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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Market forces at play

Mike Morin

I’m not one to give in to food cravings very often, but a week ago Sunday, I woke up and decided I needed a steaming heap of super-tender short ribs. Luckily, Barbara was having sympathy cravings and agreed she would dedicate her Sunday to feeding our collective carnivorous cravings.

All I had to do was play the part of the hunter in our hunter/gatherer arrangement. I would shop for the groceries, and she would cook the ingredients for a Sunday repast of short ribs over egg noodles.

It all looked good on paper. Lady Baba’s Internet search yielded a recipe from Food Network’s Ina Garten, aka Barefoot Contessa. She scratched out a shopping list, and I was off to buy the meat and supporting veggies for this cannot-lose entree.

I entered the supermarket with visions of short ribs dancing in my head and lasered straight to the meat department. I immediately blurted, “Must have short ribs,” to the butcher. She shook her head. “Sorry, we don’t have any today. Is there anything else I can help you with?” Without a word I walked away. It felt like the end of the world. Again. I clearly was not one of the chosen few for this rib rapture.

I drove to another grocery store, where I was not to be denied with a haul of freshly-cut short ribs. Six pounds of heaven in a Dutch oven. All that remained was to score a few other parts for the recipe, including celery, leeks and fennel.

I know what you’re thinking. No leeks, right? Luckily, this particular store had everything I needed, and within minutes, I was dropping my dinner booty on the checkout conveyor. The cashier rang up the order. Ribs, carrots, celery, leeks, anise.

Whoa! Anise? I didn’t pick anise. I have a bulb of fennel. I know what fennel looks like. The clerk confirmed that what I thought was fennel was labeled as anise. “Maybe they made a mistake in produce,” the clerk said apologetically. So now it’s off to another store to get fennel. At this point, many of you are laughing at me, and others, clueless like me, don’t know why they’re chuckling. Read on.

The next store had just one fennel bulb left. I snatched it with the desperation of a man wanting a glass of water after spending a week in the desert. I immediately looked at the tag which read: “Fennel.” Then below, in parentheses it said, “Sweet Anise.” After watching Food Network for years, I somehow missed the memo that fennel and sweet anise are one in the same.

Looking to educate myself, I Googled “fennel” and was astonished to read about people who’ve become addicted to eating fennel seeds. A few unsympathetic readers of one Web site posted comments like, “It starts with fennel seeds, then you hit the hard stuff like funnel cakes.” Another: “Go cold turkey and get a fennel patch.”

Now I’m afraid to ask what else leeks are called.

Hear Mike Morin weekdays from 5-10 a.m. on “New Hampshire in the Morning” on 95.7 WZID. Contact him at His column runs the first, third and fifth Tuesdays of the month.