Saturday, June 16, 2007

Dips and Spreads from Africa, Asia and Europe

I spent way too much today. Most of it was at Jiffy Lube - $20 for a new air filter (it was pretty disgusting), $40 for an oil change, $90 for a radiator flush! And an extra $30 to fill my not-so-large gas tank down the street.

Today I happened to choose the Elkridge Jiffy Lube to get my car serviced. Hey, if I'm driving it to OC, Jamestown and all over the Baltimore area this summer, I'd better damn well make sure it's in top working order. Yes, I know I should take it to a mechanic for that, but I don't have a lot of money to work with here.

I was hungry, and my family was going to this cookout in Essex (two hours after they were supposed to even leave, there they are, still waiting in the house). So I didn't want to eat too much. I took a walk (it's healthy) past the KFC, past the Taco Bell, even past the Subway, to the little strip mall across from the Super Fresh shopping center at the corner of Montgomery Rd and US Route 1. Famous mostly as the location of a now-shut-down "massage" parlor, it now houses some spas and beauty parlors, as well as a Chinese take-out place, a deli and an international market. The deli was closed, the Chinese take-out place had nowhere to sit, and the market had no food ready to eat. But I went in there anyway to see what I could find.

This market is an "African-Caribbean-Latino" market. I'd say it's about 50% Caribbean, 30% Latino and 20% African, but I may be way off on those figures. As much as I like food from all those areas, I went for the one least known to me - African. There are not many African groceries or restaurants in the Bawlmer area. You have to go to Washington for a better selection. And this one, like all other African groceries I have set foot in, smelled like dried prawn (baby shrimp). And there it was aplenty! Also close by were some jarred African spreads. One, from Ghana, didn't really catch my eye. But the one next to it, Olga's Liberian Hot Fried Pepper ($4.49), did. I haven't tried this yet. Frankly, I'm a little scared to, due to the prominence of habanero chilis in the list of ingredients. But I can tolerate the spicy stuff better than most people in my family (even with the Crohn's - I didn't say I ate a lot of it), so I'll be the sport. Interestingly, it's not from Liberia; instead, it's a Liberian-American product, and the entrepreneuses are Liberian Americans sharing an old family recipe. Olga's is even based right in Elkridge!

After paying the lube guys* and filling up on gas, I ran some errands and eventually found my way up at Whole Foods - the one at the Inner Harbor. God, I love that place. Their free samples are why I love it so much. On a mission to buy some hummus (Asmar's Mediterranean Hommus, Original and Extra Garlic, $2.99 for each 8 oz. tub) with little pitas for the cookout - my sister now owes me $12, by the way - I passed by this table by the cheese section that had the most divine spread made of fig spread and Italian-style mascarpone cheese. I usually avoid the impulse buy, but this tasted too good not to buy. And it helped me avoid the cake I would've inevitably picked up. This was a mixture of, it seemed, 60% mascarpone cheese (this from the Vermont Butter & Cheese Company, $4.99) and 40% fig spread (Whole Foods Organic Adriatic Fig Spread, $4.99 for an 8.5 oz jar - which, for Whole Foods, is pretty damn cheap; I figured it'd be $8, $12 easily).

I wonder how the Liberian fried pepper would taste with the fig spread? Stranger things have been mixed together...

UPDATE: No, I haven't mixed the fried pepper and the fig spread. But I did try just a little bit of the fried pepper - not even the pepper, just the liquid it was sitting in - on a boneless steak. It is hot! Also found out that, as much as I love cake, the cake they sell at Geresbeck's in Middle River is too damn sugary for my tastes.

* That didn't come out right, especially after passing that ex-"massage" parlor.