Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Life Gets in the Way

This has been a busy week, and by week I mean the past seven days or so.

First of all, we've been cleaning out our back bedroom to get ready for two of our grandsons to move in. This task required sorting through hundreds of books, only keeping the few really important, nearly irreplaceable, or ones we haven't read yet and might realistically read one day.

For instance, I've been accumulating and reading novels by Phillip K. Dick since I was a teen. Once in a while I pick one up and read it, but that's not the whole story. Since Dick died and Hollywood started making movies and television shows based on his novels, the old copies have become impossible to find and the new reprints cost a minimum of fifteen bucks. Better to hang on to the ones I have.

On the other side, I got rid of gardening books I've purchased over the past forty years that don't have any real value as far as useful information. I don't need an encyclopedia of house plants that only has the Latin names and not the common names, and doesn't contain a single plant I'm interested in growing right now. I went from about fifty gardening books to five.

I also don't need The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, since it's so thick I will never even pick it up, let alone read it. Kudos to those who do.

All of the discard books had to be boxed up and taken to the library for the Friends of the Library sale. That's about eight forty pound boxes.

Next is my collection of amplifiers. The guitars and basses are hung on the walls and will just have to stay. No other room has that much available wall space. The amps snuggle neatly into corners here and there and aren't readily visible, therefore not eyesores.

I should have mentioned that this process had to begin with cleaning and organizing our storage building so that we could put away keepsakes and such, yet still be able to lay hands on our camping gear without emptying the building first.

In the process of all of this, we also moved my office out of the back bedroom and into ours. This involved emptying shelves, clearing off my desk and, again, sorting and deciding what not to keep and getting rid of the discards.

Kathy is a master of organization. She rearranged our bedroom so that we could move my desk, computer, file cabinet and supply shelves in. Not only does it all fit without crowding us, it looks very nice and organized. As a bonus, my new office is warm and bright, with a window I can look out and watch the chickens while I work.

Mind you, Kathy does the planning and most of the lifting and carrying. I just can't keep up.

In my defense, during this same time, I boiled and boned chicken legs and made chicken and dumplings, I made beef stew and I made catfish gumbo (I'll try to post that recipe next week) in addition to more ordinary dinners.

Life is good and my new space is the most inviting and welcoming office I've ever had. Now all I have to do is come up with ideas for blog posts.

Stephen P.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Cold Weather, Warm Food and Poultry Seasoning

It's that time of year. The temperature outside is 45 degrees and a slight breeze brings the windchill down to 38. My Carhartt coat keeps me warm when I'm outside. Cold weather foods help keep me warm on the inside.

We do eat chicken and dumplings and chili occasionally during the summer, but the warmth can add to the misery of 90+ degree weather. When it's cold outside, soups and stews are the perfect choice.

So far in the last couple of weeks we've had yellow squash soup, chicken and rice soup, and a pot of pinto bean chili. I'd love to offer a how to, but Patrick makes the squash soup and chili around here and he doesn't use written recipes. He has an almost encyclopedic knowledge of herbs and spices, when to use them and how much to use. I'm not allowed to use seasonings without adult supervision.

I make a lot of chicken soup. We eat a lot of chicken, and soup is one of our favorite ways to have it. Patrick prefers boneless, skinless chicken breasts, but white meat doesn't have much flavor so we need a good broth. I often make my own broths and stocks, but it's hard to keep up with demand. I don't know how people got by before there was Swanson's. Canned broth is a staple in our house.

Carrots, celery and onions are also staples in our house. They are the foundation for everything from stir fry to gumbo. We also need potatoes for beef stew.

Last week I made chicken and rice soup. I used one 32 ounce carton of chicken stock; an equal amount of water; one medium onion, diced; four carrots, cut into quarter inch pieces; two garlic cloves, minced; and one pound of boneless, skinless chicken, cut into half inch cubes (we were out of celery). I combined it all into a large pot, brought it to a boil, and reduced the heat to medium high. With the chicken at a high simmer, I added one tablespoon of poultry seasoning (Cajun seasoning is also good) and a sprinkle of sea salt.

Next I started a pot of rice. I added one and a half cups of white rice (the family prefers white or Basmati rice for most things) to three cups of cold water in a two quart pot. I brought the rice to a boil, turned it down to low, put a lid on the pot and left it for twenty minutes.

After forty to forty-five minutes, the soup was ready. I put about a cup of the cooked rice in the bottom of a large soup bowl and ladled a cup of soup over it. We always make extra soup so we have some for tomorrow's lunch. This is some serious comfort food.

Poultry Seasoning Recipe

Most people will tell you that sage is essential for cooking poultry or stuffing/dressing. I agree that it adds something important, but it is really easy to overdo it. I don't like to taste the sage. If I can identify it in a dish, there is probably too much. That's why I like poultry seasoning--it has the herbs in appropriate proportions and makes it easier to avoid over seasoning.

2 Tbsp ground sage
2 Tbsp ground thyme
1 Tbsp ground marjoram
1 Tbsp garlic powder
2 Tbsp rosemary
1/2 Tbsp black pepper
1 tsp turmeric

Mix all ingredients thoroughly, in a small bowl. Store in a small bottle. I save empty spice bottles and reuse them for my own dried herbs and seasoning mixes. This is a good starter recipe that can be adjusted according to taste. I like to throw a teaspoon of cayenne pepper into the mix, but then, I like to throw cayenne into everything.

I've got to go. I think I hear a pot of soup calling my name.

Stephen P.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Homemade Mayonnaise

Mayonnaise is my favorite condiment. I remember when I was a kid, slicing off two pieces of fresh homemade bread, slathering on a thick layer of Kraft mayo, adding a thick slab of ham, a slice of American cheese, lettuce leaves and some tomato. Best sandwich ever!

Now I've lost my taste for thick sliced ham and American cheese, preferring a thin piece of ham and a slice of sharp cheddar. The rest of the sandwich stays the same, except I don't use Kraft mayo anymore. Once I learned to make it myself, there was no looking back.

My recipe isn't complicated, but making it requires finesse and precision. I originally started with a recipe for Fail-proof Homemade Mayonnaise from www.inspiredtaste.net. After customizing a bit, I ended up with the recipe below. The Inspired Taste recipe has simplified the process compared to many other recipes, but I have managed to fail making this recipe, because I didn't adhere strictly to the instructions. As long as I am careful adding the oil, this recipe works. Once you get good at making mayo, you can start teaching others how to make healthy, delicious, money-saving homemade mayonnaise.

Many years ago I read about the invention of oleo. The story went that the French couldn't live without their mayo, so much so, that soldiers on the battlefield wouldn't go without it and food poisoning became rampant. Napoleon set about finding a replacement that wouldn't spoil. The solution was oleo margarine, a product made by a similar process, but without the egg. I don't know if this story is true or not, but it's a good story having absolutely nothing to do with making mayo. It does illustrate how important mayonnaise is to making other condiments and sauces, to cooking and to sandwich making. My brother won't eat a sandwich that doesn't have mayo, lettuce and tomato. He just won't. I can't blame him.

First, a couple of notes: I prefer garlic powder. I've tried fresh minced or squeezed, but I prefer the taste with powder.

Second, I use peanut oil. I've developed a preference. It's almost neutral in flavor, it has a high scorching point in frying and last time I checked it was considered healthy. I buy a gallon every month or two.

Third, I add a little bit of turmeric, as included in the ingredients list. The first time I tried making mayonnaise, it came out a touch too sweet. Kathy had me blend in turmeric and it was just right. I now use turmeric in a number of recipes. I've always heard it's good for memory and prevention of Alzheimer's. Bonus!

Here's the mayo recipe that I use at least once a week.

Not-So-Simple Mayonnaise

1 large egg--room temperature
1 Tbsp brown mustard
1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/8 tsp. turmeric
1 Cup peanut oil

Using my blender or mini food processor, I add all ingredients except the oil and pulse until uniformly mixed. Then I add the oil, a few drops at a time and then pulse to whip. This is the most important part: if you add too much oil at a time, it will not emulsify and the whole batch will end up ruined. Inspired Taste has suggestions for fixing the mess, but they didn't work for me. I use an aluminum measuring spoon to dip small amounts of oil from the measuring cup so I don't accidentally spill too much into the blender. This part of the process requires a bit of patience, but the sense of satisfaction in the end is worth it. Once about a third of the oil is mixed in, it's okay to add it faster, say a tablespoonful at a time.

When all the oil has been added, you should have a nice thick batch of really exceptional mayonnaise. Using this in the Ranch dressing recipe I posted recently makes a really great dressing.

Since there are no preservatives or stabilizers in this, it doesn't have the shelve life of store bought, but it will keep for over a week. It never lasts longer than that around here. This makes about one pint.

Stephen P.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Christmas? Already?

Halloween was just a few days ago and Thanksgiving is still weeks away. So what's on TV? Christmas movies.

There should be a law against anything Christmas until after we've had the big turkey feast. Of course I say that, but I'm the guy who thinks we should have five day holidays: two days to get up to speed, one day for the holiday and two more days to wind down.

Over the years I've spent quite a bit of time in art and craft stores. I've noticed that the two big chains have Christmas aisles all year long. I suppose that's handy for people in Christmas related businesses. I don't really mind Christmas all year round. Christmas in July. Christmas for my birthday.

Truth be told, I'm watching a Christmas movie right now. And it isn't the first Christmas movie this week. Plus, a lot of the ads are Christmas ads.

There seems to be a rule that Christmas movies have to be about someone with a negative attitude gradually getting into the Christmas spirit. Maybe that's why we start all of this stuff so early--so we'll have time to get some grumpy person into the Christmas spirit.

Maybe it's me. Maybe I just need to get into the Christmas spirit a little early.

Stephen P.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Homemade Tartar Sauce

Before I started this post I Googled tartar sauce recipes just to see how other people do it. I found dozens, each one of them a little different from the one before, all of them wrong. Evidently there are a bunch of cooks out there who have never actually tasted tartar sauce.

Tartar sauce, in my expert opinion, is absolutely necessary for any kind of fried fish and it's pretty good with baked fish. Oh, and a fish sandwich without tartar sauce is a sandwich that isn't ready to eat.

In the past, long ago and far away, I used to buy tartar sauce. Specifically, Kraft. Unfortunately, tartar sauce is really expensive for how little you get in the standard squeeze bottle. I like lots of tartar sauce on my fish, just like I like lots of ketchup/catsup on my french fries and cocktail sauce on my shrimp.

The beauty of my recipe is that I can make just enough for a fish dinner and not have a tiny bit leftover sitting in the fridge for a year. It's also reasonably cheap and it's the simplest tartar sauce recipe ever.

If you want, you can add all kinds of things: minced onions, garlic powder, lemon juice, parsley or even Dijon mustard, but three ingredients is all you really need.

So without further ado:

Homemade Tartar Sauce

1 Cup mayonaisse
1 Tbsp. dill pickle relish
1 tsp. horseradish

Mix, chill, ready to serve.

Of all the recipes I found, not one included horseradish. I don't understand. How can you have tartar sauce without horseradish? Every single recipe I found for cocktail sauce contains horseradish. Horseradish and seafood belong together. Like horseradish sauce and a roast beef sandwich. Like horseradish sauce on a Ruben.

No. Thousand island does not belong on a Ruben. I don't know who started that, but it's wrong. Like putting mushrooms and celery in Texas roadhouse-style chili. Like making spaghetti with ketchup. Like putting steak sauce on a good rib-eye steak.

By the way, if you need cocktail sauce, just add horseradish to ketchup. And some Sriracha chile paste if you have it. Easy. Horseradish.

There are many uses for horseradish. Wasabi on sushi. Most wasabi in the US is just horseradish with green food coloring. Hot mustard on egg rolls. And spring rolls. Horseradish gives hot mustard its heat. People used to put it on hot dogs and maybe still do in Chicago. They put everything on a hot dog in Chicago.

So, that's my tartar sauce recipe. Because I'm frying catfish for dinner. Although a good old-fashioned hot dog with everything sounds pretty good. Soon we'll talk about sauerkraut.

Stephen P.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Country Life

Living out in the country isn't for everyone. I love it, but that's just me.

We live half a mile from the nearest paved roads, either way you go and there are only two ways, north or west. The east/west roads are named, like Tecumseh Road, Franklin Road and Rock Creek Road. The north/south roads are numbered streets like 156th Street, 168th Street and 180th Street. If you follow 156th about four miles north to Stella Road, it becomes Peebly Road. And if you turn left onto Stella it becomes 149th Street. These are important things to know when giving directions.

We live four miles from Dollar General Stores, one down on Highway 9 and one up at Stella. Country Boy market is a little east of the Dollar General on Highway 9. It's a full service grocery store with a deli, locally sourced grass-fed beef, plumbing parts, tools and chainsaw oil if you need it.

The closest store is the Absentee Shawnee Tribal store and Valero gas station, two miles south on 156th. It sits in front of the Thunderbird Casino.

There are two out-of-business restaurants, one adjoining the AST store and one across the street. It's hard to stay in business when your potential customers can get fried chicken, fresh cooked pizza and really good cheese burgers at every convenience store in the area. There's even a convenience store with a chef and gourmet foods a few miles west on 149th (Stella Road).

We are a little over a mile to the closest access to Lake Thunderbird and there are several campgrounds and boat ramps nearby.

Little Ax is a loose-knit community (we are part of The City of Norman, but they're a long ways from here). There is a large public school complex with pre-school through high school. The schools are on a four day week, so football isn't always on Friday nights, but it's still a big deal.

The local American Legion hall has all-you-can-eat catfish, with all the trimmings, on the first Saturday of every month. It's a good place to see neighbors and it's where candidates for Norman city offices come to give us their pitch. The Legion hall is also where we vote.

It's not unusual to see deer or raccoons dead on the side of the road. That's something people sometimes see in the suburbs, but we've also seen a thousand pound hog and a two thousand pound Angus bull dead in a ditch. Driving at night requires special caution.

South on 156th Street a ways there is a sharp S curve. We jokingly call it "Dead Man's Curve." Not many people have died there, but at least twenty-five times a year somebody overshoots and knocks out the telephone pole, also knocking out our electricity. We've even seen a car up in a tree down there.

Jurisdiction is complicated on the curve. Any time there's a wreck there, the State Park or Highway Patrol has to investigate. So does the City of Norman. And the Absentee Shawnee Police. And the Cleveland County Sheriff. That's a lot of law enforcement.

We have a fire station less than ten minutes from here, but the nearest ambulance is a full half hour.

There are large wild animals out here. We see deer every day and right now we have several packs of coyotes in the area. We hear them yipping and howling very close by every night.

We have hawks, vultures and owls, as well as all kinds of smaller birds and animals.

We also have lots of trees. We can only see one neighboring house from here. They are good neighbors who mostly leave us alone, occasionally give us eggs and squash, and generally appreciate country living as much as we do.

It's a pleasant life with few traffic jams and little highway noise. The drive to town is a dreaded necessity once or twice a week, but the drive home is very pleasant and we often detour to look at the lake.

Country living. It's not for everyone, but we love it.

Stephen P.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Henchman Seems Like a Bad Career

In all of the James Bond films there are always dozens, even hundreds of henchmen. They basically stand around waiting for their chance to die needlessly. They are part of an overwhelming force that gets defeated by one man or woman. They are basically nameless and expendable.

I just watched the beginning of Resident Evil: The Final Chapter (spoiler alert: the movie ends with a lead-in for another sequel). The heroine is walking through a wasteland and suddenly a gang of henchmen pop out of crates and barrels and from under rubble where they may have been hiding for days and attack. They all die pretty quickly and I got the feeling that their whole purpose was to slow Alice down a little bit. Certainly the super bad guy didn't expect or even want the protagonist killed by a bunch of faux ninjas wearing motorcycle helmits. Otherwise he wouldn't get to gloat and make the little speech that ultimately ends up being his undoing.

Henchmen are pretty common in movies and I have to wonder what motivates them. I mean, what kind of job is that? You notice I say "henchMAN." That's because women, forgive me for stereotyping, are simply too smart to take a job like that. Second in command, maybe, but not henchwoman. I admit there are some old tongue-in-cheek spy movies with henchwomen, but they don't die needlessly. In fact, henchwomen tend to be pretty effective at capturing protagonists.

But why do they do it? For a paycheck? "Your job is to die quickly, but the pay is good and we offer a dental plan." I mean really.

Did they answer an ad: "Work in the cone of a dormant volcano; play a minor role in taking over the world; experience with nuclear annihilation a plus?"

On television crime shows, the henchmen have the promise of a cut of the money from a bank job or a kidnapping. Or they were somehow brainwashed by the evil serial killer. But at least they have some ultimate reward, a carrot on a stick, so to speak.

I think about the possible scenarios. Henchman #1 took the job because his mother needs an operation. Henchman #2 has kids in private school. Henchman #3 wants to pay his mortgage off early. And Henchman #4 has an associates degree in "blindly following."

Heck, I don't know. I've never been a henchman, personally. I've spent most of my life being a sidekick, which is a whole different career. I've also been an accomplice a time or two, unwittingly. But the whole henchman thing doesn't seem to have much of a future.

These guys really need to join a union.

Stephen P.