Strawberry New Year

As I’ve written (frequently) elsewhere, supermarket touristing is a vital part of any travel, for me. A micro road trip the other day to San Diego included not only a great dinner at Ruth’s Chris and a fab late breakfast at Tip Top Meat in Carlsbad, but also, as we wended our way home, a very small detour to a nearly brand-new WinCo Foods in Oceanside. We were low on at least two important things: Guittard chocolate chips, which WinCo has at an eye-poppingly low price, and individually-sealed teabags from the prodigious bulk department that are necessities in my travel kit. Plus, I, perhaps beyond reason, just plain ♥♥♥ WinCo. Their gigantic onions, e.g. Whether white, purple, yellow, plaid—they are absolute units of beauty and freshness.

This time, Mapie’s (as I call Gmaps’ know-all narrator, after Countess de Toulouse-Lautrec, the author of La Cuisine de France) typically slightly outré route sent us past a sweet little strawberry stand. If you know anything about California, you might know that while strawberry stands abound, they are not every one of them sweet. We said, if we come back by this corner, we’ll stop. And so we did, to buy what turned out to be some of the best-tasting and best-looking strawberries ever, with peak season months away, and also our first of the new year. Is this an off-to-a-good-start harbinger? MAYBE.

Streuth’s in the Salt

After reading yet another treatise on kosher salt for cooking, I feel compelled to speak. Often, I don’t even have to read something for this to happen. Salt, however, is my favorite seasoning.

First: All politics is local, and all salt is sea salt. Even the mined stuff, quietly waiting in pink slabs for people to make lamps out of it, has oceanic origins. So it’s not a question of sea vs. not-sea. That said: People. Just use Giusto’s fine sea salt, evaporated just for you from the San Francisco Bay. SO much better than any of the self-styled so-called soi disant kosher salts it’s not even funny. Pure, light, finger-crushable, dissolves in a flash. Even salt-shaker-able for table use. Also: cheap and accessible, in the Mother’s Market bulk section. I keep Maldon on hand for finishing certain things, and clammy large-gauge for braised meat, and the odd grain of black lava salt, but quotidian three-finger pinches are Giusto’s. Sure, this is easy for me, a person who may or may not have a 50-pound bag of it in her barn at this very moment, to say… but also, 8,000% streuth. Make this simple change and your cooking will reap heretofore unimagined benefits, I swear.

Saffron Salvation

Is there life without saffron? Maybe, for some cooks. But not for me.

I’ve planted my own saffron crocuses, and from the several that bloomed (that’s one in the photo) over a couple of years I eked out enough stigmas to tint and flavor a handful of dishes—an ultra-clarified golden fish stock poured around a lozenge of poached halibut one Christmas eve sticks in my mind. I don’t make a saffron dish every day, of course, but often enough that I keep it on hand. Or, strive to—I’d actually been without for a while, making do with one-use purchases.

Now, however, I have a forever saffron, from Rumi Spice, which I learned about from a most unlikely source, Shark Tank. It’s not that I don’t consume every single Shark Tank ep with single-minded concentration, I do—it’s just that I do not expect to glean a great cooking ingredient in so doing. It’s especially gratifying that Rumi Spice saffron is the very best I’ve ever tasted and cooked with, because it has something else going for it: righteousness. And righteousness hasn’t really been a part of the story of the global spice trade through history, has it. The company was founded by U.S. veterans of the war in Afghanistan, looking to contribute in a meaningful way to the country in which they’d served, especially in a way benefiting Afghan women.

Just a pinch of Rumi saffron threads tinted my risotto a deep, sunny, school-bus yellow—you can see in the photo—and had a round, savory flavor and aroma completely without the harsh, medicinal edge that instantly creates saffron-dislikers. So good! Convenient to order from the Rumi website or, as I did, from AMZN Prime. The price is so good, too: just $8.99 for half a gram, $14.99 for 1 g. I started with the half, but think I’ll be on the gram plan from here on in.