I know what they say: Feeding a family means planning ahead, especially if the adults involved work outside the home. But I've never been a planner, and the lure of my local market often decides what will be on the table just hours later. One time? It was a bushel of oysters. Last week? Some beautiful little scallops and locally milled grits. With two big baskets of strawberries as an appetizer.
Spring is in the air and there's something exciting about all the produce! And there are times when that bounty leads to an impromptu supper party.
My favorite local market is owned by a gracious, down to earth guy who cares a lot about local, healthy food. He cares so much, he lets vendors set up in his parking lot a couple of times a week, luring customers like me in to plan dinner on the spur of the moment. One of my favorite vendors, Bryan of Our Local Catch is there every week, inspiring me to do things like throw a bushel of oysters into the back of my car. On the way home, I start calling friends, because who can eat 50 pounds of oysters alone?
This week, there were soft shell crabs available. Alas, they were all reserved by the time I arrived, or I would have been loading up the car and planning a party within a half hour. I settled on mussels, which will keep a few days, but there will still be some kind of party, because four dozen mussels goes a long way in linguine.
Live seafood, obviously, has to be dealt with swiftly. I don't actually know what I would do with a bushel of crawfish. I'm not sure the dog would take too kindly to them hanging around the kitchen, so they would have to be cooked right away, just like crab.
Once the seafood decision has been made, other vendors provide the rest, from fresh eggs and cheese, to beautiful greens and onions.
Last week, my dinner plan started with grits and scallops. The grits, deliciously coarse yellow ones milled by local newcomer Congaree Milling Company, are a perfect start to a seafood meal. Our Local Catch had scallops, which are hard to come by in South Carolina and always a treat.
→ Read more: Bay Scallop Season Barely Opens in the Tideland News
At home, I sauteed onions and garlic in a little bacon grease, adding some leftover bacon for fun, and squeezed a few tomatoes I had in the fridge into the pan. I added a little seasoning. Don't ask me what; this is an impromptu meal, remember? I threw in the rest of an abandoned bag of frozen corn and, finally, added the scallops. Just before serving, I remembered the parsley my friend had thrust at me earlier when I went to pick up her son for hip hop dance class car pool. It made a lovely garnish, and was a nice complement to the heat of the dish. (Did I mention the tail end of some pepper Jack cheese I found in the fridge and added to the grits?) Supper was ready!
Of course, I always have staples in the kitchen, like olive oil, rice, bread, onions, salad greens and, yes, grits. Until I go to the market, though, I don't know exactly what I'll add to them.
How much meal planning do you do? Living close to several good markets means I don't have to do much, which works for me, but I wonder how I would handle it if I lived farther from my sources.