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.

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Ode to the Vernal Equinox

Spring Arrived
on March 20th
at 7 p.m.
in the windbreak
of the Big Value Supermarket.
Downtown, on Main Street.

Crowded into the tiny break
on the cold concrete floor
packed tight around soda machines
and gumball vendors,
were row upon row
of full-bloomed pansies
in flimsy plant trays.
Spring pre-packaged
in disposable, black plastic.

Outside,
fat, wet snow
piled on cars and roads
and numb post-work
shoppers.
It was twilight.
Roads were treacherous.
No one was in the mood
for flowers.

The blooms swayed
gently,
as electric doors
gusted winter with the passing
of each snow-flecked customer
and sat
each looking,
for all the world,
like a young girl stood up
on the evening
of her very first date.

(March 1997)

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)

The coming Water Crisis has been quietly discussed for several decades.

This just released study ( report in PDF form) from McKinsey & Co. was undertaken for international corporations known as The 2030 Water Resources Group. It consists of:  The Barilla Group, The Coca-Cola Company, The International Finance Corporation, McKinsey & Company, Nestlé S.A., New Holland Agriculture, SABMiller, Standard Chartered Bank, and Syngenta AG.

The conclusions the study draws are not surprising to those who have even a passing interest in the subject. Global demand for water has long since exceeded supply. The report shows that over a billion people don’t have access to clean water; most of them in impoverished countries.

What is shocking is the accelerating rate at which we are consuming the water we have left. According to this report in just 20 years the demand for water will be 40 percent higher than reliable, accessible supplies, and more than 50 percent higher in the most rapidly developing countries.

Water Available Per Capita 1950 to Present

Since the report was undertaken in corporate interests, it should not be surprising that the looming shortage is framed in it’s impact on economics first:

If these “business-as-usual” trends are insufficient to close the water gap, the result in many cases could be that fossil reserves are depleted, water reserved for environmental needs is drained, or—more simply—some of the demand will go unmet, so that the associated economic or social benefits will simply not occur

with the secondary emphasis placed on humans.

And while it is a dry slog to read through, you will notice that same secondary emphasis on human needs and human consumption in  nearly every instance. (see India Resources protests against Coca Cola) And likewise, when rights to water are discussed, it is always within a legal, corporate orientation. In the dozen or so references to the word “right” as it pertains to water, there is not one instance of  Human Rights mentioned in the report.

At a later news conference, Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, the chairman of Nestle helpfully questioned whether the idea of water as a “human right” is useful way to frame the conversation. He seems to think that humans have a right to “about 25 liters a day”.

One article on business and economics summarized the problem neatly:

The challenge: Getting beyond the nostrum that water is a “human right” so that water, which is obviously a scarce resource, can be priced in a way that drives conservation.

I will grant that the report takes stock of a number of measures to improve efficiency of use and protection of the resource. But for whose benefit? It may be that the coming water wars may not be between countries, but between corporations and those mere humans struggling to survive.

 

Further reading: Seeking Alpha T. Boone Pickens Invests in Water, Should You?

Homemade, Non-electric Refrigeration

This story from the Daily Mail is incorrect on 2 counts:

1- The unit is not solar powered.

2- The concept of evaporative cooling has been around for centuries. A  teacher  in Niger, Mohammed Bah Abba, redeveloped the concept for an impoverished Nigeria and set up a large-scale production facility. The pots they produce currently cost less than 50 cents. His story was featured on NPR a few years ago.

This boon allows the girls in the villages to go to school on a regular basis.  Before they were going to market every day before the harvested food spoiled.

Make your own: a large unglazed terracotta pot, a second vessel preferably with a lid (this can be almost any material that will conduct the cool) that will fit inside and allow wet sand to be placed in the space between the vessels.

Soaking the terracotta pot helps too.

However. I give this young woman the Genius accolade for using what she had on  hand to make something both functional and useful.

And if you are interested, you can use the same idea to make a fast, quick and cheap air conditioner. LifeHack is on the case.

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.

Food for Everyone

Food for Everyone Foundation has a lot of incredibly useful links for those who already garden and those who want to learn.

The Foundation’s purposes include encouraging and fostering the development, understanding, and distribution of the most efficient scientific non-polluting and ecologically sensitive food production procedures, by sponsoring and supporting the research, development, and dissemination of the best possible gardening methods and techniques, and the most effective information delivery systems and teaching methods throughout the world, with primary emphasis on the developing countries.

We also encourage the development of education in gardening procedures and techniques in the USA by teaching and training the public in effective gardening methods.

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.

Roasted Baby Carrots

Sounds simple, right? Well, it is. And quite delicious with just a few easy additions.

For this recipe, I used some late baby carrots from our garden. These were the little bits of orange gold I found while turning over dirt in one of the raised beds. They got passed over as too small while harvesting the carrot crop. Then the tops died back, leaving them sitting securely underground.

With the exception of a few nibbles from the local bug population, they were fine; tender and sweet.

When you first taste a local, farm-raised carrot you end up asking yourself: “What the heck have I been eating all these years?” regarding the flavorless orange chew toys called carrots sold in chain grocers. Unfortunately, that applies to most produce.

So, after cleaning them up and removing the bug bites, I chopped them up into half inch sections. If you like them chunkier, have at. (Southern for: Go for it) For 2 people you’ll want around 1.5 to 2 cups of chunked carrots. Trust me, if there are leftovers, you’ll find a use for them.

Oven at 350. Enamel or glass roasting pan. Put about 3 tablespoons of coconut oil in the pan and put it in the oven to liquefy. You really will want to use coconut oil. Not the denuded, unflavored kind either; but the oil that has a coconut smell and taste. However, any vegetable oil will do. But please don’t ruin the goodies in your olive oil with all the heat. If you want the olive oil flavor, wait til they are done and drizzle some over the warm carrots.

Sprinkle some Tamari over the carrots; tossing them to distribute the Tamari.

Once your oven has reached 350, take out the pan and put the carrots in; stirring to coat them with the warm oil.

Bake for at least 30 minutes and then start testing them. When they are done (or nearly so) you should be able to pierce them with a fork rather easily.

Approximately 5 minutes before they are done, add a drizzle of sesame oil. (as with olive oil, sesame doesn’t do well with too much heat) and if you have any around, some unsweetened coconut. Toss together and back in the oven for a brief warm up.

Soooooo very tasty.

This is a good side dish for roasted chicken with rosemary or with brown rice. Enjoy

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