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Instacart Cooking

Sunday | 24 January 2021 | La Quinta, California: We are still here, still in lock-down, living our best life, as best as it can be during a pandemic. Our groceries have been delivered, or sometimes picked-up/delivered to the boot of our car, for months and months now.

If you are not living in a COVID hot-spot, and can actually go to a grocery store, I envy you and your apple-selecting life (and hope you are wearing a mask!), but it is best we stick to delivery or pickup at our advanced age. It's okay. I have learned to work the system, so can usually get what is required for our weekly menus. The best bet is to order from a big national chain (Ralphs/Kroger) one week, and from Whole Foods (free delivery with Prime), Sprouts, Gelson's, or Bristol Farms, the next week, supplemented with a box of fresh vegetables from our CSA.

We are just happy to have food, and appreciate so much the workers who deliver our groceries.

Early in the lock-down, I had such an issue (first-world-problems) between Italian parsley and cilantro. If I ordered Italian (flat-leaf) parsley, often cilantro would appear at our door instead. Hmmm, these two items really cannot be substituted for the other. I later learned to order parsley AND cilantro, then was usually assured to receive parsley... except for the times I would receive curly parsley. Whatever.

After months of pandemic shopping, I finally feel the shoppers are getting more in-tune with the needs of their customers. Last month, I ordered a chuck roast, but was delivered 2.5 pounds beef stew meat... proving that possibly an actual cook had shopped for my groceries that week as, indeed, I was making beef stew.

This does not, however, explain the dried date substitution for fresh figs. Pretty funny, as dates are as plentiful as lemons in this valley. No need to actually purchase a lemon (or orange, or grapefruit) in the winter around here - just go pick one from your tree... or your neighbor's tree... or any tree in any public space... anywhere... everywhere. Dates are also plentiful and inexpensive, but you need to be 30 feet tall to harvest one.

So maybe everything needed for a recipe may not actually be in your fridge or pantry. Make it work. Last week I thawed a package of cod - vacuumed-sealed by me. The packaging noted two pieces of fish, but as I pried the still-pretty-frozen pieces from the bag, found a third small piece of fish. I quickly slipped out two pieces of cod for our dinner and re-sealed the third, and returned it to the freezer. The next week, I found myself with a wilting leek, a few cannellini beans left-over from a luncheon salad, and a handful of fresh spinach.

Which is how the little piece of frozen cod became the centerpiece of a nice fish soup! I sautéed the leek with two cloves of sliced garlic in olive oil, sprinkled 1.5 teaspoons paprika over, then added a (14 oz) can of diced tomatoes (with the juice), the cannellini beans (about 1/2 cup), a splash of white wine, 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning, salt and pepper. After this mixture came to a boil, I tossed-in the chopped cod and finished the dish with the fresh spinach. A bit of water was added at the last minute to thin the soup, but it was a delicious little bowl - very healthy and pretty - and plenty for lunch the next day.

Wasting food is a major no-no around here, so am very happy when everything in the veggie bin is used.

Speaking of fish... we had salmon last evening. Wild-caught King Salmon from Seattle's Pure Seafood (only purchased when they offer free overnight shipping). The fish is delivered FRESH (not frozen) and is of the best-of-the-best quality that only a Northwesterner can understand. We cut the salmon into two-person portions, freeze, and vacuum-seal. When the kids are staying with us, we feast on Pure Seafood salmon often.

There was a pretty little recipe from Eating Well magazine for Pan-Roasted Sesame Salmon in December. Though I did not follow the ingredient list exactly (too sweet!), the cooking directions were used. (My marinade: 2 teaspoons sesame seeds, 1 teaspoon sugar, 1 Tablespoon rice vinegar, 1 Tablespoon sesame oil, 1 Tablespoons sherry, 2 Tablespoons soy sauce, 2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger.) Slivered green onion was used as garnish, instead of additional sesame seeds. The salmon was marinated in a little marinade (skin-side-up) in a loaf pan for an hour before cooking, then the rest of the marinade was spooned over the fish before roasting.

The plate is sooo old - from Dansk - but well loved.

The salmon was really good - and we had enough for luncheon salads today. The key to this recipe is using an instant-read thermometer, to guarantee the fish is perfectly cooked (145°).

A few notes on the recipe: Normally, organic sugar is used in my kitchen, but sometimes (almost always in Asian cooking), I use C&H-style sugar. It dissolves completely (organic sugar is very coarse) and gives a silky sheen to Asian foods. (We keep C&H for use in our hummingbird feeder!) Also, I only use low-sodium soy sauce, as soy sauce is SO SALTY. I prefer Kikkoman - snubbed by chefs, but I am devoted - and their low-sodium version is still ridiculously salty.

Speaking of chefs:


Lucile has been baking like crazy. She wants to bake something - challah, cookies, brownies - every day. Lisa ordered a few kits from Baketivity for Lucy, thus creating a monster. Anything to keep the kids busy during the continued lock-down.

GOLF: don't know if you watched the golf tournament this weekend from La Quinta, but it was held at a country club about a mile from our country club. We had some weather! 88 degrees last weekend; 66 degrees this weekend. And a little (very very little) rain. Even with the rain, the Coachella Valley showed herself to be magnificent, and the surrounding mountains are once-again covered in snow due to the moisture yesterday. Beautiful!

With all the changes in Washington, I am sleeping better. How are y'all doing? Making any interesting pantry and veggie-bin meals? Are you going to the grocer? Having things delivered?

Until my next update, I remain, your fishy correspondent.

7 thoughts

  1. I have been going to the grocery store as I always have except I wear a mask, didn’t wear one before this dang virus. So far so good! The reports we are getting is the virus seems to be spread most in social groupings and not your trip to the local big box store. So far my husband and myself are staying away from groups in smallish spaces and groups of many people and are doing fine. One thing in our favor is we are loner homebody types so staying home is pretty much what we always did.

  2. We have been fortunate that we can go to the grocery stores and pharmacies. Thursday morning at 7:40 I leave the house and head for town, masked and with list in hand. There are about 10 of us in the store at that time. I miss entertaining! Our sanity is a game of rummy in the afternoons with a cocktail.

  3. I started using Instacart for grocery delivery in March, and have been very pleased with their service. I particularly like that you have the option to specify a substitute for each item when making your list, and can also have real-time conversations with the shopper while they are shopping if you want. You are also notified anytime something is substituted in real time and given the option to approve or not substitute. So far I have never not received what I ordered or an approved substitute. I did opt for the yearly membership so get my groceries within two hours of ordering. I also give the delivery person an extra cash tip when they deliver as a way to help support someone in this tough time.

  4. I thought of you when watching the golf tourney, beautiful area! Was pulling for Patrick Cantlay, UCLA graduate, my daughter’s alma mater! I go to Costco and Trader Joe’s during ‘senior hours’ here in OC. Almost empty and can get in and out in no time. I tell them every time I go that I sure appreciate this special time and hope it continues after all this craziness.

  5. In the interest of wasting nothing and relying on the fridge/freezer
    A worthy soup
    1cup each chopped celery, onion, and carrot sauteed in some browned bits of pork trimmings.
    Added 4 chopped mushrooms and 1 FINELY diced jalapeno pepper
    2T tomato paste cooked out in the kettle beside the veges
    1/2 large can tomatoes, torn up – no juice
    2 browned and chopped italian sausages
    ~ 3 cups chicken stock
    ~1/2 cup chopped fennel fronds and stems
    Splash of fish sauce

  6. My aged veggies when I have them go into my freezer bag. I use them to make stock and soup base and gravy… they are terrific flavor boosters. Also, you can vacuum seal veggies and they keep longer. I grocery shop with my mask during senior hour but it makes me uncomfortable at times. Still hopeful for our future. Hugs.

  7. We’re shopping the same way you are, Albertson’s one week, then Sprouts or Whole Foods the next. Oddly, Albertson’s in Rancho Mirage doesn’t offer curbside so we pick up at the La Quinta store. We’ve also had curbside pickup from Target, Bed, Bath & Beyond, and Petsmart to name a few.

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