Cooking Tip #2: Buy a new ingredient, then learn how to use it.

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My first year out of graduate school, I found myself in graduate student housing in at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.I was a young fiction writer with precious few blocks of uninterrupted time for writing, a slow internet connection, a finicky computer, no television, some noisy neighbors, a dearth of space and friends and time with my graduate-student wife, and an profusion of children, including wild pre-schoolers (friends of my own wild pre-schooler), stopping in for a visit.

As therapy, I turned to shopping—most of which occurred at a little Asian store called New Apple Farm on West Broadway in Kitsilano.Not only were the prices good but it had 10% off Wednesdays.Tiny as that store was, it seemed to stock more items than the Safeway across the street.Ajuwain seeds, fresh galanga, lemongrass, large pearl tapioca, pomegranate molasses, wide fresh rice noodles, tamarind pulp, flax meal, dried guavas, triticale flakes… you name it.So every Wednesday I picked up some ingredient I’d never used or even heard of before, then went home to the challenge of figuring out what to do with it. It was a bit like my own American-Canadian version of Iron Chef with a shoebox kitchen for an arena and my 3 kids as unfailingly honest, though not unswayable judges.Wednesdays became “challenge day” when the kids found some adventurous new dish on their plates.Deep fried bean curd, Jerusalem artichokes, celeriac, fresh fennel, rambutan (otherwise known as “hairy strawberries with a grape inside”), star fruit, gold kiwis, longan, frozen durian (just kidding, but Vancouver is not known as a fruit tourist destination for no reason), hoisin sauce, sweet potato noodles, rose water, fresh and pickled diakon…The results weren’t always spectacular, but the process was entertaining and educational, and I usually influenced the judges by stationing a tried and true dessert like steaming chocolate pudding cake on the counter.

I've moved up in the world--from Vancouver to Providence. I've never managed to find long blocks of uninterrupted time for writing, but I have figured out how to re-imagine coping mechanisms as disciplines, so this one can be cooking tip #2. To me it feels like expanding my vocabulary—working from word to sentence or ingredient to dish rather than thinking of food as a recipe broken down into it’s parts.Living in Providence, I now (almost) miss the good old days of being a carefree househusband in Vancouver.My wife does a lot of the cooking, but she occasionally stops by the Lao Lanexang Market on Smith Street and picks up something for me to experiment with.I suppose she misses the good old days too.

One warning: every discipline has its dark side and this one’s rears its head when it’s time to clean up the pantry or freezer—such as when my parents plan to visit, as they are planning to this month.No doubt, this week my wife will start interrupting me with questions about “the green stuff” (naranjilla pulp) or “little white cauliflower-looking things” (kefir grains), or “suspicious-looking little black things” (black glutinous rice) resting in our freezer.Do I need them?Do I want them?It’s usually best to just say no.

In other news: It’s May and, while supplies last, we are proud to introduce Mochuccino Hazelnut--a dark, complex, mildly sweet, very grown-up granola with hazelnuts, Zante currants, coffee, and organic Dagoba cacao, laced with 3-fold top-notch vanilla, and oh-so-sophisticated roasted hazelnut oil (and, no doubt some top secret ingredient that even I’ve probably never heard of before).Need a Mother’s Day gift?We’re making 120 pounds, so get your orders in while it’s still around.

And if you’re still around—reading the end of a blog entry—and believe in what we’re attempting here at PGP, please do feel free to follow our blog.Maybe even send a link out to your friends to let them know about it.