Our first home together in California we lived in Mountain View near this huge mall with a Target and Walmart and Safeway and just outside the mall were several cute little grocery stores which had the most amazing collection of exotic foods. There was the Middle Eastern store, the Mexican market and my personal favorite, an open air European style market (that’s how they advertised themselves!) place called Milk Pail Market. It was one of those places which was perhaps 800 sq ft in all and yet I could spend hours in there exploring the food. I already know this is going to be a long post because I am drooling at the thought of it! The entire outside was lined with rows of fruits and veggies thrown into huge baskets looking fresh, bright, chirpy and oh so colorful. There were fruits and vegetables of every color and some I didn’t even know existed! Every fruit and vegetable had multiple representations except perhaps okra! I mean how many kinds of okra are there? Vegetables that I had not seen outside of India I was seeing for the first time and what a thrill that I didn’t need to go to the Indian store for them. An entire 10 foot wall dedicated to greens. One corner for herbs. Plus the prices were perfectly kissable. I always ended up buying way too many veggies. They had this practice of totaling the weight of the produce at the bottom of the receipt and once – I kid you not – I bought 40 lbs of produce and carried it back home on foot. If that aint dedication I don’t know what is.
Milk Pail was the first place I saw good French cheeses but I didn’t understand cheese then so I never ended up buying. But they also had loose grain, beans, jams and jellies, extracts, baking chocolate and nuts, bottled sauces, tomatoes, olives, capers and the like. I stocked up on baking supplies from there and still have a bottle of almond extract from that time. I also bought granola and polenta and capers and olives and fire roasted peppers and all kinds of beans with absolutely no idea what to do with them, but the firm belief that Food Network would show we the way. Some of the food still existed in my pantry when we left that apartment 7 months later, while most of it I managed to find recipes to use up.
Talking about recipes, in the winter when root vegetables were in season I bought a load of parsnips, beets, carrots, potatoes and turnips and decided to make this roasted root vegetable medley from Food Network’s website. Except I decided to tweak the recipe to make sure I used up all the parsnips, carrots and beets that I had. I ended up making a 9 x13 pan full of veggies for two people with- let me be kind – less than optimal results. I had upset the flavor balance of the dish and it ended up being so sweet that it tasted like candy. I had no idea how sweet the parsnips and beets could get. Honestly I had no idea how parsnips tasted at all! But I hate wasting food and didn’t want the husband to pay for my culinary misadventures so I ended up eating it all over a period of a week. The good thing was that eating bad food will teach you a lesson and I will never forget mine. You have to understand your ingredients. You have to taste them before using them and plan what are the dimensions they are going to add to the dish. I was so shaken by the experience though that I never bought parsnips again. I did go back to Milk Pail of course. And I never stopped cooking.