Sunday, February 25, 2007

History With Attitude

This book may not be of interest to Coffee Mates who live elsewhere on our globe but it's a dandy if you like real history that reads very much like a thriller. Too bad we didn't have text books like this in school.

Hampton Sides has done a remarkable job here, putting together people, places and events in a way that clarifies a whole section of our history like never before. He seems to have done an excellent job of research all the way around and there's an impressive bibliography in back, should you wish to explore further.

What I like here is the way he presented the information without -- for the most part -- imposing his own judgment on the individuals or the events. The reader gets to do that. What you will find are fleshed-out historical figures that are neither all good or all bad -- just a complex mixture of both, as is usually true of all of us.

The overriding event is the expansion of the United States from "sea to shining sea" and, within that framework, we have the Mexican War, the Civil War, a taste of the Indian wars in the southwest, the end of the mountain man era and the destruction of one way of life as another overwhelmed everything.

The focus is on Kit Carson, who emerges as someone quite different than he had been previously painted. He really was a legend in his own time, thanks to the wildly exaggerated fictions published in the 25-cent pulp paperbacks in the "blood and thunder" genre that was the forerunner of our western novel -- and the source of this book's title. He became, without his consent or approval, one of our first action-heroes. Heck of a note for the Army's only illiterate general, a position he held toward the end of his incredible life.

In spite of his unassuming appearance and soft-spoken manner, Carson was very good at what he did and not a man to be trifled with. He was both a loving family man with strong moral values -- and a stone killer when he felt he needed to be. It is indicative of Sides' skill that he is able to show Carson in the context of his time and render his character so clearly, one can easily understand the logic of this apparent dichotomy.

Sides also brings the Navajo culture into wonderful focus, for it is this particular Indian tribe that has our attention throughout the book. From their beginnings, to their tragic Long Walk and back to their home land, the reader can identify with these people -- not as the mythic "noble savage" but as authentic "warts and all" folks who happened to see the world differently than the "warts and all" folk who wanted to control them. In the course of this saga, Sides describes the dramatic landscape of New Mexico so clearly, you can almost feel the grit of the towering sandstone canyons and thrill at the sight of the ancient Anasazi ruins.

What might be the best thing about Hampton Sides' book is the way he shows, without preaching, the tragedy that occurs when cultures clash because they really don't "get it" about each other. Lot of that going on in the world today. Seems like some things never change.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Baked Sammich

Off the top of my head, I can't think of anything that lends itself to more variety and creative adventure than a baked sandwich or, as we call it around here, sammich. It is plentiful, it is delicious, it is beautiful. On top of everything else, it's fun to make.

The first version I ever tried was a baked Reuben ... which you might want to remember next month when Saint Paddy's Day rolls around. (More about that in a bit.) In those days, I always thawed out a loaf of frozen bread dough to do the deed and that is still a viable option, especially if you don't have time or inclination to whup up your own batch of dough. On the other hand, the dough recipe that follows is quick and easy and lends itself to the joy of inspired seasoning.

DOUGH: I used my trusty Kitchen Aid stand mixer and dough hook for this. In the bowl, put 3 1/2 cups flour, 1/4 cup sugar, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning, 1/2 teaspoon dried minced onion, 1 package (or 1 tablespoon) yeast and 1 tablespoon softened butter. Mix together, then add 1 cup warm water. (Or warm vegetable, chicken or beef broth.) Start out slow and mix until you have a ball of dough that cleans the bowl. Plop dough out on lightly floured or greased surface, cover, and let rest for about half an hour. (I didn't have any Italian seasoning so I used some Mrs. Dash. Whatever suits your fancy is fine, I'm sure.)

FILLING: Here's where you have the real fun because the filling can be any doggoned thing you want it to be. Today I went for a vaguely Mexican chicken filling. That constitutes one layer of refried beans, one layer of chicken breast, minced to "hamburger" consistency, quickly sauteed until just done, seasoned to taste, and a final layer of shredded cheddar cheese. If I'd had any on hand, I could have tossed the cooked chicken with just enough enchilada sauce to coat it. I made the refried beans from scratch so they already contained minced onion, garlic and peppers. If you're using canned refried beans, you might want to add a layer of sauteed onion, etc.

ASSEMBLY: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease large cookie sheet and, with greased hands, take dough and press it out into a rectangle to cover the sheet, Down the middle third of the dough, spread a layer of the refried beans. On top of that, spread a layer of the chicken. Top everything off with a layer of shredded cheddar cheese. (Or a combo of colby jack.)

Now take your kitchen shears or a knife and cut each outer third of the dough into strips. Gently pull each strip over the top of the filling in a criss-cross or chevron pattern after folding over each end. Put in oven and bake for 20 to 25 minutes.

That's what I fixed today although, looking at it now, I realize I was fairly sloppy with the braid. It can be done neater, really. The Reuben filling, should you wish to try it, consists of a layer of rinsed and squeezed sauerkraut, a layer of shredded corned beef and a layer of swiss cheese. Even folks who think they don't like sauerkraut find they like this. Oh -- before you put any of the filling in, spread the center third of the dough with thousand island dressing.

Let's see -- tropical filling -- a layer of mashed sweet potato, layer of shredded chicken and layer of crushed pineapple, topped with shredded cheese of choice. (Or use shredded pork and very chunky applesauce.) Italian filling: layer of garlic mashed potato, layer of marinara tossed meat of choice, topped with shredded fresh mozzerella or pecorino or parmesan. How about a base layer of really thick chili, then a layer of hamburger, then a layer of cheese?

You can, of course, layer in sliced tomatoes and onions and all kinds of wonderful veggies, slathered with dressings of choice. Just make sure whatever meat you use is already cooked. Depending on what they are, some veggies could probably be pre-cooked also. You'll be able to figure out which ones require that to come out done after a 20-minute session in the oven.

You get the idea. Have fun, don't be afraid to take chances and try wild combinations and enjoy every bite of the finished sammich. I am.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Blackjacks and Literary Cuisine

Impersonators don't seem to be as popular as they once were. That's too bad. The talented likes of Rich Little or the late Frank Gorshin could unerringly home in on a given celebrity with such accuracy, they often sounded more authentic than the person they were impersonating. There is, however, another kind of impersonation that yields an equal value in entertainment and that is the literary pastiche.

To be sure we're on the same page, I offer one of Wikipedia's two definitions of pastiche: "In this usage, the term denotes a literary technique employing a generally light-hearted tongue-in-cheek imitation of another's style; although jocular, it is usually respectful (as opposed to parody, which is not)." This definition perfectly fits what happens with Mark Crick's most excellent offering, "Kafka's Soup" subtitled: "A Complete History of World Literature in 14 Recipes."

Yes, the book Bonnie ordered for me finally arrived today. And what a treasure it is. Crick has produced a small but rich volume that pays homage to writers from Homer to Raymond Chandler and if there is a false note struck anywhere, I cannot detect it. As an added bonus, the recipes look to be perfectly wonderful all by themselves.

Crick begins with the hilarious Chandler shtick centered on Lamb with Dill Sauce. "It was time to deal with the butter and flour so I mixed them together into a paste and added it to the stock. There wasn't a whisk, so using my blackjack I beat out any lumps until the paste was smooth." Almost makes me sorry I come equipped with three different whisks and not a blackjack in sight.

Speaking in the articulate phrasing of the Marquis de Sade, Crick manages to make fun of politically correct cuisine with its "naive trust in low-fat yogurt" and celebrates the sensuality of food with a story about an innocent maiden forced to observe a hypocritical judge as he lecherously prepares Boned Stuffed Poussins. Makes you quiver, it does.

The Harold Pinter playlet titled "Cheese on Toast" features ciabatta and eggplant and mozzarella and, I swear it, you can taste the results before you've finished reading. My tummy growls in frustration for I have none of the aforementioned ingredients on hand.

So far, my favorite is the gem in the voice of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, titled "Coq au Vin." There is a priest tormented by mosquitoes and a mulatta cook who prepares a last meal for a murderer, Fidel Agosto Santiago, and the meal is the tough carcass of the fabled fighting cock, El Jaguaracito, donated by its owner, the Syrian. It's all there -- drama, rich characterization and food so wonderful it will make you weep.

I love to read and I love to cook. It's hard to imagine a single book that combines those two pleasures more perfectly than this one does. Bonnie, thank you, again. This book will hold a place of pride and joy in my cookbook collection. Now -- I wonder if I can find a blackjack on eBay?

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Does Anyone Remember Blank T-Shirts?

I'm having way too much fun tonight and it's not my fault. Accidentally stumbled across some pages with lists of funny t-shirt slogans and started giggling and snorting coffee through my nose. On the off chance that you, too, may not have seen these classic lines before, I'll happily share them with you. Use caution if drinking beverages.

I CANNOT BE BOUGHT. INQUIRE ABOUT LEASING. Inspired, no doubt, by politicians.


DON'T WORRY. IT ONLY SEEMS KINKY THE FIRST TIME. I'm not sure but I think this one is referring to algebra.

TRAVEL AGENT FOR GUILT TRIPS. Oh my. Don't we all know someone we could gift with this one?

OLD AGE COMES AT A BAD TIME. This is true. That's why second childhood is so awkward.

HUGS ARE FULLY RETURNABLE. This one I take seriously.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

The Lost Stories

One of the more bizarre stories I've read lately has to do with the 70-year old man found partially mummified in front of his still-blaring television set, after officials responded to a report of burst water pipes. The man has been dead for just over a year -- and nobody knew. Sounds like one of the imaginative "news" reports in one of the grocery store tabloids but it's for real. Go here for the full report. For something even more bizarre, scroll down and start browsing through the reader comments on the story. Some of these people are about as bright as a plastic chimney. You don't know whether to laugh or cry.

Apparently, the nearly universal first reaction to the situation is bafflement over the fact that the electricity and cable tv were running all that time. A moment's reflection, however, gives a probable explanation for the services not being cut off for non-payment. If the deceased had Social Security and/or pension payments on a Direct Deposit arrangement, the bank account would have been replenished each month. If his basic bills were set up for Auto Pay, that, too, would have been handled each month. No muss, no fuss.

One can even make reasonable allowances for the apparent lack of neighborhood attention. Everyone seems to have been under the impression the man had been moved to some kind of care facility. Which means folks thought the house was vacant and unattended. Given what is described as a rather private location, it seems curious that the house wasn't targeted for burglary during that span of time.

Speculation is probably futile. So much is left out of initial news reports. I don't even know why I'm talking about this, except that it's captured my imagination. It just seems sad that someone could be so alone in the midst of a neighborhood that there is not even a ripple of curiosity about his fate for so long a period of time.

There are stories that could be told about this, as is true of any human drama. Stories from many different points of view. We'll probably never hear the tales pertinent to this man. Humankind has been a story telling species from the beginning but something like this makes one realize there must be many of those campfire chronicles that slip beneath the surface of the sea of experience to be lost forever. Unless the hook of imagination can pull them out, like shining fish that nourish us. Let us hope.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Ginger Epiphany

Did you ever buy a bottle of some exotic designer booze and then regretted the impulse? I did that awhile back. Picked up a fifth of ginger vodka. Sounded cool. I like ginger in food so I should like it in vodka, right?

I hated it.

So that bottle has been sitting on the shelf, lonely and unloved for lo! these many months. I'm too scotch to throw it out and not mean enough to give it to a friend. But this evening I had a moment of dazzling brilliance. I can COOK with it!

This came to me when I was thinking about stir fry and realizing that once again I was without any fresh ginger to grate into the mix. Ginger. Say ... what if...? Hang with me here and I'll tell you how it goes when you're making a fusion Caribbean stir fry.

First you start your rice cooking. Then you get all the stir fry ingredients fixed the way you want them because, once you start, it goes fast. You need to prepare the goodies up front.

Snipped a boneless, skinless chicken breast into bite-sized pieces and dropped them in a small bowl. Then I splashed a healthy glug of the ginger vodka over the bits and added some dry minced garlic, about a tablespoon of dried crushed chili peppers, a glug-glug each of soy sauce and oyster sauce and stirred it all up good. (That might have been fish sauce. The label is in Thai and I don't remember which it is. Since I use them interchangeably, I figure it doesn't matter.) Anyway, you want just enough liquid to barely cover the chicken bits. Set that bowl aside and go on to the other ingredients.

I had picked up a lovely, crisp, juicy head of napa cabbage today so I tore off the outer leaves and washed them and put them in the fridge for later. The tight inner portion was then sliced thin, just like for cole slaw. Next, I julienned half a sweet potato for color. Julienned red or green bell pepper would have been nice but I didn't have any. Minced some onion. Another item that's wonderful in this stir fry is a barely ripe (still quite firm) banana, sliced up ... but I didn't have one of those, either. I'm just mentioning it for your edification.

In a two-cup measuring cup, I fixed 1 cup of chicken broth and added one of those little 6-ounce cans of pineapple juice. Then I stirred in a couple of heaping teaspoons of corn starch and stirred it up to dissolve the starch.

Okay. Your rice should be done so turn off the heat, give it a quick fluff with a fork and put the lid back on. Now you're ready to start the stir fry.

Set the electric wok at 350 degrees and glug in about a tablespoon of olive oil. Toss in the sweet potato first because that takes the longest to cook. It probably would have been smart to parboil the 'tater but I didn't think of it in time. Anyway, stir that around for a bit, until you feel like it's starting to cook. Now add the chicken, marinade and all, and the minced onion. Stir everything until the chicken is just cooked. Add the shredded napa and keep stirring until the cabbage has cooked down pretty good. Now pour in your chicken broth mixture and let it bubble up in a boil, stirring until it thickens. Now would be a good time to add the bananas if you have 'em.

If I'd parboiled the sweet potatoes, I'd have been done at that point. Since I goofed on that step, I turned the wok down to low, put the lid on and poured myself a mug of coffee enhanced with a bit of golden nectar. By the time I'd finished sipping that, the sweet potatoes were just done -- not mooshy, but slightly crisp.

Now you scoop some rice onto your plate and spoon some of the stir fry over it. Smell that fragrance. Shazaam! The chicken was the first thing I went for, of course, to test out the culinary use of ginger vodka. Wow! It is wonderful, Coffee Mates. I kid you not. Dayum! I just love it when my weird ideas work out.

Now I have hope for making good use of the lonely bottle of rum that's flavored with lime and lemon.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Brain Drain

I was just reading that scientists have verified that the human brain can grow new brain cells. Well, that's a relief. All these years they've been telling us once we get to be adults, we don't get any more of the little rascals. What's more, they keep telling us about all the things that will kill off the ones we've got. Usually it's the fun stuff that does it, have you noticed?

They don't seem to agree on how many brain cells we have to mess with. One source insisted the human brain has around 1 trillion cells and another source would only admit to about 20 billion. That's a serious difference and if they're dying off left and right, it could be crucial, couldn't it?

The article didn't say anything about the volume of new cells, either. Let's say we kill off, oh, a billion brain cells in a year. What if there are only 27, 417 new ones grown that year? You can see how difficult it would be to plug the leak at that rate.

There's another thing that puzzles me. As I understand it, each cell can communicate with up to around 25,000 other cells. And I'm thinking, okay, when the new crew comes on board, who trains them? That can be a problem, you know.

Now, I have some brain cells that are hard-working and responsible and, by golly, they earn their keep. But some of the crews are -- how shall I put this? -- gold-bricking goof offs. For instance, you know how you carefully put something away in a safe place? And you know how, when you go to get it, you can't remember where the safe place is? That's one of the goof off crews messing with you. They're in there somewhere, drinking beer and shooting pool and not paying attention so when you ask them where you put the stash of Godiva chocolate truffles, they stand around with goofy expressions and scratch their heads and are no help at all.

So here comes the new batch of baby brain cells, all fresh and shiny. And each one can talk to 25,000 of the old dudes. What are the odds that they're going to fall in with rascally brain cells before they even meet the ones who should be their role models? That worries me. But, you know what? That could explain what happens when we of a certain age start behaving as though we've gone into our second childhood phase. It's those new brain cells being influenced by the perennially immature individuals and, sooner or later, sheer numbers will overwhelm the responsible brain cells.

You can't fire 'em and you can't train 'em but there is this: they keep drinking that beer and they're going to die off anyway. That'll teach 'em a lesson.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Hugging On You

The focus of Valentine's Day is on romantic love but it's good to remember that Love (capital L) is a much broader state of being than that.

There is, of course, Family Love, between parent and child and sibling -- and right on down the line to the most distant shirt-tail relation. You can love your inlaws and you can love your outlaws. Or not.

Sometimes you love Family of the Heart as well as (or instead of) Family of the Flesh. Members of Heart families are chosen and that makes them special in a different way from blood relatives. Not better, but different.

There is love for our critter friends, too, whether they be furred or feathered or scaled or shelled.

There is the love expressed when one is doing something that gives great pleasure. Singing, dancing, writing, painting, gardening, mountain climbing, sailing, cooking ... and the expression of that love affects others in many different ways. How many souls, for example, have survived a long dark night because inspiring music sustained them? When you have cried with grief or despair, how often have you been lifted and strengthened by someone who could make you laugh?

By whatever name you hold to be true, there is the love one has for the perceived Source of All That Is. Within the umbrella of that love is the love that shines light on everything worth loving.

Even my coffee and my chocolate and, without a doubt, my Coffee Mates. You people ARE special. Today -- and every day -- I wish you Love and all the wonderful benefits that go with it. Thanks for being part of my life.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Sometimes You Feel Like a Flake

I don't know what I did right. Don't you just HATE when that happens? We screw up all too often so it's helpful if we can figure out how to repeat ourselves when we ace the course.

It's that cheese bread, the one I gave the recipe for in the January 14th entry titled Comfort Food. I made it again today and it tasted just as good as it did last month. Only better. It was the crust, you see. For some reason, the crust this time is not just tender, it's very much like that lovely flaky croissant sort of -- uhmmm -- tender, flaky stuff.

I couldn't believe it. Kept slicing off more pieces and, yep, by golly, this one's flaky too. Why? What did I do right? This has never happened before. Never. Tender, yes. Flaky, no.

Okay. Track back. There were a few minor differences. Like I forgot the minced onion but I really don't believe that has anything to do with the crust. Uhmm ... oh, right ... I have some butter-flavored Crisco that I need to use up so I flopped in a quarter-cup of that instead of butter. Maybe that provided just enough difference to bring on the flake?

Also, I added some Vital Wheat Gluten. Sometimes I use it, sometimes I don't. Usually I add it when I'm using wheat flour. Helps the dough rise better. But today I tossed in a couple of spoonsful because -- well, just because.

And I remembered to put the bread pans on the bottom shelf of the oven instead of the next one up. Made for a perfect golden brown top this time. I liked that.

That's all I can think of. So if I line up these "usual suspects," I think I'm going to put my money on the Crisco as the flake-culprit. We'll see. I'll be making some more of the cheese bread Thursday for Eddi and Larry and I'm going to use the Crisco again. Like a surfer looks for The Wave, I'll be looking for The Flake.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Market This

You get all those cows eating all that grass and you will get a lot of milk. You will also get a lot of bovine doodoo. Sometimes you get more doodoo than you know what to "do-do" with. When the volume goes beyond what can be used as fertilizer, folks have to go to Plan B. And Plan C. Or, to quote Wendy Powers, a professor of agriculture at Michigan State University, "We really need to think outside the box on what uses for manure are." I think she means the litter box.

One interesting innovation is the use of the sterile and odorless solid residue left after anaerobic digesters have captured methane gas and liquid fertilizer from the raw manure. Mixed with a chemical resin and then subjected to heat and pressure, the manure solids can be turned into fiberboard as strong -- or stronger -- than the wood-based twin. Fiberboard, as we all know, can be used for all kinds of building projects and this particular source of fiberboard is not only plentiful and readily renewable, it's cheap.

The only problem seems to be that folks tend to be put off by the idea of manure-based building material. Since the material is sterile and odorless, the revulsion factor is merely psychological and we should be able to overcome it with a little creative marketing. For instance, you don't tell the customer their new flooring is made from cow shit. You explain it's an incredibly strong amalgamation of organically processed natural whole grains and reclaimed resins (powdered milk jugs). Not only does the flooring now sound pleasingly ecological, it sounds downright healthy!

It would also help to cash in on the popularity of cows by alluding to their virtues rather than their residues. Tell folks it's Brahma tough and prettier than a Holstein calf. Comes in Jersey Beige or Herford Russet.

Marketing. Gotta love it.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

The Eagle Squawks

Aw gee. They're doin' it once again, people. What part of NO do they not understand?

I'm talking about our beloved gubbermint, of course. You remember them? Of the people, by the people, for the people? Yeah. Those folks. The ones who keep minting the $1 coins in spite of the fact that we keep saying we don't want the danged thangs.

Now they're starting a new series, featuring 4 different presidents each year. This will be the 14th time since 1794 they've tried to talk us into using a dollar coin. At least they've continued the trend they started with the quarters, trying to make the dollar coin appealing to the collector. There's a new twist to the design, too: this time they have printing around the edge of the coin, relegating the mint date, mint mark, "E Pluribus Unum" and "In God We Trust" to the less readable portion of the disk. That's either in aid of minimalist design or somebody has stock in magnifying lenses.

Personally, I don't really mind the dollar coin but I try hard to avoid it. Although we have screamed long and loud about the unfortunate size-resemblance to the quarter, causing untold incidents of accidental inflation, they still insist on turning out quarter-sized dollar coins. Oh sure, they'll tell you there are differences that will enable you to spend quarters as quarters and dollars as dollars but, in the real world, whoopsies keep whoopin' that money right out of our hands.

We've heard the saying that it takes money to make money and that is never more true than when applied to the Mint of any given country. We are faced, for instance, with the peculiar fact that it costs more to mint our pennies than they're worth as a coin. And when our gubbermint is trying to entice us with new coinage, they don't hesitate to spend the advertising buck in the process. Just go to the U.S. Mint site to see what a vast array of free promotional items can be downloaded or ordered for mail delivery.

If I did a little research, I could probably determine why we don't mint coins the size of the old silver dollars. Part of it is the sheer inconvenience of the larger coin but I'm guessing at least some of the reason for the reduction in size is the cost of materials. Which leads to the identity problems because the Mint simply hasn't gone far enough with their design differences. How's this for a concept? Cutout dollar coins!

Visualize this: the coin can be exactly the same size as the quarter -- or the nickel, for that matter -- but if the main design is cut out in silhouette, the way they do when they make jewelry out of coins, one would be able to feel the difference, even in the dark. There would be an added bonus in the fact that there is much less metal needed to produce each coin, reducing the cost of production.

I'm partial, myself, to a dollar coin with a big eagle spreading its wings from edge to edge. Because I like that other old saying denoting payday: The eagle flies.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

This and That

It's been the kind of day where the overcast stays solid and the rain comes and goes. So does the wind, sounding petulant and bad-tempered as it howls around the eaves and windows.

There were a brief few moments this afternoon when the sun was able to muscle its way through scudding clouds. It was a good time to catch one of the Thanksgiving cactus blossoms with a back light.

Isn't it great, how a little blossom like that can cheer up a whole nasty day?

It was certainly not a nasty day in the middle of the mighty Pacific. The Pro Bowl played out in Hawaii this afternoon with the AFC prevailing over the NFC with a 31-28 final score. And now those of us with insane football passions are entering that long, bleak stretch between this season's last two-minute warning and next season's first kick-off. For some of us, that's barely enough time to lick our wounds and have a good self-pity wallow.

Well now, see? That's what coffee and chocolate are here for. They give us solace when we're down and enhance our joy when we're up. God got it right when He invented those two items. Which makes up for the design flaws in raw oysters.

Friday, February 9, 2007

Substitution Compensation

Well, phooie. Kafka's Soup did not arrive today. I will not pout. I will not pout. I will not pout.

Please note, the above promise has a Use By timestamp with a mere 24-hour duration. The fact that it was repeated three times does not constitute a triple life span. Just thought I'd make that clear so you won't remind me if I happen to start whining tomorrow.

We will not be deprived of interesting cookbooks, however. There is such a thing as Substitution Compensation whereby, if you can't have one treat, you temporarily compensate with another.

An Aussie friend of lupine persuasion sounded a heads up and I was able to download -- for free -- a nice little pasta cookbook in pdf format, full of gorgeous food pictures and tantalizing recipes. Even with my semi-comatose dial-up connection the cookbook came in fast and now resides on my desktop for quick reference. Or random drooling, whichever comes first. You, too, can enjoy this gem if you go to Barilla's website where you can flip through the book right there online and decide if you want your own copy. The offer is good through the rest of this month. In any case, there are oodles of good recipes to browse through at the site.

As I compare their recipes with my available supplies, I find myself short on the proper cheese. I have -- and love -- cheddar and it certainly goes with macaroni but my taste buds are clamoring for something more along the lines of pecorino or asiago. Cheddar ain't gonna cut it. Nope. Thankfully, the two supermarkets in Bandon have pretty good selections of imported cheeses. Of course, many of them are burdened with pretty good prices. If I'm feeling careful, I can score a good value. If I'm feeling crazed, I'll just score a good cheese and try not to look at the cash register total.

Sometimes you just have to turn yourself loose.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Raising Prairie Chickens

The subject tonight is focused on unusual food combinations. You will notice I did not say "weird" or "strange" or even "yukky" because we know one man's animal guts are another man's menudo.

A quick dip into Google territory yielded commentary on lots of interesting culinary marriages. Apparently it is not unusual to dip french fries into ice cream or milk shakes. I'm trying to imagine that but, really, around here, either ranch dressing or tartar sauce is the dip of choice.

One fellow swore a combination of vodka and raw eggs is not only a guaranteed health boost, it has anti-cold and flu properties. He didn't mention proportions or details such as mixing and presentation but I'm reminded of a particular concoction that enjoyed a certain popularity for awhile in a bar where I worked. It was called a Prairie Chicken. You pour a shot of whiskey in a rocks glass and crack a raw egg into it. It looked like a big yellow eye staring out at you. The drinker would toss it back and gulp it down in one swell foop, then pretend he already felt like he could whup his weight in wild cats. It was a macho thang, you understand. We went through a lot of eggs indulging the testosterone crowd.

One gal mentioned mixing orange marmalade with barbecue sauce for putting on scrambled eggs or dipping chicken strips. I'm going to try that for a glaze on something or other. One gets a similar effect by buying the sweet chili sauce sold in the ethnic section of the grocery store. Good on any meat, either for glaze or dipping.

Actually, this country is just beginning to discover what other cultures have known forever -- sweet and savory or sweet and hot go very well together. Throw some pitted and chopped cherries or plums in a pork stew and you'll know nirvana. Chunks of apple in chili is sublime, as is chunky applesauce mixed with spicy barbecue sauce. And all those old Aztecs and Mayans and Incans knew chili peppers and chocolate were fare for the gods.

Mage, you mentioned peas, cheese and pickle salad. More details, please. What kind of cheese? Pickles? Dressing? My friend, Eddi, has a superb salad she makes with peas, grated carrots, peanuts and Miracle Whip. She stresses the latter because it has more tang than the mayo. And there's a wonderful salad I learned from the Japanese community. You use cooked Pearl rice (it's short grain and holds its shape without being sticky) mixed with plenty of green peas and tossed with a combination of vinegar, sugar and water. Play with the proportions until you get a pleasing sweet-sour flavor.

Producing the Kinsey Milhone sandwich (peanut butter and pickles) on yesterday's Oatmeal bread worked out so well I've had three of 'em. That is my new favorite, as opposed to my old favorite -- a sandwich made with peanut butter spread on buttered toast, then stacked with cooked bacon and sliced tomatoes. Peanut butter, I find, goes with an amazing number of different foods. I once impulsively mixed some in with mashed potatoes and, to everyone's surprise (including mine), it was right tasty. And I'm thinking about now, the next time I bake a sweet potato, I'm going to mash it flat with a fork and slather on the butter and salt and pepper as I always do -- then I'm going to plop a big glob of peanut butter down on it. Yeah. That sounds bodacious.

Might even serve it with a Prairie Chicken.

That was a yoke, people. A yoke.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Viva La Bonnie!

The entry I had almost finished for tonight -- the one where we were going to discuss unusual food combos -- that's going to have to wait until tomorrow. That's because the most magical thing has just come to my attention.

Last night I mentioned a book called Kafka's Soup. Tonight I discover that awesome Texas personage we know as Miz Bee, or Bonnie, has up and ordered it for me and it's supposed to arrive Friday! Bonnie, you are so special, dear heart. You bring a good tear to my eye. Thank you.

I will, of course, tell all y'all all about it (boy, that's a LOT of alls) when it gets here. By the way, John Baker? I have some good news and some bad news. The good news is, one of the writers Mark Crick highlights is Virginia Woolf. The bad news is, the recipe he has her describing is not the one for Cottage bread. No. It's something called Clafoutis Grandmere.

On the subject of bread, although I fired up my trusty bread machine again today, I didn't do the Cottage bread either. I'm sure I will at some point down the road but today I was sidetracked by something that sounded so good, I just couldn't resist it. It's called Sweet Oatmeal Bread and this am the way it goes ...

Into the bread machine, toss 1 3/4 cups water, 1/4 cup molasses and 1 tablespoon olive oil. Then add 1 cup rolled oats, 2 tablespoons sugar, 2 teaspoons salt and 4 cups flour. Top it off with 1 tablespoon yeast and run it through the dough cycle. When that's all done, divide the dough into two pans and let rise again. Bake at 400 degrees for 25 minutes.

It is baking as we speak. I just wandered into the kitchen for a refill on coffee and it smells heavenly. If nothing horrid happens, I'll take a picture to go with this entry to entice you to fire up your own bread machine, even if it's the deli department at the grocery store.

Later: As you can see, not only is the bread done, the small loaf has already been plundered. The top is a bit too brown. That's my fault. Had the bread on a higher shelf in the oven than it should have been. And it looks a bit darker than it actually is because of my habit of brushing the crust with olive oil to keep it nice and soft. The flavor is great -- not too sweet at all. Just a hint. And the texture is light and fluffy.

I think it will, when cool, make a lovely Kinsey Milhone (peanut butter and pickle sandwich). I can report on that tomorrow, when we finally get to that discussion of unusual food combinations. In the meantime, viva la bread!

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Domino Day

Here is how one thing leads to another. We start with a sky the gray of a hobo's underwear and a mild wind that whistles around the windows and eaves like a cheerful asthmatic. Enough to get me to contemplating a fresh loaf of bread, with the comforting aroma and psychological warmth to ward off the wind's woo-woos. In spite of all my captive bread recipes, I can't resist mounting the Google pony and riding it along the Information Highways and Byways in search of new specimens for my collection. It works like one of those complicated domino arrangements, with each piece knocking over the next. Click, click, click ...

I do remember checking out some recipes for Monks Bread before finding myself suddenly and surprisingly led to John Baker's blog and finding -- what's this? -- a recipe for Cottage Bread! (And it does look mighty tempting, thank you, John.) But here's where John placed another domino by puzzling over what might have been Virginia Woolf's version of this unique loaf. That speculation was enough to set me on the hunt myself.

Next thing I knew, I was exploring what turns out to be a more well-traveled road than I had previously imagined -- the mating of famous folk, in general, and famous authors, in particular, and their favorite foods (or beverages). One of the first treasures I found was this article by Tom Nugent, wherein he does wonderful pastiches of four writers and presents recipes they might have left us, had they been so inclined.

That was just the beginning. One domino after another hove into view and toppled the next, and the next, and the next one after that. I must now concentrate on winning lottery money so I can afford to buy these delicious books. For instance, Diane E. Holloway edited a gem with the unwieldy title of: Authors' Famous Recipes and Reflections on Food. She gathered over 200 recipes from well-known authors, along with quotes and factoids. Rex Stout, Charles Dickens, Hemingway. Dumas shows up with, believe it or not, potato salad while Vincent Price offers Chicken in Champagne Sauce. I have one eyebrow raised at Sir Walter Scott's Cauliflower and Whiskey recipe and the other at Alice B. Toklas' Brownies and Gazpacho.

Then we have Mark Crick, called a "literary ventriloquist," who wrote and illustrated another pastiche called Kafka's Soup: A Complete History of World Literature in 14 Recipes. He does the same sort of thing Tom Nugent did in the above-mentioned article -- and I really, really want a copy, dammit.

The fun doesn't end there. Oh no. Poisoned Pen Press got me with a double-whammy: two cookbooks, each with 150 recipes donated by mystery writers and edited by Jo Grossman and Robert Weibezahl. The first is A Taste of Murder and the second, logically enough, is A Second Helping of Murder. Included, I'm promised, is Kinsey Milhone's infamous peanut butter and pickle sandwich.

So here I sit, at the shank-end of the day. Haven't got any bread made. Or anything else. But dayum! It's been a fun ride! Now, if you'll excuse me -- I'm going to make a peanut butter and pickle sandwich. Really.

Monday, February 5, 2007

Pssst! Wanna Hot Tip?

I have been carefully appraising this year's crop of Super Bowl ads, now that the initial excitement has leveled off. Keeping in mind that these business people were paying somewhere around $85 to $86 thousand Yankee dollahs per second to etch their brands into the collective consciousness of viewers, I have to conclude most of them came up short.

In fact, the only ones who really didn't need to worry are the ones who have already long since imprinted themselves into our minds -- outfits like Coke or Bud. They don't even need to do good commercials, that's how solidly entrenched they are.

Another observation is that clever use of interesting or adorable animals is almost always a winner. One pundit asserted he always deducted points for ads with talking animals but I disagree, especially now, when digital magic makes the speechifying look so real. The lions in the Taco Bell ad, for instance, were pretty cool. Several of the polls rated Blockbuster's ad, with the bunny and the guinea pig mauling the feisty mouse as the best of the bunch.

After all is said and done, you have to wonder if these people are really getting a reasonable return on their investment. I'm sorry -- $85,000 per second seems an obscene amount to me. What I'm thinking is, we of the blogging community could be of genuine -- and cost-effective -- assistance here. Really.

Let's suppose one of those companies, already forgettable because their over-priced ad was so blah, let's suppose they hired us -- this merry band of bloggers -- to blog-flog their product. Let's suppose they paid us by the blog-mention instead of by the second. Hooboy! I could do a whole lot of quality blog-mention for far less serious cash than what is paid during one afternoon a year. The companies would spend the same total amount but they'd spread it out and make all of us happy -- and I'll bet they'd get better return for their bucks while they were at it.

That's what I think.

Which one of those outfits do you think we ought to query first? Personally, I think I could do an excellent job for Snickers. Or any outfit wanting to sell chocolate. Heck, I might even take out some of the compensation in product, instead of cash.

Sunday, February 4, 2007

My Kingdom For A Clydesdale

Well, that's it. Super Bowl Sunday is almost over. All things considered, it wasn't too shabby. For the record, I did pick the Colts to win, which they did, 29 to 17. Not that the Bears made it easy for them. Right off the git-go, Chicago's astonishing Devin Hester took the first kick-off return 92 yards for a touchdown and a mere14 seconds after the game began, the Bears had 7 points on the board. I reckon Indianapolis will feel they earned this one. And that's as it should be.

I also ate well today. Fixed some pretty fair Kung Pao stirfry chicken with brown Basmati rice and have been munching on it off and on all afternoon and evening. There is still one more helping to go before I quit for the night.

So why am I feeling surly this evening? I'll tell you why. There weren't any commercials featuring the Budweiser Clydesdales this year! Oh, sure, they were briefly seen pulling the wagon in the commercial with the mutt that faked Dalmation status but they didn't have their own spot. What ARE those advertising people thinking?

Maybe I missed something. I dunno. After the game, which I listened to on my Field Pass radio feed, I went here to view the commercials. The display shows 12 ads per quarter, 48 in all. Maybe that doesn't represent every single commercial shown during the game but I can't imagine them not including a Clydesdale ad if one was run.

I am so displeased, in fact, that I will refuse to purchase so much as a single bottle of Bud. The fact that I never purchase Bud anyway is not really the point, here. This is a moral stand. Or something like that. The only thing that keeps me from total despair is that I did enjoy the Blockbuster commercial with the guinea pig and the rabbit making that poor mouse crazy. So there, Budweiser! Pffft!

Saturday, February 3, 2007

Don't MAKE Me Draw My Turkey Baster!

I meant to respond to comments for yesterday's post but got sidetracked, beginning with an email that also pertained to the post: "The story you write about in your blog today happened just a few miles from my house. He wasn't holding someone he saw on vacant land the day before - he watched them trying to siphon gas from his neighbor's truck. The gas siphoning had been going on in the neighborhood for some time!"

Thanks for that clarification, Minnesota Coffee Mate. Since you live in the area, I can imagine you have better access to the details than we can get from the news account. The report I used as a source can be found here, should anyone be interested, where it is stated: "...Englund by cell phone had alerted the 9-1-1 dispatcher that he was following a vehicle occupied by a child and two adults he suspected of stealing a radiator and gas the day before from a neighbor’s property, which he agreed to look after."

What I was trying to point out was that Englund was on shakier legal ground than the DC lawyer, Peterson. The latter confronted an intruder in his own home, whereas Englund was in pursuit of someone who, though observed in an illegal act, had not specifically threatened Englund himself or his property. You can read more about both stories here.

If you have the time, what you'll find fascinating (and not a little scary) are the comments at both web sites in response to the stories. Some of the comments are carefully reasoned but all too many others have obviously misread the available information and made consequently faulty conclusions. Most applaud both men and deride Englund's arrest. My favorite, though, had to be the comment referring to the lawyer's use of a fry pan. She said, "I have 2 full sets of Wolfgang Puck cookware and I'm not afraid to use them."

For many of us, available self defense may well be limited to what is found in the cupboards and drawers of our kitchens. I look around me and see possibilities in the fire extinguisher as a weapon. The contents of my tool box might work, when you consider items like hammers, screwdrivers and monkey wrenches. Since my drill is not of the cordless variety, its use would be limited in range. Too bad I don't have a cordless carving knife. But I do have a whole packet of very sharp bamboo skewers, a drawer full of assorted knives and a couple of long neck bottles of beer in the refrigerator.

None of these things are of the slightest use should the invader be out of range, between me and the weapon of choice -- or armed himself and aiming the weapon in my direction. Somehow I think an armed invader is not going to be impressed with the threat of Wolfgang Puck cookware, not even when told how much it costs.

When you come right down to it, the best protection (right after fainting) might be attitude. I'm recalling a time when the kids were very young and one of my daughters lost all patience with her brother's teasing. She blew sky high and threatened to do him bodily harm with what she thought was the heavy potato masher she was waving. The threat worked. He decided to flee the scene. She started to put down her weapon -- and realized she was holding the turkey baster.

Here's da deal: I have the free version of the mailing list, which I use to notify everyone when I've posted a new entry. What I didn't realize was I can only use it once every 24 hours -- and the last notify went out at 4 minutes after midnight. (sigh) So I'm not going to send a notify for this entry. That's the only way I can get back in synch. Sorry, Coffee Mates. We live and learn.

Friday, February 2, 2007

Fainting May Work Best

Okay. Here's the setup: there are these two good ol' boys -- one's a farmer, one's a lawyer -- and they both score on alleged culprits. The farmer uses an empty shotgun, the lawyer uses an empty fry pan. The lawyer gets patted on the back and praised. The farmer gets patted down and arrested.

In spite of the obvious openings for jokes, the two situations aren't as ridiculous as they sound. The lawyer is on safer ground because he wielded the fry pan after the culprit burst into the lawyer's kitchen. A nice, hefty cast iron skillet would have packed a better wallop. As it was, the intruder was only momentarily startled, before dashing into the basement.

The farmer, on the other hand, was not really defending himself or even his own property. He was chasing, and holding for arrest, the occupants of a car he'd seen the previous day on his neighbor's vacant property, folks he believed had committed a theft there. He had 911 on the phone as he chased down the suspects. 911 knew he had the gun and knew the gun was empty. That didn't prevent him being arrested for what was perceived as vigilante tactics. Maybe if he'd used a fry pan instead of the shotgun, he'd have been hailed as a hero...while recovering in the hospital. Let's face it -- a desperate person is more likely to call a fry pan bluff than a shotgun bluff.

As for the other story, the newspaper account didn't explain this well and I'm confused. As I understand it, the lawyer had his wife hold the basement door shut so the invader couldn't come back out. Then he unlocked the front door and told his wife to leave the back way. Excuse me? Why didn't they both just run out the back door?

Okay, I know we aren't always thinking as clearly when under stress as we think we're thinking, but I'll tell you what -- when the dust settles, I'll bet the lawyer's wife is going to wonder why she was the one designated to maintain the barricade against the enemy. Unless she's built like the Chicago Bears linebacker, Brian Urlacher, and owns several kick boxing trophies.

All of this makes me contemplate the often confusing legal minefields of personal safety and self-defense. All too often one reads of criminals filing -- and winning -- lawsuits against the people they victimized, depending on how the victims defended themselves.

But never mind the legalities after the fact. Let's ponder the legalities -- and worth -- of assorted defensive weapons at the point of need. Guns are pretty decisive but how often are they readily handy and functional if you're storing them safely? That's in your home. If you're being mugged or carjacked, do you have a carry permit? A concealed weapon permit? Can you pull the damned thing without shooting yourself in some vital portion of your own anatomy?

Okay, let's try tasers or stun guns. Gee, I dunno. They're not legal everywhere and, even where they are legal, what if you're not close enough to use them effectively? Pepper sprays? Same thing.

Martial arts? Okay-swell. How many folks have access to that kind of training -- or the physical condition to utilize it?

Nor is the average person privy to the skills employed by certain soldiers who, according to legend, can be stark bare nekkid nude and still know seventy-eleven ways to kill you. The average person, if threatened while stark bare nekkid nude, will simply -- and wisely -- faint. If threatened while fully clothed, fainting sounds like a pretty good idea anyway.

I'm trying to figure out what I could use as a defensive weapon if suddenly faced with threat from another individual. The only thing likely to be handy is a cup of hot coffee, which could be flung in the face of the aggressor. Then, of course, I'd better be able to run like hell. And hope I don't get sued because the coffee is too hot.