I used to be a birthday pouter.
Yep. I sulked slightly in the weeks leading up. Then, on the morning of the big day, my jawbones jutted forward so that my lower lip was in the perfect position to catch all of the self-pity that I was able to muster.
It’s a tradition that began on June 9, 1970 at 4:42 p.m. CDT, and continued for about 40 years — until my bride finally called me on it.
‘What’s wrong, Adam?’
‘I don’t know,’ I responded. ‘I’m just feeling blue. Maybe a foot massage would help … I really just don’t know.’
After she trimmed my nails, Catherine made a warm water bath with some fancy salts and placed my feet in them. She then used the razor blade and pumice stone to take a few years off my heels. After more soaking, she broke out her mixture of sugar and baby oil.
‘This will get rid of any extra dead skin,’ she said as she massaged the concoction into my heels, arches and between my toes.
‘This is better than a haircut … or getting my pants hemmed,’ I said to her.
Within 20 minutes of her applying a thick coat of lotion, I was back to my annual moping ways. I could tell that Catherine was becoming frustrated — as she had for years.
‘Adam, if you could tell me what’s wrong I might be able to help,’ she said to me with wide eyes and a vocal tone that sounded of both anguish and growing impatience.
‘You know, Cat … This just happens to me every year,’ I responded. ‘I wish I knew.’
‘Is there anything I can do for you?’
‘Well … Maybe some beer and fried okra? And then sex?’ I answered. ‘Or maybe the sex first … then the beer and fried okra?’
After more than 15 years of surprising me with green apple Jelly Bellys, concert and baseball game tickets — and the best foot treatment one could imagine, my bride had had enough. She subsequently ground me into a fine powder.
‘You know what? You do this every year,’ she announced. ‘You sulk and pout! You want people to feel sorry for you. And when we do, you just break out more self-pity!’
‘I’m just melancholy,’ I said to her.
‘You know what I think? I think you are full of it!’ she snapped.
‘Full of the blues …’
‘No, Adam! Full of shit!’ she countered. ‘If you want to mope around and feel sorry for yourself, fine. But, I’m done trying to please you!’
‘Well … does that mean I don’t get sex on my birthday?’
Bad move on my part. As if my pathetic attempt at a birthday booty call wasn’t bad enough, my wife had just outed me — to myself. I’d been schooled. Dominated. Owned.
What came of my birthday antics that year? Birthday dinner by myself at Sonic — and a cold shower.
Oh … And happy happy birthdays ever since.
If you like what you read here, please help me spread the word. I’d also love for you to join me on Facebook (click the ‘like’ button), Pinterest and Google+. — Special thanks to Megan E. Hawkins at The Underground Writer for editing this piece.
I’ve never pouted about having wings on our menu. Truth is, neither has anyone else. But, the sauce can make all the difference. My son and I really like the sweet, salty spiciness of the Quick Thai sauce, whereas my wife and daughter prefer the brightness of the Lemon Butter. The Tangy Spicy Barbecue is a nostalgic favorite of mine. I first tasted it at a cookout at a relative’s home in New Jersey. He actually baked the wings in the sauce and brought the dish outside, but he still gets credit. Every time I eat these, I remember getting sticky fingers while gazing toward the Barnegat Bay.
Wings Three Ways
3 lbs – Chicken wings, split
Optional: Cover wings with salted water or milk and refrigerate at least 5-6 hours, or overnight. Drain and rinse when ready to cook.
Season wings with freshly ground black pepper and, if desired, Kosher salt. (Quick Thai sauce is already salty. So, you might want to avoid salting them prior to grilling.) Grill wings over medium-low heat for about 15-18 minutes, turning occasionally.
1/4 cup (1 stick) – Butter
2 cloves – Garlic, minced
2 TB – Lemon juice
1 tsp – Lemon pepper
Combine all ingredients. Melt in small saucepan or on microwave. Toss 1 lb. of grilled wings in sauce before serving.
1/4 cup – Soy sauce
1/4 cup – Cilantro leaves, chopped
2 cloves – Garlic, minced
2 TB – Ketchup
1 TB – Light brown sugar
1 TB – Chile garlic sauce (or Sambel Oelek)
Combine all ingredients. Baste wings during last 5 minutes of grilling. Toss 1 lb. of grilled wings in remaining sauce before serving.
Tangy Spicy Barbecue
1/4 cup – Barbecue sauce
1/4 cup – Louisiana-style Hot sauce
2 cloves – Garlic, minced
Combine all ingredients. Baste wings during last 5 minutes of grilling. Toss 1 lb. of grilled wings in remaining sauce before serving.
I’ve seen a lot of funky fruits and vegetables in my favorite food magazines and blogs — Broccoli Romanesco, purple Cauliflower, Jerusalem pickle and Surinam Cherry — that will never feel the water misters in the produce sections of most supermarkets. And, unfortunately, I don’t live around the corner from a Central Market or Whole Foods.
But, I do know how to water plants, which is how I’m able to enjoy some of the more obscure flora without leaving my home. I’ve grown all of the aforementioned, a slew of heirloom tomato varieties and some wicked hot peppers. Not to mention, I have a (potted) citrus garden that includes Meyer Lemon, Kaffir Lime, Kumquats and more.
What else must one do to enjoy such a bounty? Well? Aside from pulling a weed or two and praying to the rain gods, a little homemade compost goes a long way. Homemade compost will —
- Enrich the soil
- Prevent weeds
- Make your plants grow better — without the use of chemical fertilizers
- Reduce the amount of garbage in your trash cans
- Make you feel like one of those Hollywood environmentalists without spending $30K on a Prius
But, first you need a contraption to ‘cook’ those table scraps and lawn clippings. Before spending hundreds of dollars through one of those mail order companies, consider a fairly easy Do It Yourself project.
DIY – Your own compost bin
What you’ll need
55-gallon drum (barrel) – preferably plastic
2 – latches (stainless, brass or galvanized)
2 – Hinges (stainless, brass or galvanized)
Screws, washers, nuts & bolts (stainless or brass)
2 – 4×4 posts (at least 6 feet in length)
1 – Galvanized pipe (I used a chain link fence pole, but plumbing pipe is also good)
Before you get started: Make sure you use eye, ear and hand protection when using power tools. If you get blinded by a stray piece of plastic … Well, that’s not good. (And don’t even think of suing me, since I have no possessions.)
Cut the door
The doors on my composters are about 2-feet-wide by 1-foot in height. That size works for me, since I either empty the black gold into a wheelbarrow or shovel out a little at a time. Feel free to make yours any size you want, but consider how you’ll use it before you go cutting. — Measure twice. Cut once. (I used my Dremel with an all-purpose blade, but a jigsaw works fine.)
Install the hardware
I’ve suggested latches and hinges, but there is so much to choose from at hardware stores these days. You might find something else that you prefer, but make certain you don’t let the salesman talk you into zinc coated stuff (like I did). Why? Because it will begin rusting almost immediately. Especially the screws. Spend a couple of extra bucks. Better yet, consider buying the hardware at a marine store, since their goods are more likely to be resistant to water. — Mark your holes and drill. Install the latches and hinges.
Pre-cut the post & barrel holes
This is not entirely necessary. You can cut the holes after you set the posts, but I’m somewhat obsessive/compulsive. You’ll want to cut holes just slightly larger than the diameter of your pipe. This way, it’ll go through the wood, but won’t turn when you’re turning your barrel. (It might initially move a little, but the wood will tighten around it after a change in the weather.) You might also want to drill the holes and little larger and anchoring the pipe to the posts with more hardware, but that was too tedious for me. — Again, measure twice. Drill once. You want the holes to be even on both posts, else the neighbors might complain about your lacking construction skills.
As for getting the holes even on the top and bottom of the barrel, use your algebra and geometry. Or, call your dad, like I did.
Set the posts
Using posthole diggers, dig at least 2 feet down. Before you back-fill with concrete mix, place a piece of lumber on top of both posts and use a level to make sure they are in line vertically. You might have to tamp or dig a little more. — Backfill each hole with 25 lbs of concrete mix. (I pour the concrete in dry, then use a hose to wet it. Make sure the hose is on low pressure and that you let the water settle 3-4 times. Your hole is deep. Remember?) — Using that same level, straighten the posts so that they are perfectly upright. Now, use that piece of lumber again to make sure they are still vertically even. The concrete is still wet, so you can do a little more tamping and twisting, if necessary.
The posts should stay in place while the concrete is drying. But if you have a Great Dane or an ornery pony, lock them up elsewhere for a day.
Roll out the barrel
Once the posts are in place and won’t move (at least a day of curing), insert the pole through all of those evenly-drilled holes you installed.
Speaking of holes, you might want to drill a few small holes in the ends of the barrels to improve air circulation. (I didn’t, because I think the mixture gets enough air through the cracks in the doors.)
Congratulations. You now have your own compost tumbler. It’s just as effective as those $500 models, and you built yours for about $25.
1 part brown
- Pine straw
- Newspapers (torn up)
- Coffee/Tea grounds (Starbucks might give you these as part of their ‘Grounds for the Garden’ program.)
2 parts green
- Grass clippings
- Vegetable kitchen scraps
- Manure (cows, horses and elephants — nothing else)
- Urine (cows, horses and elephants — please post photos of collection method)
- Weeds (Yes! Weeds!)
Toss ingredients into your composter unit and give it a few spins on a daily basis. It’ll smell putrid for a few days. No worries. The key is to ‘cook’ the compost at 160F for about three days. Keep spinning. After a few weeks in the summer sun, your mixture should be ready to add to the bed or plant container.
There are plenty of recipes out there for compost starter. They’re all good. But, most are too complicated and time-consuming for the average gardener (and totally not necessary). Especially those ’50-1′ ratios.
- Some ‘experts’ will tell you to cure your compost after ‘cooking.’ After six years in the nursery business and more than 20 years as a gardener, I still insist that it can cure while in the flower bed.
- Other ‘experts’ highly recommend a certain ratio of green to brown. Just know that the green ingredients are the fuel for ‘cooking.’ You might decide that your compost isn’t progressing along at a decent pace. Easy enough. Add a week’s worth of vegetable peelings.
- I’ve made countless batches of ‘black gold.’ None of them look like the stuff on those cheesey sales postcards you receive in the mail. No worries. Yours is the real version and it’s good stuff.
- Some ‘authorities’ on composting insist that you shouldn’t add anything with seeds. That’s horse-hockey. I’ve thrown in every weed, tomato and pepper that grows around here. I’ve yet to see a volunteer pepper garden from my mixture. Just make sure you ‘cook’ the life right out of those seeds and you’ll be fine.
- Save your gallon-sized vinegar bottle. Place it beneath the composter so that it catches that nasty brown liquid that’ll leak out. You now have ‘compost tea,’ some of the most sought after natural liquid fertilizer on the planet.
- Better yet, plant a few hills of squash or some melons around your composter. They’ll get fertilized as you’re spinning. Sweetest melons ever.
I’ve been a parent for quite a while and a child even longer. Far from perfect in either capacity, my biggest gaffes have mainly involved something I’ve said.
Yep, I own the gamut of lingual lapses. And (too) many of them have been received by young ears.
On teachers and tweakers
It’s come back to haunt me countless times — offering up to my children a negative opinion about a teacher, or letting my child know that a friend’s mom is a meth head (or a hottie).
Just like loafing postal workers or the occasional ne’er-do-well police officer, lousy teachers are a fact of life. Want to make the situation even worse? Keep on discussing Miss McGillicuddy’s shortcomings at the dinner table. She’ll surely hear all about it the next morning.
So too will your daughter’s friend know what was said when inquiring about the slumber party.
Catherine – ‘Would you like to find someone else to spend the night with? Maybe we can have a few girls over for pizza and all-night movies?’
Me – ‘Yeah, because your friend’s mom can’t supervise you girls while she’s out hooking for her next hit of crack.’
‘Don’t tell Mom’
My 17-year-old son wants to listen to his music in a way that a factory-installed stereo just can’t offer. His numerous efforts — from explaining the difference in frequency response to trying to convince me that a new stereo would somehow save me money in the long run — wore me down to the point of acquiescence. We struck a deal: Get a job and I’ll buy the stereo.
I never really used the words ‘Don’t tell your mom’ about our agreement, but it was mutually understood. And, as I should have known from a copious amount of experience, she found out.
Even at age 17 … Even knowing that he is driving a vehicle paid for by someone else … Using gas paid for by someone else … and insured by someone else — he lost his cool when we couldn’t get the stereo within two hours of finding a job.
Guess who incurred Mom’s wrath when the boy spouted off about having a deal with Dad? And the kids tell me that life isn’t fair?
I remember once asking my parents whether I was planned — or an accident. I might have been 10 or 11. My mom abruptly laughed before providing an answer.
‘You were a surprise, sweetheart,’ she said in her attempt to quell any concerns.
A surprise. Nice try.
‘Surprise’ is a word used to describe secret birthday or retirement parties, unexpected tickets to a baseball game, a slinky new undergarment revealed by one’s lover in the most unlikely of places — or some hibbity dibbity when one only expected a turkey sandwich.
And that ‘surprise,’ no matter how wonderful, probably shouldn’t be revealed either. Especially if it resulted in another ‘surprise.’
Of roads and rails
Flying a kite is fairly safe. So is jumping into a lake, provided one knows how to swim. Eating worms isn’t so bad either, especially if the little crawlers are a big part of your traditional Aboriginal diet.
Playing in traffic or counting mufflers whilst lying on a railroad track are altogether different stories.
My wife was about six when her father became annoyed at her relentless pleas for a new toy.
‘Here’s a dollar,’ he told her. ‘Go play on 9W.’
To understand the depth (and humor) of what he said, one must know a little about 9W. It’s a main thoroughfare that winds through Bergen County, NJ and well into New York. Needless to say, it’s a busy road.
And Catherine had on her play clothes and walking shoes.
Her father found great humor, either with his comment or in his daughter’s willingness to play hopscotch in a busy intersection. Lillian wasn’t so pleased with the whole situation. By the time Mom caught up with her sightseeing young daughter, she’d had enough of the shenanigans.
Catherine received some swats on the behind. No word on whether Dad got a ‘surprise’ of sorts for his efforts, but it’s doubtful.
Truth is, parents really do have a favorite. And it changes on an hourly basis. This past Friday, for example, Alexandra was my favorite child for the better part of the day. Why? Because, by 10:20 a.m. I’d received an email from a teacher about my son leaving campus at 10 and parking in the employee parking lot.
‘Last day of school or not, Mr. Holland, rules are rules,’ she wrote.
Not one to recognize the sight or feel of skating on thin ice, the boy later came home and wanted to argue about wearing jeans to his band’s performance at a high school graduation.
But, Chris this week hasn’t altogether escaped the honor of being a parent’s fave. I’ve just managed to play it smart and not inform him — else I might end up getting coerced into buying a car stereo, or telling him to go play on US 80.
There’s no such thing as ‘grilling’ or ‘barbecue’ season in Texas. It’s a year-round event. But, we tend to grill more shrimp when the weather turns hot — probably because it’s never too heavy and it tends to pair very well with the bounty of in-season vegetables.
Most of the shrimp in the photo (below) was devoured in soft corn tortillas with ripe avocado and a pinch of cabbage slaw. Some of it was thrown onto a bowl of cold greens and ripe tomatoes to which a light vinaigrette was added. In other words, Grilled Shrimp w/ Ancho Chile Butter is a dish that offers much flexibility.
Grilled Shrimp w/ Garlic Ancho Chile Butter
2 lbs – Medium Shrimp
2 sticks (8 oz) – Butter
3 – Small Ancho chiles
2 – Garlic cloves, minced
Remove seeds and stems from chiles. Soak chiles in warm water for about 15 minutes, until soft. Chop finely, then cream with garlic and butter. Set aside.
Devein and remove tails from shrimp. If you don’t have a grill basket (for smaller foods), place shrimp on bamboo skewers that have been soaked in water for 15-20 minutes. Oil grill surface, then preheat grill to medium.
Grill shrimp about 5-6 minutes, or until pink (but not overdone). While shrimp are grilling, warm (melt) Ancho Chile Butter in a small saucepan. Toss grilled shrimp with Ancho Chile Butter in a large bowl. Add a few squeezes of lime juice and fresh cilantro. Season with Kosher salt, as desired.
Serve on a large platter.
This recipe works well for:
- Shrimp Tacos
- Southwest-style Shrimp Po Boys
- Surf & Turf
- A salad topper
- Eating out of hand (using a fork, of course)
Do you know that those vegetables and pasta on your dinner plate might’ve traveled more than you have — by ship, truck or train, then on another truck? Or that the tea you’re drinking likely came from an altogether different hemisphere?
There won’t be talk here about greenhouse gases, carbon footprint or the whole global warming (now global cooling) debate. Heck, I won’t even get into the popular water debate, except to mention that the wet stuff from France might have some extra silica in it — as does the H²O from Oklahoma.
But, enough about France. This is really about the United Nations orange juice that you might be drinking tomorrow morning with your Turkish breakfast bar.
A is for ‘asinine’
Check the label on your apple juice or flavored drink from the Cott Corp. The Ontario-based company is a huge supplier of private label soft drinks and other juice-type products — and they are the third largest customer of the Shaanxi Haisheng Fresh Fruit Juice Co., a large Chinese firm. I’m sure there is nothing wrong with Chinese-grown apples. And communist state-run companies have such a glorious history.
The latest available USDA report on single strength apple juice (for 2010) shows that the US imported from foreign countries 576.3 million gallons. China was the largest supplier, with Brazil and Chile following closely. As for fresh apples (if you want to call them that) imported during the same period, Chile and New Zealand were the biggest suppliers of the 422.36 million pounds. — Those locales are about 16,800 combined miles from there to here … Or, almost four roundtrips between Los Angeles and New York City … Or five scheduled oil changes on your car.
Now, drink this nifty little stat about apple exports: By comparison in 2010, the US exported about 8.7 million gallons of single strength apple juice, with Canadian companies buying more than half of it. In that same year, US companies bought more than 5 million gallons of juice from Canada. What’s wrong with this picture?
More Food Junkets
- Delallo (canned) Artichoke Hearts – Ecuador
- Dole (canned) Pineapple Chunks – Thailand
- Green Giant Cut (canned) Asparagus – Peru
- Green Giant (frozen) Asparagus – Mexico
- Green Giant (frozen) Broccoli Spears – Mexico
They probably come from here, but…
I enjoy Claussen brand pickles. Particularly the spicy version. I recently noticed on the jar that the field-to-can time isn’t exactly what a ‘fresh’ pickle should be. So I called the company (Kraft) and talked to a very nice lady named Laura.
Me – ‘Hi, Laura. First, let me just say that I’m a fan of Claussen pickles, and that this call is not a complaint.’
Laura – ‘Sure. Thank you. We appreciate that. What can I do for you?’
Me – ‘Well, I’ve noticed on the jar that there are eight days between picking and packing. That seems like a while. I just want to know why it takes so long.’
Her – ‘That’s a good question.’
Me – ‘I’m sure you aren’t growing cucumbers right outside of the canning plant, but still … I can get to Angola on a raft in eight days.’
After being placed on hold for a couple of minutes, Laura returned and informed me that the cukes are picked, packed on ice and shipped to the processing facility in Illinois. The rest, she told me, is proprietary.
Me – ‘Thanks for that information. Perhaps it’s just an average time? Where are the cucumbers grown?’
Laura – ‘Oh, Sir. I can’t reveal that information for the safety of the workers.’
Me – ‘Huh? Really? You think I’m going to go hurt the cucumber farmers?’
Her – ‘It’s just company policy. I’m really sorry.’
Me – ‘Can you at least give me a state or a region?’
As it goes, Laura told me that Kraft doesn’t provide her with that information. So, I did a little research. Their cucumbers appear to be grown in the US. Pick your state, because they’re planted and harvested just about everywhere. Eight days though? I don’t know that I’d be advertising that.
And another thing about water
Are you drinking bottled? Odds are, that label art is somewhat misleading — unless it shows a kitchen faucet. More than 25 percent of all U.S. bottled water comes from a municipal water supply somewhere. And then there are other waters, such as one from Maine (it shares the same name as a country) that doesn’t all come from that source. It’s sort of like paying real diamond prices for a lab version that ‘looks the same under a microscope.’
Want to know where your water comes from? Install a filter on your tap and drink to your heart’s content. And if you’re a little jealous that your watermelon has more passport stamps than the US ambassador to Luxembourg, grow your own. Or, at least wait until they are in season – here.
In a month or so, I’ll be ready again for soup weather. East Texas’ daytime high temperatures are regularly into the 90s this time of year and will keep climbing through August. The one great thing about our weather — the bounty of fresh (local) vegetables. The following recipe is more of a technique. I like to add mushrooms to the mix, but this dish is also outstanding with bell peppers (choose the red ones for a nice color contrast) or fresh herbs of your choice (the Italian and Mexican spices are a dream). If you’re a ‘Meatless Monday’ type, double the recipe. Otherwise, Sautéed Summer Squash makes an excellent side for whatever is on the grill or stove.
Sautéed Summer Squash
3-4 – Yellow Squash (crookneck or straight neck)
3-4 – Zucchini Squash
3-4 – Fresh mushrooms, sliced
1 – Garlic clove, minced
1 – Shallot, minced
1 TB – Garlic scapes, chopped (optional)
1 TB – Extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Julienne the squash, using a knife or mandoline. Heat the oil in a large sautée or sauce pan over medium-high. Add oil, garlic and shallot. Cook for about 30 seconds and add mushroom slices. Cook for another 2-3 minutes, stirring regularly. Add squash and, if desired – black pepper. Stir frequently for about 4-5 minutes. Season with Kosher salt to taste.
Makes 4-5 delicious sides.
I remember those who gave their lives for me. Not only this weekend, but always.
I think of their ultimate sacrifice daily — when I speak to or think about my father. He lived to tell the stories about others who didn’t.
April 7, 1966
My father, as I’ve mentioned here before, was raised in rural poverty. He spent his summers picking cotton in the fields of north Texas. Many of his meals came only because of his true aim. War was his way out.
At 70, Dad’s memory is fading, but he still recalls Operation Abilene.
‘I don’t remember exactly where we were, but it was a thick jungle in the Mekong Delta,’ Dad told me. ‘We were in a convoy and Sgt. (Martin) Cox was in the lead Jeep.’
It was April 7, 1966 and my father — a member of the U.S. Army’s 1st Infantry Division (the engineers of the Big Red One) — was among hundreds of soldiers preparing for what would end up being the Battle of Xa Cam. The battle itself, on April 11-12, resulted in an 80 percent casualty rate for the fighters from the U.S. and New Zealand. But, Dad’s unit suffered its first casualty a few days before.
‘We were winding through [the narrow trail] in trucks and we heard a loud bang up ahead,’ he said. ‘We later learned that Sgt. Cox was killed … We didn’t get word about a lot of people, but word came down about Sgt. Cox.’
Dad went on to explain how the Viet Cong set off the explosion that destroyed Sgt. Cox’s vehicle.
‘His Jeep ran over an unexploded artillery shell … probably a Claymore. There were some duds out there that [the Viet Cong] would recover and detonate,’ he said. ‘They’d sit in the jungle and wait.’
Dad never told me that his presence there made him nervous, although it must have. He was the first enlisted member of the Big Red One to set foot on Vietnam soil, having landed at Cam Ranh Bay in July, 1965. The television images of death and destruction were still few and far between.
April 30, 1975
After about 10 years and hundreds of thousands of civilian and military deaths on both sides (more than 1 million North Vietnamese, according to their stats), Saigon was within reach of the North Vietnamese. By then, the US television networks were providing continuous coverage.
‘Your father paced back and forth … keeping an eye on the TV,’ my mother once told me.
At that time, my family lived on South 12th Street in Longview, Texas. I can only imagine the details of my dad standing on the hardwood floors of that pier and beam structure … the echo of his steps resonating throughout the house as Walter Cronkite’s image appeared within the large wooden console.
‘He was worried about that little girl … the one that he had taken dozens of photos of,’ Mom told me.
My father has always loved capturing images on film. Back in the day, most of his pictures were on slides.
The little girl showed up on dozens of them — so much so that my mom jokingly asked him whether she knew everything about his year in Vietnam.
‘We were stationed near a village outside of Saigon … I saw her every day,’ Dad told me. ‘I tried everything to get her to smile. She just wouldn’t do it.’
In my day, Dad would become somewhat ornery when we wouldn’t smile for the annual Easter or Christmas photo. In fact, I’m fairly certain that a few of those photos show me with dried tears. Yes. I was a practical joker-smartass even in my younger days, and my dad didn’t tolerate it during photo shoots.
But, this little girl was different.
Her world had been invaded my men who wore olive drab-colored uniforms and spoke a different language. And carried guns. Dad worried about her escape. Though he doesn’t talk about it, I think he might still wonder.
Those who gave all
Today, I will go to my father’s home and visit with him. We will talk about why his iMac won’t play Flash videos. I will set him up. The conversation will then go to his garden and how he wants to use my pressure cooker to ‘put up’ his crop of green beans.
I am a fortunate son.
I know people whose brothers, fathers and uncles never came home from Pearl Harbor, Vietnam, Lebanon and Iraq.
One man in 1992 told me that he would never buy a certain brand of car — since that company made the engine that powered the Japanese A6M (‘Zero’). He saw his brother take a fatal bullet from one of those long-range fighter planes on December 7, 1941.
I’ve heard many personal accounts about death and destruction in southeast Asia. Young men were sent to an area of the world that they’d never heard of – never studied about in geography – and they never returned home.
As a journalist, I met several mothers and fathers who lost their sons. One young man, a strapping member of the US Marine Corps, was also a fellow Eagle Scout. His parents’ eyes were empty as I spoke to them. I can only imagine their pain.
Aside from one person who claimed that her husband died in the Civil War, my family members have all returned home to marry, help raise families and build at least a few paragraphs for their eventual obituaries. I’ve never served in such a dangerous capacity.
But, I often think about those who did. And of those whom I never knew … who never came home.
Memorial Day in the South usually means briskets and ribs go on sale at the local grocery. It also means that every state park and lake is at capacity. In the Northeast — New York, New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania in particular — Memorial Day is the unofficial start of summer. It’s on this weekend that living in a shore town becomes hell on earth … at least when it comes to getting anywhere, since half of New York City’s residents call the Jersey Shore home during the summer weekends.
We lived in Manahawkin (GSP Exit 63), which is the gateway to Long Beach Island. While Hurricane Sandy wreaked some havoc there, latest reports are that they are open for business. It’s not quite the same a few miles north in Seaside Heights, where a chain link fence blocks access to the historical and ever popular Casino Pier. But, the boardwalk there is brand new and crowds jonesing for cheese steaks and sausage & peppers sandwiches are still in luck.
Boardwalk Sausage & Peppers Sandwich
8 – Sweet Italian sausage links
1 small – Yellow onion, sliced
2 – Garlic cloves, crushed
3 medium – Bell Peppers, cored, seeded and thinly sliced
2 TB – Extra virgin olive oil
4 – Italian or hoagie rolls, split
2 cups – Marinara (your favorite jarred version is fine)
2 cups – Mozzarella cheese, shredded
Preheat grill to low.
On an aluminum tray or large sheet of heavy-duty foil (with edges folded upward), toss onion, garlic and peppers with oil. Place on grill. Top with sausage links. Close grill. Using non-piercing tongs, stir vegetables regularly so that they cook evenly. After about 6-7 minutes, sausages should begin to render fat. At this point, place them directly on the grill — indirect heat, if possible. Turn sausages regularly, about 7-8 more minutes. When juices run clear, place them back onto the pan/foil with peppers, onions and garlic. Add about 1/3 cup marinara to the sausage and peppers. Combine. Allow to sit on grill for about 2 minutes, then remove.
Toast rolls on grill, brushing with olive oil, if desired.
Place 2 sausage links, a fourth of the peppers/onions, warmed marinara sauce and 1/2 cup Mozzarella on each roll. Season with Kosher salt, if desired.
Makes 4 sandwiches. (You’ll need plenty of napkins.)
Not many people know that peaches and roses attend family reunions together. Or that the one weed that wreaks most havoc during spring is closely related to a widely accepted cure for those same sniffles.
It’s also true that produce and spice marketers throw the word ‘pepper’ around like a politician tosses about promises in late October.
Read on, and don’t worry about pronunciations. Instead, picture yourself at your next dinner party educating your guests about the toxicity once held within those tomatoes, and the odor that they’ll be … releasing … after eating those roasted asparagus.
If you’ve eaten a bowl of lettuce greens drizzled with safflower oil and topped with sunflower seeds, you’ve had an Asteraceae salad. It’s the second largest genus of flora known to botanists and includes every food item from globe and Jerusalem artichokes to chicory (used in New Orleans-brewed coffee).
If you’ve gone through sneezing fits this spring, ragweed — another member of the Asteraceae tribe — might have been the cause. If you’d have taken a supplement of Echinacea, you could have very well prevented that upper respiratory problem. No worries. Yarrow might help you. Yep. They belong to the same family, as do many of the flowers — Chrysanthemums, Marigolds, Dahlias and Zinnias — that will bring color to your garden this year.
Tomatoes and Potatoes are both members of the genus Solanum, which also includes some popular ornamentals, such as the Potato Vine and False Jerusalem Cherry (also known as Winter Cherry).
Did you know? For centuries, many cultures feared the tomato because it’s a member of the Nightshade family. While the ripened fruit is not poisonous, those old-timers weren’t totally wrong. Tomato leaves and (uncooked) green fruit are toxic to humans.
If you’re a wordsmith and prefixes mean something to you, you very quickly figured out that this family of plants includes the Amaryllis – or, Lily (a common name). One of my favorite vegetables belongs in this family — Asparagus.
I’ve grown several Asparagus varieties and don’t understand why the powers-that-be don’t classify Asparagus as a grass (up close, it resembles St. Augustine or Centipede). Perhaps I should be patient, since this wonderful vegetable was once botanically classified with Orchids.
Did you know? Just a bite of Asparagus causes an … odd urine odor. (Yes, I said ‘urine’ in a food blog. Shoot me.) Interestingly, not all people have the olfactory ability to detect said odor.
This one’s quite confusing. Pepper is a common name with no botanical standing. Problem is, your local farmer’s market or grocery store markets products by the common name. Here’s the skinny:
The black pepper that you use at the table is a member of the Piperaceae family. The restaurant version is a member of the same family, but some of those establishments buy Piperaceae on the cheap, which means it also includes food-grade paper dust. (True story. Just look for the grey powder at the bottom of the pepper shaker.)
Those peppers that you stuff, slice, fry and char are of the Capsicum genus, which is actually a member of the Solanaceae family. Yep. More Nightshade fruits. That could be a reason that tomatoes and peppers taste so … natural together.
Then you have your Pimenta genus, which is a member of the Myrtaceae (Myrtle) family. It’s most known products are Allspice and Pimenta racemosa (Bay Rum), which you can find in the aftershave section of most ethnic markets.
Did you know? Those pink peppercorns in that tri-colored mix aren’t peppers at all. They are dried berries from the Schinus molle. The US Food & Drug Administration in the 1980s temporarily banned the import of pink peppercorns grown in Brazil out of concern for potential ill-effects.
It’s a small world, after all … especially when one considers the Prunus genus. Let’s start with the South’s favorite variety, the Prunus persica — also known as the peach. That Latin moniker also describes the nectarine, which — except for the ‘fuzz’ gene — is identical to Georgia’s pride and joy. (‘Nectarine cobbler’ sounds sort of weird though.) They’re most closely related to the almond, believe it or not, because of the corrugated seed shell. Other favorite stone fruits (fruits that have a skin and flesh that surround a seed) in the Prunus clan include apricots, cherries and plums.
Perhaps the grooviest aspect of Prunus varieties is that they are all members of the Rosaceae family. Not the skin disease (although those red patchy skin lesions borrow their name from it), but from the flowers that say everything from ‘I love you,’ to ‘Peace, my sister’ — roses.
Did you know? Persica translates to Persia, which translates to modern-day Iran. That’s where the South’s favorite fruit originated.
I have a confession: I have always enjoyed Regis Philbin. He reminds me a lot of my radio mentor for reasons that are difficult to explain. I have always despised his first co-host for other reasons. Still, I own a cookbook that the pair published and it includes a recipe from Regis’ wife that can be classified as go-to around these parts. I’ve made a few adjustments through the years to suit our tastes. It’s also great for a weeknight meal.
Farfalle w/ Chicken & Sun-dried Tomatoes
1/4 cup – Olive oil
3 cloves – Garlic, finely chopped
1/2 lb – Boneless chicken thigh meat, cut into 1 inch pieces
1 1/2 cups – Broccoli florets
3/4 cup – Sun-dried tomato packed in oil, drained,thinly sliced
1 tsp – Dried basil
1 tsp – Red pepper flakes
1/4 cup dry white wine
3/4 cup chicken stock
2 TB – Butter
1/2 lb bow tie pasta, cooked according to package directions,drained
Grated Parmesan cheese
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
In a large skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Saute garlic for about 1 minute, until golden, stirring constantly.
Add chicken strips and saute until white and almost completely cooked, about 2 minutes. Add broccoli and saute until crisp-tender; then add sun-dried tomatoes, basil and red pepper flakes.
Add wine, then stock and cook 3-5 minutes, or until heated through, stirring occasionally. Add wine. Cook for another minute, or so. Add cooked pasta. Toss.
Season with Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste. Top with Parmesan.
I’m a channel flipper.
My propensity has introduced me on the radio to everything from XXX-rated talk shows (no kidding) to relatively unknown music from Clem Snide, Seasick Steve and Ray LaMontagne, among others. Flipping through TV broadcasts lately has led me to beautiful places that I never knew existed, docu-dramas about misbehaving felines and strangely compelling Spanish-language soap operas.
And to those shopping channels.
There was a time in my life during which I’d giggle when something arrived via UPS from my wonderful mother in-law. It struck me as funny when we had to sign for ‘fresh’ caramel apples or Italian-style breaded chicken breasts. But, no more.
My new shopping mall
Indoor shopping malls reached their peak of popularity during my childhood. They are the only places in the world where loitering while noshing on warm cookies or tiny beads of ice cream is encouraged. The mall is where, as a 13-year-old, you could try on a $7,000 Tag Heuer before going to the gag store to check out the trashy posters and poop-scented aerosol. Fun stuff.
But, the shopping channels offer even more.
In only four hours of viewing, I learn about the beauty of Diamonique, sodalite pavé
and smoky quartz bangles. I also acquire some fashion sense during a 10-minute clearance on floral print stretch denim. Who knew it was all the rage? Did you also know that some vitamins are better than others? The inventor of the world’s best supplements is right there on my TV screen giving me the straight skinny.
During that same four hours, I am able to hear that Betty Sue from North Carolina had been eyeing that 5-in-1 jar opener for months.
‘My husband’s out hunting with the boys, so I thought I’d go ahead treat myself,’ Betty Sue’s sweet little Southern voice emits from my TV speakers.
Constantly nodding and looking at the camera, the host breaks in.
‘Betty Sue … Betty Sue … Did you take advantage of our easy payment plan? ‘
‘Oh yes,’ she giggles. ‘In three months, I’ll own this outright.’
Just as Betty Sue tells the jovial host that her mother is a fan, he offers up a hug and lets her know how lucky she is to have purchased the very last of the cornflower blue-colored 5-in-1 jar openers.
‘We are down to slate grey, cayenne crimson and Hope Diamond blue — all beautiful complements to any kitchen! — Thank you, Betty Sue and tell your mom that I’m a fan of hers too!’
I also discover a new celebrity chef. I’m not sure that she’s written any cookbooks or has fronted her name to a chain of restaurants, but she sure as heck knows her way around that 60-piece salad prep kit, which is available in 27 colors, by the way.
The host says they’ll be bringing in the electronics guru to pitch quasiphonic surround sound speakers — with free shipping and a complimentary doohickey to prevent wire tangles. So, I’ll have to take an hour break, else I could find myself in some serious financial trouble.
But, the mismatched rain boots (Christmas for my wife) and the world’s best ever crab cakes ensure that I’ll be flipping channels again. Real soon.
If the average cup of chile con queso is a Chevrolet, Queso Fundido is a Rolls Royce. This ain’t your average run-of-the-mill cheese dip. Queso Fundido is a gooey molten skillet of stringy Heaven. And it’s a life experience.
I had my first taste of Queso Fundido back in 1983 at a Mexican restaurant in Dallas. They used white cheese and roasted Poblanos over beef fajita strips. It is often served in restaurants with chorizo — also delicious. My version doesn’t include meat, but a mixture of melting cheeses, smoky Poblano and bright cilantro. Served with Salsa Quemado (roasted tomato salsa), tortilla chips and crostini, this is an off-the-charts appetizer.
Queso Fundido w/ Salsa Quemada
1 lb – Mexican melting cheese*, shredded
1/2 lb – Sharp Cheddar, shredded
1/2 lb – Monterrey Jack, shredded
2 – Roasted & peeled Poblano peppers, seeds removed and chopped finely
1/2 cup – Cilantro leaves, chopped
1/2 cup – Beer (optional)
Preheat oven to 400ºF.
Combine all ingredients and place in a 12-inch cast iron skillet. Place in oven until melted and bubbly, about 10 minutes. (If using beer or other liquid, stir once during cooking.)
*-Manchego, Queso Quesadilla, Asadero; Mozzarella can be subsituted.
Make a well in center of melted cheese, add warmed Salsa Quemada. Serve directly from skillet with corn chips and crostini.
6 – Roma tomatoes (about 1 lb.), halved and seeded
4 – Garlic cloves, smashed
1/2 cup – White onion, coarsely chopped
1 – Serrano pepper, seeded and chopped (or more, for spicier palates)
1/2 cup – Fresh Cilantro leaves
3 TB – Orange juice
2 – Ancho chiles, soaked in 2 cups warm water for about 15 minutes
Kosher salt, to taste
Preheat oven to 350ºF.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place tomatoes on sheet and drizzle lightly with olive oil. Roast for about 30 minutes, then flip tomatoes. Add garlic and onion. Roast for another 30 minutes, or so. Tomatoes should have some light charring.
Allow mixture to cool slightly. Place in blender or food processor with Serrano, cilantro and orange juice. Process until mixture has reached desired consistency, thinning with Ancho liquid (Ancho chiles can be reserved for another use) as desired.
Let sit at room temperature for a couple of hours and season to taste.