Sunday, June 17, 2007

Caesar Salad Rescue

I could have sworn there was a full, unopened jar of Caesar salad dressing in the fridge when I left for the grocery store yesterday. Yet, there I was, staring at a huge bowl of Romaine lettuce, 33 hungry people taking their seats at the dinner table (yes, it's one long, long table) and come to find that my jar of dressing has not only been opened, it's darn near empty.

What to do?

The next best thing.

I didn't yelp. I didn't scream. I remembered a container of sour cream in the back of the fridge. The remnants, about a cup, plopped into a mixing bowl. I grabbed a jar of mayo and threw about a cup of that in with the sour cream. Next, a heaping tablespoon of Dijon mustard, a good drizzle of white vinegar. Then it occurred to me that a product one of the hosts had purchased, a Lee & Perrin's Worcestershire sauce for chicken (never seen that one before, and it's the same color as chicken drippings) might lend some anchovies. (Turns out it also has Sauternes wine in it. Who knew?)

In went a few squirts of that. Presto, chango--emergency Caesar dressing. Time elapsed: two minutes.

That salad accompanied 15 pounds of U12 shrimp (those are the big ones) that I'd defrosted, peeled, grilled off and strung on skewers earlier in the day. Also, three pounds of fettucine noodles had been cooked to al dente, oiled lightly and set aside. A sauce consisted of 1 pound of butter, two onions diced small, 1 head of garlic chopped fine, 1 jar of grated Parmesan cheese and 2 pounds of frozen peas, all cooked on the stove top.

The food was warming in the oven as dinner approached...

Now we are leaving the fair (and fairly hot) island of Anguilla. The surf is blowing into a spray against the rocks outside the dining room windows. The ancient peaks of St. Martin rise up in the morning haze like a grazing herd of camels. The setting is picturesque, idyllic--except for a certain stench in the air. That would be the smell of garbage burning.

There is no recycling on Anguilla. No landfill. Everything is burned--the empty plastic bottle from our drinking water, the paper packaging from the breakfast cereal, lunch meat wrappers, ice cream cartons, Doritos bags, shopping bags, garbage bags--just about everything plastic, and it all gets torched, rising into the atmosphere as a dense, black plume of putrescent smoke. On certain days, you can smell it almost everywhere on the island. We filled at least one large bag of garbage every day during our stay here and I can't help thinking how even on this rather remote island we--meaning mankind--find a way to foul the planet.

Amongst the reading materials on the coffee table here is last August's issue of National Geographic on the subject of killer hurricanes spawned by global warming. There's also a poignant essay--a plea, really--by Bill McKibben on the failure of the environmental movement to stop the biggest cataclysm of our lifetime--the warming of Planet Earth. In my free time, I've been reading The Empty Ocean, a catalogue of man's mindless plundering of the world's fishes and sea mammals.

Well, I've certainly done my part to make waste and pollute this week. But how can you not? Especially on an island paradise, where no food is grown locally, where shoppers are especially beholden to agribusiness and the giant food processors, we play right into the global warming juggernaut.

On that note, I leave for home a bit depressed. I will be flying by jet nearly six hours. As McKibben notes, every gallon of gasoline burned spews five pounds of carbon into the air. We must do more. As cooks and food writers, we should be agitating at all times for local foods, bulk foods, environmentally friendly packaging and appliances. The British are now talking about requiring miles traveled on organic foods. Better yet, why don't we require labeling that shows how much energy it takes to produce our food and bring it to market. Any guess how many pounds of seafood it takes to produce a pound of farm-raised salmon? Or how about the 36 calories it takes to get one calorie worth of California lettuce to the East Coast?

As McKibben says, the veil is finally lifting in a way everyone can see. The joy ride is over. Time to get busy...


Joanna said...

Yes, better labelling, because it leads to more awareness, so that when you have that lightbulb moment, you can easily find the information you need.

I think the main thing is to make small changes, and when you've got used to those, to make more small changes. And not worry too much if you backslide a little (do you know the 80/20 rule? So useful for the avoidance of unnecessary guilt), so long as you are going in the right direction.

We don't eat airfreighted food any more, and that one resolution has led to huge changes in the way we eat - no more global summer time here. It spreads outwards, because in no time I started to feel bad about fish farming, industrialised meat production etc etc which led to more changes in shopping and diet.

I'm definitely going to read The Empty Ocean, thanks for the recommendation.

Baby steps, baby steps
Best wishes,

Ed Bruske said...

Joanna, I really like the British idea of requiring miles traveled on food labeling, and using special labels to let people know when food has been air-freighted.