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Thursday, November 20, 2008

Danger WIll Robinson, Danger!

If you've known me for any length of time then you know I have become a bit of a foodie (understatement). When we were first married my better half had a job on the other side of the city and she didn't get home until 6:00 every night. I on the other hand worked two blocks away and walked to and from work each day, arriving back at home by 3:45 every day. This lasted through new jobs, kids, split shifts etc... There were years when I worked and she didn't (young kids) but for the most part I took over the cooking duties the longer we were married. In spite of someone's complaints of a dinner consisting of boiled ravioli stuck to paper plates (no tomato sauce because that was just evil) I slowly learned how to cook. I experimented and just tried to make things that I would like.

I thought about starting a list of the foods I've grown to love, but I thought it would just be better to list the things I really can't find a way to like. I'd be happy to hear from others on this subject so if you comment I'll eventually create a series of writings on foods people hate and why. Tomato sauce doesn't count because there are way too many dishes that just can't be without tomato sauce. Here we go on a first pass:

Pork pie - We tried baking a store bought pork pie once. The best thing that ever happened to it was that it fell (face down on the floor) before we tried to eat it. Believe me, the floor dirt was an improvement and actually tastier than the pie. This should not be confused with French Canadian meat pie (toque).

Brussel Sprouts - I love vegetables, but there are no redeeming qualities to brussel sprouts. They are tasteless, hard little lumps of green leaves that taste like someone boiled a bunch of acorns. I've tried them steamed, boiled, sauteed with butter and roasted. It seems that I should like them. Someone please make me brussel sprouts that are edible and tasty.

Kiwi - A fruit with little tiny, hard seeds. The texture is annoyingly bad, almost as bad as...

Star fruit - A little tiny hard fruit with no taste whatsoever.

Haggis - To my friends and former co-workers in Scotland, I can't believe this is your national food. Intestinal parts (offal) cooked in a stomach lining and dropped on the plate. And to top it off you get to open it yourself by piercing the lining with a knife and letting it all release the steam at once. Maybe I didn't drink enough beer and scotch in Scotland. I'll take the steak, medium rare please. Which brings up....

Blood sausage - Need I say anything more.

Liver and onions - Anything that smells that bad when it is cooking just isn't worth it.

Warm cereal, any warm cereal - It's warm, it's mushy... what can I say.

Skim milk - You might as well drink water.

Please join me. Let's bash some food.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

It Was a Dark and Stormy Night...

That is supposedly the worst opening line in literature...ever. But this isn't exactly literature so there it is. Yesterday was a very uneventful day here. My better half was still feeling low from the cold that hit her last week, so we had a quiet stay at home night. It was raining for most of the day and there was little we could do around the outside of the house. Inside we caught up on all the usual household chores. Dinner was a bunch of passable Chinese takeout from The Silver Maple, what used to be our favorite Chinese restaurant in the area. We might need to change that. It was at best average. We had heard from friends it wasn't very good any more. It might be a change in cooks, which can some times lead to dramatic changes in the quality of food. In either case, it was just OK.

Around 8:00 I looked at the outside thermometer and saw it was 65 degrees. I put on a sweatshirt and went out to the porch. Even though it was overcast there was a glow to the sky. I suspect it was close to a full moon, but I really don't know. I puffed a stogie and just relaxed. The big chimes (two feet long) would gong every once in a while when the wind was strong enough to move them. A tree in the woods at the end of the road fell down with a loud crash. I'm sure it will be a regular occurrence this winter since so many trees were cut down by the mad logger in the spring. For the most part the rain had stopped, but there was still a light mist and the remains of the rain were still trickling through the downspouts. It was a beautiful night.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Wine Trip

After all the talk and pictures about the California trip you would think I would be done writing about it. There is however an interesting little postscript. Our last full day in the Napa Valley was a Friday and that was the day we chose to go on the small group wine tour. I ended up purchasing six bottles of fairly expensive wine. Since we were leaving bright and early the next morning (and it would be a Saturday) I was concerned about getting the wine home. With airline security being particularly tight now, and no liquids larger than three ounces allowed through security, I know I couldn't get the wine on board. I could have checked it, but did I really want the brainiac baggage handlers throwing my wine around?

I decided to ask the hotel concierge for suggestions. She suggested Buffalo Shippers in Napa, a company widely known for shipping wine safely across the country. The normal procedure was to fill out a form and contact Buffalo to pick it up. Since it was late in the day and Buffalo was already closed and we would be leaving early the next morning, she offered to contact them for the pickup in the morning. She said she just needed to open the box and confirm the wine contained inside was as stated on the form. When she saw the bottles, she commented on what a great selection they were, and seemed genuinely excited at the brands. I left them safely in her hands.

Well here we are a month later and the wine hasn't arrived. I called the hotel and after ten minutes of run around, they admitted the wine was sitting in the General Managers office and hadn't been picked up. They assured me it would go out immediately. I can't help but wonder if it had stayed there much longer, if that wine wouldn't have ended up in some one's personal supply. I still don't have the shipment, but I'm expecting it shortly. We'll see.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Bean Fascisim

There has been an ongoing political movement in this country to give more rights to beans. Now some people would say that beans are no different than you and I, that they should have all of the same inalienable rights as other vegetables. But the leftists have been pushing their own agenda resulting in an inordinate amount of news coverage by the left leaning media for beans. Let me be clear on this, I have no agenda where beans are concerned. As long as they mix with their own kind I'm fine with beans doing bean things with other beans. But forcing a perfectly good chili to have beans inserted in the recipe is sacrilege. THERE ARE NO BEANS IN CHILI!!!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Chili today, warm tomorrow

My chili continues to be a hit wherever it goes. The trick is not to use a prepackaged mix of chili powder and of course my barbecue spice mix. AND THERE ARE NO BEANS IN REAL CHILI!!!

Depending on the amount of heat you like in your chili (the more the better for me) take one package of dried peppers (ancho, new mexico etc; the dark brown kind in the produce section of the grocery store) and tear off the stemmed top. Remove as much of the interior seeds and ribs as you can with out spending too much time on it. There should be anywhere from 5 to 8 chilies in one package. Place the chilies in the blender and repeatedly pulse on grind until most of it becomes a powder mix. Note: it's ok if there are still some bigger pieces. This should yield 1/2 to 3/4 of a cup of chili powder. Here's the recipe:

Fuzzy Old Guy's Chili

3 pounds of beef (I use stew beef and cut it into 1/4" pieces); some fat is good for flavor
1 pound of ground pork
1 large vidalia onion, chopped
1 large green pepper, chopped
1 large red pepper, chopped
1 rib celery, chopped
8 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 to 3/4 cup chili powder
1 bunch of fresh cilantro
3 tbsp oil
2 fourteen to sixteen ounce cans of stewed or diced tomatoes
1/2 cup of your favorite mild salsa
Fuzzy Old Guys barbecue spice mix (1 tbsp each of dried ground cumin, ground coriander, garlic salt, onion salt, paprika, pepper, salt; plus 1/4 cup of dark brown sugar)

Brown the meat in small batches and set aside.
Add oil to a large stew pot or dutch oven on medium heat (5 on a scale of 1 to 10). Add onions and sweat for 5 minutes. Onions should not brown, just sweat. Add peppers and celery; cook for 2 minutes. Add garlic; salt to taste. DO NOT BROWN THE GARLIC!
Add meat back in and stir thoroughly.
Sprinkle half of the chili powder mix over the top and stir thoroughly. Add the balance of the chili powder and stir again.
Add tomatoes and salsa. Stir thoroughly. Salt and pepper to taste.
Add half the chopped cilantro.
Place in oven at 325 degrees for 2 hours stirring occasionally.
When finished add the balance of the cilantro. Serve with steamed white rice and hot sauce on the side.

The chilies add a nice smokey flavor that you don't get with the store bought powder.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Dirty Words Part 2

I don't know how to restart this ramble and rant. So I lead a good life, in some ways better than my parents. But my parents raised us in a simpler time, when people were less materialistic and more concerned about just making a life for their families. Now we have plans for everything going out to the end of our lives, and all of those plans include buying lots of stuff. This consumerism has fueled our economy for the last thirty years, the thirty years of my generation. In that time we have paid less for most of our consumer goods, but the cost of the things that really matter has skyrocketed. Health care, energy, housing and education are a larger percentage of our income then ever before, and the middle class jobs that used to pay for these items plus our consumer goods have all moved to Asia where they now fuel the Asian economy and standard of living rather than ours. The decisions made by US companies to send these jobs overseas has resulted in profits and increasing shareholder value for the shareholders (which, yes, includes our 401K's) but a non-existent middle class.

When I went to college the first time (someday we'll talk about that fiasco) The cost of one year at a state college was $300. Room and board was another $1200. Today Plymouth State is a combined $15K and UNH is $20K. The average student leaves college with a $50 to $100K in debt, a burden equal to a mortgage in earlier times. The opportunity to start adult life looking towards the future is looking pretty tough.

Although it looked like I wasn't completing part 2, circumstances intervened. The stock market crash is a direct result of pure greed on the part of individuals and companies more concerned about the price of their stock than about the people who work for them. How much is enough? When individual CEO's earn $50M in a bad year and then are given $100M to leave, what are these boards thinking. The fact that we have looked the other way while companies were blindly allowed to follow their greed means only that we are all to blame for allowing our government to be driven by the same greed as these corporations. It's time for reasonable profits and companies that are more concerned about their responsibilities not only to their shareholders but to the people that work for them and what is best for all concerned.

New dirty words: conservative, liberal, family values, patriot, socialism, terrorism.... When are we going to start fixing the problems that confront us? Because I think the Iraq war was based on lies and a vendetta held by the hawks in one party doesn't make me any less of an American or less of a patriot. It just means I disagree over the war. And it doesn't make me support our troops any less then the anyone else. They have a tough job to do and I support them whole heartedly. But the use of labels thrown around to pump up the party faithful only continues to divide us, polarizing into us and them.

There have been some refreshing parts to this campaign season. Neither of the campaigns seemed to bring up "family values". Maybe they suddenly realized that there are so many different definitions of a family today that it was only falling on the ears of the party zealots. Unfortunately we continued to question each others patriotism by suggesting being an Arab or a Muslim was wrong. I have known good people of Arabic decent and good Muslims. I don't need peoples ignorance to tell me the difference between a fanatic and a good person.

I know there is a percentage of the population that believes it doesn't matter who gets elected, that nothing will change for them. Change comes gradually, sometimes over generations. Go out and vote tomorrow. And when the election is over, work to solve the problems we face, not to tear each other down because we might disagree.