Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Gasto Challenge: Finding Our Way

Emma and I ventured to our local Mexican meat market for the first time yesterday. Among other things, we returned with this wonderful new tool, which I've forgotten the name of, and a cup full of fabulously flavorful lard, rendered from pork cracklin's by the vivacious proprietress.

I hadn't planned to have Emma shop there, but somehow the topic came up during a conversation with my friend, Eliza, and she said that the meat is fresher, and there is more personal service at the Mexican meat markets.

She was absolutely right.

My original idea was for Emma to start planning and cooking on Monday, but I realized two things: she needed a sizable chunk of time for planning, and Herb and Nathaniel are not home on Monday or Thursday nights.

Then my mom called and said she needed Emma to clean this week. I had totally forgotten about that, because Emma does not have a regular day that she cleans Grandma's house; she goes when Grandma says she needs her. So I completely re-thought my original plan of having Emma cooking and shopping every day. Tentatively, she will be responsible for meals on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Those are days that the menfolk are home at night. It gives Emma two back-to-back days to better utilize leftovers, and it gives her a Friday for working on her repertoire of meatless meals.

She told me that she definitely wants to keep a notebook, so she sat down Monday with notebook and a spread of cookbooks to plan her menus.

I was hoping that she would be able to shop Tuesday morning, but I had an early hair appointment. Therefore, she had to get her milking done and process it all herself, cook breakfast for herself and Nathaniel (scrambled eggs and toast with homemade strawberry jam) and clean up afterward.

After I got home, we decided it was time for the chicks to be moved from a box in her bedroom window seat to the brooder in the garage. The chicks all panted and swooned once they were moved, worrying Emma to death. So additional time was spent finding and setting up a fan for them and watching over them to make sure they recovered. This took up the rest of the morning.

After lunch she asked me to accompany her on her first shopping trip because she was a little nervous, and I agreed.

There was no need to be nervous, though, because the people at the Mexican Meat Market adopted us right away. While Emma worked with the butcher, I visited with his wife, the lady with the gorgeous smile, pictured above.

After Emma had completed her preliminary communications with the butcher, utilizing pictures and some English, she joined me in the kitchen to learn how to make tortillas.

I completely forgot to introduce myself and Emma. Consequently, I didn't learn their names either. So I will call the lady Maria and her husband Jose.

Maria showed Emma how to pat the dough and told her to use warm water when she mixed it.

Then she had Emma try it.

Emma enjoyed the process and was pleased with the result. Maria told us that her mother's next door neighbor in Mexico makes the tool, which I will call a tortilla dough smasher.

Then Jose came in to get Emma's approval of the meat he had selected for her. He apologized for not knowing much English. I told him not to apologize, Emma would not have had nearly as much fun if he spoke fluent English. He explained that he had worked in a plant here for about 20 years, but he operated a machine and rarely got to talk with an English-speaking worker.

I told him that Emma was trying to do "the gasto", and his face lit up. He said he would look after her when she came back by herself.

I asked Maria about lard, hoping they sold some that didn't have all the preservatives in it. That's all I can find at American stores. All she had for sale on the shelves was that same kind, the Armour brand. The only difference was that it had Spanish on one side. But she told me that she could sell me some that she makes and that it would make the best beans I ever tasted. One of the Mexican restaurants in town buys her homemade lard for their beans, she explained, telling me which one. "Don't tell. It's a secret," she whispered with a mischievous glint in her eyes.

We hated to leave, but we needed to stop at another store to complete Emma's list. I told her I would wait in the car with the air conditioning running since we had lard and meat. I told her to text me if she needed me. Soon I received this message:

"Meet me in the frozen foods."

She could not find pearl onions. That was the first time that I looked at her list. I saw "Fontina cheese" and "Italian plum tomatoes".


These were definitely not ingredients you would find in our little hometown grocery. I helped her make substitutions. As we approached the checkout, she looked over the contents of her cart worriedly. "I'm over," she wailed, disappointed, making a reference to the $10 a day goal.

"Maybe I can just give y'all smaller portions and make it last longer," she suggested, brightening at the thought.

On the way home, we tried to take pictures of a digital church sign that's been making me laugh for several months, but they didn't come out. The sign says:

"Sun worship, 10:30"

The first time I saw it, I thought, "What next? Human sacrifice at noon?"

We got home about 3:00 and Emma began cooking. That's when I had the next "uh-oh" moment. She had chosen Beef Short Rib Stew with Chili Biscuit Topping for her entree, and it was supposed to be baked in a dutch oven. I don't have a dutch oven, except for a cast iron one with legs for cooking on campfires.

I read through her recipe and decided that the closest substitution we could make would be for her to use my electric roaster, which is huge, a whopping 18 quarts. She had to use more oil to saute her vegetables in than what the recipe called for in order to compensate for the large surface area.

Then she realized that she hadn't bought beef broth, and she needed four cups of it. So I sent her to the freezer to get a package of soup bones and told her how to make it herself. The result was far superior to what she could have bought at the store, but it took extra time, and it was getting late.

Great clouds of steam billowed upward as Emma kept checking the progress of the stew. I tried to explain that if she were baking it in a heavy dutch oven, she would not be lifting the lid like that and losing all her moisture.

About this time she felt overcome and sighed deeply, pressing the back of her hand to her dewy forehead. I said, "Hold that pose!"

At 6:30 Emma took the milk bucket and left to milk Fiona. She brought the milk in about 7:00 and resumed cooking.

At 8:00 Herb asked, "Have you talked to her about timing?" He had just finished a bag of Fritos.

About this time, I thought I heard a plaintive "moo". I asked Emma, "Did you take Fiona back to her pasture?"

Emma's eyes grew large. "I forgot! And she's tied up with her nose jam-up against the fence!" She flew out the door.

By 8:30 she had returned and started making the chili biscuits. She asked me whether she could use Maria's lard. I said, "Sure!"

The biscuits were supposed to bake on top of the stew. Conditions were not optimal for this, but Emma tried it anyway.

At 9:00 she dished it up, lamenting that it didn't have enough vegetables or broth. If she decides to keep the recipe, she said that she would copy it in her notebook with these modifications.

We sat down and took our first bite. It tasted yummy. The meat was tasty and tender, and the chili biscuits with pork lard were out of this world. A great success!

After we finished eating, Emma began the laborious process of scrubbing the roaster. She had done most of the other clean-up as she worked. She finished about 10 p.m. and went directly to bed.


Emily G. said...

Dear me! This sounds like a bad, bad day at my house and Emma did not even have a toddler to factor in to this whole ordeal.
I was afraid the $10 per day would not be enough. It would depend, though, I suppose, on how many staples you already had on hand, such as potatoes and rice and onions.
I'm jealous of your Mexican market. I just lost my little fresh produce store. I am heartbroken. I am left with only supermarkets now. I hate that this is what the world is becoming.
Emma' stew looked delicious. I hope the men thought it was worth waiting for. That always makes a girl feel better. And it should be some consolation that it is her father and brother who had to wait, not a handsome young husband who she lives to please. She will be glad later on that she practiced housekeeping before marriage.
Here's to a better experience next time!

PS I'd love it if you shared Emma's Friday menus. I go on and off with getting ideas for them...lately my well of meatless meal ideas has been very dry.

Wendy Haught said...

Hi, Emily!

Thanks for writing. Yes, it is good to practice housekeeping before marriage and learn how to please a handsome young husband! That's what makes it all worthwhile, isn't it?

I'll post about the Friday menus. I'm not sure yet what she has planned for this coming one.

God bless,
Mrs. Haught

Eliza said...

Its sounds like a really nice store! Nicer than the one near our house! You should plug the name of the store for those living near you looking for a nice place to shop. I wish the people who ran this store were so friendly. As for staying around $10.00, try having Mexican food. Migas for breakfast is a good way to stretch a dollar. You can make a pot of beans on Monday, and use the left-overs for bean soup, chili, refried beans, chalupas or burritos. Same thing with a good roast. And crock pots save a lot of time.
Even after having 3 years of home economics, and helping around the house growing up, I was so unprepared for married life. I couldn't stretch a dollar, couldn't cook for less than 8 people, and couldn't keep house. Come to think of it, things haven't changed much!
Let me know when we can have a tamalada! By the way, some people call that contraption a tortilla flattener, some call it an aplastadora, but I still don't know the correct name! I had never seen a wooden one, I think I like it better than the heavy metal ones.

Eliza said...

Oh, the stew looked delicious!