I’ve been on a mission lately, looking at the contents of my refrigerator in new and different ways. For the last two posts, in a series I’ve come to call Why Would You Do That?, I’ve taken vegetables one wouldn’t necessarily think of cooking and done just that. I sautéed radishes. What? I braised cucumbers? What what? Much to my surprise, they were both delightful. Surprise surprise. You can learn all kinds of interesting things by turning your regular way of doing things on its ear.

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Earlier this week in my first installment of “Why would you do that?”, I sautéed radishes. Radishes are crisp and fresh. Why would you cook them? Why indeed. They were unexpectedly delicious and I started thinking of other recipes I’ve seen over the years that left me perplexed. Like cooked cucumbers. Can you, and why in the world would you, cook a cucumber?

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I am frequently overcome with waves of guilt for the amount of food I throw away. I recipe test; it’s an ever present reality. Not every recipe turns out the first, second or even third time so these are often destined for the trash. Other days, it’s things I’ve forgotten about, found again in a sorry state in the back of the refrigerator or a crisper drawer – often vegetables bought with good intentions but crazy schedules. And other times it’s parts of vegetables – greens, tops, slightly wilted bits – that I cut off and throw away wishing the city had a composting program or that I kept city chickens. I know I need to do better and sometimes I do. Last year I made a sort of meatless meatball with carrot tops that were good in an earthy, grassy kind of way and I genuinely love sautéed beet greens, enough that I frequently come home with free bunches from the farmstand. People tear these things off and toss them. Can you believe that?

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Due to my career choices and wonderful friends, I am often the lucky recipient of some good things. Most of these good things, again due to the above, are food. And booze. I am gifted a lot of booze but that’s another story for another day. Right now both my freezers are completely packed and most of it is pork. Neatly wrapped and labeled packages of really good, farm raised pork. Not long ago, I was digging around and deep amongst these neat little white packages were three good-sized pieces of pork belly, that delicious cut we often know as bacon. I needed to make some room fast so I threw one of those bellies in the fridge to defrost while I thought about what to do. There really was no question. It was going to become bacon. In addition to being delicious, homemade bacon is incredibly easy. After a week long cure, I didn’t feel like firing up the smoker and babysitting a temperature gage all day so I did something I’d never done before: I baked the cured belly. And it was amazing.

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In my mind, date shakes conjure visions of vintage roadside stands near Palm Springs, heat mirages waving up from the melting asphalt and palm trees baking in the impossibly bright desert sun. Here’s the rub: I’ve been to Palm Springs exactly once, never saw a roadside stand and certainly never drank a date shake and yet, the image is strong. What’s up with that? I suspect my impressions of the Palm Desert have been formed by the issues of Sunset my mom received when I was a kid. It’s my most plausible explanation. Curious, I did some research and learned that date farms proliferate the Coachella Valley around Palm Springs and date shakes have been a popular item at the big farms in the area since the 1930’s. The shakes are typically just dates, milk and vanilla ice cream blended until smooth but it’s always seemed a bit odd to me. Dates in a shake? It took a long flight to the other side of the world to convince me otherwise.

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Easy weeknight dinners are a challenge for everyone. Believe me, I understand all too well the pull of a drive thru or takeout after a long workday. In fact, I succumb more than I care to publicly admit. I’m not immune to a fried chicken-biscuit combo and I know I should cook myself a nice balanced dinner more often, energy levels be damned. Doesn’t mean I always do it. That’s why everyone should have a few simple tricks in their back pocket. This is one of mine. A simple piece of beef, marinated in flavorful ingredients, quickly cooked and served with anything you like.

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Today is another of those infamous food holidays that either annoys me or makes me laugh depending on the subject: National Doughnut Day. Always the first Friday in June, I assumed it was something created by The National Doughnut Council or some such public relation entity until I did a little digging. Turns out National Doughnut Day is a real legit thing not some made up food holiday. The Salvation Army started National Doughnut Day during the Great Depression as a way to raise funds and bring awareness to their social service programs and is still one of their biggest annual fundraisers. The day commemorates the “donut lassies,” female Salvation Army volunteers who provided writing supplies, stamps, clothes-mending and home-cooked meals, and of course, doughnuts, for soldiers on the front lines during WWII. Who knew? (Well, since you asked, Google. Go figure.)

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