This time of year, I get all nostalgic and weepy-eyed, especially with the heavenly holiday aromas perfuming the air everywhere, transporting me back to my childhood. My grandma always made a feast on Christmas Eve to celebrate her eldest daughter's birthday. I came over early to help set the table and answer the door when the egg man (who reflected his trade with his egg-bald head), the milkman with a shock of white hair, and the chicken man with a long scraggly neck made their deliveries.
Decades later technology takes over, and I'm being bombarded online with offers for home delivery service of assorted seasonal produce, flowers and eggs from organic farms, mainstream grocery items from supermarket chains, restaurant menu items, along with home-cooked prepared meals and meal kits from various sources.
My millennial daughters can now look forward to deliveries by Amazon Prime, Uber Eats, Grubhub, Postmates, DoorDash, farm-to-doorstep subscription boxes from local organic farms known as Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), as well as imperfect or ugly produce, and other novelty culinary items from assorted companies.
The Next Cornucopia
As the consumer becomes better informed about smarter choices, the trend toward more sustainable fare will accelerate. We're also getting older and wiser about foods that trigger uncomfortable symptoms, and contribute to weight gain like dairy, gluten and fatty and sugary no no's, while diligently scoping out palatable and satisfying alternatives.
For the lactose intolerant, fresh choices are constantly being added to the repertoire of non-dairy milks, which started with soy, almond and rice. Try creamy, exotic and indulgent toasted coconut, hemp, hazelnut, pecan, macadamia nut, quinoa, pea protein, sesame seed and banana flavors.
Non-dairy cheeses smell (some are even stinky), taste, spread, shred, melt and slice just as good, if not better than their bovine counterparts. Cashews, almonds, macadamia nuts, coconut, rice, aquafaba (garbanzo bean brine), tubers, including potatoes and carrots, tofu and assorted seeds are bases for vegan cheeses like mozzarella, cheddar, gouda, blue, ricotta, Parmesan, queso fresco, pepper jack, and brie.
More and more gluten-free pasta options are hitting market shelves, giving wheat the shaft, and swapping it out for quinoa, corn, brown rice, soy, millet, amaranth, as well as green and red lentils with a nice pop of color, and oomph of protein.
Butter is not always better, especially with more digestible, healthier versions like pasture-raised goat, and cashew, coconut, flax and red palm oil-based butters. While heart-healthy olive oil with strong peppery notes has been top dog for years as a finishing, marinating, drizzling and vinaigrette oil, other plant-based oils have an equally impressive health profile with a more delicate flavor and higher smoke point, so they're also safer for frying and sautéing. Avocado, almond, walnut, hazelnut, pumpkin seed, and the latest — algae oil are good change-ups for assorted baking and cooking needs.
There are plenty of fish in the sea other than Atlantic halibut, Chilean sea bass (Pantagonian toothfish), blue fin tuna, monkfish, sole, cod and orange roughy, which have been overfished and waning in our oceans. Top chefs and fishmongers have their eyes on "trash fish" as the sustainability trend for future generations.
While the moniker is not very appetizing, these non-game species like hake and dogfish (flaky, tasty like cod), Acadian redfish, (a better wild-caught tilapia alternative), firm-fleshed thresher shark, and Pacific lingcod (a good pinch hitter for halibut) — are all good and abundant.
For diehard carnivores with the most discriminating palates when it comes to sizzle, chew, juice and blood, roasted jackfruit has a nice sinewy texture and rich flavor reminiscent of pork or chicken. Grilled Portobello mushrooms and eggplant have a beefy texture and nuance, while assorted beans, legumes and textured pea protein are hearty vegan imposters so no one feels deprived.
Recipe: Meatless Mushroom Marinara
• Ingredients: 2 pounds assorted mushrooms (Portobello, crimini, button, oyster, your choice) washed, sliced; 1 jar crushed or diced tomatoes (18-ounce); 3 tablespoons high flashpoint oil (almond, avocado, grapeseed, your choice); 1 tablespoon amber honey; 3 garlic cloves, minced; 2 celery ribs, diced; 1 red pepper, diced; 1 handful fresh chopped herbs (basil, Italian parsley, oregano) — Or 1/2 teaspoon each dried basil, parsley, 1/4 teaspoon each thyme, rosemary; 2 tablespoons shredded Parmesan or sheep pecorino (optional)
• Method: In a large saucepan, heat oil over medium. Sauté garlic, celery and red pepper until tender. Add mushrooms and continue to cook until soft. Add remaining ingredients (except cheese and simmer for 15 minutes. Add sauce to blender and process until coarse and chunky (not pureed). Return to pan. Add cheese if desired. Simmer another 10 minutes. Serve over your favorite pasta.