about making this work
but who knows
maybe she’ll come back with a plan.

I don’t know what she’s doing up there
but I’m not sure she does either.

CSA Woes

For the past couple of months we’ve been having issues with our vegetable CSA.

We’ve received very few of our weekly deliveries lately
and the owner of the CSA (a co-op) has cited family emergencies, weather, and just plain exhaustion.

I get it.
I’m not standing there
expecting a delivery like clockwork every week from a group of farmers.

I understand that when it rains
you can’t just SLOSH ON THROUGH your fields to pick tomatoes.

Things like car repairs come up
and for someone running razor thin margins
getting the radiator fixed can’t always happen on the same day that it breaks.

What is frustrating
is that I’ve heard the same things week after week lately.

For the first half of the year
we did not have any problems
and the deliveries were amazing.

Things seemed to go downhill quickly these last few months.

More often than not
our delivery is delayed by several days
and there have been instances that when it does show up
the produce is bruised or past its prime.

My husband and I have had numerous conversations about whether or not we will renew in January
since we prepaid for the year.

The last conversation we had
we were both tired of the lack/wild variation in timeliness of deliveries, poor produce quality as of late
(a whole bag of green beans was moldy)
and exasperated by the fact that we received an email stating that we would receive a delivery that week
and nothing ever showed up.

Nice.

We were not the only ones with less than squishy lovey feelings for our CSA.

Yesterday I received a notification of a new blog post from the owner on the social networking site
(one we had to join to receive updates about deliveries and pertinent information)
and scrolled on down in the e-mail to read it
(at least that was convenient).

Below are some excepts:

In the last 2 months 22 members that were supposed to, by the agreement all members signed, did not give any notice and dropped their membership. When I got back on line this morning two more members had dropped without adequate notice. All members (on their honor) agreed to give us at LEAST 2 months notice but, these ex-members did not give us this courtesy. In addition , over the last two months we’ve only gotten a few new members~ most of which were only quarter shares. Of those remaining members due to renew this month , only one paid their renewal on time.. . . I have put $6000 of my own personal money into the CSA over the last two months , trying to keep it afloat, but now I am totally tapped out and cannot affoard to (simply don’t have it) put another dime into it. I don’t stand a chance of seeing that money again.

We need to get at least 4 shares sold in the next week or the CSA is going to go bust.. . . We must get the renewals that are owed in immediately, we must get the renewals that are due to come in over the next few weeks in on time and we must get the shares sold that were abandoned or it is the end of the only CSA in the Houston area. That is brutal but, it is the plain truth of the matter.

I am putting the future of the CSA into the members hands. We have come up with several ideas to try to regenerate interest in the CSA.. . . Two months of money going out at the rate they have been ~ with very little coming in at late at best, have put our CSA into a serious downward spiral. If you have any input that you feel may be constructive, we are very open to your suggestions.

As things stand as of right now, we have no operating capital to get deliveries out. As soon as we do we will deliver the remaining undelivered members currently due deliveries. We will then shut down for the remaining time~up to a month, if necessary~ until our membership can support the costs of deliveries again.

Well
that explains a lot.

I’m not sure why she waited so long to clue the rest of the members in
but there ya go.

I posted this response in the comments section:

“I think many members feel the same way that I do in regard to the CSA at this point. There have been MANY deliveries that were not made, even when e-mails went out that the deliveries would be made that night or that week. In addition, the deliveries are very rarely made on the day they are supposed to be made. Please do not think that I (or we) believe that you can control situations like rain or emergencies, but when something happens almost every week that prevents/delays the deliveries, it becomes very frustrating. In addition, I’ve received several deliveries with moldy fruit and vegetables or items that were obviously past their prime. The issues in getting the produce even delivered prevented me from contacting you because I did not want to add to the apparent stress that you all were undergoing. Looking back, I should have contacted you to give you a heads up on the situation if you were not aware of it.

If you want to run the CSA like a business (which I feel like we’ve received conflicting information about), I would suggest sticking to the contracts we all signed and ceasing delivery when a member does not pay. Given that it takes months to cultivate crops, perhaps consider a deposit so that if the member does not renew on time, you take the deposit and can recover some of your losses of growing the produce for those months in anticipation of a renewal. Alternately, stipulate that the member must notify you within two months of their renewal date (YOU need to be tracking this, NOT the members) if they will not be renewing. If they do not give notice to what they will be doing, then do not deliver to them until they do. People will take advantage of you, inadvertentlyor not, if you give them the opportunity.

A few other constructive ideas: move the e-mail list to something besides [weird social networking site]. I get many notifications from [site] that I don’t need to see and it would be helpful to separate the members into their respective lists and send them relevant e-mails. I’m not concerned about when other lists are being delivered, just mine (you could set up a Send To All e-mail group if you need to send something out to everyone, like this e-mail, or if you’re notifying when people will be late). People’s inboxes are already full and would rather see less e-mail than more.

Start a group on Facebook and set up a Twitter account for the CSA. Both free, free, free and I can’t tell you how many people I’ve had ask about the CSA because I am active on both of these sites and have mentioned the CSA before. The [site] is hard to navigate and not many people are on it. I had to set up an account simply to get e-mails about the CSA. Make it easy for people to access you and that will help alot. In Facebook you can set up photo albums and make postings for recipes if you wish. On Twitter, tweet (send a message out) about the produce you’re delivering that week to generate interest.

We are due for renewal in January, but given the issues that the CSA has been having, we will probably not be renewing our membership either. I hope to see things pick up for BlueStar Acres, but I think it will take action on the members’ part as well as yours.”

I tried to be fair and honest.
Farming is hard and is not something that you can force to a schedule and expect quality out of it.

I don’t expect to get my deliveries EVERY WEEK AT THE SAME TIME.
Some consistency would be nice
and I really don’t want to get an e-mail saying that our delivery is going to be late ‘because everyone is just so tired.’

That does not make me very confident in you
nor does it make me want to give you my money.

You want my business, you win me over.

Many of the commenters reiterated a line from the welcome e-mail all members were sent upon sign up
that the ‘CSA is not a business.’

Uh-huh.

Whether its a profitable business or not is a different matter
but when I get an e-mail from the owner saying they can’t continue providing a product because they don’t have enough money to pay people
doesn’t that sound like a business?

The CSA is not run like a business
but it is a business operation.

There is a lot of debate on the blog going on right now–
some people out-and-out ripping the owner a new one
others sprinkling flowers everywhere and shining love out of every orifice.

I volunteered
along with some others
to help transfer files over to Facebook to get them started there
and also to build a database for better tracking of membership and renewals.

The owner is supposed to get in touch with me today
but I’ve yet to hear from her.

I haven’t quite given up on this CSA yet.
There were quite a few months when our deliveries were beautiful;
the fruit and vegetables were ripe and heady
and the selection was enough to make Central Market jealous.

I really want to see them succeed.
I love fresh produce and have been challenged wonderfully this year to try new recipes.

It was also an eye opener as to how hard it is to identify some items without a neat little printed sign in front of them.

Husband couldn’t tell the difference between a zucchini and a cucumber
(there was much pointing and laughing at him)
but I’m proud to say he’s done been learned.

If anyone is interested in joining this CSA
please let me know.

I know that seems strange to plunk out here after all of this
but honestly
when they’re in their groove
they really impress.

Plus
I’d really like to get the rest of my deliveries.

Edit: You know what, nevermind. The ridiculous saga that has taken place in the past few days with the owner has only enabled us to settle firmly on NOT renewing our membership.

I’m sorry to say that a lot of flapping arms and incoherent posts on her behalf do nothing to make me want to help the CSA
especially coupled with the owners consistent inability to follow through on ANYTHING.

Saturday Night at Brisa

(Cross-posted on the Houston Chowhounds board because I know a fair amount of people picked up those Restaurant.com gift certificates.)

On Saturday night my husband and I finally decided to give Brisa a try. They have plastered more menus on our car windshield than we can count and Restaurant.com had a listing for them on their site. Taking advantage of the opportunity, we purchased a $25.00 gift certificate to the restaurant at a discount.

We arrived at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday night. There were seven tables occupied out of about 25 (not counting bar seating, where I swear I saw a tumbleweed roll through), mostly two tops. You could see into the kitchen beyond some glass and everyone was standing around back there, unoccupied. In short, the restaurant was not busy at all.

When we arrived, the hostess passed the menu onto our server, and we were instructed to sit anywhere we wanted. We sat ourselves and wanting to avoid any problems when presented the bill, I asked if we could use the Restaurant.com gift certificate towards alcoholic drinks. Our server, I believe his name was Ronny, said he would check with his manager. He returned a few moments later saying “I have some bad news. The manager said we don’t take these.” I asked him to bring the manager over, wondering why the manager didn’t advise us of this himself. Daniel arrived at our table and reiterated that he could not accept the gift certificate. I asked why and he launched into a story that changed a few times. He repeated several times that it was out of his hands and that the owners were having problems with Restaurant.com. He said that they “cancelled their agreement with Restaurant.com six months ago” which I found hard to believe since the restaurant has only been open since May (that would be four months for anyone counting). Then towards the end of the conversation he said that they had been having problems with Restaurant.com for ‘a while now’ and then ‘a month’ popped up somewhere in there too. He also seemed to imply that we bought the certificate a while ago and were now just trying to honor it. I drew his attention to the date printed on the certificate and also told him that they were about to get inundated with these certificates due to the big sale Restaurant.com had on them.

He asked us if there was anything he could do to which my husband, irritated after listening to an ever changing story, retorted that he could honor the gift certificate we bought just last week. Daniel said he could offer us a free appetizer or dessert and at that point I thanked him, but said politely that we would leave. It had the feeling of a bait and switch operation, especially since Daniel’s story kept changing the longer we talked to him. I’m sure it truly was out of his hands, but the whole thing just seemed shady. I didn’t want to patronize a place where I felt that we were being taken advantage of or not being told the whole truth, even if it was ‘the public’s version’ of the whole truth.

At that point Daniel said he would honor the gift certificate and he apologized profusely for all the problems. He said he would still give us an appetizer or dessert for free. We thanked him and set about to ordering our meal.

We asked our server for chips and salsa (to which he replied: ‘we only bring it out if you ask, and you just asked… so… I’ll bring it out’ Uh, thanks!)

For an appetizer we got the cheese ‘tortilla’ stuffed with beef. Husband enjoyed this but I found the cheese wrapping kind of tough. The skirt/flank steak was tender and well seasoned though. The guacamole perched on top of lettuce was tasty too.

For an entree I got the chile relleno and Husband got the Gulf red snapper fillet, recommended by our server.

(Chile picture did not turn out)

Fish:

Husband enjoyed his fish and said the sauce on top of it was quite good. However, the beef in the poblano chile was terrible. It tasted old and was loaded with lard (I think?) that tasted almost rancid. The upside was that all the sauces/salsas were delicious, especially their tomatillo sauce and what I think was an ancho sauce on my plate– the server didn’t know, said he thought it was a chipotle sauce but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t. Beans and rice were unremarkable.

When the bill came, Daniel came back out with a business card and explained that he couldn’t offer us our free appetizer because that would reduce the total bill below $50, which is what we had to spend in order to use the certificate. He presented the business card to us with a handwritten note that our next app/dessert would be comped for us when we returned. We thanked him and didn’t complain because that was what the fine print said on the coupon, but goodness. You’d think he would try to focus more on making our visit NOW good than our next one…?

Given the hassle it was to use our certificate, the attitude of the manager, and the hit or miss entrees, we won’t be returning any time soon. Our server was spot on and wonderful, but I need more than a nice server to get me back to a restaurant. The same goes for chips and salsa. I think the only reason our gift certificate was even honored was because it was a graveyard there that night. Better to have $25 come through the door (plus tip) than nothing at all I guess. Too bad it won’t be coming back.