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Monday, August 25, 2008

Man Love

I don't say this lightly because somewhere this will end up in cyberspace and I'll start receiving emails from weird web sites, but I've got a great big case of man love right now. It started innocently enough with a talk about the veggie garden and progressed to a discussion about growing peppers. I didn't plant any peppers (hot or sweet) this year because I just couldn't get around to more digging after all the work we did on the outside of the house this year. Peppers are one of my favorite foods. I haven't had a lot of success growing peppers because they don't do well in wet soil, which I have here, and they need plenty of sunshine, which I don't have here (still too many trees).

So I was discussing peppers with my buddie Dave and he was telling me about his success over the years growing peppers. Fran (Dave's wife) then mentioned what a great job he did making stuffed peppers. You've got to understand here, I never pictured Dave in the kitchen cooking. Dave is a great yard guy, spending untold hours landscaping and gardening, and it shows because he has a great yard. I don't do yard, unless I absolutely must, so I'm always impressed by the things he's done out there. This is not where the man love comes in to play. It's all about the peppers. Apparently one of the few things Dave cooks is stuffed peppers. When I married the love of my life, her first job was on the other side of town while mine was one block away. Since I was home first, I usually started dinner. Stuffed peppers were one of the first things I learned how to cook. They were fairly easy to do and very tasty, tough to mess up because if you overcooked them, they were just more tender. I didn't realize then, but I do now, that Nancy is not a big pepper fan. She will deny this, but the telltale sign is that she always picks them out of the food and shuffles them to the side. I'm ok with that, you like what you like. I stopped making stuffed peppers years ago mostly because of this. I know, I could still make them and just enjoy them myself, but one of the reasons I like to cook is to see the appreciation other people experience when they've had a good meal.

This weekend after a night time cruise around the lake, we returned to the house for a fire in the pit. On their way in, Fran placed a package in the refrigerator. It was a container with a stuffed pepper and lots of great looking sauce. Dave had cooked that afternoon. He gave me the aw shucks and described how the sauce was a little thin and might be a little tart. This reminded me of the sauce I cooked last year with fresh tomatoes that was so tart I might as well have sucked a lemon. I thanked Dave and there it sat in the fridge until today's lunch time. I poured it into a bowl and there it was, a beauty. The sauce was a nice marinara, with lots of cut up tomatoes, onions and artichokes (!!!I can here Sarah already; ARTICHOKES!!!!). It was the perfect stuffed pepper and just instantly reminded me of the early days of my cooking. Bon!

So here it is Dave. A little man love for you today.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Best Book Ever?????

I tried, I really, really tried this time, but I still couldn't do it. As my family knows, I am a voracious reader, sometimes going through periods where I'll read a new book every two days. Vacation was like that this year, having read three books in five days. I don't usually like junk either, instead usually trying to read something that at least has some literary content (ok, my love for Steven King isn't exactly literary but long live the Gunslinger!). For the fourth time in as many years I made another attempt to read "Ulysses", supposedly the greatest book ever written. I don't know who did the voting, but they didn't ask me.

I like a good long read because it gives you a chance to really get into the characters and feel like you're living the story as it's happening. My fourth shot at "Ulysses" didn't get much further than the previous attempts. I made it to page 160 before I decided to throw it against the wall again. My copy looks well worn now but it's certainly not from reading the pages. I think it's because of the damage I do to it each time I get tired of attempting to get through Joyce's crap. I don't use that word lightly, but there it is. I've never been in a position where I was unable to finish a book, no matter how bad it was ( hey, I finished "His Dark Materials" even though I wanted to choke the writer when I was finished). No matter how hard I try I can't seem to get past his so called style. The story takes place in Dublin and is full of Irish terminology (not a problem in itself). The thing that makes it a difficult read is he mixes the real time story line with the random thoughts of the characters as they are going through they're day. At one point we have the pleasure of listening to a man's thoughts as he is taking a crap (there's that word again). The worst part of it all is that his punctuation is horrible. He uses dash lines in place of quotation marks and you can never tell when the character is talking or when he is just thinking. Too much information.

So here I stand, a beaten man. I think this may have been the last attempt at Joyce. Maybe it was my educational level and I'm just not capable of reading this. I'm so turned off to this book right now I won't even try to look at some of his other writing. At least until the next time I have nothing to read and look at the bookshelf and there it is.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Baseball benn berry, berry good to me...

I was 11 years old in the summer of 1967, the first year that I really remember baseball. We lived in the Main South section of Worcester, one of those old, seen better days, industrial cities that Massachusetts is famous for leaving abandoned by the side of the road. If Worcester was bad, Main South was the bad of the bad. We didn't know it was that way back then because we lived there and it was home. Mom didn't drive so we walked everywhere. If it wasn't within walking distance, we took the bus. The nearest organized little league teams were down at Beaver Brook park and that was just far enough (and cost money) that I never played organized baseball.

Eleven was one of the last years before everything changed. The summer I turned twelve was the last summer I would go to school with all my neighborhood friends. After that it was Woodland Prep for two years, an inner city prep school, free to those that had the grades or those that the local grammar school didn't want anymore (you decide which one I was). Eleven was one of those summers that are vivid in a mind that has forgotten more of my child hood then I care to remember (that sounds like a Yogi-ism if there ever was one). We didn't have organized ball, but we had back yard wiffle ball. A "listen up" to my two poser brothers here: if you think you created that back yard baseball diamond, your are dead wrong. I wore in that pitcher's mound, that dirt patch we called second base, and I placed that home plate there, not you. As for third base, that used to be the clothes line when I was little and it was broken off at the base because I snapped that puppy off grabbing it rounding third once. Every afternoon we played ball back there and in the fall we had the world series with the kids from Hollywood Street (literally the yard behind ours).

In the summer of 1967 Mom was way too busy trying to keep sis well. By then she was well into a lot of the health issues that plagued and pained her childhood. Help came in the form of the "Little Sisters" (I think the official name was the Little Sister's of the Assumption). They would help watch her and provided support with whatever Mom needed. This was right around the time that reforms in the church were taking place, but the sister's still wore the full black and white habit, the kind the flying nun wore (with the exception of the "flaps" the flying nun had on the ends of the hat; come to think of it, which came first: the flying nun's flaps or the flaps on the end of airplane wings?). The nun's had a "compound" of several buildings behind gates on the corner of Woodland and Claremont streets and they ran a summer program there to keep the neighborhood kids busy and out of trouble. It was a place to meet up with your other friends and play games or attend organized activities. This particular summer, they got a big block of tickets to see a Red Sox game. Close your eyes and picture this. Twenty inner city kids walking in to Fenway Park with a bunch of fully habit wearing nun's. We were a beauty to behold.

Of course, during that summer the Red Sox were having their first good summer in many years. By the end of the summer we would all be calling them the impossible dream team and I would be listening to every game on the radio. There was no television coverage of baseball games back then like there is today. The Sox didn't get much coverage in those days because they just weren't very good up until then. By the end of that game I was hooked on baseball for life. My fanaticism would only temper when the Mets came to town years later (I still can't watch the clip of Buckner; I know, lots happened in that game before Buckner, but that was the final straw for me). My hero's in those years were Jim Lonborg, Tony C and Yaz.

I was originally going to write about the garden today, but once again I spent hours in the car traveling between home and Connecticut. The radio was on and the big news was that Yaz had been admitted to the hospital with chest pains. Now 67 years old he has been through some personal issues lately. Yaz is and was my hero growing up (other than my Dad). He is a quiet, dignified man that played ball the old way, without self promotion. The last man to win the triple crown (#1 in RBI's, average and home runs). Here is hoping Carl Yastrzemski recovers well and continues to provide sports with the dignity it so sorely lacks now.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Cutting The Cheese

Enough of the pontification and blathering, let's get back to some genuine good food. I've been on a quest for locally grown and organic foods lately, not just out of curiosity, but out of a genuine interest in seeing our food economy changed from big agribusiness food that tastes bland to locally grown and raised food that brings good taste back. It started with a real distaste for all store bought tomatoes (I don't care who you are, you can not find a good tomato in any grocery store), and has progressed to Internet searches for restaurants that serve local produce. Hat's off to one we found this week, Damien's on the River in New Boston NH (http://www.damiansotr.com/).

From the outside it looks like your typical small town pub. When I saw the outside I started to get very disappointed because I was thinking chicken wings and burgers again. Once inside, I started to change my mind. The decor was casually elegant and on the wall were several medals from cooking competitions and t-shirts from the CIA (no, not the spies; the Culinary Institute of America). It was a Thursday night and we had reservations but we didn't need them (there was only one other table occupied). Service was attentive and well paced. They didn't have the Malbec I requested (temporarily out) but they suggested a cab/sav that was very tasty. When I opened the menu, one of the appetizers immediately jumped out, the cheese plate ($9). You just don't offer up a cheese plate unless the cheese is special or local. It came with very fresh grapes, dried cranberries, pine nuts and thin toast wafers. The asiago was very dry with a strong flavor; the Gouda was on the bland side; the blue was a perfect chunk of locally made (NH) blue cheese (love all that mold). With the wine it was great.

We had dinner with friends and did an unintentional pairing: the women ordered the salmon with lobster risotto and the men ordered the lamb chops with barley (!!!!) and a thyme demiglaze. The ladies enjoyed the salmon and commented that the risotto had lots of little chunks of lobster. The lamb was cooked perfectly medium rare (without asking for it); the sauce tasty; the barley very different (nutty) but a nice offset to the heavy lamb. We didn't have desert (too full) but we checked out the desert counter on the way out. It would be worth the trip just to have appetizers and desert.

I hope this one is able to make a go of it out there in the woods. The place was quiet that night and once I find a good place I always worry when I see it that empty. This is well worth the 30 minute trip for the food.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Georgie Porgy Puddin and Pie...

I need to blog more often. There's a bunch of stuff (the garden, Damien's by the River, cheese, the Olympics....) screaming in my head to get out right now but some of it will just have to wait. The loudest scream by far is Georgie boy. If you think you can tell me what to write about here, your wrong. My blog, my thoughts. I don't mind intelligent disagreement and discourse, but it doesn't matter what the argument is about, I win. I try not to talk about politics in person, but here I can do whatever I want. Don't read it if you don't want to, but it's mine.

I had the pleasure of driving between home and Syracuse, NY this week for business. For me the ride goes across some fairly small state highways in southern New Hampshire and southern Vermont. If you ever get a chance to make this drive, please do, you won't be disappointed. To name a few, the towns of Dublin, Brattleboro and Bennington (the statues!!!) are very interesting. When I'm alone in the car I listen to either sports, talk or news radio because the act of concentrating on the conversation helps to keep me awake. NPR was available so I spent most of the trip listening. In spite of what the conservative right will tell you, they provide a balanced, intelligent view of the issues. After listening to the local news reports, they switched to the BBC news hour. Both reports spent significant time discussing the latest reports out of Georgia and Ossetia (my co-rider later on referred to it as Ossipee). I think I understand the issues at least in a fundamental way. The Ossettians are the typical "breakaway" republic for Georgia. We have this problem all over the world. In Iraq and Turkey it is the Kurds, in Spain the Basques, in Columbia the FARQ, in China it's Tibet. The problem of ethnic majorities within regions of a country of a different ethnic majority is a common issue throughout the world. The issues in each of these regions are complex and have been there in some cases for centuries.

Georgia decided (or it's president Shaskavilie ??SP??) it was time to bring it's breakaway republic of Ossetia back into the fold by sending troops. Since Russia agreed with Ossetia, Russia decided to support the Ossetians and sent in troops. Small country vs big country; guess who won. Georgie boy decided we needed to put our two cents worth in and stated his "moral" outrage at the invasion of Russian troops into the sovereign nation of Georgia. I'm sorry Georgie boy, but no one is listening. You lost that little item several years ago in Iraq. You know the one I'm talking about. It's called the moral high ground. Thanks to you we are now looked on as just another power hungry country in the world. Afganistan was justified and needed to take place after 911, but the decision to go into Iraq, the lies and misdirection on weapons of mass destruction, the later excuse of freeing the Iraqi people from the dictatorship of Saddam, the need to control the news media reports of your administration and the use of interrogation techniques just this side of torture has left the world with a bad taste in it's mouth. I support our troops and the wonderful job they do following orders, but you have now left them exposed to the same torture techniques (sleep deprivation. water boarding, dogs ...etc) that you yourself condoned.

Imagine the conversation taking place between Georgie boy and Mr.Putin.

Putin: Ah, George, I've decided to invade Georgia.

Georgie boy: I don't think the people in Atlanta are going to like that Vlad.

Putin: Not that one Georgie boy, the one over here.

Georgia boy: I didn't know you had one over there. Why do you want to do that Vlad?

Putin: Because your tied up with wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Also, because I can. Georgie boy, at least this one is near my home. Now you better not say anything to the rest of the world because they don't really like you right now. Everyone is laughing because your just like us now.


Sigh... Since WW2 we have been the supporter of human rights and freedom everywhere. Now we're just another land of politicians hungry for power. And everyone knows it.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Mai Tai, You Tai, We All Tai For Mai Tai

Ahh... Hawaii. I still remember Hawaii like it was yesterday. Despite what everyone says about it being the most beautiful place on earth, it is the most beautiful place on earth. Some of the nicest people live there too. Honolulu was the typical crowded tourist city but it was still great. Maui was truly the most restful place I have ever visited. Every time I go to a Chinese restaurant now I have a mai tai and it immediately brings back memories of Hawaii. It's a short blog today, but it contains the two libations that come close to the way they make them in Hawaii. The mai tai isn't quite like the ones in Hawaii, but it's close. The bahama mama is just right. If you like rum drinks, the bahama mama is the better of the two.

Mai Tai

1 part golden rum
1 part Myers dark rum
a splash of cointreau
a splash of cherry brandy
1/2 part each of pineapple, orange and lime juice
shake well with ice; pour over fresh ice
top with a splash of either Pussers Navy Rum or almond flavored (Amaretto) liquor
(I've had it with both; I like the Amaretto better)

Bahama Mama

1 part Myers dark rum
1 part coconut (Malibu or Parrot Bay) flavored rum
a splash of cointreau
2 parts cranberry juice
1 part pineapple juice
shake well with ice; pour over fresh ice
top with a splash of black berry brandy

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Bzzzz Bzzzzzz

Not too many things truly scare me. Heights and bugs are pretty much the top of the scary tree for me. With bugs it's more of an ick factor then being truly scare, with ticks being the top of the ARGH! tree. Now there is a new scare factor for me where bugs are concerned. I tend to ignore most weired stories unless I see them multiple times over an extended period of time. This one now has me scared.

Gourmet magazine this month has two articles on the catastrophic problems going on in bee colonies. (http://www.gourmet.com/magazine/2000s/2008/08/colonycollapsedisorder) This is by far not the first time I've read about this issue. It seems that for the last two years bee colonies (hives) have been dying off at alarming rates. The disease is referred to as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). Bee hive owners have been going to their hives only to find that the entire colony is dead or gone. An analysis of the hives after the bees have gone shows an astonishing array of diseases had infected the hive. Researchers have cautioned hive owners that the bee hive apparatus should not be used again and any of the equipment should be burned to stop the spread of disease.

It's important to note that the commercial agriculture industry relies exclusively on commercial bee keepers to pollinate their crops each year. According to the article, we were already in a position where there were not enough hives to pollinate all of the crop requirements, but now we are getting in worse trouble as each growing season passes. Gourmet reports that organic farmers in northern California have started planting land surrounding their fields with grasses and other plant life that will attract natural insect life in the hopes that insects other than bees will pollinate their crops. This is just another data point on the delicate balance between man and nature. How do we know that CCD isn't caused by global warming or pollution or other issues caused by the constant encroachment of man and the imbalanced way we effect everything around us. If bees were to suddenly disappear over several growing seasons, would our ability to grow food to feed the world be effected?

On a separate but related subject, I had the season's first fresh corn last night. The ears were big and the kernels on each cob were similarly large. The end result was a corn that was tender but not as sweet as in past seasons. Our spring and summer has been unusually wet, with an accompanying reduction in sunshine. My tomatoes are not growing as quickly and they are ripening later in the season. Again, another data point on the delicate balance between man and his environment.

For today, here's to bugs. They may scare me but it would scare me more if they weren't around. I have a new appreciation for what they do for our environment.