I’ve had a couple of random thoughts about recipes bumping around in my skull (which, for me, can be a dangerous thing since my skull has taken several severe knocks in my adult life.) So, I though I’d share the couple of idea rumbling around, and then take a few days off to celebrate the holiday, memorialize my father, and relax.
Years ago, I was working in Frankfurt, Germany for my first time. It was in September so Oktoberfest activities were in full swing and each night was like carnival. We’d get off work, go back to the hotel to change, then walk to Zeilestrasse (Main Street, sort of) where the vendors and food trucks and entertainment were. We’d walk up and down, drinking and eating, laughing and singing, until it was time to head back and get some rest. It was fun and enlightening.
I stuffed myself on fresh pretzels, brats, salads of a hundred different kinds. But one thing I had just once that has stayed with me and I have yet to figure it out. I had two bowls of stewed mushroom with a dollop of sour cream. I watched them making it and it was an ingenious process.
They took a very large, rectangular metal pan and tilted it over a fire so just the top third was over the flame. Since it was metal, the entire pan heated up, but the cooking took place at the top. At the bottom was a broth of beef juices, red wine, herbs, and tomatoes and onions. The mushrooms were packed into the pan. The mushroom juices were released and ran down the pan into the broth. The mushrooms seared as they slowly moved down the pan into the broth. When an order of mushrooms was sold, they were scooped out of the bottom of the pan in the broth with a slotted spoon. They were put into a small disposable bowl and a small dollop of sour cream was put on top. As mushrooms were removed from the bottom of the pan, the mushrooms higher up in the pan moved down to the broth. They were seared and stewed at the same time. And they were delicious. I don’t know what kind of mushrooms they were, but they were small, meaty, and tasty. They took on the flavors of the broth. The added tanginess from the sour cream complemented the dish perfectly. If I could find someone to make those for me, I’d pay another euro (about $2 at that time) to eat another bowl.
My mouth is drooling just thinking about it.
The second thing bumping about in my brain is a salad I had once way back in the misty yesteryears of my youth. I was at a friend’s house one weekend. His family was hosting a pool party that started at noon and lasted until they were tired of having guests over. I showed up about 4, after I got off work. They had set things up buffet style, with a barbeque in one corner of the yard with burgers and dogs, a wet bar kind of thing nearby, and a large table full of desserts and salads, etc. They had a big bowl of one salad that I went ape over. It was a watermelon salad. And it was GOOD!
They had cut a whole watermelon into bite-sized chunks. Then they had salted them for a couple of hours to drain off as much juice as possible, which they reserved for the dressing. When the cubes were as dry as possible without crushing them, they put them into a big bowl, and then added small chunks of cucumber, very thinly sliced red onion, different olives pitted and cut into halves, and very small chunks of feta cheese. They gently tossed everything with a quarter cup of olive oil then used a half cup of the reserved watermelon juice mixed with three tablespoons of apple cider vinegar to pour over the salad. They topped it with a sprinkling of shelled and roasted sunflower seeds and ribbons of mint leaves. I had to stop myself being a pig and eating it all. I don’t know why I’ve been thinking about just now, but I swear I’m going to make it soon.
Have a great weekend and a wonderful 4th!
What an emotionally hectic week and weekend it’s been! From the death of a parent, to being finally legally accepted as an ordinary citizen with rights as all ordinary citizens in our country are, it’s been a roller coaster. Friday, I was just starting to calm down and SCOTUS released its ruling and the internet exploded and the country started celebrating.
I spent a large part of the day reading about reactions to the decision. I commented; I posted; I debated; I discussed. I watched videos. I shared with Partner/Spouse some of the nicer things, and some of the not-so-nicer things. I had mixed emotions all day. I was happier than I thought I would be. And there was a sense of let-down, like something was over. There was also an overriding sense of something just starting.
Partner/Spouse and I both said we should be drinking champagne to celebrate. But we didn’t. Neither of us wanted to go out and get some, but neither of us truly wanted any. The sense of celebration was muted and I couldn’t figure out why.
Then it got time to make dinner. I was making a meatloaf.
I had two pounds of plain old hamburger. I added a small amount of fresh onion, and a larger amount of fresh garlic. I put in half an envelope of onion soup mix. I wanted a binder, something to soak up the meat juices and flavors, but there was no way I was making a panade.
Do you know what a panade is? You probably do, but maybe by a different name. It’s likely the worst thing to come out of America’s Test Kitchen in my experience. It’s added to ground meat of various types to thicken it, stretch it, keep it moist, etc. It’s white bread soaked in milk for several minutes. Then the milk is squeezed out and the bread it mixed into the meat. It’s sludge and tastes awful. We tried it and vowed never ever ever ever to do it again, regardless of what the instructions say. Awful stuff.
Usually when I made meat loaf, I grate a potato and a carrot and use that. Just as often, I use stuffing mix, particularly the flavored ones. I didn’t have any of those. So I took two cups of whole wheat Ritz crackers and mashed them into one cup of crumbs by hand. Well, by hand and a wooden spoon. Whole wheat Ritz crackers are good.
I put half a cup of water and two tablespoons of ketchup into it and used the wooden spoon to mix the heck out of the whole mess until everything was blended. Then I added two eggs to bind it together and mixed until it was done. Following instructions from one of The Two Fat Ladies, I formed my meat loaf free from style, more like an elliptical dome. Then I squirted ketchup over the top and spread it evenly. Into the oven at 350 for an hour and fifteen minutes.
During the last half hour, since we’d been to our favorite farm stand earlier, we roasted two ears of corn (spread softened butter and seasoned salt and chili powder over it all then wrapped in foil) and a half pound of Brussels sprouts.
We sat down to meat loaf, roasted corn, roasted Brussels sprouts, and fresh bread. I kept wondering where the celebration was.
Then I realized, we were celebrating. We were eating dinner, in our home, with our dogs, just like a family. Which we now were, legally, everywhere in our country. No longer to be sneered at. No longer having to hide our relationship. No longer worried about what the neighbors might think or say.
Suddenly, our family dinner meant a whole lot more. It was pretty damned good meat loaf.
In my last post, I mentioned that family biz was occupying a great deal of my time and attention. My father passed away early Tuesday morning. He’s not been well for several years, and the situation came to a head over the weekend. He was on the operating table and went into cardiac arrest. They managed to resuscitate him, but my sibs and I decided that a DNR was in order. His quality of life would have been such that he would be unhappy in the extreme if he regained consciousness at all. He took his last breath at 1:00am Tuesday morning. His pain was gone and his face was relaxed. And, as my sister-in-law put it, he was finally able to join the love of his life.
Dad and I had a complicated relationship starting when I was in diapers. I can be an angry and stubborn s.o.b., traits that manifested themselves while I was very very young. We never really understood each other. He was a marine for over twenty years. As his oldest son, I was supposed to follow in his footsteps. But I was the artistic one. I wrote stories and poems; I played a musical instrument; I learned to cook; I was the “ultra religious” one (albeit in my early teens, something I grew out of.) I did arts and crafts of nearly every kind. I was confused growing up, not able to handle what I knew to be my true self and forced to be dishonest to myself and those around me.
He taught me a lot, too. Some were overt lessons, the kind where he said, “Let me show you how to do this.” Others were silent lessons, the kind you learned by paying attention.
He was fond of saying that his fingers just tasted good. On weekends, we were always firing up the grill. He’d grill the flesh of some animal, and nearly always there was potato salad. I don’t like potato salad and resented being forced to make it. I’m not saying I did a half-assed job, but it’s difficult to make something taste good when you refuse to actually taste it. So dad started making it, and he mixed it together by hand. Everyone who ate it remarked on how good it was. Dad finally became convinced that is fingers tasted better than anyone else’s because that was truly the only difference between his making it and anyone else making it.
I like my steak rare, and he took it as a personal challenge to cook one rare enough to suit me. He did not like his steak rare and had perfected a well done but juicy slab of beef. At first, I’d get steak with the slightest red discoloration in the center. Each time, the slightly red stripe would get wider and redder. I kept giving input and it kept getting better. Then one day, he set my steak in front of me and I sliced into it. It was blue in the center. It wasn’t even cooked. The outside had the wonderful char marks, and it was seasoned perfectly. But I couldn’t get past that raw center. “Uhh, it needs a few more minutes on the grill, I think.” I said. The whole family cracked up. I stopped offering suggestions after that, and my steaks came out fine.
Just after mom died, dad decided to buy an RV and do some traveling, something he’d been wanting to do all his life. When my ex-wife took over the ranch he was living on at the time, I was making supper just before he left. I wanted something easy so it was homemade macaroni and cheeseburger. He watched with interest and finally asked me to write the recipe down, along with any other easy one pot meals so when he was traveling he wouldn’t have to rely on McDonald’s every night. I felt foolish writing down “Brown hamburger and season. Make boxed macaroni and cheese. Mix the two.” But he liked it.
Mom and Dad were fisherman. Avid fisherman. So was my brother. Dad did all kinds of fishing. I remember once when we kids were very young and still living in South Carolina. Dad went deep sea fishing and showed us a sting ray he’d caught. Another time, he went deep sea fishing in San Diego. He went with several other marines, and when they got back, they divvied up their haul. Our freezer was always full of various forms of fish. I don’t remember that we ever ate any of them. Mom and I were the only two in the family that enjoyed seafood or fish. But dad had the best time standing on the bank of any body of water casting a line and hoping for the best. In Arizona, he and mom were constantly trying new forms of bait, some of them illicit in our state. Like black licorice. Supposedly, the local fish were crazy for the flavor, but you weren’t supposed to use it for that very reason. Didn’t want to deplete the fish populations, I guess.
One of our family favorite meals was tacos. We started eating tacos in New York, and when we moved to Arizona, it was like we’d moved to Heaven and started eating. Fixing the tacos was an individual thing. But making all the stuff to go into the tacos was a two person deal, for us. We never used the store bought crispy tortillas. Mom fried the corn tortillas in a small pan full of oil. They’d get fried on one side for a few seconds, then flipped and fried on the other side for a few seconds. This gave us hot, tasty, soft tacos. There would be an enormous stack of these separated by paper napkins to help absorb the oil. By the time we reached the bottom of the stack and burping stage, the tortillas would have grown soft and a little mushy. About ten years ago, I went to visit dad, and my brother asked if we were having tacos, and could he have some? He looked at me and said, “I love dad’s tacos.” When they were ready, I bit into one and it was perfect. I watched how he did things and it was exactly as I remembered growing up, but different. And better. Something dad did made them better though we couldn’t figure out what.
Maybe he just had better tasting fingers.
No posts this week. Family business takes precedence. I will post again next week! You’re not rid of me easily.
It’s been a rough week, news-wise. The biggest, of course, being the shooting at the AME church in Charleston, SC. It was a tragic event and my heart goes out to all the victims and their families, as well as the church and its members, and the extended families of the church and the victims. There are a lot of people hurting, and a lot of sympathy, guilt, grief, and bewilderment from the nation and the world.
Some of my own bewilderment comes from other people’s reaction to the tragedy. Even before the nation woke up, people were saying this was an attack on religion simply because it happened in a church. They ignored the fact that the gunman himself said he was targeting the people because they were black. It was an attack on black people, peaceful, god-fearing black people. And some people were trying minimize that, or sweep it under the carpet. They were trying to make the tragedy about themselves rather than the victims. The gunman was trying to start another race war, not a religious war.
In South Carolina, the capital building flies a confederate flag. In South Carolina, many streets are named for southern civil war generals. In South Carolina, rhetoric spawns the kind of hatred we saw on Wednesday night. In South Carolina (and many other southern states), the civil war, called The War of Northern Aggression, still rankles in the hearts and souls of its citizens. Healing has not happened. Feelings are still bitter. People are still fighting. And as we saw, people are still dying. That flag has to come down. People need to know that their rhetoric is having an impact.
What is rhetoric? In its simplest form, rhetoric is simply speaking. But it’s way more than that. It’s communicating; it’s persuasion; it’s oratory. It’s spoken or it’s written. Sometimes, it’s simply a look. As long as it conveys an idea, it’s rhetoric. It’s beyond true or false. My opinions when expressed are rhetoric. Your opinions when expressed are rhetoric. This blog is an example of rhetoric. Pictures are an example of rhetoric. People need to own their rhetoric and accept its consequences. The people of South Carolina need to understand that the environment of hate they’re perpetuating has an impact. They need to take steps to correct that.
Several years ago, a popular politico put several pictures on her blog showing a gun’s sighting telescope and in its crosshairs were pictures of several candidates in the opposition. The captions read “We’re gunning for you!” The meaning was political. However, an unstable person took the meaning literally, and opened fire at a political rally. A twelve year old girl lost her life, and the member of the opposite party was shot in the head, ending a promising career. The picture was removed quickly from the blog and statements were made saying “It wasn’t our fault.” On one hand, I agree to some extent. Inciting to riot is no excuse for rioting. And the original politico had never spoken to the crazy person. But they had advocated for a violent solution rather than a peaceful one. Had it been me, I would have owned it and apologized saying the picture was ill-advised at best and wrong at worst.
Rhetoric has an impact. In this case, nine people lost their lives. Here are their names.
But nice things happened this week, too. The community came together to heal. In a different area, a woman whose yard was decorated to her tastes was called out by a “Christian” for being “relentlessly gay” (my new favorite phrase, by the way) and her neighbors stood by her. We went to our favorite vegetable stand and I got some great tomatoes.
But this is a food blog so let me give you a recipe a friend shared with me a long time ago that’s simplicity itself and makes a great snack or appetizer.
- 48 or so saltine crackers
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 cup (two sticks) salted butter
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 1-2 cups chocolate chips
- 1/2 cup mixed nuts chopped fine
- 1/2 cup shredded coconut, optional
Preheat the oven to 350. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Arrange the crackers so they fill the baking sheet and are touching each other. Over medium heat, melt the butter and sugar together and allow to come to a boil stirring constantly. Remove from heat and add vanilla. Pour over crackers and spread evenly. Bake for 7-10 minutes, watching the sugar carefully so it doesn’t turn brown. Sprinkle the chocolate chips evenly over the crackers and sugar. Bake for 2-3 more minutes, remove from oven. Using a clean rubber spatula, spread the melted chocolate evenly. Sprinkle the nuts and coconut evenly and gently and carefully press into the chocolate. Allow to cool for half an hour then freeze overnight. Remove from baking sheet and peel the foil carefully off the crackers. Break into pieces, place in an airtight container, and store in fridge or freezer. Yummers!