Post #692 Chicken Soup for The SouthWestern Soul

January 29, 2020 at 5:27 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Partner/Spouse and I both grew up (read that spent our formative years) in the desert southwest of America.  We actually grew up about sixty miles apart, and knew some of the same people.  We definitely knew the same places.  We didn’t know each other at all, not even family names, and it took us 30 years and the internet to find each other.  But that’s a different story.  It does explain why we both love Mexican cooking.  It doesn’t explain why we ended up in New England exactly opposite of where we grew up.  Anyone who’s read this blog for a while knows that he and I have moved around quite a bit in our time together as we followed his consulting jobs.  In any new place we end up, we have certain goals we need to fulfill.  One is finding a good local butcher.  Another is finding a good local farmer’s market or farm stand.  Finding a good outdoors space where we can hike and commune is paramount.  Usually the first thing we try to find is our favorite local diner.  We also have to find a used book store and an antique store.  But always always in our minds is finding that perfect Mexican restaurant.  Not a Chipotle, or Moes, or Southwest Grill, although those will do in a pinch.  We’ll even do Taco Bell (or Taco Hell as he calls it) just to get the flavors in our systems.  But barring that, we have to find a good locally sourced provider for the ingredients for us to make our own authentic Mexican food.  Don’t forget, since we grew up in the area we know not only authentic flavors, but how to make it.

It comes down to three things for us.  We have to find someplace that sells good corn tortillas, and a reliable source for fresh cilantro and peppers of all kinds, and if they have a good pico de gallo, that’s a plus.  Oddly, we found all three in one store, and it’s a fairly large, local chain grocery store.  They don’t have truly hot stuff up here, but they do have really good flavors.

Vermont is such a place of paradoxes.  It’s the place where all the hippies from the sixties came to retire so it’s a really diverse state, but the mind set is so accepting of new ideas that it’s not surprising we can find all this almost at our door step.  I’ve always said it’s quirky and that sure bears it out when you’re driving through your neighborhood and see a sign for free range eggs and chickens wandering through your neighbor’s back yard.  Or you’re looking for a bakery, and finally find it in someone’s converted house where the bakery is on the first floor and their apartment is on the second.  Or you’re driving home from the library which looks like a Federalist mansion and see a sign on someone’s porch that says “Skates Sharpened Here.”

The point of all this is we seem to always have corn tortillas, and salsa, and jalapeno peppers, and tomatoes, and farm fresh chicken stock, and herbs and spices that in other places were difficult to find.

So yesterday was a day of challenges as far as timing for tasks and dinner.  We’re in the middle of the January thaw, something no believed me about.  Every January that I’ve ever spent in my life has had a spell of warm weather.  I wasn’t sure if it was going to happen here, but it came in with a vengeance.  The snow is melting off the roof and the eaves look like it’s raining.  And when we do get water from the sky right now, it actually is rain and not snow.  The temps are in the 40s and we’re wearing shorts and flip flops.  Of course, as soon as the sun goes behind one of the neighborhood hills or the nearby mountains, it gets chilly pretty fast, but the snow is still melting.  This won’t last, but it’s nice while it’s here.  Partner/Spouse had to do a client visit for one of his teams that was far enough away to warrant getting a company car.  I took him to the nearby town in the morning for him to pick it up, call it fifteen minutes there and fifteen back.  He was going to bring the car back to the house around noon and work from home the rest of the day then take the car back in the afternoon.  I’d be following him to bring him home.  So following that plan, dinner would be interrupted in the middle of cooking.  But what actually happened was the meetings and visits went long, and other meetings were cancelled and rescheduled, and he ended up not leaving until around mid to late afternoon so coming home would be superfluous.  So I said let’s just meet at the car turn in instead of him coming home.  That meant that a fairly good chunk of the afternoon was shot so I needed to figure out something to make that was going to be fast and easy and different.

I ended up making Chicken Tortilla Soup.  Sort of.

Chicken Tortilla Soup is basically chicken soup with spicy inserts and fried tortilla strips floating on top.  It’s also topped with cheese and cilantro.  But at it’s core, it’s a spicy chicken soup.  So I mocked it up with what I had.

First, I cut up six corn tortillas into strips a quarter inch wide and about two inches long.  Then I fried them in hot oil until they were golden brown-ish and crispy.  A light sprinkle of salt and set aside to cool.  To get the authentic flavor, you really want to make your own out of real corn tortillas.  Purchased tortilla chips or strips just don’t have the same flavor.  At least, not to me.

Once we were home, and the dog was walked and fed, and were were settling down, I set a large pan to heating while I got the soup ingredients ready.  I found two half-filled containers of pico de gallo, and one half-filled container of chipotle salsa.  I cut some baby carrots down to match stick size, and cut up about two pounds of chicken breast into large bite sized pieces.  When the pan was hot enough, I put about a tablespoon of olive oil with lemon flavor in it to heat to shimmer, then browned up the chicken.  When the chicken was done, I added the carrots and let them brown up, then added some frozen corn niblets, but not a lot.  Then I put a whole container of chicken stock in and stirred the whole thing around.  I added all my various salsas, and a frozen jalapeno that was quartered but seeds intact.  I wanted some heat in this.  Finally, I added a tablespoon of powdered garlic, and eighth of a teaspoon each of cayenne and chili powder, and a tablespoon of cumin.

Then it was just a matter of letting everything simmer until all the flavors blended.  After about an hour, I tasted it and added some salt.  Let it cool for a little bit, ladle it into a bowl, top with tortilla strips (homemade remember), and eat it.  So good.  It’s important not to let this boil too hard.  That will scorch many of the ingredients and give the soup a burned flavor.  Stir it occasionally to make sure nothing sticks.  Don’t add anything that would thicken it like beans, corn meal, or vegetable starch (potato, rice, or corn.)  This soup needs to have a thin base like a chicken noodle soup.

Traditionally, this soup is made with all the salsa ingredients separately, but if you have salsa or pico de gallo on hand, use it.  The soup can be topped with queso fresco, or crema, or fresh cut cilantro, or cheddar cheese, or just about anything else you like.  Just don’t forget the tortilla strips (homemade, I can’t stress this enough.)  We hold off on all the cheeses due to my gall bladder, but it certainly enhances it.  The soup has a real kick to it, but can be made more mellow if you prefer.  I wish I had taken a picture of it, but I forgot.

So that was my fun experience in mocking up a favorite soup from my roots.  What’s some of yours?  Share with us all if you have any.  And share the post if you feel like it.

As always,

Post #691 A Coffee Cake Like No Other

January 26, 2020 at 3:49 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

When people find out I cook, one of the questions I hear all the time is “What do you cook?”  Back in the day, I would answer with whatever technique or ingredient I was trying to master at the time.  So, at various points in my life the answer would be “Cookies mostly”, or “Pizza is my specialty”, or else “I’m cooking mostly Italian at the moment.”  Sometimes, trying to be funny, I’d say “I cook food.”  Over the past few years, I try to disavow any kind of authority and just say “I cook what I like.”

What I like is experimenting, learning new things.  So I’m constantly reading articles, cookbooks, internet posts.  I’m constantly watching youtube videos, and television programs.  And I’m constantly trying new things.  So it’s difficult to categorize what I cook, except to say, “I cook food.”

So what trips my interest?  I guess I’d have to say baking.  I like to watch Top Chef but I’m not driven to try their recipes.  I used to be a tester for America’s Test Kitchen, and Cook’s Country, but the recipes I had most fun with were the cakes, cookies, and pies.  I’ve watched every American televised episode of Great British Bake Off so often I’ve got them memorized and have several of their books, as well as books by contestants and judges.  I always make sure I have the basic building blocks for cake and chocolate chip cookies in my cupboards, and I’ve got a single layer vanilla butter cake frozen in my freezer for when I want yellow cake with chocolate frosting.

So, has there been anything in the baking industry to make me sit up and take notice lately?  Not really.  But I did have an interesting experience recently involving baking.  Partner/Spouse was having a potluck with his team and wanted me to make 24 cinnamon rolls.  So, on the weekend I took a look at some recipes and settled on one that looked interesting and one batch made 18 rolls.  I figured that would hit close to the mark.  I made certain we had all the ingredients and decided to ice them with cream cheese vanilla frosting.

So Monday afternoon, feeling confident and sure of my plan, I put all the ingredients together, pre-measured and pre-sorted (it’s called mis en place, but that’s a discussion for another day) and got started.  I first mixed together a half cup each of brown sugar and white sugar.  I used a fork and broke up the lumps in the brown sugar (which was soft and not a brick) and stirred and mixed until it was uniform and consistent throughout.  If I’d been thinking, at that point I would have put it in a jar and shook the hell out of it, but there you go.  Then I put in twice the amount of cinnamon and mixed it up, cuz we like cinnamon.  I set that aside, and melted the first step of butter because they recommended a technique I’ve never used before and I’ll explain in a minute.  Then I put the flour mix together, and then the wet mix together.  Then I stirred the wet and dry together, and that’s where the plan fell apart.  It was supposed to make a soft dough that you could roll out to spread the cinnamon sugar on, etc.  No matter what I did to it, it never became that soft dough.  Every time I stopped mixing on the counter, it spread itself out like it was gloop.  After several frustrating minutes, it and the recipe went into the trash.  I couldn’t waste anymore time on it because I had to get something made for the next day, and I had to get dinner started right after.

So I decided to make coffee cake.  But I wanted it to be something that rose above the standard coffee cake.  I looked through my supplies and thought okay.  I have Bisquik; I have cinnamon sugar; I have homemade cherry pie filling; I have a 12-inch square pan; I have all the ingredients for vanilla cream cheese glaze.  I’m all set.

Well, of course, I didn’t have enough Bisquik to follow the exact recipe, but I was only lacking a cup and a half.  So I improvised.  Most people don’t know this, but Bisquik is basically just self-rising flour with the fats already incorporated.  So I put in a cup and half of self-rising flour (good quality from King Arthur Flour because I wanted to be certain) and added an extra teaspoon of baking powder, and the second two tablespoons of melted butter that had started to thicken as it cooled so was perfect to add to the mix.  I also added 50% extra on sugar by adding it from the cinnamon sugar I’d made earlier.  I also added a touch of nutmeg because nutmeg is so good.  Once the batter was made, I turned to the pan.

Here’s the technique I was introduced to in the first experiment that failed.  I took two tablespoons of melted butter and spread it evenly over the bottom and sides of the pan.  Then I took half a cup of the cinnamon sugar and spread it evenly over the bottom of the pan to adhere to the butter.  What this will do is help it release from the pan and provide a sweet cinnamon crust on the bottom.  It’s like greasing and flouring a pan, but giving a sweet twist.  And it’s something I’m going to playing with a lot.  So I spread 2/3 of the batter over the bottom and evened it out.

Now here’s a trick worth knowing that I picked up from ATK.  Whenever you’re making something that calls for dollops and swirls, you want to make sure that both flavors are in every bite.  So put a layer of the base in the pan, then put a layer of the second flavor spread over the entire first layer.  Then put dollops of the first layer on top of the second layer before swirling, but swirl minimally.  I’ve used this method for chocolate chip-cheesecake bake, and raspberry brownies.  So I put down the base layer which was the coffee cake.  Then I took all the cherry pie filling and spread it evenly (I used a rubber spatula rather than an offset knife since it was sticky stuff (but tasted SO good!)).  Then did the dollops by hand to spread them out randomly.  I did no swirling because I didn’t think it was necessary.  Then because I had so much of it, I sprinkled more cinnamon sugar over the top.  Then I baked it at 350 for 30 minutes.  I put the frosting on after it cooled.

It must have been a hit because the only thing that came back was the pan.  The frosting was thicker than I meant it to be but it tasted wonderful.  I used 4oz of cream cheese, 1 tsp vanilla, and 1 cup of powdered sugar.  To make it more of a glaze, I could have added a little milk or water, but I didn’t this time.  I put the whole mess into a zip lock baggie and snipped a corner and “piped” it out.  There was enough left for me to get a good mouthful.

So what experiments have failed for you, and how have you handled them?  Let us know about it.  Feel free to share.

As always,

Post #690 Hacking Away At The Kitchen 12 Times

January 23, 2020 at 1:00 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Post #690 Hacking Away At The Kitchen 12 Times

It’s time for another series of kitchen hacks.  For those who don’t know, a hack is a non-standard way of doing something that makes that task either easier or foolproof.  Most of the time, the hack is largely unknown, but usually can be found in historic records.  Hacks can also be called “old wives tales” or “The Way My Grandmother Did It.”  I’ve got another twelve ready for you:

KH#1: The End of Salt – I’ve watched a lot of cooking shows, demonstrations, and videos.  Every single one of them talks about seasoning your food as you cook and tasting so you know what it tastes like.  Growing up, though, I was taught you never salted your food until it was on the plate.  This way it wouldn’t be over-salted, and each diner could put the amount of salt in the food that they liked.  My sister and my father were heavy salters.  I used to be amazed at how much they used.  My brother, my mom, and I went lightly on the salt, sometimes leaving it out altogether and relying on the flavor of the food.  My brother-in-law used to say he liked the flavor of food and seldom used salt or any other season used at the table.  Even gravies and sauces he used very sparingly.  So what’s the real answer?  It’s a matter of choice.  I hear it in food competitions all the time that there’s not enough seasoning in the food.  However, if you serve the food with a salt shaker/grinder/cellar/box on the table, I think the issue will resolve itself.

KH#2: Wet Salting – so after talking about salt above, what the heck is wet salting?  Actually, its brining.  Many foods are enhanced by brining.  Brining is dissolving salt and other herbs and spices in water, lots of water, and immersing the food into it and letting it soak for hours.  The flavors of the brine soak into the foods and help keep it moist during cooking and well flavored.  There are different brines for different foods, and different times and methods for the best result.  Most of the time, brining is used for fowls.  It helps make chicken and turkey incredibly moist and tender.

KH#3: Rubbing It Dry – the flip side of brining is a dry rub.  Most dry rubs involve salt for a good reason.  Salt will draw out moisture which causes the dry rub to stick to the food better, but it also tenderizes the food making it more succulent.  In most cases, the dry rub is a base for a good barbecue.  However, a good savory rub enhances any kind of cooking.  My go-to rub is garlic powder, onion powder, cracked black pepper, and salt.  If I want a Mexican flavor, I’ll add cumin and chili powder.  If I want an Asian twist, I’ll add ginger and five spice blend.  I usually cook the food with the rub on it, but sometimes it’s necessary to pat the food dry.  It’s your call.  Also, if you use sugar (brown or otherwise) just be aware that it will caramelize and may cause some scorching, which can taste good if it’s not overdone.

KH#4: All the Colors – recently, nutrition experts have been talking about all the colors of the rainbow on your plate.  What they’re talking about is mixing the colors of the food to make sure you’re getting all the proper nutrients, and not relying on a single vegetable or protein exclusively.  I tend to get in a rut.  Right now, for instance, I’m totally craving thick cut, bone in pork chops.  In the last two weeks, we’ve had them probably five times.  As a protein, it’s not bad.  But for nutrition’s sake, it should be mixed up a little bit.  So, to the colors visually pleasing and vibrant, and to make certain I’m getting a good mix of nutrients, I’ll make sure I’ve some green of various types, not just salad though that’s good, and some reds/purples, and some whites, all at the same meal.  When that happens, you don’t have to have vast amounts of them.  A spoonful of each will suffice.  So, red cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, snap peas, carrots and a pork chop will work.  Last night, I made fried rice.  I cooked up the rice in the morning and set it in the fridge to chill.  I stir fried the chicken with garlic, pepper, and ginger.  Then I added fine diced red onion, celery cut on the bias, sliced and rinsed leeks, and carrot cut into match sticks.  Once everything was cooked properly, I added the rice and some soy sauce.  I didn’t put in a lot of soy sauce, just enough to season the food and give the rice a brown color.  Just before serving, I sprinkled it with sesame seeds.  I put two servings into two bowls and set them aside, then did something I saw on Worst Cooks on Food Network.  I fried up one egg for each bowl and with the yolks still runny, I put them on top of the fried rice.  So good, and the yolk added flavor throughout the rice.

KH#5: Salad Greens Everywhere – Salad greens can be found anywhere.  A salad doesn’t mean just lettuce.  It doesn’t even mean just spring greens or baby spinach.  It doesn’t mean only kale or cabbage.  It doesn’t even mean a mix of these things.  It means just about anything vegetable that can be put in a bowl and dressed with a complementary sauce of some kind or other.  Chilled rice can be a salad if you add veggies to it.  In Thailand, they make a salad out of thinly sliced beef seared lightly and combined with fish sauce and very spicy peppers and herbs.  In the middle east, they make a salad out of a pound of chopped parley, some oregano, lemon juice, olive oil, and dried pita bread.  Salads are limited only by your imagination.  One time in college, I wanted to make a salad for dinner to accompany whatever we were having that night, but we didn’t have any greens.  So, I went out to the garden and pulled leaves from the broccoli plants, Brussels sprouts, green onion, and some other stuff.  I added cherry tomatoes, sunflower seeds, and soy bacon bits.  I rinsed the leaves really well, then tossed them with all the rest of the stuff.  I drizzled fresh squeezed lemon juice over all and a small amount of parmesan cheese.  Then I chilled it.  My sister still talks about that salad.

KH#6: Creamy With No Cream – I don’t care much for dairy products, except cheese and sometimes butter.  I now know that it was my gall bladder going bad for so many years that caused the upset in my system, but I still don’t like dairy.  So creamy sauces and soups do nothing for me at all.  But I like the idea of creamy soups, etc.  I was explaining this a friend back in college and she introduced me to technique I’d never seen before.  She made Cream of Broccoli soup for me and my roommate (who she was dating at the time), and used no cream or milk.  She first cooked up some broccoli till it was soft, and set it aside.  Then she melted a tablespoon of butter in a large pan.  She added salt and garlic powder to it, then two tablespoons of flour.  She cooked those together making a roux, then added chicken broth a little at a time until she had about three cups of creamy broth.  While that was cooking, she chopped the broccoli up very fine and added it all to the broth.  She cooked that all together until everything was hot.  She scooped out three bowls, topped with some parmesan cheese and oyster crackers, and we ate it with gusto!  It was so good.  It was rich and creamy, but it had zero cream in it.  I’ve used that same technique to make a ton of creamy dishes without cream.

KH#7: Coloring In The Lines – I’m not really talking about crayolas and coloring books here.  I’m going to tell you how to butcher a chicken, separate a roast or steak, or cut individual ribs.  It’s all about the lines in the meat.  My dad was the person who first introduced me to this.  Back then, we grilled outdoors every chance we got throughout the year.  Remember, this was southwest Arizona and we could grill on Christmas day if we wanted to.  The three things we grilled most often was steak, chicken, and fish.  Fish didn’t need to be divided up, but I had to learn how to chop up a chicken, and divide a gigantic round steak into something more manageable.  Dad showed me how to follow the lines.  It’s most easy to see in the whole chicken when you butcher it.  First thing, you want to get rid of the back.  All you have to do with a knife or a pair of kitchen shears it follow the line where the ribs attach to the spine.  They snip very easily.  Then grab a leg and pull gently.  You’ll see a line of fat separating the thigh from the body.  Follow that line down to the bone, then pull to separate the thigh bone from the body.  Finish following the line and the leg and thigh are no longer part of the bird.  When separating beef into manageable portions, the same thing holds true.  Partner/Spouse and I often buy large roasts of either beef or pork and cut the into two-person-meal sizes, then wrap them and freeze them.  Follow the lines of fat and the roast will almost separate itself.  It also gives you the opportunity to trim some fat if you want to.

KH#8: Water Sealing – When prepping food of any kind for the freezer it’s essential to eliminate as much air from the package as possible.  Air in the plastic bag is the enemy of freshness.  It allows freezer burn to happen which makes the food taste terrible.  Ice crystals form, food fibers break down, food gets mushy.  Not good.  We use freezer bags almost exclusively for a couple of reasons.  One, they’re easy and affordable; two, they’re see through so it’s “easy” to identify what’s in there.  Plus they’re easier to write on.  For most things, I put the food in, and leaving the top open, I’ll roll the bag up around the food which eliminates 90% of the air.  I close the top, and leaving the bag rolled, I freeze it.  Other times, mostly with odd shaped meat cuts, I’ll do the squish method.  I’ll place the meat into the bag and jam it into a corner.  Then I start the close process.  Then I’ll squish the bag as tightly around the food as I can and close the top completely.  This gets rid of about 85% of the air.  The best way to get rid of the air (apart from the vacuum sealer we all see on TV) is the water method.  Fill a large bowl, or your sink full of room temperature water.  Place the food in the bag and close the top 75% of the way.  Slowly immerse the bag.  The water will form the bag around the food forcing air out the top.  Close the top once the air is out and roll the bag up.  Dry off the bag and put it in the freezer.  Works like a charm, but takes some time.

KH#9: Piercing and When To Get Them Done – when cooking, to keep meats moist and tender, you’re struggling to keep the moisture and flavor inside.  There are loads of schools of thought on this.  Do you dry cook, wet cook, sear, not sear?  Really and truly, the best things to do are these:  don’t over cook, and don’t pierce the food during cooking.  Notice I said “during cooking”, and there’s a reason for that.  You can pierce the food prior to cooking.  It helps drive any seasonings and flavorings you’ve placed on the foot into the food; but it also tenderizes meat by breaking down muscle fibers into smaller strands.  Once the food is on the fire, DON’T pierce it.  I’ve watched so many people use forks to turn meats and other foods and it makes me cringe.  I’ve also seen people test the temperature of foods far too many times.  Follow the recipe, and test the temp at the end.  If you need to turn it, use tongs or a spatula.  If you need to remove the food from the heat source, use tongs.  I can’t stress that enough.  Think of it like you’re sticking a fork into your arm.  What’s going to happen?  You’re going to bleed.  Some thing happens to food.  Every time it gets poked, it’s going to bleed flavor and moisture.  So invest in a good set of tongs of various sizes and use them.  Even when cutting, tongs give you more control than a fork does.

KH#10: Podlings – Do you have any cast iron pans that are enamel surfaced?  I have a few.  I love them because they’re so easy to clean.  However, through use, they tend to darken and stain.  How do you keep those suckers clean and non stick?  Well, the answer may surprise you.  Tide pods.  Actually, it’s liquid laundry detergent.  Fill the pan with water, add liquid laundry detergent, let it boil for about ten minutes, then cool.  Then get out a nylon scrubber (not something that’s going to scratch the enamel), some elbow grease, and scrub.  It may take some time, but it will come clean.  Don’t be tempted to use anything else.  Once the enamel is clean again, dry it out, then use a paper towel to put a thin layer of white vinegar over all the enamel.  Let the enamel air dry, and repeat.  Repeat the vinegar until it stops soaking into the enamel.  You pan will be clean and non-stick again.  How do I know this?  Le Crueset told me so, and I tried it.  It works.

KH#11: Salt Your Pan Not Your Food – this is a trick my mom showed me.  She had a skillet that she like to use to make hamburgers and bacon.  It was large enough to hold a full strip of bacon or several burgers.  Whenever she made burgers in the pan, she salted the bottom of the pan.  I asked her why she did that once since she didn’t want the flavor of salt so much in her food.  She said it kept the burgers from sticking to the pan.  I shrugged and kept up the tradition.  Then 180 years later, I was watching Good Eats with Alton Brown and he said something similar.  He had a cast iron griddle pan exactly like the one I have.

He was discussing the difficulty in cleaning between the ridges.  He advocated sprinkling a layer of kosher salt in the pan.  He showed that the salt doesn’t burn since it’s a rock.  The steak got the great sear marks from the ridges.  The food cooked perfectly.  And, cleanup was a snap since all the grease was absorbed by the salt.  That led to the discussion of using salt to clean cast iron that I’ve written about before.

KH#12: Emulsify in a Jar – so the last one is about emulsification.  Emulsifying is blending two liquids together that don’t necessarily go together.  Think oil and just about any other liquid.  Most cooks use a whisk, or a blender to accomplish this.  And in many cases that’s what’s needed.  I can’t imagine mayonnaise being made any other way than with a whisk.  However, I stumbled on one way to emulsify that I use a lot.  I use this method for mixing small amounts of dry ingredients into liquids, blending oil and water/vinegar for dressings, and other uses as they occur to me.  Place the ingredients into a jar large enough to hold them comfortably and which has a tight fitting lid with no holes.  Then shake the hell out them for five minutes.  If there’s even a miniscule hole anywhere in the lid, that stuff is going to get out and fly everywhere, usually your eyes and clothes.  However, once it’s done, you will have a jar with a perfectly blended or emulsified concoction.  Clean up is a breeze since it self contained.

So what are your favorite kitchen hacks?  Share with the group!  And share the post if you want to.

As always,

Post #689 Salt, It’s What You Need

January 19, 2020 at 7:43 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments

Where I grew up in Arizona, we were constantly aware of water.  Water was life in the desert and not getting enough of it while you were outside could make you very sick.  When we first moved there due to my dad’s military career, he followed the military training and made certain that we all not only drank water, but took salt pills because salt helps the body absorb and retain water.  Plus, when you sweat you lose valuable salts by the bucket loads.  Salt pills only lasted a very short time.  They tasted terrible, and didn’t really do much good.  Particularly not for me because despite the high temps, I didn’t sweat a vast amount.  I’ve watched people in the desert sweat so much it dripped off the end of their nose.  I barely had to wipe sweat off my forehead or upper lip, and I never got those underarm pit stains like my brother did.

So salt was a big deal for us.  We had to make certain we got enough salt in our diet.  Luckily, we all liked the flavor of salt, and it was easy to get enough just be eating.  Contrary to what most people believe, eating salt does not give you high blood pressure.  HOWEVER, if you’re prone to it, salt does not help and can make it worse, so people with hypertension need to be constantly aware of salt intake just as people with diabetes need to be aware of sugar intake.

Salt creeps into your body on loads of different ways.  For instance, we bought a water softener at one time to make our drinking water more palatable.  It was kind of neat.  You added these gigantic salt pellets to a tank that your house water flowed through.  The minerals and salts in the pellets would get into the water in the right amounts and make your water cleaner and better tasting.  It also made it feel slimier.  A friend was over one time and wanted to wash her hands.  She spent over ten minutes trying to get the slick soapy feel to rinse off her hands before I realized what she was doing.  After I explained about the water softener, she dried her hands and they stopped feeling slick and slimy.

When I was a teenager I had an accident wherein I grabbed a raw spot in an electrical line.  Apart from the trauma of all the electricity shooting through me, my thumb and index finger were severely burned.  My index finger healed pretty quickly, but my thumb scabbed over then started to get infected.  I was starting a new job soon, so I asked my mom what I could do about it.  She suggested soaking it in warm water with Epsom salts.  Epsom salts, or magnesium sulfates, are an old home remedy from waaaay back.  They can do anything.  In this case, they softened the scab which I was able to gently remove allowing the infection to drain.  Within three days, the burn was mending an I was able to start the new job with no trouble.  I still carry the scar, but what the heck.

Epsom salts, and mineral salts, are a primary component of bath salts.  Not the drug, mind you, but the stuff you put in your bathtub to soak in, like a bubble bath without the bubbles.  It softens your skin, relaxes your muscles, and keeps the water warmer longer.  I’ve used bath salts plenty to relax in.  I don’t like bubbles.  I used to be able to buy small envelopes that purported to be mineral salts from the Dead Sea, but that was years ago.  The baths in ancient times were mostly mineral baths from hot springs and carried a lot of salt.  They were thought to be almost magical in their healing properties.

Partner/Spouse and I used to live in a large house with a water conditioner.  The owner had set it up so that rather than using pellets like I was used to, there were these giant blocks of salt that you set in the tank.  They were supposed to last longer, but they were so heavy I could barely tip them over the edge of the tank and I always worried that the drop into the tank would break something.  They never did, but I worried about it anyway.  Since he was providing the salt blocks, we didn’t have a choice in what we used.  And the water conditioner functioned perfectly with them, so I guess it’s just a matter of choice.

Partner/Spouse had two of those giant salt block lamps when we first met.  Virginia has a lot of humidity in the summer.  Those lamps didn’t last a full summer.  They just sort of melted away.

So what’s all this talk about salt and memories of its uses getting at?  Well, I’ll tell you.  We have a glass wine carafe, but we seldom use it for wine.

There’s nothing really special about it.  I usually just keep it full of water to have on hand when I’m cooking or if the dog’s water bowl needs refilling.  Last summer, the little town we live in had some water issues, and while it was perfectly safe to drink, it carried a brown-ish tinge to it.  The city assured us that there was nothing wrong, and this happened once in a while.  Even our neighbors told us it was nothing to worry about.  But  noticed that it left a brown scale at the bottom.  I stopped using it for a while, and the scale dried up but there was no way to remove it.  I tried pouring boiling water into it and letting it soak with soap.  No luck.  I tried heating vinegar and putting it in to cool but that didn’t work.  I tried getting a brush down it but the neck was too narrow.  I didn’t want to replace it because I knew it could be cleaned, I was just confused about how to do it.

One day recently, two synapses in my brain fired and triggered a memory from when I worked at McDonalds.  The restaurant went through a LOT of coffee during the day and once in a while a coffee pot would get left on the heating element with no coffee on it except the dribbles from the last cup.  Those last drops would then dry out and burn and the scorching would get onto the glass.  It also smelled terrible, but that’s a different story (just a hint: citrus oil.)  What we would do to clean it was put enough ice cubes in the pot to cover the scorch marks, then pour a half cup of salt in it.  Then you could either let it melt a little, or pour a small amount of water into it, and then you just start swirling the ice inside the pot.  You keep it up for about 7-10 minutes, dump the ice and salt, rinse it out and it was sparkling clean.

So, I put several pieces of ice into the carafe, some kosher salt because I wanted bigger, coarser granules to scrub it out, added just about a quarter cup of water, and swirled that ice around.  I didn’t swirl long enough, but I could see an immediate improvement.  As soon as I rinsed out the ice and salt, the parts of the carafe that weren’t scaled up were sparkling, and the part that was scaled up wasn’t as brown as before.  So I did it again, and swirled like a crazy person.  I kept it up for nearly fifteen minutes because I wanted to be done.

It looks new.  And while I was swirling, I was remembering all the times salt has made an impact on my life, which I just shared some of with you.

So how about you?  Got any old wives’ tales you want to share?  Ever use salt to clean something you want to tell us about?  Share your story, and share the post!  Oh, and make sure you rinse all the salt out.  Coffee and salt don’t mix well.

As always,

Post #688 Jelly Bellies Aplenty!

January 15, 2020 at 2:18 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Post #688 Jelly Bellies Aplenty!

When I was a kid, a lot of things confused me.  One day, my parents told me to look on my bed.  There was a pile of toys.  I knew they weren’t mine, so I went back to the living room and they asked if I’d seen them.  I nodded, still slightly puzzled.  They finally explained those were birthday presents for me.  I’d never heard of a birthday or a birthday present.  So, confusion.  Another time, they hyped the excitement about Easter.  We did the whole coloring the eggs and building our own basket (empty, of course.)  On the allotted day, the baskets were full of candy and a gift or two for each of us.  We went outside and found our eggs, then had a feast of candy.  I learned what a jelly bean was and became a big fan.  I ate all my jelly beans first and wished I had more.  I traded my brother all my eggs for all his jelly beans.  After that, the only time I ever saw jelly beans was at Easter.

One time, when I was still very young, I was rooting through the fridge and found bags of candy.  Through my excitement I realized that all the candy I was seeing was the same as what we’d got in our Easter baskets.  Ding!  Light went off, and Easter Bunny went mything, along with Santa and the Tooth Fairy.  So sad.  But I started looking for jelly beans all the time after that.

Jelly beans got started either 100 years ago, or 150 years ago.  No one is quite sure.  And, I suppose no one really cares.  Jelly beans are multi colored sugary gems eaten by little kids till their teeth rot.  The quality of a jelly bean can be easily determined by the amount of flavor in said bean.  If it tastes like sugar, and only sugar, and it grainy, it’s a low quality candy.  Trust me.  These are the ones that can be bought for a nickel for 25.

However, if you’re willing to spend a little more money, jelly beans become flavorful confections that are as much fun to eat as they are to look at.  And the star, the absolute pinnacle of the jelly bean pyramid is the Jelly Belly.  In my opinion.

Jelly Bellies were created by the Gustav Goelitz Candy Co.  Gustav came to America in the 1860s and started making candies from mellow cream.  You may not have heard that term before, but I guarantee you know what it is.  Mellow cream, or mellowcream, is a candy made from corn syrup, sugar, food coloring, and honey.  The most well known products made from mellow cream are candy corn and candy pumpkins.  It wasn’t until the 1910s that the company started making the jells, things like gummi bears and jelly beans.  However, they made it a point to make the high quality candies.

Most jelly beans come in fruit flavors, or just generic sweet.  Jelly Bellies come in 100s of flavors.  If you’re a Harry Potter fan, a good analogy would Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Bean.  My favorite way to eat Jelly Bellies is one at a time so I can guess the correct flavor.  Some of my fellow travelers would eat several at a time to get the flavor mix to create a different flavor.  I know people who do that with Skittles, too.  One time, Partner/Spouse and I were driving somewhere right after we started dating, and he was driving.  I was munching on Jelly Bellies and telling him the flavors.

“That one’s root beer.  I like root beer.  Mmm, sour apple.  Oh!  Cinnamon, hot.  Hmm, can’t tell what that one is, but it tastes good.”  It drove him crazy.  He tried eating them too, but didn’t like them as much as I did.  He was good at guessing the flavors, though.  He hated the licorice and started getting a lot of those, so he stopped eating them.

Jelly Bellies got a huge boost in publicity back in the 80s when President Reagan took office.  One of the “must haves” in the White House was Jelly Bellies.  It turned out that years earlier, Reagan wanted to quite smoking a pipe.  He took up eating Jelly Bellies to help him kick the habit.  They kept bowls of them around the White House so he could grab a handful whenever he wanted them.  It was said that he also gave small gift packs of them to official visitors.

So guess what I got for Christmas?

Yup, he knows what I like.  I read through the different flavors and got a chuckle.  There were the standards for Jelly Bellies, things like sour apple, cotton candy, milk, cinnamon, blueberry.  But then I saw popcorn.  And it tasted like buttered popcorn.  The mango tasted like mango, too.  I got to wondering just how many flavors they’ve laid claim to and did a Bing search.  They have (take a deep breath):  coffee, cappuccino, blueberry, cinnamon, A&W Cream Soda and Root Beer, Pomegranate, chocolate pudding, caramel, caramel corn, lime, raspberry, orange, orange sherbet, cherry, banana, margarita, island punch, and a lot of others.  They also do specialty flavors that only run for a limited time.  I’ve seen tabasco, wasabi, pancakes and maple syrup, champagne, chardonnay, merlot, and others including Krispy Kreme.  You can buy them in bulk or in various combinations.  You can buy single flavors, or flavor combos.  Some flavor combos are fruit only, or tropical only and like that.  There’s even a Harry Potter specialty.

But the fun doesn’t stop with just the jelly bean.  People have used them in desserts.  Some restaurants use them to top sundaes.  Some bakers are using them in cakes and cookies.  I haven’t seen a Jelly Belly pie yet, but I’m sure it’s on the way.

So, does anyone have a favorite Jelly Belly flavor?  I don’t have a favorite, but I have a few a don’t like.  Anything coffee flavored.  Feel free to share the post.

As Always,

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