Grocery Store Etiquette: Get It. 07.31.2013

I know, there are no rules for grocery shopping, but there should be.  I throw myself into a frantic tizzy at the thought of going into the store by pre-experiencing all sorts of injustices and while I'm there, my Indian skin burns hot with rage as I experience aforementioned injustices.  I had to take a valium just to write this post; that's how intense my grocery store issues are. This post is part-Wednesday-post and part working-through-issues-in-therapy.  Sooo...let's get started!

1.  Do Not Stand Too Close To Me

For years now, I've wondered why there isn't a demarkation between the person who is checking out and the person right behind that person.  We live in a civilized society and yet there is nothing to indicate a person must wait at a suitable distance behind the paying person?? We can put a man on the moon but not THIS?!  It's insanity!  Allow me to describe in detail what happens to me (and perhaps it happens to you, too?):

I am checking out my groceries like a normal person.  The person behind me with his or her cart buts up against me.  In. My. Business.  What, I ask, is the hurry?  Why do you need to stand right next to me?  Why do you keep bumping your cart into me?

So this is what I've started doing:  instead of pushing my cart in front, I pull it behind me, thereby allowing ample personal space between myself and the person behind me, who is clearly irritated that I've got my cart between him/her and getting his/her crap on the checkout counter.  

My proposal, which should be obvious:  a bright yellow line indicating where you must WAIT until you can move your cart forward and place your crap on the checkout counter.  

2.  I Need To Make My Purchases And Leave.  Now.

I hate shopping. I know, you are shocked.  But I hate it.  I detest being in any kind of store.  All I want to do is go in, get my stuff, and get out as fast as I can.  And you know what gets in the way of me doing that at grocery stores?  Clerks who are chatty with each other.

There is a high-end grocery store in my neighborhood and I am appalled at how unprofessional the clerks are.  I know, I know:  there is some serious shit going down in Syria, the economy is not fully recovered, we have no idea if Brody is guilty, and oh-fer-godsake DETROIT has filed for bankruptcy.  It's bad out there.  I shouldn't be complaining about clerks having a little fun, but I am and I will.  

I am in your store to make purchases.  It is YOUR job to ensure that I get the hell out of your store to make room for more customers.  I cannot stand it when I show up in a checkout line and there is a pause while checkout clerks chat about their evening plans or whatever.  I do not care.  Just get me the hell out of the store.  PLEASE.

My proposal, which should be obvious:  Do. Your. Job.  FOR THE LOVE OF GOD.

3.  Can't We Just All Shop Together?

Your shopping trip to the grocery is just as important as mine.  I get it.  But get your cart out of my way.  Please.  I would like everyone to find a way to move about the store without leaving his/her cart obstructing other shoppers.  It's rude.  

My proposal, which should be obvious:  If you're going to browse (which I do not get), park your cart off to the side, out of the way of customers moving to and fro.  Please.  

4.  I Don't Want to Know What You're Talking About

Cell phones.  In grocery stores.  People don't understand how incredibly obnoxious and loud they sound talking on their cell phones in grocery stores.  I know this is a no-win for me, but if I don't say something now, I will regret my silence later. People having non-food conversations in grocery stores sound like idiots.  Really.  

When my phone rings in the store, I look to see who it is and IF it is my husband, I answer it because I know he's calling to let me know we need three heads of garlic, not two.  And that's important shit.  But if my girlfriend is calling?  I will not pick up.  My mom?  Not. Picking. Up.  If it's urgent she'll call back or she'll call Eric and he'll call me to tell me what a crap daughter I am for not picking up in the first place.  But you will not find me walking through the grocery store chatting about non-grocery list issues.  Ever. 

My proposal, which should be obvious:  Do not answer the phone. Unless it's someone adding items to your grocery list. 

5.  Be Nice to People.

This really should be obvious.  We are in this place of abundance, a place of nurturing.  We can be rude to each other and to the people who work in this amazing place:  the grocery.  Quit it.  

Everyone shopping the grocery has probably had a day like yours and everyone working there isn't getting paid a whole lot or having all that much fun and likely has a second (or third) job:  so be nice.  Be civil.  Be kind.  It doesn't take a lot.  If you don't think that's worth something, then you are a douche bag.

My proposal, which should be obvious:  Don't be an ass.  Be considerate of other shoppers.  When someone at a store asks how you are doing, answer, and then ask him/her how he/she is doing.  And always thank store employees for a good job.  Don't you wish someone did that for you?    

Happy (and brief) shopping all!

The Best (and Easiest) Chicken Curry 07.30.2013

I will admit that until two years ago, I was not a fan of the slow cooker, or crock pot, a term I detest as it reminds me of 1970s wood paneling and old mustard colored shag carpeting.  So when Eric and I received a slow cooker as a wedding present 11 years ago, I was ready to return it or donate it to someone who did like wood paneling or mustard colored shag carpeting.  But, because Eric is wise, he wouldn't let me get rid of the slow cooker.  And it stayed packed up in our storage closet until two years ago.

While I don't remember what prompted me to pull it out, I will say that it was one of the best kitchen-based decisions I've made.  It's changed our life.  

Another reason I didn't like the slow cooker is because everything I had eaten from a slow cooker was mush.  Really, really mushy mush.  It made no sense to me:  okay, here is all this great flavor, but so what?  It's all mush. I can barely discern what I'm eating.

I was dying to make Indian food in the slow cooker and found Anupy Singla's phenomenal book, The Indian Slow Cooker.  I have tried many recipes in the book and not one has disappointed.  I've made my own adjustments and increased or decreased the time I keep something in the slow cooker.  I've also been doubling each recipe so I can store the excess in the freezer, which is imperative in our home.

The first recipe I tried was the Traditional Chicken Curry, which calls for 8 hours on low.  I usually keep it in for 6 hours on low and let it sit for a few more hours.  If it's in there for 8 hours in my slow cooker, the chicken will fall apart.

There are some ingredients from the original recipe I've left out (such as the canola oil) because I found them to be unnecessary.  You may decide you want it with your own experimenting.  One of the appealing things about this cookbook is that so many of the recipes do not require any oil, which is a common factor in Indian cooking.

The following is the Anupy Singla's recipe with my changes and modifications for a double batch.  If you love Indian food and have a slow cooker, this book is a must. 



6 pounds chicken thigh pieces, skinless, with or without bone

2 medium yellow onions, roughly chopped
1 28-oz. can whole tomatoes (original single batch recipe calls for 2 tomatoes; I add the whole can for extra broth)
2-1" pieces ginger, peeled and chopped
20 cloves garlic, peeled

1.5 tablespoons salt
2 tablespoons turmeric
2 tablespoons garam masala
2 cups yogurt
1.5 teaspoon red chile powder (original recipe calls for 1 tablespoons, which is fantastic, but not so much for my kids)

2 cinnamon sticks
8 green cardamom pods, cracked
8 cloves
1 cup boiling water

Chopped fresh cilantro for garnish

This truly is the most time consuming step in this recipe: peel and chop onions, garlic, and ginger.  

Next, throw chopped onion, garlic, and ginger into a blender with a cup of water and mix until smooth.

Add 28-oz can of whole tomatoes and continue to mix.

Pour most of the mixture into the slow cooker, and add two cups of plain yogurt into the blender.  Keeping some of the onion-tomato mixture will help blend the yogurt.  I recommend not using Greek yogurt -- texture comes out grainy.  At this point all of the mixture will have a pinkish hue but that is about to change.

Pour all mixture into the slow cooker and add spices and mix with a spoon.  

Finally, add chicken and walk away for a good 6-8 hours.  Singla's recipe calls for the chicken to be added first to the slow cooker, which I have done.  I like putting the mixture in first because it makes mixing and blending a lot easier.

My family and I have started eating brown rice as of three months ago and I found a wonderful basmati brown rice at the Indian grocery.  No butter or salt added and it's delicious.  

I mold the rice into a little ramekin and place onto a plate, then place chicken pieces, lots of sauce, and garnish with cilantro (see photo up top). Perfection.  

Place: A Dining Table in Maryland 07.29.2013

David Smelson has been in the food and restaurant industry for as long as I've known him (13 years) and before then.  Getting an invitation to his table is nothing short of a ravishing treat.  So you can understand why I was so excited when this foodie and extraordinary cook sent me a photo and story of his dining room table as a contribution to the Four Courses "this is the story behind my table" series.  

I've broken a lot of bread with David over the years and his knowledge and insight into restaurants and chefs and sommeliers around DC is really quite something.  You can follow his culinary exploits over at his blog, Pleasures of the Table.

Enjoy the story...scroll down to read previous dining room table stories.


From David...

So, my wife and I asked my stepfather to build us a custom table for our wedding.  He's a serious craftsman.  We didn't get it until six months after our wedding.  It is dark maple with birdseye maple inlay.  Something like this would cost you thousands from Hardwood Artisans.  

Anyhow, we were having an anniversary party and I was doing fajitas for about 60 people outside on the grill.  The table was covered with a paper/plastic table cloth and there were appetizers on the table -- some hot, some cold.  I was using my grandmother's chafing dish to keep the spinach dip warm.  

Apparently, the stern was too close to the table cloth and it caught on fire.  I was outside,  just a few feet away, but I couldn't get inside because there were a ton of people in the way (the only door was through the kitchen and that's where most of the people were.).  Someone standing in front of me at the grill (I had my back to the house) looks into the house and says, "Dude, your table's on fire."  I said, "Well, put it out!" 

Someone standing next to the table dumped their mojito on it, looked at me, and gave me a thumbs up.  All's well that ends well.

A little sand paper and it looks almost good as new.  To this day though, several of our friends, when invited to gather at Chez Smelson, say, "Don't set the furniture on fire until we get there."

Previous articles in the Dining Room Table series.  

A Bethesda Dining Room
A New England Dining Room
A Dining Table in New York

To contribute to this series, send a photo of your dining room table and the story or memories behind the table (no more than one page) to

What to Make for Brunch: Breakfast Tart 07.27.2013

A while ago, Delaware zentangle artist JJ McDonald LaBarbera posted a photo on Facebook of a square bread-pie-egg concoction that looked heavenly.  And I was sure she had picked it up at a store, restaurant, or Sunday farmer's market because WHY would you spend your Sunday morning creating something so yummy and beautiful?  She indeed cooked the Farmer's Breakfast Tart herself and shared the Pepperidge Farm recipe in photos.

When she photographed the recipe, she didn't have green onions on hand but recommends them.  "For the second time, I added about a tablespoon and a half of stone ground mustard...I think it was a great addition to the potato layer," she wrote.

In addition to making this delicious tart, JJ is a talented artist.  You can see her work at her blog Tinker Tangles and on Etsy. Thanks JJ!

Here we go!

Gather ingredients

Spread pastry sheet

Stir sour cream, cheese, and potato

Spread potato mixture on pastry sheet

Bake for 15 minutes and then arrange sausage on pastry sheet

Crack one egg in each quarter of the sheet

Bake for 10 minutes or until the eggs are done and the sprinkle green onions and additional cheese (if desired) (why on Earth wouldn't you desire that??)


Tools of the Trade: Wooden Spoons with History 07.25.2013

At our 20th college reunion back in June, my friend Julie presented me with these beautiful wooden spoons that she and a woodworker friend made.  They are stunning pieces. The larger spoon can be used as a coffee scoop, and the smaller one for honey.

Julie and I attended a small, women's liberal arts college -- Hollins University -- and aside from the reunion bringing back our time all those years ago, so did these spoons.  With the spoons, Julie provided a note that said the following:

"These spoons were made from a broken section of a large oak tree which once grew on the Hollins front quad. The tree was a victim of Hurricane Hugo, which struck the campus in late September of 1989. Seeing those massive trunks splayed on the ground was shocking and horrible. I imagined those old trees had witnessed a lot of Hollins legacy at a time when my own Hollins journey was just beginning. So, I carried a piece of one tree back to my room...That trunk of oak rested on my dresser all four years of school -- mostly holding jewelry and pictures, etc."

After graduation, Julie carted that piece of wood between the East and West coasts, unsure what to do with it, but certain she didn't want to get rid of it.  In 2012, Julie was inspired.  She consulted a friend who is also a talented woodworker with a specialty in spoons.

"I wondered if he might be able to to get 2 or 3 out of the wood but before I knew it he had cut the rough forms of 13 different spoons.  I did all the finishing work and soaked them in walnut oil for 3 days," Julie wrote.  "I hope you enjoy this little piece of Hollins beauty and history in the shape of a spoon -- it seems appropriate for a place that fed and nurtured us so well."


Comfort Food. Or: I'll Eat Whatever the Hell I Want ThankYouVeryMuch! 07.24.2013

It’s not hunger, but you know that feeling that physically makes you want to eat something that is specifically going to make you deeply satisfied right at this very moment?  That feeling stems from stress, mixed with a little anxiety and, possibly, some anger or exhaustion bordering on emotional meltdown thrown in for good measure.  It is a complex condition easily and temporarily drowned with healthy or unhealthy food like cake, nachos drenched in melted cheese, chicken noodle soup, or -- as in my case – a large plate of chicken curry and rice with a tall glass of Diet Coke on ice. 

And most of the time with bad comfort food, you know you're going to regret it -- you do -- but those few minutes of eating to deal with your delicate emotional or tired physical state are…JUST. SO. DAMN. GOOD.  

I'm in my 40s and the way I eat for comfort has changed from when I did 10 or 20 years ago. I'm less reckless now. And, of course, what and how much I eat during trying times is determined by level of crisis, emotional exhaustion, and how much I am willing not to give a shit.  That last category is one carefully developed after years of increasing levels of not giving a shit.  It's an art.

By Tuesday of this week, I had found myself already drawn to comfort food several times:  that’s stress.  Sometimes I kept my shit together, sometimes I did not.  A lady cannot be strong all the time. A lady can be at a long meeting where there are donuts and she is tired and so she eats the donut rationalizing that the tastiness will make her happy and the sugar will give her so much energy. That’s a hypothetical situation.

Stock photo of donut. Really.

So, I thought it would be good to walk you, my readers, through the Comfort Food Levels of Severity and What to Do. It’s a wobbly wire we walk. Let’s stay strong together!  And as you can see from the chart below, the Comfort Food Levels are color coded by Threat Levels.  Yes, I knew you'd appreciate that.


 Comfort Food Severity Level & What To Do
What's Happening?Should I Eat Comfort Food?And why is that?
A Fantastic Day. Good things are happening and I feel really positive about my life.NoChoose healthy options and exercise. Now is when you have strength to rack up points in case you make a bad decision later when you're not feeling so great.
Nothing good, nothing bad.NoYou'll be tempted to hit the bad comfort foods because you're on neutral ground and you could go either way. But don't do it. Refocus.
I'm a Lady and It's My Lady TimeObviouslyFollow your Lady Instincts. But follow up with a walk, otherwise you will feel like lard.
I'm a Man and I Feel Like Eating a Giant Piece of Steak. And I Don't Know Why.SureLadies have Lady Time, you get Man Time. Follow up with a walk otherwise you will feel like lard.
General Bad Day. A few things might be off, nothing serious.NoLook, we all have General Bad Days. They actually happen quite a lot. The thought of one bite of moon pie sounds pretty good. But you know that one bite leads to eating the entire moon pie, right? And you'll feel like lard afterward. Walk away from the moon pie. In fact, keep walking. Walking is good for you.
Really Bad Day. The shit has hit the fan (in some area of my life).A LittleWhen I have days like this, I want a giant plate of creamy pasta and a large glass (or two) of wine. And this is so good, but so wrong. We are not at DEFCON 1. For a Really Bad Day, a luxurious meal is absolutely in order, but you don't have to eat crap. Eat good food (mind the portions) and have a glass of good wine.
The Worst Day. On this day, something horrible has happened and I am devasated.UnsureExercising food judgement on The Worst Day is really tough. I'm not qualified to advise you what to do as I can barely get a grip on a day like this. Intellectually I know the best thing to do is take deep breaths and not make any rash decisions like, say, go through the Taco Bell drive thru. You will definitely feel like lard.
DEFCON 1. My/the world is ending.YesYou probably won't feel like eating, but you should. You need whatever nourishment you can get, and if you have some booze on hand, drink it. We're at DEFCON 1 for pete's sake!

Tuesday Sloppy Joes 07.23.2013

Ladies and gentlemen, I am supremely exhausted today.  After I brought my son home from karate (which he thinks is three instructors existing to entertain him and not an opportunity for him to learn a skill), my husband laid out a dinner of sloppy Joes, sweet potato tater tots, and raw vegetables.  It was fantastic, especially the sloppy Joes.  

He looked up a sloppy Joe recipe on Epicurious, but only had some of the ingredients on hand. This does not deter him.  I on the other hand would have either run out to the grocery to get the missing ingredients, or immediately changed the menu:  in the kitchen, I am a scaredy cat.

Eric whipped up the sloppy Joes with ground beef we did not use the other night for hamburgers, mixed in with a bunch of diced carrots, celery, onions, and garlic.  

We had tomato paste and Worcestershire sauce, and he made his own tomato sauce.  The Worcestershire sauce, I think, is key.  We did not have halapeno and it was unnecessary.  Delicious.  And so incredibly appreciated by an exhausted woman.  

Happy eating all!

Place: A New York Dining Room 07.22.2013

Ahhhh...the dining room!  We eat, we work, we many reasons to take a seat. Back in May I asked readers to send photos and stories of dining room tables and I am loving what's coming in to my mail box. Today's table hails from New York, and is gorgeous. I love how the decor surrounding the table tie into the table's modern characteristics and color. My favorite piece of dining room decor is the giant Dubonnet poster. A large, strong poster, painting, etc. is sometimes all you need to make a room work.  

Do you have an interesting story behind your dining room table, or just love your dining room so much? Send me a photo and no more than one page of the story behind the table, or memories of what's happened around that table. I'll keep the series going as long the tables keep coming in.



This is my dining room.  I consider this room and the living room to be mine.  "Mine" in the sense that I want them to look the way I want, almost all the time, and when I have a spare moment I want to use them MY way.  All of the rooms in our house sort of flow into one another without doors, so these rooms are not locked away, but there's a sort of invisible force field that says, "don't dump here".  (I also have a very understanding husband and 6 year old).

This dining room is a work in progress, but in my head it's all done.  I can see it clear as day.  We used a folding plastic table with a cotton tablecloth for almost three years while I looked for the right dining table.  It's a Robsjohn Gibbings table and it can be cozy for 2, or extend to seat 12 (or more if you squish).  It has some dings and scratches, but that's a good thing (see previously mentioned 6 year old). One wall is lined with floor to ceiling bookcases filled with cookbooks.  One window faces out and overlooks the driveway and our vegetable garden.

We have already had many holiday meals, nice, long dinners with friends, cookie decorating marathons, and impromptu snow day sledding luncheons for 15.  I like to sit here with a pile of cookbooks and pick recipes while looking out the window.

We do have a small glass top table in our kitchen that hosts most everyday meals, homework, piles of mail, etc., but this one is for me.

We still need the right chairs, but I'm not worried - I'll find them eventually.  And someday everyone else will see the dining room that makes me smile every time I walk through.