Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Note to self: do not open a restaurant

Michael Yates just posted an excellent piece on the political economy of restaurant work in a capitalist society at Cheap Motels and a Hot Plate. It reminded me, no matter how much H and I occasionally fantasize about turning my modest skills as a chef into some kind of food-based independent business, that the main reason I devote so much time and energy to cooking (both cooking itself and research — reading cookbooks, watching cooking shows) is that it gives me the opportunity to engage in some unalienated labor.

I was also excited to read that Yates, one of my radical idols, also likes to watch cooking shows on TV — though, I have to admit, the competitive aspect of shows like Top Chef have always turned me off.

Also yesterday I was reminded of the modestness of my cooking skills. I wasn't planning to do anything particularly inventive for dinner — fish and chips, in fact: pan-fried tilapia, oven fries (I use the Cook's Illustrated recipe from volume 66, which is a bit complicated but worth it), and our staple winter salad of shredded cabbage, golden raisins and almond slivers, dressed with olive oil and a little salt and pepper. But I had also checked Hot Sour Salty Sweet out of the library and was reading about the cuisine of the Mekong, and had recently, on a whim, purchased some sichuan pepper. I decided to make some Chinese pepper salt (pan-roasting the sichuan pepper with flake salt, then grinding it together) — the aroma in the kitchen was enticing, and I started thinking about using it to flavor the fish (well, for the adults).

Tasting the pepper salt, I thought it probably needed something to complement it, like a dipping sauce. I didn't think a fish sauce base would work very well, and I didn't have any limes, so I ended up using equal parts clementine juice and soy sauce, adding a few drops of sesame oil and some chopped scallion. This was the successful part of the meal.

My great mistake was using corn starch to coat the fish (another experiment). Well, it wasn't that great of a mistake — the kids definitely liked the crisp crust on their non-sichuan-pepper-flavored fish. But, of course (and I should have thought this through), you can't mix a seasoning like crushed sichuan pepper into a corn starch coating the way you can into a flour coating. The cornstarch is too thin; it adheres to the fish but brings precious little pepper (or salt) along with it.

A decent meal, all and all, but needs some work before I can really publish a recipe, and, of course, I'll need to stop making these kinds of mistakes before I open that restaurant...

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Individual tuna pies

A great way to dress up cheap tuna packed in water. This is loosely based on a recipe from Penzey's Spices. It makes two servings (in this case, for the adults — the kids got chicken strips from the freezer tonight) and could be doubled and all made in a 10-inch pie pan (kind of like how the original recipe is made). If you don't have creme fraîche on hand, sour cream, or a mixture of sour cream and mayonnaise (again, like the original) would probably work. I'm guessing a bit on the filling ingredient amounts, since I used the leftovers of a sauce from the Christmas salmon — the key thing is you want the filling to be a bit more creamy and liquid-y than your average tuna salad; it will firm up in the oven.

1 can tuna in water, drained
1/2 cup flour
1/3 cup shredded cheddar
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp paprika
2 TBSP butter, cold
about 1/4 cup creme fraîche
about 1/4 tsp dill, dried (or 3/4 tsp fresh)
about 1/2 tsp capers, chopped up fine.
butter, for greasing pans

1. Preheat oven to 400. Butter two 4-inch ramekins.

2. Mix together flour, cheddar, salt and paprika in a mixing bowl. Cut butter into small pieces, add to the flour mixture, and cut together with two knives until it resembles coarse meal with a few pea-sized chunks.

3. Meanwhile, drain tuna and flake with a fork. Mix tuna together with creme fraîche, dill and capers.

4. Put about one quarter of the flour mixture in the bottom of each ramekin. Tilt the pans so the sides get at least a minimal coating of crust, then press the crust left in the bottom down slightly.

5. Spoon half of the tuna mixture into each ramekin, then top with remaining flour mixture.

6. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until topping is golden. Remove from oven and let cool for 10-15 minutes before serving.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Turning your leftover roast beast into a tasty pasta sauce

So this Christmas, we reverted to the traditions of my mother's New England family, and had roast beef for Christmas dinner. Since my sister has been not eating red meat for a few years, it's been awhile. (In addition to the roast beef, we had a filet of salmon, which worked out nicely — the resting time for the roast was just enough time to crank the oven heat up and roast the salmon).

However, on account of having two main dishes (our kids were also preferring the salmon), the limited selection at the grocery store we patronized last Saturday, and the general state of the economy, I ended up buying a small top round roast rather than the more extravagant standing rib roast that I've cooked in the past:

... and, between the top round's high proportion of connective tissue and my chronic tendency to undercook things, there was a lot of, well, quite rare and chewy meat which didn't get eaten Christmas day.

So last night I made the leftovers into a rich pasta sauce:

1. Cut leftovers into 1" chunks and brown them well in a little fat (I used bacon fat, because I had some on hand and was feeling decadent, but olive oil would work too). Make sure you don't crowd the meat; I did this in about three batches.

2. Remove meat from the pan, add a little more fat if there's not some left in the pan, and then add 1 cinnamon stick and 1 bay leaf; toss in the fat for 20-30 seconds.

3. Add about 1/2 cup each of finely diced onion, carrot and celery. Cook for 5-7 minutes, until well browned. Add some chopped fresh rosemary and 1 clove garlic, minced. Sauté for 15-30 seconds.

4. Deglaze the pan with a good splash of white wine, scraping the bottom to incorporate all the browned bits into the sauce. Add any meat juices from the contained you stored the leftovers in, and enough stock to make a saucelike consistency (beef would probably be best, I used turkey because that's what I had, chicken or veggie stock would probably be ok. I've also used leftover soaking liquid from reconstituting dried mushrooms with great success). Return meat (with any accumulated juices) to the pan.

5. Cover and cook over low heat for a couple of hours, adding stock and/or water as necessary to keep it from drying out:

6. After you've basically cooked the meat into submission, remove the chunks of meat to a cutting board. Remove and discard the cinnamon stick and bay leaf. Now is a good time to start boiling the water for your pasta. Chop the meat up fine, then return to the pan:

7. Keep the meat mixture simmering until pasta is cooked. I used homemade papardelle (really wide noodles). If you're using storebought and can't find papardelle (I can't find storebought papardelle around here), use the widest noodles you can find — fettucine, farfalle, or wide egg noodles:

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Vermont/Chinese turnip cake

I'm preparing to make this tomorrow (all up until the frying step) for a party on Friday, so I thought I would copy the recipe over from my old MySpace blog...

This is an adaptation of a variety of recipes for "Chinese turnip cake" which I found on the web. According to the Chinese food section of "," these savory cakes (which are steamed and then cut into slices and fried) are traditionally served during the Chinese New Year.

What makes it "Vermont?" First, it's made with good sturdy New England turnips, not the Chinese radish (related to daikon) which the real thing is made with and which is customarily mistranslated as "turnip." It's also vegetarian (vegan, actually, if you're keeping score at home). I've substituted salted carmelized onions for the dried shrimp and Cantonese sausage/Chinese bacon called for in other recipes.

Turnips (I used 3 softball-sized, about 2 lbs total)
Dried shiitake mushrooms (a good handful)
One large yellow or white onion
Two green onions
Bunch cilantro
2 c. rice flour
2 tsp salt plus extra for onions
1 tsp sugar
oil for frying

1. Soak the mushrooms in water just to cover for 30 minutes. Drain, reserving the liquid and straining it through cheesecloth if it's got lumps of dirt.

2. Peel turnips and grate coarsely. Put in saucepan with water just to cover, bring to a boil and simmer 30 minutes. Drain, reserving the liquid.

3. Chop yellow/white onion, and fry in a decent amount of oil in a wok or saucepan over medium-high heat until nicely browned and crispy. This will take about 10 minutes. Sprinkle generously with salt, then remove from pan, draining excess oil.

4. Once mushrooms are rehydrated, remove stems and chop caps finely. In a separate pile, chop green onions and cilantro together. Heat small amount of oil in wok or saucepan over medium-high heat and stir-fry the mushrooms for a few minutes. Add the green onions and cilantro, stir-fry an additional 20-30 seconds, then add a splash of sherry, stir together for a few seconds, and remove from heat.

5. In a large bowl, whisk together the rice flour, salt and sugar.

6. Add enough of the turnip broth to the mushroom-soaking liquid to make 2 cups. Add to the flour and stir to make a smooth batter. Add the cooked turnip shreds, the onions, and the mushroom mixture to the batter.

7. Turn into a cake pan (I used a 8 1/2" springform). You'll need for the cake pan to be able to fit inside a larger pot (I used a 12" calphalon dutch oven) so that it doesn't touch the sides and can be suspended above simmering water. I placed two metal jar lids in the bottom of the pan. If the pot's lid is flat, wrap it with a towel to absorb moisture so it doesn't condense and drip down on the top of the cake.

8. Simmer for one hour, approximately, until cake is firm. Check periodically to make sure that the water doesn't all evaporate.

9. Remove cake from pan if it's easy (i.e, with a springform), let cake cool, and refrigerate for at least a couple of hours.

10. When ready to serve, cut 1/2" to 1" thick slices off the cake and fry in oil over medium-high heat until nicely browned on both sides. Garnish slices if desired with chopped green onions, cilantro, or napa cabbage.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

The best description of deer hunting, ever

The usual procedure, as I understand it, is for them to hide in small structures called deer blinds. They throw corn around in front of the deer blind. They swig bourbon from hip flasks and suppress homosexual yearnings until some hapless ungulate wanders by and starts eating the corn. Then they blow its fucking brains out.

From my new favorite blog, I blame the patriarchy (and who wouldn't?)

Monday, December 01, 2008

Pretty pictures

My first attempt at paella — and damn it was tasty. A quick weeknight version, made with a couple of Italian sausages and a handful of shrimp, frozen peas, canned artichoke hearts and roasted red peppers from a jar.

This is a flatbread with delicata, kale, cheddar and Italian sausage. I sliced the delicata into very thin rings and sautéed in olive oil.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Turkey egg roll "tostadas" with cranberries and hoisin

Inspired by my favorite TV chef, Ming Tsai. I made these with Thanksgiving leftovers, but one could probably make something similar substituting oil or butter for the turkey fat, white wine for the stock, and ground turkey (or beef or pork) for the leftover turkey. In that case, brown the meat with the onions rather than adding at the end. You could also cut the egg-roll wrappers or use won-ton wrappers to make smaller versions for appetizers.

Serves 4 as appetizer, 2 as main course

1 small onion, diced
1 TBSP minced fresh ginger
1/2 c. cranberries
1/2 c. hoisin sauce
4 egg roll wrappers
canola or other vegetable oil
homemade turkey stock, fat from the top removed and reserved
2 c. leftover turkey, diced
1 green onion, sliced thin

1. Preheat oven to 350

2. Heat a little of the reserved turkey fat in a small-to-medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Once reasonably hot, add onion and ginger and sauté for several minutes.

3. Deglaze with a bit of stock, then add cranberries and hoisin sauce. Reduce heat to medium-low and cover pan.

4. Once oven preheats, brush each side of the egg roll wrappers with vegetable oil, lay flat on a baking sheet and put in oven.

5. After 5 minutes, check egg roll wrappers; they probably won't be browned & crispy quite yet, but remove them if they are. Add turkey to saucepan and re-cover. Check wrappers every 1-2 minutes; remove once they are brown and crispy.

6. Spoon 1/4 of the turkey mixture onto each wrapper and garnish with green onions.

Chocolate pancakes with olive oil

A Sunday morning favorite in our house. Pretty much adopted from Jose Made In Spain. The olive oil (both in the batter and on the skillet) gives them a slightly crisp surface and a bit of a change in flavor from the usual butter pancakes. Everyone else eats them with maple syrup but I prefer strawberry preserves.

1 1/2 c. white flour
2 TBSP sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 c. buttermilk OR 1 TBSP cider vinegar mixed into enough milk to make 1 1/2 cups total
1 egg
olive oil
about 1 oz. chocolate, chopped up into fairly small pieces

1. Mix the dry ingredients together in a bowl, creating a slight depression in the center.

2. Pour the buttermilk or soured milk into the depression, crack the egg in, then pour in some extra-virgin olive oil (I probably use about 2 TBSP, but I've never measured it). Start whisking the liquid ingredients together, slowly incorporating the dry. Mix until just combined.

3. Fold in the chopped-up chocolate.

4. Heat your pancake griddle. Once it's hot, drizzle a little olive oil over the surface and ladle the pancake batter on by scant 1/4 cups. Cook as usual for pancakes, repeating the drizzle of olive oil for each batch.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Penne with chestnuts, apples and cream

A week or two ago, while dragging the younger kid on a grocery shopping trip, he found a bucket of chestnuts, became fascinated, and insisted that we buy some. Since the first rule of Getting Kids to Try New Foods is to purchase anything they show even remote interest in in the grocery store, I did. Last Sunday I roasted them (in the oven — no open fires in Vermont this time of year), and everyone ate a few as appetizers, but we ended up with some leftovers.

This dish could also be made with chestnuts from a jar — in fact, I recommend it. Cooking chestnuts yourself is kind of a pain in the ass unless you have children and/or a non-cooking spouse who you can put to work doing the peeling (they need to be peeled while still hot).

The recipe (serves 2)

1/2 lb penne
1 TBSP butter
1 medium onion, diced
1 medium apple, cut into smallish chunks
1-2 tsp dried rubbed sage (or 1-2 TBSP fresh, minced)
pinch of cloves
1/2 cup cooked chestnuts, cut or broken into smallish pieces
splash of white wine or vermouth
good glug of cream (I think I used about 1/4 c.)
salt to taste

1. Put some heavily salted water on the boil for the pasta. Meanwhile, dice or chop all the other ingredients.

2. When the water is looking like it might boil fairly soon (small bubbles), melt the butter in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat.

3. Once butter is melted, add onions, stir to coat, and cook for several minutes.

4. While onions are cooking, your water should boil. Add the pasta.

5. A few minutes after the pasta has been cooking, add the apples, sage and cloves. Cook for several minutes.

6. Add the chestnuts, cook for another minute or two.

7. Add the white wine, scrape up any browned bits if you're using a non-non-stick pan, boil until wine is almost gone. Add a bit of the pasta water and the cream to make a saucy consistency, not too thick.

8. Drain the pasta, reserving some of the pasta cooking water. Add pasta to pan with sauce and toss to coat. Add a little of reserved pasta water if sauce is too thick.

* * *

Meanwhile, the kids (since they wouldn't come anywhere near anything with sage and onions) were assigned to make their own leftover plates. The younger one found some leftover plain penne in the fridge, and somewhat over-microwaved it, creating an edible fused pasta hanging sculpture:

Sunday, November 16, 2008

My political compass

I was perusing PunkAssBlog, and came across the political compass test. Here are my results:

To be honest, I scored a little more libertarian than I expected to.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Studs Terkel and the old, old left

Studs Terkel died last night. Here's an obituary. A master of "the rich art of taking the vernacular, and making it eternal."

I (sort of) met Studs Terkel once. He was speaking at a university where I worked, and where my co-workers and I were trying to organize a union. During the question and answer period, in a shameless ploy to advertise our efforts at this (hopefully sympathetic) gathering, I essentially asked him what he thought about this. He didn't hear very well, he didn't catch any of the particulars, but he waved his arms about a bit and lectured the crowd on the great benefits of the labor movement, and made a great show of signing the authorization card I handed him and putting on one of our buttons.

* * *

My high school friend P was from England — he moved to the heart of the "red states" in junior high. The Labor Party was still marginally socialist in those days before the famous TONY BLAIR, MP = I'M TORY PLAN B anagram. The guy probably never read a word of Marx in his life, but he came with this basic, English working-class understanding — predating even the "old left" of the Communist Party and the Russian revolution — that capitalism benefits the rich, socialism benefits the workers.

Friday, October 31, 2008

For Halloween: Pumpkin gnocchi with ginger cream sauce and shiitake mushrooms

Kind of a last-minute improvisation.

For the gnocchi:

1 c. cooked, pureed pumpkin
1 c. flour, plus more as needed
1 egg
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp nutmeg

Mix all ingredients together in a bowl until mixed evenly into a dough. It won't ever become smooth enough to knead, just mix until it comes together into a ball.

Dust the counter liberally with flour, divide the dough into pieces and roll/shape each piece into a 1/2" thick rope (I kept the dough fairly wet, which made it difficult to roll but fairly easy to shape).

Using dough scraper or knife, cut each rope into 1" chunks, turn each chunk a half turn (they will have been flattened by the cutting), and slightly flatten (in the other direction) with tines of a fork. Put all on a baking sheet, and place in freezer.

(I was only making dinner for three tonight, so I only ended up using a little over half of the gnocchi, and saving the rest in a bag once frozen)

For the ginger cream sauce with shiitake mushrooms

1 TBSP butter
1-2" piece of fresh ginger, peeled and minced
6-8 dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked in boiling water for 30 minutes then drained and chopped
good pour of cream (maybe 1/4 cup?)

Once the gnocchi are in the freezer, soak the shiitake in boiling water for 30 minutes (you can also probably use fresh shiitakes, they'll just take a little more time in the fry-pan). Drain, pouring the soaking water through a coffee filter and reserving for another use. Mince up the ginger.

Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to boil.

When water is approaching boiling, heat butter in large fry-pan over medium-low heat. Once butter is melted, add ginger and stir to coat.

Once water is boiling, add gnocchi (from freezer) to boiling water.

Add mushrooms to fry-pan, cook for a few minutes over medium-low heat.

Add cream to fry-pan and heat until bubbly. If sauce gets too thick, add spoonfuls of pasta-cooking water.

As gnocchi begin to float to the top of the pot, remove with slotted spoon and place directly in cream sauce and toss to coat. Continue until all gnocchi have come to top of water. If sauce in fry-pan is too thick, thin with a little pasta-cooking water.

Salt to taste.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Fruits of autumn

This weekend, our neighbors gave us a big bag of pears from their tree, in various states of ripeness, so I spent a portion of Sunday afternoon coring and peeling the most almost-ripe of them to make pear-apple-sauce:

6 small-to-mediumish pears
4 small apples (I used granny smith)
1/2 cup sugar
1 cinnamon stick
2 cloves

Peel and core the fruits, chop into smallish pieces. Combine with other ingredients in a heavy-bottomed saucepan, cook, covered, over medium-low heat for 10-15 minutes, then mash with a potato masher. If overly watery, turn up the heat a bit and cook uncovered until reduced to applesauce-ish consistency. Remove cinnamon stick and cloves.

* * *

I was in a crepe-y mood on Sunday, I guess — I made regular, sweet crepes for breakfast and then savory buckwheat crepes for dinner (using the recipes in my prized 1997 edition Joy of Cooking). For the kids, I made "crepesadillas" — crepes folded in half and filled with cheddar cheese, baked in a griddle until the cheese melted.

Also over the weekend, I decided to go through the freezer and pull out everything I'd frozen from the, ahem, 2007 growing season (some vegetable soups, frozen pumpkin puree, etc.). I also found a couple of chicken livers, tossed in the freezer when I'd roasted a whole chicken but not had time or inclination to cook the livers. Not enough to justify making paté — so to fill the crepes (for the adults) I kind of deconstructed my paté recipe:

Chicken Liver and Apple Filling for Buckwheat Crepes

1 apple
2-3 chicken livers
several fresh sage leaves
butter (about 2 TBSP)
flour, salt and pepper for dredging
splash of brandy
cream (I think I used about 1/4 cup)

Chop chicken livers into smallish pieces and dredge in combination of flour, salt and pepper.

Heat about 1 TBSP butter in small sauté pan and cook apples until soft. Remove to a bowl.

Add a little more butter to the pan, then sauté chicken livers and sage leaves (choppped) for 1-2 minutes, until browned on all sides.

Deglaze pan with a little brandy, then add cream. Cook for 30-60 seconds, remove livers to bowl with apples, and reduce cream to sauce-like consistency (another 1-2 minutes)

Add a little of the sauce to the apples and livers, toss well, and fill 4 crepes with the mixture. Drizzle remaining sauce over crepes.

* * *

For desert, I reheated about half of the pear-apple-sauce in a small saucepan with a splash of vanilla extract and a generous chunk of butter; when warm and the butter melted, I served plain to the kids and with a dollop of whole-milk yogurt and garnished with 1 raspberry apiece (the last from our garden this season) for the adults.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Buildings and people

I'm not actually surprised that this Bill Ayers stuff is getting play, but, I mean, come on. The guy is a professor of education for cryin' out loud. Sure, he blew up a few statues and stuff in the 60s*, but at least he wasn't dropping napalm on children...

*(the Weather Underground explicitly avoided any bombings that might hurt people, though being bumbling confused middle-class kids they managed to kill a few of themselves by accident)

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Always pleasant when someone does something competent

I have infinite faith in the ability of the Democratic Party to lose, and am highly skeptical about many things about Obama (including the competency — let alone vision — of his campaign), so it's nice to see that they've actually put together a nice documentary piece about McCain's involvement in the Savings & Loan debacle of the 80's. You can see it here on Shirin and Sameer's blog, or you could probably find it on the Obama website if you're willing to brave that level of electioneering.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

The grassroots left on the crisis

"Now is the time to develop a promote a vision of an economic system that does not exploit and does not lead to these global crises. This is what our communities deserve."

The truly amazing thing

Last night I dreamt that I was travelling with a friend and we were staying with a rich, older woman in my home town. She owned an imposing, three-story Victorian home that looked out over the park with the old locomotive in it, a park in between the only two one-way streets in town which often in my dreamscapes turns into a grand mall. She believed approvingly that my home town was "socialist" — a belief that only rich liberals could persist in.

I was woken up in the middle of the night and looked out the third-story window to see my friend getting into the car and I thought maybe driving off, but really just bringing in some forgotten items. I got up and helped out and with my trained parent's eye for small things left behind helped make sure it all got safely into the house.

* * *

In real life I woke up after that dream and had a bit of insomnia and thought about the connection between authenticity and colonialism, the powerful searching for "authentic" experiences in the lives of the less powerful.

* * *

The truly amazing thing about us is that we can heal. I suppose we wouldn't have gotten through evolution without the ability to make new skin cells and other cells and other repairs, but still. Every scar is an act of creativity.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Word of the day: expropriation

We don't watch much television, and even less so commercial television with the kids, but the last two weekends we've started watching the new Doctor Who on CBC and of course we watched the Simpsons season premiere last night. So the kids have periodically caught "coming up on the news at 10" references to the BAILOUT. (which are pretty amusing in their Canadian flavor — "Tonight, on The National, the world's biggest promoter of free markets proposes the largest government bail-out in history")

Poor kids — they've already suffered through hearing "you kids are going to paying for this stupid war, so you'd best help us stop it" probably more times than is good for developing minds; now they get near-daily lectures about how they have to learn about expropriation if they're ever going to enjoy a decent standard of living.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Low-quality copies of high-quality music

Kids, before there was napster and illegal mp3 downloads, there was the cassette tape. This weekend, we finally installed the ultimate in home decoration, a hang-on-your-wall cassette display rack, recently acquired at a neighborhood "free sale" and apparently home-made. This prompted us to finally, after 11 years of living together, go through our 400+ cassette tapes (which for most of the last 11 years have lived in boxes in the basement). And lo and behold, we discovered numerous duplicate, and in a few cases, triplicate, copies of various albums.

Well, internet people, our dupes are your gain. These albums, having been selected for at least dubbing, if not purchase of a factory-made tape, by both of us, are clearly of the highest musical quality. If you're interested in any of these copies, give us a call or email if you know us, or if you don't, leave a comment below. If you're not in Burlington, we'll ship stuff gratis to friends; people we don't know, we'll probably want you to cover the shipping costs through paypal.

Factory Made Tapes
Red Hot Chili Peppers: The Uplift Mofo Party Plan
Red Hot Chili Peppers: Mother's Milk
Edie Brickell and New Bohemians: Shooting Rubberbands at the Stars
REM: Automatic for the People
U2: Achtung Baby
Lone Justice: Shelter
Adrian Belew: Mr. Music Head
Paul Simon: Graceland
Sting: Nothing Like the Sun
10,000 Maniacs: In My Tribe
Pixies: Come on Pilgrim
Cowboy Junkies: The Trinity Sessions
Pink Floyd: The Wall
Talking Heads: Naked
Cowboy Junkies: Whites Off Earth Now
They Might Be Giants: Flood
REM: Life's Rich Pageant
B-52's: Cosmic Thing
Bruce Springsteen: The Ghost of Tom Joad

Home Made Tapes
Kate Jacobs: The Calm Comes After/Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers Greatest Hits
Jefferson Airplane: After Bathing at Baxters/Fairport Convention: Leige and Lief
Leonard Cohen: I'm Your Man/U2: Zooropa
Brahms: 21 Ungarische Tanze/Dvorak: Symphony No. 9 New World
Cassandra Wilson: Blue Light Til Dawn
Gabriel Faure: Requiem/Rimsky-Korsakov: Scheherazade
Dire Straits: Making Movies/Billy Bragg: Workers' Playtime
24-7 Spyz: Harder Than You
Lou Reed: New York plus some greatest hits
Mortal Micronotz tribute/Replacements: Tim
Lyle Lovett: Joshua Judges Ruth
Laurie Anderson: Bright Red
Son Volt: Trace/Uncle Tupelo: March 16-20, 1992
Red Hot Chili Peppers: Blood Sugar Sex Magic
Weird Nightmare: Meditations on Mingus plus Kronos Quartet
Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan: The Day, The Night, The Dawn, The Dusk
Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan: Devotional and Love Songs and Party
Kim Forehand: Going Home/Kate Jacobs: (What About Regret)
Lucious Jackson: Natural Ingredients/Poster Children: Just Like You/Bottle Rockets: The Brooklyn Side
Blue Mountain: Dog Days/Bottlerockets: The Brooklyn Side
Spearhead: Home b/w selections from Stolen Moments: Red, Hot and Cool
10,000 Maniacs: In My Tribe b/w selections from Hope Chest and The Wishing Chair
Billy Bragg: Don't Try This at Home/George Clinton: Hey Man ... Smell My Finger
Talking Heads: Stop Making Sense
The Hooters: Nervous Night/Talking Heads: Little Creatures
Volcano Lover read by Susan Sontag
Uncle Tupelo: March 16-20, 1992, Anodyne
Bob Dylan: Blood on the Tracks and Greatest Hits
Pink Floyd: The Wall
Paul Simon: Rhythm of the Saints b/w a Lady Smith Black Mambazo album
Luka Bloom: Riverside, the Acoustic Motorbike
Townes Van Zandt: Rain on a Conga Drum
Bruce Springsteen: The Ghost of Tom Joad
Peter Gabriel: "Melting Face", Security

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Secret ingredients

I made pasta with lentils for dinner tonight — cheap and nutritious, and easy to make two meals (plain pasta and plain lentils for the children, the combined dish for the parents). My basic recipe is this:

Pick over and rinse ~1 cup of lentils. Put in saucepan with a bay leaf or two and cold water to cover by 1-2 inches. Bring to a boil, then simmer 20-30 minutes, until tender.

  • If you've got a few slices of bacon on hand, chop fairly small and brown slowly in a fry-pan. Once nicely crisp, scoop the bacon out with a slotted spoon, and pour off all but 1-2 TBSP of fat. If you don't have bacon, heat 1-2 TBSP of olive oil in a fry-pan.
  • Add 1 medium onion, 1 medium carrot, and 1 stalk celery, all chopped fairly small. Cook over medium heat until well-browned.
  • Add 1-2 TBSP chopped fresh rosemary and 1-2 cloves garlic, minced, cook for 20-30 seconds, then deglaze the pan with a slosh of white wine.
  • If you have a little (homemade or low-sodium) chicken or beef stock on hand, add now and reduce while waiting for everything else to be done. Otherwise turn off the heat and wait to reheat until pasta and lentils are done.

I usually make this with whole wheat spaghetti, though broader pasta (like farfalle) is more traditional. Cook in well-salted water, and reserve 1/2 cup of the cooking water just before draining the pasta.

Finish by adding a cup or two of the cooked lentils (removing the bay leaf) and the pasta to the sauce. Add enough of the reserved pasta-cooking water to make a nice, moist sauce and heat through 1-2 minutes. Serve with parmesan or pecorino if desired.

I didn't have either bacon or stock on hand tonight, but as I was rummaging around the refrigerator looking for a veggie I noticed something I had saved from a night or two ago — the water I had soaked dried shiitake mushrooms in. I chucked it into the sauce at step four, and also added a bit of soy sauce, and ended up with one of the meatiest-tasting vegan meals I've made in awhile.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Gingerbread economy

Sad as it is, the price of maple syrup has become so high, even in Vermont, that we no longer feel like we can eat it on our pancakes and waffles every morning. Lately we've even begun to rely on the old southern/midwestern standby, homemade brown sugar syrup. As a New Englander of many generations, I find this a bit depressing.

Here was an attempt to come up with a pancake recipe that actually goes fairly well with the thin, caramelly non-maple-tasting brown sugar syrup:

Gingerbread Pancakes

1 c white flour
1/2 c whole wheat flour
3 TBSP sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves

1 TBSP cider vinegar
1 1/2 c (less 1 TBSP) milk
1/2 tsp vanilla

3 TBSP butter
3 eggs

1. Combine all the dry ingredients.
2. Combine cider vinegar and enough milk to make 1 1/2 cups (or, if you like, use 1 1/2 c buttermilk and omit the vinegar), then add 1/2 tsp vanilla
3. Melt butter, add milk and then eggs, one at a time, combining well
4. Add butter-milk-eggs mixture to dry ingredients
5. Ladle by 1/4 cups onto hot griddle

Steps 1 and 2 can be done the night before (leave milk in fridge overnight), making pancakes on school mornings much easier.

Makes about 16

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


The performing arts theatre where I work (as a low-wage box office peon) is calling part of its season this year "Giving Voice" — theatre pieces about food insecurity, class and culture in New England, and post-Katrina America.

But I can't stand the phrase "giving voice." In my experience, the problem isn't that (powerless) people don't have a voice, it's that no one listens to them. Nothing against the artists — they seem like good and interesting pieces, I may even try to go see some of the shows — but "giving voice" seems to me to be a marketing tool to get the theatre audience (which will be overwhelmingly white and middle-class) to buy tickets to these performances so they can feel good about themselves for having participated in "giving voice" to working-class folks, for having participated in an "initiative for diversity" (one of the institutional sponsors of one of the shows).

When, of course, the most useful thing white middle-class people can do is to shut up and get some humility and find ways to listen directly to voices from the grassroots.

* * *

I loved music as a youngster, learned the guitar and piano starting in junior high, wrote songs, played in bands, picked up other instruments, spent endless hours making home recordings on a 4-track tape recorder. But I never could sing; I'd always have to find singers and teach them the songs I wrote (which often had interesting lyrics, chord changes and rhythms, but were kinda weak on melody).

In my early 20s I finally taught myself to sing a little — I figured out I could pick out (simple) vocal melodies on the guitar or piano, then play the melodies back and sing along and slowly learn how to match the pitch with my voice. I started playing solo acoustic shows, with a repertoire of songs whose vocal melodies didn't go below C or above G. In general only close friends, and a few people who really liked the songs, were willing to endure my more or less on-key but not particularly musical singing.

Over the years I expanded my range a bit, even found a few singers with whom I could successfully harmonize, but it wasn't until I had kids and had to sing lullabyes a capella (and, incidentally, no longer had time to play the guitar) that I finally learned to sing consistently on-key. Instead of using my ears to match the pitch of my voice to the pitches of instruments I heard around me, I learned to find the pitch in the vibration of my own body.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Red tomatoes, white privilege

Tomatoes with Bulghur and Lentils, Squashes and Gourds in Background

For lunch today: a fresh garden tomato, stuffed with lentils and bulghur. With a centerpiece of various squashes and gourds grown in our garden.

one large tomato, fresh from the garden
some cooked lentils (boil for 20-25 minutes in water with a bay leaf or two)
some cooked bulghur (bring 1 1/2 c water to boil, add 1 c bulghur, reduce heat to lowest possible setting, cover and cook for 15 minutes)
an onion, sliced fairly thinly and then fried over fairly high heat in olive oil until nice, brown and crispy

Scoop out center of tomato to make a shell. Mix together tomato innards (chopped or smashed small), lentils, bulghur, onions, with salt and pepper to taste and a little extra-virgin olive oil. Stuff tomato with this mixture.

Then, after enjoying a good lunch, a good and important read: Understanding McCain-Palin: It's About White Privilege (written by Tim Wise, cross-posted by my friend Sameer).

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

What I learned in college

One of my forays into the world of higher education was at a small liberal-arts college located in a small town in the Midwest. I was there for two years.

The town had a little under ten thousand residents (I never knew whether this number including the 1200 students or not), was even more overwhelmingly white than the college (which was, um, pretty white), and was noticably divided by Sixth Street, which ran just along the south edge of campus and along the north edge of downtown. North of Sixth Street was the college campus, surrounded by leafy neighborhoods filled with the spacious victorian houses that most of the professors lived in. South of Sixth Street were smaller houses, a trailer park, the county fairgrounds, feed stores and Wal-Mart, and the five or so factories that provided what employment was to be had there in the 90s.

At one point while there, I was part of a multiracial group of students who decided to facilitate a workshop/exercise on racism and discrimination called Archie Bunker's Neighborhood. You can find a more in-depth description of the exercise here, but the basic gist is dividing the participants up into different "communities," each of which has to navigate a system of bureaucracy and law enforcement in order to build their community, and — as with real life bureaucracy and law enforcement — the facilitators playing the sherriff, mayor, permitting office etc. treat the white group more favorably and leniently. Then everyone breaks into small groups, blah blah blah.

In addition to doing this on campus, we also did it at the town's high school. I don't remember whether I got to be the sherriff, etc., but I did have to facilitate a small group discussion — not something I had a lot of practice with when I was twenty.

The small-group discussion with my small group of all-white high school students went about as one would expect — the liberal, middle-class children of the college professors and other professionals in town knew the right lines to say, summed up appropriate moral outrage, while the working-class kids kind of stumbled over themselves, kept their mouths shut, or said mildly inappropriate things ... until the subject of Rodney King and the LA riots — which had just happened a year or two previously — came up.

All of a sudden the entire group changed. The middle-class students' moral outrage was directed at the rioters (why couldn't they just be nice non-violent Negroes like Martin Luther King?) and the working-class students began telling stories of being followed and harassed by cops whenever they went north of Sixth Street, or just for being out in a group together. "I guess I kind of felt like I knew why those people rioted in LA."

* * *

One of my best friends at this college was T, from a lower-middle-class family in rural Wisconsin. She, like me, felt a little out of place there — the vast majority of students were from the suburbs of Chicago and other large Midwestern cities. One summer she stayed in town and supported herself by lying about not being a college student and getting a job at one of the factories in town, sewing sportswear in a poorly-ventilated metal box on the south side. She was an avid gardener — I still have photos from that summer of us balancing produce on our heads for laughs.

One day in the spring she was walking with another friend — J, a counterculturalist from the suburban tracts of Ohio — by the feed store. They had extensive and well-groomed flower beds out front. T noticed one extremely tall flower in a bed where the owners were clearly aiming for a uniform height. Almost absent-mindedly, from the know-it-in-your-bones-and-muscles that comes from true craft, T reached out and pruned the errant flower.

J — against all conformism and hierarchy — was appalled.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Creamy chard-stem soup

I've decided to return to posting recipes on this blog, since maintaining two blogs seems a bit too much work for me, and I'm getting too old for MySpace.

Chard has become one of my favorite vegetables this summer, mostly because one of my favorite Joy of Cooking recipes, the chard tart, has become a favorite of the kids' as well. But this recipe, like so many chard recipes, calls for removing the stems, which seems a bit of a waste. What to do with the stems alone? I've chucked them into stir-fries and curries, but — at least for the red-hued chard — they sometimes bring a neon-pinkish color which is not always appetizing. In Spain, the stems are breaded and deep-fried as tapas, but deep-fat-frying is not something one should be doing that regularly.

I instead started making a creamy soup with them, which has worked out well — the kids even love it. It can be served hot or cold, and like almost all pureed soups, loves homemade croutons. I've never measured the amounts, just pretty much used what I've had of each, and eyeballed the milk/cream at the end:

1. Melt some butter in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Add chopped onions and cook slowly and gently until translucent. The smell of onions cooking slowly in butter is one of the great kitchen smells of all time. If you're really ambitious (and want an even better smell), substitute a leek for the onion.

2. Add a good chunk of chard stems, chopped. Last night I used the stems from 1 1/2 lbs. of chard. Stir and cook for a few minutes.

3. Add some starchy (yellow or white) potatoes, chopped into 1/2" cubes, and water to cover. Last night I used 3 egg-sized potatoes, skin and all. Bring to a boil, then simmer, covered, until potatoes can be broken up with a wooden spoon, 20 minutes or so. It would probably be a nice touch to add some fresh basil to the soup right at this point, but I've never done it.

4. The best Christmas gift ever — I got one from my mother-in-law a year or two back — is the handheld stick blender that you can stick into a pot to blend up hot liquids (which otherwise have a tendency to misbehave and splatter all over the kitchen in standing blenders). If you've gotten to this point in cooking and don't have one and have $60 to spare, turn off the stove, go out and buy one, come home, and whiz up the soup into a nice puree. If that's not an option, let the soup cool, blend it in a blender, then reheat and proceed with the recipe.

5. Add enough cream or half-and-half to lighten the soup a few shades. If it's too thick for your liking, thin the soup with milk. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Camp Dad and Google Reader

Well, I lied about posting more. But I did discover that Google Reader has a cool function where you can share stuff you've read recently on the web (see the right-hand column).

In other news, the school year ended yesterday in Burlington, and today I finished my last meeting on the coordinating committee of Grassoots Global Justice, so this summer will be "camp dad," hanging out with the kids. All the movement work has been a little overwhelming in the last few years, and the kids are growing up, and I figure this may be one of the last summers I get to really hang out with them before they get too cool and teenagerish to hang with their folks.

And maybe — just maybe — I'll be posting more frequently on this blog.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Resolutions and high-profile friends

I kinda sorta made a new year's resolution to "blog more." I'm not sure why, exactly, but it may lead to more writing on here, has already inspired a new design, and will probably mean a new direction and some attempt to attract readers.

If you just stumbled upon this, the best writing is not really what's below (which is, of course, hardly writing), but rather the writing from 2005.

Meanwhile, looks like my old Iowa friend Jamie Schweser is going to be in the New York Times Style section this Sunday. Check out his website.