Cost of Eating Redux

In a March 8 article in the Wall Street Journal, writer Juliet Chung takes a deeper look into the rising cost of dining out and warns of shrinking portions, less steak and more pasta, and swaps like blended oil in place of extra-virgin …

How this will fare in an anti-carb climate is yet to be seen, but I’m certainly OK with the shrinking portions. None of us need to eat as much as we do, and I’d rather see less food go to waste and more into the mouths of those who need it most. With all the food we have in this country, no one should have to suffer from hunger. Sadly, the more prices rise, so will the number of people going without food.

We’ve become incredibly spoiled by all the gourmet markets, seafood shops, cooking schools, wine schools and upscale eateries here and in the city, and by the availability of organic products. I realize that we live in a bubble here, but if Manhattan restaurateurs are feeling the pain, it’s just a matter of time until our favorite chefs start tossing higher-end ingredients off their menus in favor of more modest ones. (Bye-bye, truffles and foie gras, rack of lamb, filet and those delectable veal chops.)

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If you’ve already been debating the value of every item that goes into your grocery cart—not just the specialty products—you’re not alone. Flour is up almost 40 percent, and there’s starting to be very little difference in price between meat, chicken and fish. Wholesale prices have bumped up, too (estimated to be about 7.4 percent), thanks to high oil prices and a surge in ethanol consumption.

I’ve listened to my grandmother’s stories about “stretching meals” during the depression and other periods when money was tight. My aunts and uncles still carry on about her tuna meatballs, made with canned tuna, as much an economic move as a Lenten innovation.

I haven’t had a chance to talk to local chefs about what they’re doing to combat rising prices, but I aim to before the week is over. I’ll be wary if they deny they’re taking a hit. The Main Line is not immune, and true blue bloods are notorious for penny pinching. The plus side of having to alter ingredients is that our favorite local chefs will be compelled not to let economic constraints limit their creativity. I take these words to heart:

“If you need to make real food out of nothing, that’s real cooking. It’s easy to cook a sirloin. It’s harder to cook with potato scraps.” —David Chang, chef/owner of New York’s Momofuku Ssäm Bar

In timely fashion, I was just given this little tidbit. Sounds like a dinner deal you won’t want to pass up: DiFabio’s 9th Street Catering and Event Planning (in Media and Bryn Mawr) offers a fabulous Family Dinner for Four. Choose crab cakes and roasted potatoes or chicken Parmesan and ravioli (with gravy like grandma used to make), both with salad and bread for $25.95. Call the Media location to order: (484) 444-0850; d9catering.com.

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Despite my recent crusade against bottled water consumption (it’s a green thing), I recently came across information about Ayala’s Herbal Water, made right here in Narberth. Wynnewood-based pediatrician Dr. Ayala Laufer-Cahana developed Ayala’s while searching for a good alternative to sugary beverages for children and adults. During the experimentation process, Laufer-Cahana turned to her garden, with its abundance of antioxidant-rich herbs. The result is a peppy herbal drink with no calories, no caffeine and no artificial additives. Since so many of us mistake hunger for thirst, sipping on a glass of Ayala’s just might be the perfect way to satisfy craving and provide a little pick-me-up that’s much healthier than that late afternoon cup of coffee or Diet Coke you’re used to. (Dieticians recommend drinking at least 64 ounces of water each day to prevent dehydration and to help maintain weight.)

I have yet to sample a bottle, but reading through the flavors—cinnamon orange peel, lemongrass mint vanilla, jasmine vanilla, lavender mint lemongrass thyme, cloves cardamom cinnamon and ginger lemon peel—got me licking my lips. For more information about Ayala’s and for user-friendly interpretations of the most recent health and nutrition findings, check out herbalwater.typepad.com, updated every Monday.

Our Best of the Main Line Elimination Ballot is open through February 22!