The first time I went to Vienna, more than 20 years ago, I went with my stepdaughter, who lives there, to a local market to do her daily shopping. At that time, there were no “supermarkets,” such as Safeway, Albertson’s, PayLess, etc., and most women, working or not, stopped in at local shops for foodstuffs on a daily basis.
I was certainly surprised at the inconvenience, but what shocked me even more was checking out.
No bagger to assist the cashier, partly because there were no bags. The shopper/buyer not only brought her own basket and/or cloth bags in which to put purchases, but she (I almost never saw a man doing the food shopping then) also packed her groceries in the containers, whatever they were.
Well, I find myself recalling those early trips to Vienna when I’m checking out at our local markets, aka grocery stores.
Why? Because there I am, bringing my own bags into the store and hoping I have enough to hold all the purchases. Sure, I don’t have to pack the bags myself, but I can’t help thinking how quickly things change, and the bring-your-own-bags change frankly leaves me with mixed feelings.
Yes, I realize we have to stop our indiscriminate use of plastic bags, which last almost forever in landfills and contribute nothing but trouble. And yes, cutting down trees to provide us with paper bags (whose handles are less than stable, by the way) for our groceries is equally troublesome.
But, trying to remember to have my personal bags in the car, let alone to take them in with me, has added one more small inconvenience to my life.
I don’t food-shop every day; in fact, I try to do it only once a week because, much as I love food, I don’t enjoy shopping for it most of the time. I rarely leave the store with only two bags and, if I’m also buying wine, it’s more often four or five bags. This means I march into Red Apple, PayLess, or Clinton Food Mart with a motley collection of old cloth sacks I’ve accumulated through the years.
I also have, of course, a few fairly new-looking bags, purchased at the beginning of the “bring your own bags” craze from each above-mentioned place. Naturally, each store plasters its name on the bags it sells, which brings me to the next bag dilemma. Will I be treated with disdain in PayLess if I hand them my Clinton Food Mart bags because I forgot to put the PayLess bags back into the car after I unpacked them last week? Will the bagger at Red Apple pack heavy stuff on top of my eggs because I give her my Clinton Food Mart sacks? (The Red Apple bags are still in the pantry cupboard where I inadvertently left them after I last unpacked them.)
That’s not my biggest hang-up about these bags, however.
After one recent shopping trip, a chicken put in the bottom of one of my bags leaked. Not a little, a lot, thereby rendering the bag useless, in my opinion, until I washed it, which I did.
Guess what, friends; those bags won’t hold up to many washings, so next time I’ll put my chicken in a plastic bag before I let them pack it into my handy-dandy “save the planet” bag. In fact, a lot of the “stuff” we buy (wet produce, thanks to those sprayers, and chicken, for example) will have to be put in plastic bags first, or our bring-your-own bags are quickly going to become a health hazard.
I’m afraid I can come to only one conclusion regarding the bring-your-own-bags movement. This lady is bag- challenged.
Hard to believe, but here we are down to the last summer days before school starts, which means a frantic whirl of summer events, picnics and gatherings before hectic school schedules interfere. It also probably means a few more “make it and take it” parties coming up. And by the way, those store-bought bags I mentioned above are a perfect size and very convenient for carrying that pie, cake or casserole dish to the party.
If your zucchini (or your neighbor’s) has finally come of age for picking, then you have to try this unusual zucchini cake for your next summer picnic.
RAISIN WHISKEY ZUCCHINI CAKE
½ cup raisins
1/3 cup rye whiskey (sure, use whatever whiskey you have on hand)
2 ½ cups flour
2 t. baking powder
1 t. baking soda
½ t. salt
½ t. cinnamon
2 large eggs
½ cup vegetable oil
1 ¼ cups sugar
2 cups coarsely grated zucchini
1 cup chopped walnuts
2 t. freshly grated lemon zest
For the icing:
4 oz. cream cheese, softened
¼ cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup sifted confectioners’ sugar
1 ½ t. freshly grated lemon zest
Line the bottom of a buttered 10-inch springform pan or deep cake pan with a round of waxed paper or parchment paper and butter the paper. In a small bowl, let the raisins macerate in the whiskey for 10 min.
Into a bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon. In another large bowl, whisk together the eggs, oil and sugar. Stir in the flour mixture, zucchini, the raisin mixture, walnuts and lemon zest; stir the batter until well combined. Pour batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the top and bake the cake in the middle of a preheated 350-degree oven for 45 to 55 min. or until a tester comes out clean. Let the cake cool in the pan on a rack for 10 min., then turn it out onto the rack, remove waxed or parchment paper and allow cake to cool completely.
In a bowl with an electric mixer, cream the cream cheese and butter with the confectioners’ sugar and lemon zest until very smooth. Spread icing over the top and side of the cake. Decorate with mint sprigs or additional finely chopped walnuts, if desired.
Regular readers know of my passion for cheesecake, savory or sweet. It’s often my choice for any make-it-and-take-it party and, as avocados are now readily available and not too expensive, this savory cheesecake is a special treat for any gathering.
6 T. (3/4 stick) unsalted butter
6 oz. saltine crackers, crushed (you need about 2 cups crumbs)
4 t. grated lemon rind
2 T. unflavored gelatin
3 very ripe avocados
3 T. fresh lemon juice, or to taste
3 large egg yolks
½ lb. herb-flavored cream cheese, softened*
1 ¼ cups heavy cream
3 large egg whites, at room temp.
Pinch of cream of tartar
Additional avocado slices and sprigs of watercress, for garnish
In a skillet, melt the butter over low heat. Add the cracker crumbs, 2 t. of the lemon rind and salt and pepper to taste. Stir the mixture until the butter is evenly absorbed. Press into the bottom of a lightly oiled 9-inch springform pan and chill it for ½ hr.
In a small saucepan, sprinkle the gelatin over ¼ cup cold water and let it soften for 10 min. Peel and pit the avocados and mash them in a small bowl with the remaining 2 t. lemon rind and the lemon juice.
In a large bowl, with electric mixer, beat the egg yolks until they are pale and thick. Beat in the cream cheese and the avocado mixture; continue beating until mixture until smooth.
Heat the gelatin mixture over low heat, stirring, until the gelatin is fully dissolved, then beat it into the avocado mixture along with the cream and salt and pepper to taste.
In another large bowl, beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt until they are frothy, add the cream of tartar and continue beating until the whites hold stiff peaks. Stir ¼ of the egg whites gently into the avocado mixture, then fold in remaining whites. Spoon mixture into the springform pan; smooth the top. Chill the cheesecake, covered tightly, for 3-4 hrs. or until firm. Remove the side of the pan and garnish with avocado slices and watercress. (If you are taking the cheesecake to a party, don’t garnish with avocado until just before serving.)
*If you can’t find herbed cream cheese, use softened plain cream cheese combined with 1 T. snipped fresh chives, 1 minced garlic clove and ¼ t. crumbled dried fine herbs).
Margaret Walton can be reached at email@example.com.