Presenting the: It’s HOT – It’s Africa HOT – Tarzan couldn’t stand this kind of heat – Edition of the Lazy Cook

When you don’t have Air Conditioning and it’s this freakin’ hot, the last thing you want to do is cook. Well, the last thing you want to do is move. But even in the Lazy Cook’s household, food prep can sometimes include movement.

And while we eat a lot of cold salads and watermelon in hotter weather, those foods don’t tend to “last” in the tummy. It’s the cooler version of Chinese food: 20 minutes later and you are hungry again. So, how do we resolve that problem? The Lazy Way of course.

Here is a picture tutorial for a cooked vegetarian curry that doesn’t require heating up the house with… heat.

The dish: a nice Corning Ware casserole with lid. The lid is a necessary part of the endeavor, so keep that in mind when following this recipe.

To fill this casserole you will need the following:

About 2 cups of Vegetable Broth, or about 1/2 of this container (Chicken stock is good if you aren’t going vegetarian on this one). Wolfgang Puck brand isn’t necessary, I’m just showing off that I got this at Big Lots for $1.50

1 cup of coconut milk or about 1/2 the can:

3 or 4 tender summer squash from the garden, cubed.

Sweet pepper, chopped. This is probably about 1/2 a cup.

A medium onion chopped. (Hello Kitty bowl is not required) And since I had some curried okra canned up from last year, I thought “Why not?”.

Red Curry Paste. I get mine at the Asian Market for about .60 cents a can.

You’ll use a tablespoon, more or less, depending on how hot you like it. Add it to the broth and coconut milk in the casserole. Mix well. This will keep you from getting lumps of paste in your curry. ‘Cause stirring it while its cooking  is too…  hot.

You can add salt at any time to your taste. But at least 1/2 teaspoon. You can add in the chopped vegetables at this point, along with cubed extra firm tofu and cubed carrots. Try cutting them into smaller bits than shown here.

Once you’ve got it all in there, it should resemble this:


Pepper is optional, I just added it as an afterthought. Now for the lid.


Let’s look at the time. Okay 11:30 ish… so we’ll get this in well before noon.

Now into the cooker.

And to set the temperature, we simply go over…

and make it so.

Serve with brown rice, white rice or millet, along with a tomato, cucumber and onion salad. Enjoy.

Spring at Island Ford Art 2011

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1st collector for Spring at Island Ford Art 2011
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How to Conserve Water (Without Really Trying)

On a Wednesday morning garden walk-about, I discovered that one of the swales behind the house was filled with water. Now had it rained, this would not be surprising. That’s what the swales are for; to keep the downside of our hill from becoming a rutted mess. With the co-benefit of watering our garden beds.

But there had been no rain.

The culprit was the water line from the well to the house. It had ruptured. Probably from the combination of basement building, power-line trenching and earthmoving equipment when we installed our solar panel array.

I’d like to blame the earth movers; they put a few dozen bees in my bonnet while they were here. But I strive to be both fair and skeptical (a classical skeptic, not the modern fundamentalist sort). So I’m forced to admit that I can’t definitively know what caused the problem.

A ruptured line next to the house would also explain the persistently damp wall in the basement. We were planning to regrade the front yard to try and shunt more water away from the house. Because the folks who built it – let’s sum up their siting skills in a word: sub-par. The house is oriented so that any water falling off the front side of the roof immediately rolls back toward the footing.

Luckily, it seems we will be able to fix a couple of problems with one solution. Even though it means we will have to get a trencher out here. And locater services.

As it happens, our next door neighbor is a trencher/well and water guy. And he is often in need of carpentry work. So there may be some opportunity for barter there. But, if you know anything about dealing with bureaucracies, especially of the power company sort, then you know we may be waiting a few days to get the water back up and running.

So what do we do until then?

Let me begin by explaining the artist’s creed.  We aren’t taught this creed in a  formal fashion; instead we acquire it through experience. It goes something like this:

We have done so much, with so little, for so long; we are now qualified to do anything with nothing.

As a rule artists, and other “creative” types, are the red-headed step-children of funding and budgetary concerns. We are given the leftovers, the scraps with the understanding that “because we are creative”, we will be able to make-do. And after eons of this archetypal narrative playing out like a recurring nightmare, we have become so entrenched in this expectation that making-do comes as easily as a child’s first breath.

The problem was a fairly simple one. We had plenty of water. The question was how to get it to the house.

The Mister Getting a Spot of Water 02/09

Initially I was taking water from our rainwater storage tanks. Two 325 gallon tanks that sit on the back corners of the house. You see, I’m a catastrophic thinker. And lately, as you might imagine, that tendency has served me in good stead.

In North Carolina, we’ve suffered a series of droughts over the past decade or so. According to this report from the Center for Health and Global Environment (pdf) it seems that drown or drought will be the “norm” for the foreseeable future. So I decided to implement some measures to deal with potential water issues . Burms and swales for the gardens and water tanks for rainwater storage.

The water from the tanks is fine for the garden, for watering the dogs, flushing the toilets and in a pinch you can boil it to wash dishes. But, without filtration and some sterilization, I wouldn’t want to use it for drinking or cooking.

Given that, we decided to “run a line” from the well to the house.

This is a much simpler solution than humping water up the hill from the back of the house.  The well water is potable and with a noticeable lack of bugs, leaves and other mystery items floating around in it.

This morning I hooked a hose up to the well, switched it on and ran it over to the front door. 

While this has all the convenience of City Living whilst keeping the native Country Charm, it could be more convenient still.

Running it through an opening in the storm door seemed like it would move the line into an optimum position near the laundry, the kitchen and the first floor bathroom.

Once inside, it was simple to get all the laundry out of the way. The only issue was being aware of the rinse cycle starting so I could add more water.

While the clothes were washing, I started heating pots of water for the dishes, filling water jugs for later use and as a side benefit I was able to get enough water on the hall way and kitchen floors that they both got a rather thorough cleaning.

I can see why women used to be relegated to the kitchen before the advent of boilers and hot water storage. Heating the water on our propane stove took up a good amount of time. I can imagine the extra time spent lighting and stoking wood fires to get the water up to temperature.

Taking advantage of the hot water available, I managed a quick “whore’s bath” as we say in the South. (Apologies to all you whores who bathe thoroughly on a regular basis) Of course, if I was worried about “freshness”  Summer’s Eve could do all that and seemingly get me a raise to boot.

Even before this incident, we had already acclimated ourselves to recycling as much of our “greywater” as we feasibly can. We can’t legally use the water from the washing machine or from the dishes for much of anything. Not yet anyway.  Luckily those laws are changing as lawmakers come to the realization that if oil scarcity has caused the problems we face today, they are nothing compared to the coming nightmare of water scarcity.

So we don’t flush the toilets every time if there is only urine. However, without chlorination, you can’t let the bacteria breed in the toilet bowl for too long before the odor begins to “waft”.  And after I’ve taken a bath, we use that water for the next several flushes; keeping a small bucket handy in the bathroom for just that purpose.

This incident is precisely why I have been pushing the Mister to look into a solar well pump. Either that or a high end hand pump. We were lucky this time. It was only a broken water line. The next incident could be more problematic.

As for heating the water; if the need arises, I can easily construct a solar water heater. That’s a weekend project made from handy scrap material (well, handy for artists, anyway). But if the electricity goes down for an extended period and we use up the stores in the rainwater tanks, that means walking down to the creek or down to the lake.

Down the hill doesn’t bother me. It’s the idea of hauling enough water up the hill that makes me shudder.

Three days of dishes were finally done. And since the Mister is the usual washer of dishes, they weren’t stacked with quite the same neatness he seems to be able to achieve. In my view, if it doesn’t move, that’s good enough. This inevitably leads to a pile of of random shapes sporting the appearance of  bad post-modern sculpture.

As for fretting over the potential lack of a functioning well. Well, here’s the thing: for the past few years a number of government agencies, including the National Research Council in 2009 have warned of the potential for a catastrophic failure of the electrical grid. The general consensus is this could occur either through cyber-attacks or from solar storms.

This past July a “Space Weather Conference” was held in Washington DC. It was attended by NASA scientists, policy-makers, researchers and government officials. One of the speakers, Dr Richard Fisher, the director of NASA’s Heliophysics Division explained that every 22 years the Sun’s magnetic energy cycle peaks while the number of sun spots (and solar flares)  hits it’s peak every 11 years.

He said these two events are due to overlap in 2013 and will produce huge levels of radiation. He also suggested that, although it was unlikely, much of the world could spend several months without any electrical power.

I guess he struck a nerve somewhere, because NASA immediately began to soft pedal Dr. Fisher’s statements suggesting that it could occur within 10 years or 100.

And that’s fine. Except for Katrina. Except for the fact that our National Guard is no longer available to do the job it was created for, to guard the Nation in emergencies and crisis. And except for the fact that, as a nation, we’re broke. Not only fiscally, but in terms of vital infrastructure.

I can’t know the future. But I can make guesses based on history. I can look to the consensus of nominal experts as an inroad to seeing the potential for a given event to occur.

But mostly what I can do is live by the Realist’s Motto: Always Hope for the Best (But Be Prepared for the Worst).

In this case, the worst would be no electricity for months. And other than the convenience of  a water pump, I’d have to say we’re better prepared than many. And that’s probably because we’re artists.

Our blessing and our curse.

The Pea Pickers Dilemma or (handy clickable Gen Y title) The Epic Fail of American Politicians

This morning, I spent the coolest part of the day harvesting green peas off the vine. As an activity, pea picking is incredibly repetitious.

Black-eyed Susans and Green Peas

It is neither physically nor mentally taxing enough to fully engage my interest.  And so, as often happens in these instances where my body is engaged but my mind is free to play, I began to ponder.

What I began to ponder was a charming turn of phrase used when someone expresses utter disbelief at another’s foolhardy actions. “Are you out of your pea picking mind?” I suspect this might have it’s origins as a Southern phrase, much like it’s cousin: “Are you out of your cotton picking mind?” The implication, in both instances, is that pea pickers and cotton pickers are less than, shall we say, astute.

I understand that. By way of contrast, harvesting something wild, like blackberries, requires a broad and overarching attention in order to gather small fruit on unsteady terrain, while avoiding thorns, spiders and snakes (not necessarily in that order). Compared to blackberries, picking peas is simple. You stand in a level row, you see a green pod hanging in front of you, you pick, you drop it in the bucket, you see another pod. You pick. Simple. Unthinking. Repetitive.

Pea Pickers, then, would be the domesticated cousins of the Wild Berry Pickers. Over the years, we’ve bred all the uncertainty, pain and danger from the enterprise of picking peas. As a result, picking peas requires much less mental and physical stamina, much less engagement in the process, than gathering from the wild. Therefore, simpletons are able to do it. And so, the logic suggests, that makes your average pea picker a simpleton.

There is an obvious presumptive flaw in this line of thinking. But as a metaphor for a foolish person doing mindless task, calling someone a pea picker has the potential to be a fair assessment. So hold that thought, we will revisit our pea picker in a few moments.

Let me briefly turn your attention to George F. Will, political columnist for the Washington Post. George Will falls, rather definitively, to the conservative side of the political spectrum. And while I admire him for his occasional ability to admit his most grievous mistakes, George Will and I have only agreed on 2 things in the past 30 years.

The 2nd thing we agreed on was a comment he made during the Inaugural Parade commemorating George W. Bush’s 2nd term in office.

The limousine carrying the President and First Lady was traveling along the parade route with secret service and a uniformed guard detail, on foot, beside the vehicle.

As you may recall, the security for this event was unprecedented. For the first time ever, spectators had 10 foot fencing between them and the parade route. There were “free speech” areas, cordoned off to keep protestors from impinging on the happy occasion.

Mr. Will was a guest commentator on one of the broadcast television networks along with the usual broadcast news anchors. As the events unfolded, the television people nattered on, filling air time as we watched the car progress along the route. At one point, the President’s limousine inexplicably sped up to the point that the security detail had to jog along side the car to keep formation. One of the news anchors made some comment about why they might be moving more quickly when George Will said, apropos of nothing: “It looks like a Banana Republic.”

There was dead silence in the studio, then a quick cut to commercial.

The first thing George Will and I agreed on was in the early 90’s. He had written commenting on a friend of his in northern Virginia, who worked with his hands making custom pajamas for a discerning clientele.

Using his friend as an example, Mr. Will explained that he was of the opinion that those living inside the beltway were entirely disconnected from the daily realities of American life. They didn’t have real jobs. Many of them hadn’t had real jobs in decades. They didn’t make things. Therefore, they didn’t understand the complex and intricate process of seeing an idea through from beginning to end; from thread to cloth to product. Or the ramifications of failing to understand and acknowledge each part as it relates to the whole.

He suggested instead, that a life of signing and pushing around individual pieces of paper, disconnected from a knowable outcome during the day, coupled with a life of political socializing and leisure during the night had created a culture that could not comprehend the realities a majority of Americans face. Obviously, I’m paraphrasing here, but in George Will’s opinion: Making piles of paper, only to send those piles to other people to makes other piles of paper, was no way to understand the needs of your constituents.

Politicians, bureaucrats and their faithful, well-meaning wonks are doing work that is well-defined; bounded by bureaucratic process and laid out in neat rows. There is very little uneven footing. They do not stumble upon tearing thorns. And what snakes and spiders creep there are easily spotted and, unlike their wilder cousins, just as easily negotiated with.

Something happens to those fledgling politicians after they leave the nested security of the small towns that elected them. There is some fundamental shift as they are domesticated by money and power. They forget, or most likely they never knew, what life is like in the midst of briars and mud and need and want.

They also forget who picks their peas; who puts the food on their tables. In their re-negotiated world-view pea pickers, mindless drones of an agrarian age, become part of an indistinguishable mass of humanity that exists out there. They are unknown, and so become unknowable.

To those unknowns outside the security of the beltway, one vote by an ethical politician can keep a multi-national corporation from killing an ecosystem. One vote can save the source of a multi-generational local business or it can allow ruination on an unprecedented scale.

Politicians from the Gulf States who failed to vote against those corporations with no vested interest in the local communities, voted against their own constituents by default. And any politician who chooses without thinking, who mindlessly grasps the low hanging fruits in front of him rather than considering the consequences, has failed those who put him in office.

Deciding the fate of people’s lives was never intended to be easy. It was never intended as a pea picker’s job. But it has become just that; too easy and much too safe. Politicians have become too insulated from the consequences of self-interested choices. They have been allowed the self-indulgent mindlessness of simpletons. Meanwhile, the vast majority of Americans in the wilds outside the beltway, are forced to scrounge in the briars; competing with coyotes and snakes for what we can gather before the hard rains come.

(This commentary was published in the Grant City Times Tribune during the week of July 7th)

Making a little something out of mostly nothing. The $300 (+/-) Greenhouse.

Year after year, I would clear off my plant table by the south facing window. I would find new and temporary homes for the house plants, then I would set up my seedling trays.

Starting seedlings in your living space is….the opposite of convenient or fun. It is messy, prone to mishaps based on kitty curiosity and a dozen other small and inconsequential gripes. Nuisance, I think, sums it up best.

Having learned from people I admire, to seize the moment, ask for what you want and don’t hesitate to take what’s offered, I came into possession of a variety of  materials that began to look like something useful. That something useful being a small greenhouse.

I thought I would share the process. And would appreciate any feedback or questions you may have.

Awww, it’s a Green…da,da..daaa, da…Howwse! …chicka-bow-chicka-bow-wow….

Check  out the “how-to”  by clicking on this link.

Doom and Gloom: Sunspots, Volcanoes and Earthquakes. Famine, Disease and Pestilence.

Sunspots, Volcanoes and Earthquakes

The problem with being merely human is, compared to the vast scales of planetary time, we are but brief and oh, so vapid bubbles. Our capacity to glimpse and somewhat comprehend the eons that have proceeded us, for the most part, only serves to frustrate and confuse.

It is precisely because our brains, and by extension our minds, are geared with pattern recognition and pattern synthesis as built in survival mechanisms, that we valiantly strive to “make sense” of our world, our universe. Some make sense of their world by becoming artists, archeologists or doctors. Others become psychologist, biologist or astrophysicists. And some, eschewing any attempts to understand, keep it simple by “leaving it to god”.

Others leave it to god, but hedge their bets with virgin sacrifices. This, if you think about it, has more in common with the scientific contingent. Reducing action to a simple experiment: A “What happens if ?” question. Where the scientist and the priest will sometimes differ, lays in which needs a definitive outcome. And which will keep trying to prove their ideas wrong in order to obtain a repeatable result.

In times of heightened stress and uncertainty, it seems the desire to create order out of chaos becomes even more acute. If we were all roaming the savanna, keeping a wary eye out for cheetahs stalking in the tall grass, our actively engaged minds wouldn’t have time to parse out the minutia of conspiracy theories or end-time scenarios. Cheetahs are sometimes useful that way.

As a species, we have been both blessed and cursed with the ability to invent time-saving processes and devices and implement them on a massive scale. And after all those processes and devices are firmly in place, what we are left with are active minds and a lot of free time. Here is where the Brain Squirrels tend to show up.

Brain Squirrels are a side effect of attempting to solve problems and create contingencies with too little useful information. We end up running round and round in our heads, trying to make pieces from different jigsaw puzzles fit into a seamless whole; taking a piece of information here, a bit there with no regard for relevance. The end result is either a shoddy conspiracy theory or a series of valid questions we could do little about, even if we understood the problem and its answer completely. Why our weather is outside the norm. Why earthquakes happen. Why are there droughts and crop failures and starvation and so on.

Sometimes though, if you sort through enough muck, you will find something useful. Something that allows you to mark an idea off your mental checklist and ponder contingencies based on known quantities, instead of hapless conjecture.

So while I was poking around after the earthquake in Haiti, I made a few discoveries.

Some people believe there is a link between the sun and our climate. No, I’m completely serious. Stop rolling your eyes. Yes, we are all aware that the sun warms the earth. We are also aware that the lack of sun cools the earth. But this idea is more subtle and more difficult to prove directly due to the aforementioned fleeting lifespan. We simply don’t have enough long term data to make a firm case. And, as yet, the causal link has not been discovered. So bear with me here, while keeping in mind that I am not arguing a case for or against human induced climate change, but am exploring the idea of links between solar activity, volcanoes, earthquakes and climate variation on Earth.

Climate Change May Trigger Earthquakes and Volcanoes. New Scientist

Evidence of a link between climate and the rumblings of the crust has been around for years, but only now is it becoming clear just how sensitive rock can be to the air, ice and water above. “You don’t need huge changes to trigger responses from the crust,” says Bill McGuire of University College London (UCL), who organised the meeting. “The changes can be tiny.”

Among the various influences on the Earth’s crust, from changes in weather to fluctuations in ice cover, the oceans are emerging as a particularly fine controller. Simon Day of the University of Oxford, McGuire and Serge Guillas, also at UCL, have shown how subtle changes in sea level may affect the seismicity of the East Pacific Rise, one of the fastest-spreading plate boundaries.

So science generally accepts that changes in the climate have effects on volcanic activity and on the tectonic plates. If tectonic plates are affected, it seems reasonable to assume that earthquake activity is also considered under that heading.

Right now, we are in a period of increased earthquake activity where quakes have a much greater total strength:

copyright D. Lindquist dlindquist.com

 

And increased volcanic activity worldwide:

copyright Michael Mandeville

From: Global Volcanism: Volcanic Activity

It is understood that volcanic eruptions spew micro-fine particles and other detritus into the atmosphere. This creates a sort of sun filter, cooling the earth by deflecting solar radiation and heat.

That would, at least in part, account for the arctic cold snap covering the Northern Latitudes.

What might account for the rest? Sunspots. Or more accurately the lack of sunspots.

Sun SpotsThe Blank Year NASA.gov

Note the inverse relationship between the charts further up the column and the one shown here.

According to them that study our friend the Sun, we are right at the bottom of what is known as a Solar Minimum. A Solar Minimum is defined as a time in the Sun’s regular cycle with little or no solar activity.

From the site:

The longest minimum on record, the Maunder Minimum of 1645-1715, lasted an incredible 70 years. Sunspots were rarely observed and the solar cycle seemed to have broken down completely. The period of quiet coincided with the Little Ice Age, a series of extraordinarily bitter winters in Earth’s northern hemisphere. Many researchers are convinced that low solar activity, acting in concert with increased volcanism and possible changes in ocean current patterns, played a role in that 17th century cooling.


NASA scientists have also noted that the more calm the Minimum, the more quickly the Sun’s systems return to an active state. In addition there are a larger number of strong disruptive events, like solar flares.

Solar Flare

I began by looking at a geology sites on the internet to find some information on earthquake strength and frequency after they Haiti quake. Based on forum postings, the question of earthquakes and sunspot activity comes up whenever there is a major quake. And instead of addressing these concerns, the regular posters flatly and adamantly denied any direct causal link between sunspots and earthquake or volcanic activity in the usual dismissive manner of the pseudo-skeptic.

Since I’m not a fan of flat denial as it has very little to do with critical thinking, I decided to look into the question for myself. After further reading I wondered if the “skeptics” on the geology boards would be willing to admit the possibility of an indirect causal link. A chain reaction, if you will.

I discovered a site with information on a rather interesting theory. On the site M.A. Vukcevic has a formula that discusses the interaction of influence on the mass of the sun from the magnetospheres of outlying larger planets.

http://www.vukcevic.co.uk/

M.A. Vukcevic formula

This chart shows the correlation between the movement of planets Jupiter/Saturn and the incidence of recorded sunspots.

A PDF further discussing his work.

If the Sun’s mass is affected by these planetary magnetospheres, wouldn’t that suggest it is possible that the Earth’s mass, the molten core which helps to drive its magnetosphere would be affected too?

In the end, what I am suggesting is not a simple cause and effect. Instead I’m suggesting like many systems with interlinking chaotic processes, it’s a complex and dynamic cause and effect.

* Reduced sunspot activity due to planetary effects can affect how much heat the Earth receives. This begins to shift weather patterns, which in turn affect the tectonic and volcanic systems of the planet.

* The magnetospheric effects working on the Solar mass are echoed in our molten planetary core resulting in increased volcanic and tectonic activity which results in further change in the planetary weather system.

NASA scientists may not agree with Mr. Vukcevic. I have no idea whether his work is valid or supported. But the scientists at NASA do agree that sunspots, earthquakes and volcanoes are linked in some fashion. At this point they are not willing to forward a hypothesis about the correlations but agree that they are mediated by changes in climate.

Whether this goes toward supporting claims on either side of the global warming vs. global cooling debate is outside my area of interest at the moment.

Famine, Disease and Pestilence

In terms of which aspects of the sunspot/volcano activity are within the purview of my interest I direct you to to:  Nine Meals from Anarchy

“This year is the 10th anniversary of the fuel protests, when supermarket bosses sat with ministers and civil servants in Whitehall warning that there were just three days of food left. We were, in effect, nine meals from anarchy. Suddenly, the apocalyptic visions of novelists and film-makers seemed less preposterous. Civilization’s veneer may be much thinner than we like to think.”

It is certain that the recent Arctic blasts which affected much of North America, has already impacted food security in the United States.

Florida, which tends to be the warmest state during the winter, generally grows tender warm-season crops like tomatoes and peppers. The freeze in Florida has crippled supplies of citrus and juices, along with tender vegetables like snap beans, squash, and peppers,

While this, in and of itself, does not constitute a food crisis, the truth is many people are not the position to afford an increase in food prices. It is more along the lines of “Another straw on the camels back”.

If there is a possible link between sun cycles and an increase in deadly earthquakes, volcanoes or weather changes then we are obligated to explore those ideas. Haitians and others across the globe who have been adversely affected by these terrible tragedies are a stark testament to how little we know and how much we need to discover about our world.

It’s the: Same as it Ever Was – Health Care Debate Contest. With Nifty Prizes!

I was browsing a Funny Times magazine yesterday and came across a cartoon on the Health Care Debate. I thought it might be fun for them that’s interested to guess the Month and Year this cartoon was published in the Funny Times.

Submit an entry in the comments section and the first entry with the correct information will win their choice of the following prizes (what’s laying around the house that I can post to you cheaply):

A packet of mixed heirloom and non-hybridized open pollinated seeds for next years garden: tomatoes, okra, squash, cantaloupe, green-beans, purple peas and green peas. Or a packet of 3 blank note cards bearing images of the flower series by artist Karen Parker. I want thank Lloyd Dangle, cartoonist and let him know that I removed the copyright date for the purposes of this contest. But acknowledge that the copyrights to this work lie with him.

Have fun and always remember: And you may find yourself living in a shotgun shack. And you may find yourself in another part of the world. And you may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile. And you may find yourself in a beautiful house, with a beautiful Wife. And you may ask yourself-well…how did I get here?

Link to Larger Image

Same as it ever was.

Same as it ever was.


Baked Eggplant Slices with Hot Sausage Marinara

Food For Thought

Food For Thought

Yes, it’s time again for a found entrée. A few days ago, the Mister’s boss gifted him with some beautiful eggplants and a couple of pecks of chestnuts. Frankly, both were a mystery to the Lazy Cook.

I’ve never cooked eggplant, but I’ve eaten it on occasion. Nothing against eggplants, they are beautiful things, but in each instance, there was never enough “something” (texture, flavor, smell, taste) for me to get too excited about seeking it out as an ingredient. Still Life objects definitely. Food…not so much.

And the most I knew about chestnuts was that, ideally, you roasted them over an open fire. Ostensibly to keep some guy named Jack from giving you facial frostbite. So I was going to have to do a little research on chestnuts and what was possible. The eggplants were merely waiting for inspiration to strike.

And yesterday, it did.

I knew you could make Eggplant Parmesan. But cheese is off the list entirely. So, it would have to be some modified version of that. Thank goodness breading has become more feasible since we figured out they sell 5 pound sacks of white sorghum flour at the Indian grocery in Winston-Salem. (Golden India: Awesome food, nice owners, great grocery. Try it if you are in WS. Then, go get a hot, fresh Krispy Kreme)

Evil Children Aside, they are GREAT!

Evil Children aside, they are GREAT!

And adding a little cornmeal to the sorghum gives it some “tooth”. For something as vanilla as eggplant, I figured a little cornmeal excitement would be a good addition.

I knew from the weekend meals I had half a pound of hot pork sausage waiting in the fridge. I also had a half a quart of Marinara Sauce from some other adventure. I figured that was good enough for a start.

Under that Big Rock next to the Tree

Under that Big Rock next to the Tree

I cut the top off one eggplant stood it bottoms up on the now flat top and sliced it into ½ inch slices, and stacked them into a pile. I told the Mister it looked like a stack of half-soles for shoes. We might be in an economic rhyme of the last Depression, but at least we’re not that desperate….yet.

The oven was warming at 350 degrees, while I dragged and sometimes pushed the surprisingly flexible slices of eggplant into the egg. Then I lay each slice flat into the flour mix and gently pressed. Pick it up, shake the pan to even out the flour and coat the other side. Put each slice onto a baking sheet or pan with about 2 tablespoons of oil coating the bottom. After arranging them sort-of-like canned sardines or in this case it would be flounder, I had just enough room in an enameled 9 x 14 inch baking pan, for 4 slices. Into the oven.

I took a 2 cup Corning baking dish (for soufflés or some other thing I’m too lazy to try. But the Mother-in-Law knows I’ll only use Corning or Cast Iron, so she is sweet enough to send along ware when she finds it on sale), plopped the ½ pound of sausage in and about 2/3 cup of Marinara on top of that. I tried mixing it with a fork as the dish was too small for the masher, but it soon became evident that this was going to require putting my hands in there to mix it. Ugh.

I’ve got fingernails. I don’t grow them on purpose. I’m just too lazy to cut them and they are tough as…well, nails. So they get long. And there are things you dread with long nails. Throwing a clay pot and mixing ground meat being the top two items on the list.

So, I rolled up my sleeves, turned to the sink and lathered up my hands with soapy, hot water. Potential fingernail grunge in my food is another no-no. After washing, I thoroughly mixed the Marinara and meat and put it in the oven with the eggplant. And then back to the sink to get the sausage from under my nails. Really, just gross.

As I was tidying up I spied the chestnuts. “Well,” I thought, “the oven is hot. And there is room for another baking pan.” So, I grabbed up about a dozen of the little fellows and set about slicing a couple of vents into each one. Some people cut them in half, some just cut in a couple of vents. Either way, they need a way for the steam from the cooking nut meat to escape or they explode. Considering I had never dealt with chestnuts before, having only one of them explode in the oven was a minor victory.

It was like a muffled rifle shot. All the critters looked up from their dinner at me and the Mister while we looked at each other wide-eyed. I was fearful of opening the oven door to check. Who wants piping hot chestnuts exploding just as you open the door? Luckily, it was just the one and the exploded meal was scattered about the oven, on the eggplant and in the meat mixture. Which gave me another idea……

After about 10 or 15 minutes, I turned the slices once, and noticed they weren’t really browning although they were cooking. I don’t know if the oven needs to be above 350 or I needed more oil, but after another 10 minutes and another flip, I went for the old back-up plan and stuck them in the broiler. It’s a propane stove, so the flame was on anyway. After a couple of minutes on each side they were a little more presentable. I pulled them out and waited just another couple of minutes for the sausage. One does NOT want to eat any undercooked pork.

As I was waiting, I warmed another 2/3rd cup of marinara. I pulled out some kalamata olives, put on some green peas and checked the millet that was in the steamer. The olives were on the list of ingredients, and really should have been pitted sooner, but hey, I never claimed to be organized either.

I pulled out the sausage, drained the fat into my pork fat jar for later use and spooned a couple of tablespoons of meat onto each eggplant slice. I spread it out so that it covered most of the slice, and spooned a little warm marinara over that. Then I pulled out the chestnuts, shelled and chopped about 6 of them, and pitted the kalamatas. I sprinkled chestnuts and kalamatas across the slices and voila, it’s pretty and it’s food.

The one thing I would do differently, although neither Roger (who was over for Monday night HLF practice) or the Mister complained, is peel the skin off the eggplant.

As for the chestnuts. Interesting flavor. And texture. It reminded me of the sweet Mung Bean filling in the Moon Cakes. They are small celebration cakes for offerings or some-such. We get them at the Hmong Market.

And now I’m wondering if you can make a chestnut soufflé? Stay tuned. We might just find out.

The Lazy Cook Makes Pasta Sauce for the Coming Year

My mother taught me to can. Not to cook mind you, well, not directly anyway. That was my sister’s thing. I was the official “guy” of the house; fixing the lawnmower, changing the oil in the cars. I didn’t start cooking until I was away from home.

But canning enough food for the coming year requires more than two people, so I helped prep vegetables, wash jars, tend the cooker and in general take orders while staying out of the way.

And over the years I watched my mother drag out her canner, can a batch of something and put it away. A few weeks later when another batch of something was ready, she would drag it out again.

When making pasta sauce this was not nearly lazy enough for me. Tomatoes are fickle. Too little rain means they wait to flower and fruit. A lot of rain often means blossom end rot and few tomatoes. Sporadic rain means batches of randomly ripe tomatoes.

So the Lazy Cook came up with a plan. We are lucky enough to have the space for an upright freezer; as many farms and rural households do. So as the tomatoes ripen, into the freezer they go. And when the season is through, you can bring them all out at once and make a weekend of it.

Freezing the tomatoes has the added benefit of making them easy to peel. Spending a lot of time up to my elbows in raw tomatoes irritates my skin. If I can dip the frozen fruit into boiling water for a few seconds, the skin slips right off and I can cut out bad spots and chunk them with relatively little mess.

Yes, it’s cold; but much less messy. Besides, there will be plenty of time to warm hands once the cooking starts.

This year, I’m trying out Amish Paste Tomatoes. They are an heirloom variety, so if they make a tasty sauce, I’ll just keep planting them as I need them in the future with no fear of Monsanto coming in and busting up the joint.

Many people add sugar to their sauce to offset a bitterness that can arise in the process of cooking away the excess liquid that regular tomatoes often have. Adding sugar is unnecessary and, frankly, an affront to the tomato. Here are some ways to avoid this, which are also conveniently lazy:

– Use sauce tomatoes which are less juicy. Roma, Amish Paste and quite a few other varieties are less watery.

– Use a sweet onion in your sauce. I use Vidalia onions; and a lot of them. It’s almost impossible to get your sauce too “onion-y” with these. Sometimes, if I want a different flavor, I’ll sautee the chopped onions to the point of crisping the edges. Sometimes I just dump them in raw. Add a few grated carrots too.

– Roast your sauce. Yes, Roast Your Sauce. Best lazy move I ever made.

You’ll need enamel pans or Corning ware. I end up stacking pans on dishes on pots in my oven. The very occasional stirring becomes more complicated, but on the whole it’s much easier. I have yet to burn a batch of oven-roasted sauce, unlike some of my early stovetop batches.

Turn your oven onto its lowest setting. I use propane and have a newer stove, so the lowest oven temp I have to work with is 170 degrees. My last stove’s lowest setting was 120 degrees. I miss that oven. Because, in this case, the slower you can cook the sauce, the better it will taste. So it might take all day, but you won’t have to stand over a hot stove. Unless you want to stick around because your hands are still cold from dealing with frozen tomatoes.

The sauce ends up with this amazing sun-dried flavor. Not a hint of bitterness even though I don’t remove the seeds. (Lazy)

Roast a batch, adding your spices in somewhere along the line. I tend to wait until it is almost “done”. My logic is: some spices don’t like extended cooking. Because I’m going to have it boiling in a canner for another 30 minutes with an additional hour to cool off, the flavor will have plenty of time to release. This allows me to make individualized batches. I just have to remember label them properly after the jars are cooled.

Put the roasted sauce in a suitable (non-metal) container and stick it in the fridge. Repeat until all tomatoes are processed. Then you can re-warm the sauce to a suitable temperature for the canning process.

If you decide to freeze it, reconsider when to add the spices. I make no promised here, as I’ve never tried freezing sauce.

Have fun.

The Last Summer Tomato

Today, we ate the last,
the very last
summer tomato.

We stripped tall vines
down, first of September
before a first hint of frost.
Before sky-bound leaves
spark flames, red and gold.

Fall breeze thrilling
bent and sun-warmed bodies
lifts a pungent smell
of crushed vines
from weary, dark-stained hands.

In the end there was
a small, sad, rubbled pile.
Pocked and warped; worried by wasps.
Running hard green
to a nearly ripe orange.

We sat them precious in a window.
We watched them as they ripened.
We ate them over days; until
we reached the last.
The very last summer tomato.

We considered fanfare,
or quiet ritual to mark
the season’s passing.
It seemed, somehow,
in bad taste.

So we prepared our simple meal
as if nothing were amiss.

And we sat and ate and talked.
Each secretly noting the other
saving on their plate
one small, cherished piece
of a final and irrevocable moment.

copyright 09/01

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