Sunday, January 13, 2013

Food memories are some of the strongest

At La Pola, Joe Rico makes Cuban sandwiches and finishes them in a heated press. For me, he made a sandwich with the smoked wild salmon I brought him, below. The other ingredients were sliced pickle, Swiss cheese, mustard and garlic sauce.
The press (la plancha) flattens the Cuban water bread and makes the crust crispy.

Editor's note: Today, I discuss strong food memories, the lack of an express line at Costco Wholesale, the Can Can Sale at ShopRite, pasta and eggs, and bread made with and without butter.

My friend Luis, who is in his 80s, was born in Cuba.

After a few spoonfuls of soup and conversation with other Cubans at La Pola in West New York, he recalled helping neighbors on the island hand turn a spit to roast a whole pig for Christmas many decades ago.

But as we left the Cuban sandwich shop this past Thursday, he couldn't remember where he had parked his car.

A nearby market promises the fish it sells were "sleeping in the sea" last night.

For Luis, it took only a little Caldo Gallego to bring back memories of Cuba. La Pola is a center of Cuban food culture, where machine-gun Spanish echoes off the tile walls.

As much else fades into the foggy past, Luis' memories of wood-fired roast pork and other Cuban dishes remain vivid.

One of his first jobs in the United States was as a short-order cook in a Route 4 diner in Paramus. 

Today, at home, he cooks picadillo, tostones and other Cuban food with the assurance of a kitchen veteran.

On Thursday, Luis struck up a conversation with the man at the next table who had ordered La Pola's palomilla steak special with french fries.

The Hoboken man said he was born in Cuba in 1925, and had worked in a shoe factory, making orthopedic and other types of footwear.

Luis' father owned a shoe factory, but it wasn't the one the man worked in.

He showed us a large, heavy Cuban 1 peso coin from 1934 that he uses as a key fob, and said it is plated in silver. 

Meyer Lemons, above, and wild-caught Pacific cod fillets, below right, were two of the three items I picked up at Costco Wholesale in Hackensack last Tuesday.

No mercy at Costco

As I returned to my car with fresh fish, bananas and Meyer Lemons I had just purchased at Costco Wholesale, I saw a woman walking in my direction with sleeping pillows and a large plastic bottle of honey.

She walked to the SUV parked next to my car, laughed and said no other shopper would let her check out first. 

I know the feeling. 

There are no express lines at my Hackensack warehouse store, and shoppers run the gamut from people who stop in for two or three items to members who are stocking small delis and convenience stores.

I had only three items, but still had to wait behind members with overflowing carts who had bought everything in sight. 

A 4-pound container of Meyer Lemons for $7.39 worked out to about $1.85 a pound.

The unusual fruit is a cross between a lemon and a mandarin orange, and a thin skin makes them easy to squeeze. But they contain a lot of pits.

My wife used most of them to make homemade lemonade. 

I served the cod with Trader Joe's Whole Wheat Spaghetti with sardines, above, and spinach from Costco I blanched in hot water and sauteed briefly in a wok, below.

No meal is complete without a bowl of pre-washed Earthbound Farm Organic Spring Mix, dressed simply with extra-virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

I squeezed one Meyer Lemon over the fresh cod fillets before coating the fish in a spice mixture and roasting the fillets in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes. 

The wild-caught cod was $6.99 a pound, only $1 more than farmed tilapia from Central America.

I squeezed another Meyer Lemon into a glass with ice before pouring in Adirondack Seltzer, my favorite dinner beverage after wine.

The ShopRite in Hackensack has an olive bar priced at $6.99 a pound, above, or $3 more per pound than the Italian olives from Jerry's Gourmet & More in Englewood, below.

This dance is no bargain

I took a second swipe on Saturday at the 2013 Can Can Sale! -- this time at the ShopRite in Hackensack --  but the only exclamations I heard were from shoppers complaining about smaller discounts than in the past.

A dozen or more 50-cent and $1-off coupons from the newspaper helped, when multiplied, to cut prices on two items to at or below what they were at last year's Can Can promotion.

I bought Dial for Men body wash at $2.49 each, a can of Progresso Light beef soup for 85 cents and a 19-ounce spray can of Lysol Disinfectant for $2.25.

Can Can items included 5 20-ounce Ziploc plastic storage containers -- now BPA free -- for $2.49 or $1.30 0ff. 

I had eggs with Aleppo pepper over leftover spaghetti and sardines for breakfast, and again for dinner, below, with grated cheese and a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil.


Pasta and eggs 

The perfect companion for Trader Joe's Whole Wheat Spaghetti are one or two Costco organic brown eggs fried sunny side up.

The taste of the yolk broken over the pasta is incomparable. Now, this is comfort food. 

At Balthazar Bakery in Englewood, a baker, right, uses his hands to measure and weigh butter for croissants. He is said to have the softest hands at the bakery.

More baguettes

I returned to Balthazar Bakery in Englewood on Wednesday to pick up two more baguettes ($2 each), and saw a baker working with a huge mound of butter that would go into those flaky croissants.

It didn't tempt me. I long ago banned butter from my diet, and bread from breakfast, lunch and dinner.

When I got home, I cut off the heel of one of the crusty baguettes, which contain no butter, and ate it, enjoying the wonderful crunch and distinctive taste.

I sliced the rest into sandwich-size portions, and put them in the freezer for other members of the family.


  1. The Can Can sale is more like the Can't Can't sale. There is nothing special about the prices this year and the store I shop near my job (Ramsey location) continues to stock low for sales causing them to be out of items.

  2. Can't Can't Sale. I love it. How true.


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