Archive for the ‘Cooking’ Category

The long shot of the produce area in Market Street grocery store in Coppell, Texas

The long shot of the produce area in Market Street grocery store in Coppell, Texas

Republican leaders in Texas continue to fuel the fires of dissent over gun control, blaming President Obama for everything and anything. It was only three months ago that the Republicans appealed to a national audience to replace the Democrats. They lost.

Faced with the news that they must change if they want to win the Presidency, they have so far shown they are unwilling to change, unwilling to work for a good transition in government, unwilling to be anything other than the Republicans we sent packing in November.  Something must be done!

So I went shopping. I went shopping at a Republican grocery store. You know the type. It is a store where you go when you don’t care how much you spend on food.  Ordinarily you’ll find me in the aisles of  Walmart. Over the years, the greedy people in town (aka Republicans) developed our local community of 45,000 into a very expensive community. Property rates increased dramatically. Rents went up, the cheaper grocery stores moved out, until today a percentage of the population must buy groceries somewhere other than our quaint little small town.

There is plenty of wine at the Republican grocery store.

There is plenty of wine at the Republican grocery store.

January Sales in the Tank

Thought I would share some pics while I write about pianos. January marks the worst month for my piano service business I have had in the last seven years. Could it be due to Christmas over-spending? Perhaps. I think part of the problem is that people are upset by the news, the politics, the continual barrage of anti-American sentiment coming from Republican leaders. January is never a great month, but when it gets really bad, like it did this year, it usually means people are living on tight budgets.

Maybe that is why there are so many bottles of wine on the shelves at the local grocery store. The photo doesn’t do the display justice.  The wine area would require a wide angle lens.

The Tea Party is Mad

Let me explain who the Tea Party is. Back in 2000, when George W. Bush won the Presidency, Democrats naturally were advising Americans not to make that choice. We were severely stung by Clinton’s indiscretions and the persistent hate-campaign of Ken Starr.  By September of 2000, the economy was promising to pick up. We were doing pretty good. The GOP won handily and then 9/11 happened. The Tea Party gang did not exist yet.  The Republicans put us back into debt and tried to create a patriotic America by invading Iraq. It became apparent to more and more people that we were headed in the wrong direction.  In 2004 Bush was re-elected and the damage continued. Keep in mind, that was twelve years ago.  People who are now 50 and nearing early retirement (or lay-offs) were 38. Republicans who were 20 in 2000 turned 32 years of age in 2012.

Wow! That's a lot of shrimp. Great for cholesterol watch parties.

Wow! That’s a lot of shrimp. Great for cholesterol watch parties.

So while Democrats in 2000 and 2004 were prophetically screaming that corporations were destroying our economy, the Tea Party gang didn’t exist. They didn’t exist because the economy had not hurt them yet. When it did, they woke up. And when they started shouting, it became obvious that 1. they were mad and 2. they were really stupid about politics.   It doesn’t matter where you live: if the economy is bad, people get angry.

The Tea Party entered politics with all the pomp of mid-life Republicans who thought they knew everything and could fix things quickly.  In 2012, they lost – and they will continue to lose because people know now that they are just angry people. If anger was shrimp, we would need a shrimp boat in my town. Fortunately, we have plenty of shrimp at the grocery store. We have some angry people here too.

Seymour Lipset

There is a book you can read which explains everything we are going through in politics.  Seymour Lipset wrote it.  He is the foremost authority on the history of Right Wing politics. I recommend The Politics of Unreason: Right Wing Extremism in America. There is an online version of his book  you can peruse. I’ll save you some time: Right Wing politics is the politics of despair. A good economy ends despair. When the economy improves, the despair will end and the Tea Party will disappear. When the economy improves, the protests will end. Everything depends on the economy.  Anger is the worst motivator for politics. It will destroy you. One of the features of protest that you learn as an activist is that people cannot sustain the energy that is required for a long-term campaign.  If people are not successful in politics, they become cynical. This is what will happen to the biggest part of the Tea Party members. There is one tiny detail they lost sight of.

America has One of the Best Governments in the World

Ale must be gaining in popularity. This store dedicated some serious shelf space to ales from every part of the world.

Ale must be gaining in popularity. This store dedicated some serious shelf space to ales from every part of the world.

Although you may think otherwise, America has a pretty incredible government. While people are killing their brothers and sisters in Africa and the Middle East, our stores are stocked. We are open for business. Our government is paying its debts, working on solutions, managing foreign and domestic affairs, and the greater number of us are safe from harm each night when we climb into our warm and snugglies. We aren’t living in Mexico thinking about the hazards of crossing the border to a better life. We aren’t trapped in North Korea with a lunatic dictator, and we aren’t being censored by a communist government in Beijing. Get the picture?

We have Freedom, but Little Humility

Americans have opinions. It is quite incredible to me how much the ordinary American thinks he knows. The typical American male will spent months and months learning about politics, and then reveal in ten seconds that he is a complete idiot.  There is a good reason for that though. We each carry a view of reality with us at all times in order to survive. It is part of our  self-preservation instincts. Life doesn’t care if we are humble. Life is out there every day ready to kick you in the butt if you are not prepared. Americans don’t know much, but we know enough about the important stuff to keep from getting our butts kicked. One of the marvelous features of a democracy is that after the vote is counted, the best person usually wins. Bill Clinton proved to be a very incredible statesman, truly devoted to our country, his family, and his understanding. Former president George Bush’s star will rise again when he stands on his own feet before the American people. The majority turns out to be pretty intelligent, for all the idiots that comprise it.

Protest is a Way of Life, but Only if You Choose that Life

The economy is still in the tank. It will be for some time. It will improve for a while, then have a setback. In the long run, it will be strong again. Two things about the economy to consider: it is tied to the world economy, and it has a life of its own. There are thousands of economists who will tell you otherwise, but for the most part, there isn’t a thing we can do about the economy. It is too big, and we are just insignificant consumers reacting to change.   The economy of the past will never return. That is one of the reasons that conservatives and Tea Party members are angry, and why they lost. America has changed, and our competitiveness in a growing world market will require us to adjust to take advantage of emerging opportunities. The proof of that statement is found in thinking about this: If we knew what we needed to do in order to fix the economy, we would have already done it. The economy will reveal its opportunities in its own time.

How to Conquer the Economy

If you can work and make money, you have conquered the economy.  Many Americans bought into a lie long ago. They were told that if they worked hard, they would reap the benefits. We all know a few people who have lost their 401K accounts, were laid-off or forced into early retirement. We know people who have lost their homes, relocated to parts unknown, or had to make difficult life decisions in order to adjust to a changing world.  All of that was in the small print of the lie they embraced. Many people dedicated their lives to work, with all its personal sacrifices, only to learn that the bargain they hoped to get cost more than they were led to believe. Many made their money, but found that the price of life increased dramatically.

How to Conquer Your Anger

Politics never sleeps. You have to choose your battles carefully. Always have an exit plan. People forget that part. They get involved in politics and they think there will be a point where they succeed and can go back to their old life, complete with its own level of ignorant bliss. Politics doesn’t work like that. If you walk away from your victories, the ones you beat will erase everything you accomplished. You need to trust that others will continue your work. If your work was good, they will.

The hardest part about politics is when you stop. No one talks about that too much. You have to ignore every invitation to become involved again. You have to stop watching the news, especially your favorite station. Turn off the radio.  Go fishing.  Learn to paint. Meet new people. Learn to say no to politics. In time, the anger goes away. You learn to forget. For everything there is a season. Maybe you won your battle. Maybe you didn’t. I believe that anyone who dares to make a difference is a winner. A long time ago I learned that the only reward you gain from community service is personal growth. You might have lost your battle, but as a person, you gained much more than your anger will let you know.  Get rid of the anger, the hurt, the passionate indignation, so the wisdom you have gained can emerge. Get to know the new person you have become.

Look to the Future

There is a future, after you recover from your involvement in politics, when you will see others protesting for their cause. You will look into their eyes, feel their pain, and remember how you once felt. And if you recover from your chapter in politics, you will want to let them know that there is a peace they can each recapture. You will want them to know how hard it will be to recover innocence lost. Moreover, you will understand why it was important for you to be involved when you were involved, and why it is more important now that you not become involved in their battle. Or maybe you will be like me – able to get involved, but not be guided in your actions by anger. It is your future. If you are reading this, I need to tell you there is only one person who can make you feel better about what you did, who you are, and what your future will bring. You can’t enjoy all your tomorrows if you are always thinking about your yesterdays. Let them go. Others will take up the fight.

Protesters outside the White House call for gun control measures. January 2013. Politics in America never ends.

Protesters in Washington D.C. call for gun control measures. January 2013. Politics in America never ends. Source

When (This) Man Cooks

Posted: January 19, 2013 in Cooking
The ingredients for Anadama bread are ready to be turned out and kneaded.

The ingredients for Anadama bread are ready to be turned out and kneaded.

I was going to go with “When Men Cook” as the title, but it occurred to me that I might seem presumptuous to women, and to those men who do not cook the way I do, so I’ll just limit this to my own interests. :)

Cooking.  I was in my late 20s, surviving on MacDonald’s and other fast food garbage when I decided to learn how to cook. I bought some pans and utensils, a Betty Crocker Cookbook (or I should say The Betty Crocker Cookbook because it is the staple cookbook for so many suburban cooks.) I just noticed at that link there is a new edition. Wahoo!

That book has all the basics you need when you are culinarily challenged. (Culinarily is now a word.)  Cooking is easy unless you have to mix something, then it becomes science. You can burn any meat in a pan, throw some potato fries onto a baking pan, open a can of vegetables and prepare a healthier meal than is offered at most fast-food restaurants. Survival is guaranteed. But if you start adding spice to that meat, or cheese to those fries, or combine vegetables to make a stew — if you are this cook — you start making charts, or looking for them.

The Betty Crocker Cookbook has a chart of the common herbs and spices and their common purpose. Great! That was easy. Next is the combination of flour, butter and water – and that is where I got stuck.

Hot bread from the oven speaks to me. It says, "BUTTER!"

Hot bread from the oven speaks to me. It says, “BUTTER!”

The King Arthur Cookbook came to my rescue.  it isn’t enough to know how to bake bread — not for this cook anyway. You have to know the history of each bread, where it came from, and why it is made the way it is made. The King Arthur book has that info.

With meat, fries, veggies, spices, herbs and stews conquered, and with some experience making fresh bread, you rank high among the order of male suburban cooks. You can do better though.

Cooking as Science

When (this) man cooks, he takes photos of his work. Not because I am bragging. No! Recording your data is part of the scientific process. Cooking goes beyond art when you try to understand pastry. It becomes a science.

Making pastry is particularly difficult because I dislike following recipes. Recipes are for people who cannot figure it out on their own. That thinking, (as I have learned on many occasions) is the recipe for disaster.

A Chart! What I need, and have not yet found, is a chart of the relationship between flour, butter and water. You probably know that these ingredients can make a cake or a scone, a biscuit or bread. There is a relationship between the elemental ingredients of the bread family that eludes me. I imagine the only way to work with these ingredients (without relying on recipes) is to gain a keen understanding of how they work together to produce breads.  So far, I have not acquired that understanding.

This knish pastry, filled with mashed potatoes with cheese and sauteed onions, was crisp and light.

This knish pastry, filled with mashed potatoes with cheese and sauteed onions, was crisp and light.

Add this! You see – take butter and water, add a little flour and you have a biscuit. Add a little more and you have a scone. Add a little more and you have — I’m not sure. Add yeast, you have bread – add oil, and you have better bread. Add cornmeal, you get more nutritious bread. Add salt… add milk, add this and that. Then the insanity sets in. You realize you have no idea what you are doing.

When this cook gets confused, he makes charts. A chart can identify where you got lost in the learning process. It maps out all known knowledge, and marks the uncharted territory.

Pastry lies in the uncharted area.

The Baker! I am known as the “baker” in my home. This is odd because my wife cooks 360 days a year. I cook a few times and earn an honored reputation for it. Doesn’t seem fair. Still, I’m not afraid of the mess of flour, and I remain intrigued by the science of cooking. I am convinced that with a bit more practice, I will be a master suburban cook. (I’d have to learn ice sculpting to become a chef).

There were a few disasters as I gained fame. The four-layer cake was renamed “The Leaning Cake of Pisa”. I considered using my first batch of biscuits to repair a paved garden path.  If you use dill as a spice, it tends to get stronger after the food is refrigerated.  No one likes chili as hot as I like it.   The fifteen-bean soup I made a few years ago might better have been used to patch plaster.

If it is through failure that success is gained, I have much to look forward to! The concoctions I make have an experimental quality which leaves me wondering each time what exactly will emerge from the oven.  Most often, and of late, the results have been rewarding and delicious.

Anadama Bread (corn meal & molasses) made from the King Arthur Cookbook recipe.

Anadama Bread (corn meal & molasses) made from the King Arthur Cookbook recipe.

My Best Tools. Recently I acquired a few tools and machines. (Women call them utensils and appliances.) My favorite is the Master Ninja Blender. I have a strong dislike for food processors (and bread machines for that matter) because of their lack of portability in the kitchen (and storage requirements).  The Ninja, however, has its place on the counter, and is perfect for making smoothies for those times when you need a carb boost from procrastinating a visit to the gym.

I have an anti-Teflon attitude. I prefer cast iron and wooden spoons. I’ll use metal to strain, scoop or ladle, but if it is to be stirred or mixed, it’s either hands or wood. It’s a “guy” thing. It has something to do with the primordial longing to cook over an open fire far from the noise of civilization.  The best tools then are the ones that pre-date the Roman Empire.

The Reward. After the oven door shuts, the magic of heat begins. I marvel that you can slop a few things together, roll them into a ball, flatten it out, curl it, sculpt it, throw it into a pan, and after you apply heat to it, you get something that resembles food. In fact, it is food!  Let it cool, wrap it in foil, and give it to a friend and you will find there is no greater gift.   Bourbon balls are particularly popular during the holiday season! [vid]

Kentucky Bourbon Balls

Kentucky Bourbon Balls