Friday, June 23, 2017

All About Food

This week's focus has been on the stove. There are three at the table now, and I'm enjoying the change. A shake-down period is in progress, and I found myself with a small refrigerator too full of ingredients and leftovers that had but twenty-four hours to live.

A styrene container of grape-format tomatoes weren't moving, so I trimmed off the stem ends, cut them in half lengthwise, and mixed them in a sizable noodle bowl with balsamic and wine vinegar and the oiliest parts of some leftover pesto. After sitting at room temperature with frequent mild stirrings for an hour, there was little noticeable change in the texture of the tomatoes, so I set up a plastic tea kettle and rested the bowl over steaming water. It took three-quarters of an hour and several stirring inspections for the fruit to relax and the skins to ease their grip. I lifted the fruit into a shallow glass storage tray with a slotted spoon and set the marinade aside for today's something or other, probably a barbecue sauce or home-made ketchup.

Super-fluffy leftover baked potato combined with a beaten egg, minced pale green of leek, and a few shreds of hard-smoked salmon into a big patty fried crisp in an excess of butter and oil.

Thanks to Angelo Pellegrini's Lean Years, Happy Years, I saved the de-glazed pan juices of a very good steak. I trimmed the stems of broccoli into little pellets and started searing them in olive oil. Then I added the faster-cooking flower tops and a semi-reckless dash of cayenne pepper. I kept stirring until the broccoli was close to smoking and then added the juices. Gave it a stir, covered it, turned down the heat, added a splash of water to keep up the steam, and then turned the broccoli into another storage tray.

The timing of events was such that I could call the grounds crew in for an unexpectedly good hot lunch just as they were finishing up. I hadn't planned it. There's a principal of Italian cooking, I understand, that makes not much of temperature (except for food safety). I do find that good food tastes good hot or cold -30-

More after the jump.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

On The Bus, Verbatim

Young child: (unintelligible)

Mother: "It's not winter. It's summer in Seattle."

Young child: "What!?"..."Let's go get some soup."


More after the jump.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Fran And Glo

Saturday's cooking binge reminded me of Fran and Gloria's creole restaurant that used to grace the Seventies' Jackson Street. When things got to be too much, I'd take myself there for a restorative lunch on a blazing hot summer day. Then I'd go home and sleep for twelve hours.

The owners taught in the culinary program at Seattle Central. I studied them at work, though, and it seemed as if a good stir was the key to their delectable main dishes, that required almost no effort to digest. The other day I put together a pot of spam hocks and garbanzo beans to use up an aging emergency pantry item. Ham hocks from the south German deli are the best, but not wasting food is second best.

Dried onion, canned tomato, rosemary, and chicken broth made up the rest of the dish, plus some last-minute minced flat-leaf parsley. A whisper of vinegar will get the most calcium out of a bony hock. Frequent gentle stirring produced a subtly thickened soupy stew. Long, slow cooking brings out rich flavor.

In one of her books, Leah Chase reminds the reader that "a good cook stays with the pots". Doing the right thing is easier since I moved an overstuffed chair into a corner of the kitchen -30-
More after the jump.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Desert Cuisine

A reggae song brought to mind the principal concern of the Berkeley community when I was keeping my first full-time house in the mid-Sixties: how to keep body and soul together on almost no money. My grocery budget was nine dollars a week for two people. Living that lean was not uncommon for students or for families who were extremely frugal with what income they could count on. 

The issues surrounding the food supply are serious and deserving of respect: it takes three generations to repair the nutritional shortcomings of a pregnant woman, and the effects of a father's nutrition are just beginning to be appreciated. From my limited perspective, it seems as if the neighborhoods suffering from food privation have lost sight of their own precious culinary legacies, to which I personally owe a great deal. Traditional diets are relatively inexpensive to acquire and can be stored for long periods without electricity.

Food stamps did not exist in the mid-Sixties, although federal surplus food was available to some. The mimeographed recipes that accompanied hand-out blocks of yellow cheese, jars of peanut butter, cans of chicken, and bags of beans were essays in getting the best from the least. I count myself among the blessed to have visited Puerto Rico a few years earlier and been able to enjoy the cafeteria offerings at Humacao Mission Hospital when I volunteered there. The steam table pork hocks, greens, rice, and indigenous pea-like beans kept me in excellent spirits. Seattle garden guru Anne Lovejoy refers to soil being "in good heart" when all is as it should be, and I find the concept valid for animal as well as vegetable advantage.

When I live in Berkeley, it was a center of nutrition research. Frances Moore Lappe' had published "Diet for a Small Planet", that proved a vegetarian diet could provide adequate nutrition. At the time, eating meat three times a day was the recommended menu. Happily, my first kitchen was equipped with old family recipe files, one early and one mid-twentieth century American cookbook, and Luigi Carnacina's "Great Italian Cooking", an encyclopedic collection of the many regions of that peninsula. Mediterranean vegetarian Lenten meals are well-represented in Carnacina.

Berkeley was no food desert, nor was the Fillmore District of San Francisco, to which I commuted. There was an old-fashioned butcher shop close to my work, and I could find fifteen-cent a pound lamb neck or bony chicken parts to salvage for curry or soup when I got home. A pressure cooker would have earned me a much earlier bedtime, but I was just learning. 

Not long after, I lived briefly in Salt Lake City and learned about the LDS tradition of keeping a year's worth of staples on hand. That was inspiring but not big news, because I had visited a cattle ranch in Northern California in the early Fifties and been impressed by the pantry, that was stocked to support a season's worth of meals for ranch hands, visitors, and the crew for a round-up.The place was twenty mountainous miles up a one-lane dirt road from the nearest store, and even farther from an electric power line. We ate very well. Beef, not surprisingly, appeared on the menu quite often. There were fresh vegetables from a garden patch. Canned, dried, or frozen substitutes will keep body and soul together, as will sprouts or a five-gallon bucket growing starts of greens. Cheese, dried milk, and dried fruits are all pre-electric answers to staying alive and well. The Cornell triple-rich bread formula turns starch into steak. Root vegetables, cabbage, and many fruits keep a long time in the refrigerator. Interestingly, long-keeping produce is the least expensive.

Put briefly, buy what you eat, eat what you buy, and use "Diet for a Small Planet" to plan menus. Leah Chase and Paul Prudhomme will show you the way to a glorious table when your savings pay off. The Great Big Discount Chain emerged from the punishing inflation of the early Eighties to salvage the food budgets of canny housekeepers, who had been known to negotiate group discounts on back to school clothes from regular stores. The chain's first food offerings were indistinguishable from the contents of that rancher's pantry. Transform dutiful kitchen necessity with olive oil, unsalted butter, wine vinegar, and fresh-ground pepper. Add spices to taste-30-

More after the jump.

Monday, June 19, 2017


No doubt I am woefully behind the curve on using vinegar to clean the house, but here goes. I filled a spray bottle with white vinegar to sanitize commercial salad greens (after a spray with hydrogen peroxide). The format proved so convenient I began to spray drinking glasses after washing for the cleanest rinse.

The vinegar spray migrated to the powder room sink, where I use it to detail ancient porcelain now and then. Upstairs, a vinegar spray makes short work of refreshing a plastic shower curtain, the tub, bath mat, and sink.

Next I'll try it on weeds -30- More after the jump.