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.
How well do you know your meat? Seriously. Are you swayed by labels that say ‘fresh’ or ‘natural?’ And that burger you’re eating … is it really made from ground chuck?
Before I scare you away, this installment is only intended to serve as a quick education for your next meat-buying outing and includes nothing that will cause you shame, guilt or an upset stomach. For all of my friends abroad, my sources are US-based and apply mainly to meat that originates here. For all of you goat and lamb lovers: sorry.
Also known as baby beef, some of us veal eaters still get wicked strange looks from people. And it’s mainly because people are uninformed.
At one time, the majority of (veal) calves were raised in extremely tight confines — as in not being able to move. Keeping them in hutches or crates helps prevent the development of connective tissue, which makes for very tender meat. But those methods are rapidly being phased out by American veal producers. In fact, several US states have outlawed veal crates. Some producers in other states have eliminated the crates on their own, opting instead for free-roaming animals. Veal crates were banned in the European Union more than five years ago.
A few reasons to consider veal
- The USDA does not permit the use of hormones in any veal calves, though there are a few outlaws out there.
- Free-raised veal (check the label or with a reputable butcher) is harvested at about four-months-old after a diet of grass and mother’s milk. Hormones and antibiotics are not used.
- Veal, particularly the free-raised variety, contains about half the fat as its white-meat chicken counterpart. Standard (‘baby’ formula-fed) veal contains more fat than your average chicken breast, but less fat than lean pork and half the fat of lean beef.
I sure hate picking on beef. It is my favorite of the ‘meat’ food group. But, alas, I’m aware of some anecdotal information that might come in handy for bovine lovers. My source: a trusted family member who worked many years for a large (nationwide) distributor of meat.
- Ground round? Chuck? Who’s to know? Truth is, there’s no real way to know what you are buying when it comes to ground beef. But, I do know that your ground round probably has an ounce or two of chuck, brisket and whatever else was resting on the blades and on the cutter’s table.
- What about the fat content of that ground beef? You bought 90/10, but can you prove it?
- How fresh is the ground? Did it come from meat that was just about expired? Only the butcher knows.
Now, before you go interrogate your local meat cutter, just remember that you’ve never gotten sick from that 70/30 chuck used to make the world’s best burgers. Also know that they are meat cutters — guys who get large chubs or slabs of stuff from a regional distributor. They cannot really answer your questions accurately. It’s true. Local butchers are a dying breed. Want to know more about your ground? Grind it yourself.
So, what about the actual cuts? Well, if you know your cuts of beef, you’re good to go. Otherwise, use the Internet. There are several good (free) sources out there who can illustrate what a tri-tip or Chateaubriand should look like.
And the grades? Beef is graded by the amount of marbling (fat), as seen below.
It has always amazed me that the people who look at me funny for eating veal are the same ones who nosh on yard bird four nights a week. Except that it’s not ‘yard bird.’ Go visit a poultry operation some time and you’ll see what looks like a winged version of Woodstock — packed in like sardines — for weeks, until they are processed.
There are a few ‘free range’ operations out there, but it’s nothing like most people imagine. For starters, there aren’t hundreds of birds frolicking in some giant Teletubby-esque meadow. The USDA only requires that free range-certified poultry operations provide access to the outside. Period. That means simply that the farmer must leave open the door to the chicken house.
A few more ‘fish stories’ about poultry
- ‘Natural’ is often used on chicken labeling. Well … yes. But many things are ‘natural,’ including (but not limited to) dirt, mud and manure. I suppose tobacco is natural too. So are poisonous mushrooms, but I digress. Just don’t let the ‘natural’ label sway you.
- ‘Fresh.’ According to the USDA, poultry producers may use this adjective on the label only if the product has never been below an internal temperature of 26°F (the freezing point of poultry). Have you ever had a jar of pickles freeze in the back of your refrigerator? Me too. And, guess what. The same thing happens on refrigerated trucks and in grocery stores. Such is why the USDA allows varying temperatures — up to 2°F. Fresh? Yeah right.
- ‘No Hormones.’ Since the USDA prohibits the use of hormones in the farming of poultry (and pork), such a label is … useless? In fact, it’s not allowed — unless the label also includes fine print that says the use of hormones is prohibited.
Did you know? We see ‘hen’ or ‘tom’ on turkey labels and it has nothing to do with the meat being tender or tough (make up your own joke here). The sex designation on the label, according to the USDA, is intended only to describe the size of the bird. (Again, make up your own joke.)
I was once on a cruise and was eating breakfast with a group of Brooklyn Jews. They were all eating breakfast — with double sides of bacon — as their wives recovered in their cabins from purported headaches. When I mentioned that they were breaking their own rabbinical laws, they responded that they were on vacation. — Truth is, I’m a genetic member of the same tribe. And — oy vey — I’m a sinner too!
While bacon doesn’t seem to have changed in my 40-plus years of eating it, the rest of the hog has. It’s about 25 percent leaner than it was just 15-20 years ago, thanks to improved breeding and feeding techniques. In fact, the USDA in 2011 revised the recommended (internally) cooked temperature of pork to 145°F, with three minutes of rest time. Though many people still wince at the idea of eating a pork chop with a pink center, it’s generally safe — as long as the temperature is where it’s supposed to be.
Did you know? Virginia hog farmers earned a reputation for raising the best-tasting pork — particularly ham — because the swine each fall grazed the peanut fields for leftovers. Peanuts gave way to more modern and economical feeding methods more than 40 years ago at facilities of major producers.
There might be 1,000 uses for ketchup or 57 uses for that famous sauce from our friends at Heinz, but fresh Cilantro Sun-dried Tomato Pesto is right up there with salsa when it comes to wonderful taste and multiple ways to use it. The recipe takes fewer than five minutes to produce. The possibilities are virtually endless. I’ve given you a few of my favorites to get you started.
Cilantro Sun-dried Tomato Pesto
2 – Small Cilantro bunches
3 – Garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup – Roasted Sunflower or Pumpkin (pepita) seeds
1 TB – Shallot, minced
2 TB – Sun-dried tomatoes in olive oil, diced
1 TB – Lime juice (or 1 TB Yuzu or Calamondin juice)
About 1/2 cup – Olive oil (from sun-dried tomatoes)
Kosher salt, to taste
Combine all ingredients, beginning with about 1/4 cup of the Olive oil from sun-dried tomatoes. Add salt and additional oil to your desired taste and consistency.
Some suggested uses:
- Marinate chicken in salsa for 3-5 hours; grill over low heat; finish with Cilantro Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto;
- Use Cilantro Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto to finish grilled fish, shrimp or beef;
- Brush over grilled corn;
- Mix entire Cilantro Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto recipe with cream cheese; serve with chips;
- Add a TB of Cilantro Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto to store-bought salsa to improve the flavor and appearance
- Toss entire recipe with a pound of cooked pasta and serve warm; or use it as a base ‘sauce’ for cold pasta salad (adding more oil, as necessary); or
- Use a TB at a time to jazz up any tomato-based soup or chili.
Only two people in my life have ever bought my underwear – my mom and (then) my wife.
It’s not that I can’t do for myself. I just don’t know my size or where to find men’s skivvies in my local department store. But that’s not the only knowledge I’m not privy to.
My wife, for example, knows when another woman is flirting with me.
‘Please, Catherine. That’s flattering, but you’re crazy,’ I’ve said. ‘How do you know? She only told me hello.’
‘Because I know,’ Catherine usually responds. ‘I can see how she looks at you.’
‘And that’s the basis of your opinion?’ I’ll ask, sarcastically.
‘That’s all I need,’ she’ll inevitably say.
And, after pulling my pants above my overlapping stomach and pushing my chest outward, I’ll usually feel like a stud for about five minutes. Then … I come to my senses.
Next time, though, I might just see things her way.
I experienced a ‘Hello! McFly!‘ moment a couple of weeks back … Heck. Who am I kidding? It was more like a ‘getting hit upside the head with the 3½ inch heel of a Manolo Blahnik pump‘ moment.
An epiphany. Oracle. Divine communication.
On the day designated as Administrative Professionals’ Day (formerly known as Administrative Assistants’ Day and Secretaries’ Day), I was concentrating my efforts on the PR and media relations surrounding an event with national implications. For the better part of that morning, I shook hands and lined up broadcast and print interviews.
And then, about noon, came the smack heard throughout my inner world.
‘Oh, Adam! You are so sweet,’ a charming voice called out.
I looked to my left and saw that it was Debbie, our office manager, coming from our office suite. Her smile was as sincere as it was wide. She walked toward me with arms extended.
‘You are really sweet,’ she said as she offered me a hug. ‘Thank you so much.’
I was dumbfounded.
‘Uh … yeah,’ I responded with a confused look on my face.
‘C’mon Adam. Don’t act like you don’t know,’ she said. ‘The flowers … They are very nice. Thank you.’
‘Oh. Um … Yes. You’re welcome,’ I replied as I was trying to snag a quick glance through the crowd and office glass at the bouquet on her desk.
I made my way back into the crowd and sent a text to the other person in our suite – a lady who has more than once been in charge of our 8,400-student school district and is known throughout east Texas as someone who gets things done. She’s also a good friend and one of my many de facto moms.
12:08 p.m. – Thanks for covering me! How much do I owe you?
It was then that I saw the following text messages from my wife.
10:58 a.m. – Adam, I sent flowers to Debbie in your name. They should be delivered in about an hour.
11:54 a.m. – Adam! Read your messages!
A couple of days later, my wife forwarded me the following email:
I love the flowers and by the grin on Adam’s face when I thanked him yesterday I knew who the behind the scenes person was …
They are so pretty and I love you and Adam both!!!!
My wife has covered me many times with birthday cards, ‘thank you’ notes and more RSVPs than I can even count. Other women in my life have also served as living and breathing flack jackets – protecting me from everything from embarrassing moments and other women, to cholesterol and parking tickets.
They also seem to have unparalleled insight when it comes to buying men’s underwear … and who actually bought the flowers.
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 — and several other women — for editing this piece.
Chili is the official dish of Texas, but chicken fried steak is the Lone Star State’s national dish. It’s quite simple, really — a lesser cut of beef that’s been seasoned, dredged in flour and fried. But, there’s something so heavenly about it, that it was the only thing I would eat in the Longview High School cafeteria during my youth. It was always served on Wednesdays. If I was lucky enough to have any lunch money from the previous two days of craps games, I’d order two of them.
To be considered authentic, it must be served with sawmill (sometimes mistakenly called ‘cream’) gravy, mashed potatoes and Texas toast, for sopping. The other side dish is optional. Chicken fried steak is also a culinary masterpiece when served between two pieces of Texas toast, with shredded lettuce, a tomato slice and mayo.
Chicken Fried Steak w/ Sawmill Gravy
2 lbs – Beef (bottom round; sirloin or flank)
Freshly Ground Black Pepper
1 cup – Milk
2 – Eggs, beaten
All-purpose flour (about 2-3 cups)
Peanut or vegetable oil, for frying
Trim the meat of excess fat and cut into serving size pieces — about 4-5 ounces each. Place each slice between two pieces of wax paper or plastic wrap and tenderize using a meat tenderizing mallet or needle tenderizer. Each piece of meat should be about 1/3 to 1/4-inch thick.
Optional step: In a large container, pour about 3 cups milk or buttermilk over meat slices. Refrigerate for at least 3 hours, or (preferably) overnight. Remove meat from milk marinade and pat dry.
Combine 1 cup milk with beaten eggs in a large shallow bowl. Set aside.
Add oil to a 12-15 inch cast iron skillet to a depth of about 1/2 inch. Heat to medium-high (about 350ºF).
Sprinkle salt and pepper, to your liking, on each piece of meat, keeping in mind that flour breading is not seasoned. Dredge each piece of meat in flour, pressing firmly with fingertips. Shake off excess, then dip into milk/egg mixture. Dredge in flour again. — Repeat with all pieces as oil is heating.
Test the oil by dropping a small pinch of flour in the pan. If it immediately sizzles, it’s ready.
Carefully place 1-2 breaded steaks into the hot oil. (Three of these steaks will overcrowd most pans. Yes, you’re hungry, but don’t do it.) Cook until golden on each side — about 3-4 minutes per side. Place cooked pieces on a cooling rack or parchment-lined baking sheet and place in a warm oven. Repeat with the remainder of the steaks.
Makes 5-6 chicken fried steaks.
3 TB – Vegetable Oil (which should remain from the frying)
3 TB – All-Purpose flour (which should remain from the dredging)
About 4 cups – Milk
Kosher salt and Freshly ground black pepper
Depending on how much oil remains in the skillet, adjust it so that it is equal to about 4 TB. (The heat should still be on medium-high.)
Add flour to oil and whisk vigorously, loosening bits of cooked breading while you stir. After flour has browned slightly (about 1 minute of whisking), slowly add milk. Continue whisking, else the gravy will have large lumps. Add a liberal amount of black pepper (about 2 TB).
When gravy begins to bubble, reduce heat slightly and stir with whisk or wooden spoon for another minute, or so. It should be thickened, but not pasty (it will thicken slightly upon cooling). Cook longer or add milk, as necessary.
Season with salt to taste. Serve over chicken fried steaks.
Rules are meant to be broken.
A little more than two years ago, when I was tossing around the idea of ranting publicly, I almost immediately decided that no one else’s essay would make it to the body of my page — much less the headline. Then, by complete accident, I met Megan Hawkins of The Underground Writer. She’s fairly new to the world of blogging. But her ability to draw you in to her often-humorous stories is anything but the work of a rookie. Following is one of my favorites.
Perseverance is an admirable attribute. Monarch butterflies migrate over 3,000 miles on their fragile wings – persevering through harsh elements and predators – to warmer climates. Men and women serving in the military persevere through long separations from their families. Cancer victims persevere through treatments that often make them feel worse than the cancer itself. And some old men persevere, despite the odds, at the pursuit of younger women.
Whether these men think they’re still desirable, or they just want to give it one last shot, remains a mystery. But their tenacity is commendable and the methods they use to seduce their prey are rather intriguing. The wooing tactics old men commonly utilize can be narrowed down to three approaches: creative, debonair and reckless.
The debonair approach is considered the most commonly used method by old men in their pursuit of younger ladies. The debonair approach tends to include an invitation of some sort; such as dinner or a cup of coffee. The debonair approach also handles any rejection with dignity. While grocery shopping one hot August day, my mother was approached by an old man wearing galoshes and a raincoat (it was sunny out). He asked my mom if she would like to return to his apartment after she had finished shopping. When my mother declined, the old man shrugged and said, “Figured it was worth a shot” before walking away.
Other old men are not quite as bold and use a more flattering technique. A friend of mine was recently in the cafeteria of the hospital where she works when an elderly gentleman greeted her. ”Excuse me,” he said, “But do you ever get tired of old men telling you how pretty you are? Because you are prettier than free fried chicken.” In this incidence the creative approach was utilized. Other analogies that have been used in the creative approach are “prettier than Ava Gardner”, “prettier than Niagara Falls” and “prettier than a car hop.” The problem with the creative approach is that along with it sounding a bit odd, it also tends to date the individual.
Some old men throw caution to the wind and make their move with gusto. This can be defined as the reckless approach. The reckless approach is the most disturbing for the female because it often involves physical contact. An example of the reckless approach is when I was a medical social worker and an elderly patient grabbed my arm and attempted to pull me in for a smooch. After I wrenched myself free, the patient proceeded to purse his lips and make kissing noises. The fact that I was clearly disgusted meant nothing to him. Typically, those who resort to the reckless approach do so out of desperation (or dementia), caring only about the end result and not so much as how they arrive there.
While the perseverance of old men pursuing young women isn’t as noble as, say, medical school or Navy Seal training – their efforts must be commended. As Confucius said, “It does not matter how slowly you go, as long as you do not stop.”
About the author
The Underground Writer (known by her husband, family and friends as Megan) currently lives between the bustling city of Manhattan and the cow farms of upstate New York. Three months after earning her Masters of Clinical Social Work from Fordham University, Megan woke up one morning and thought, “What am I doing? I hate this!”
She promptly left the profession, and if it weren’t for those pesky student loan bills, she may have completely forgotten the experience. Megan is a trophy wife and proud mother of two children who hate to sleep. She can’t cook to save her life, but she is a great listener and avid people watcher. Megan loves writing almost as much as when her kids sleep through the night. Lastly, she quotes Seinfeld throughout the day … not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Please visit Megan’s blog and become a follower. You won’t find any outstanding food photos there any time soon, but you’ll sure as hell learn how to spot an old pervert trying to hit on you at the A&P, or why exposing your man boobs are a big no-no, regardless of the weather.
Almost every newspaper food section in the U.S. this week will be dedicated to the food and beverages of Cinco de Mayo. I’ll predict (only because the magazines have already done it this year) that there’ll be some funky mojito concoctions that include ingredients well beyond the requisite mint and lime. There’ll be a ton of soft corn taco recipes, since it seems that the rest of the country is just now discovering something that we in Texas grew up on. Whatever you eat — and I’ve included links to my personal favorites below — you can be the life of your own Cinco de Mayo party with a little otherwise useless trivia about the holiday.
Ancho Braised Beef Shanks
Sopa de Frijoles y Chiles (chile bean soup)
Tex-Mex Cheese Tacos
Quesadillas Two Ways
Caribbean-style Roasted Pork Shoulder Tacos
Chile con Carne
The word conjures up a plethora of descriptions — from a moment or day in time, to a discounted piece of merchandise or a meal. It’s often used to describe an experimental broadcast or menu item, an unplanned news report from beyond the studio lights or a rare bauble.
There are special athletes — those who can run a 4-flat 40 yard dash, or strike out 15 opponents in a single game, and there are special guests — the people who draw a crowd. But the most special of all special people are the ones who do not own the ability to utter an ungracious word, cast an ill-tempered glower or care less about others than they do themselves.
This past Friday was dedicated to competition and sportsmanship at Lobo Stadium. The hopeful contestants ran the gamut of physical and mental ability. While some student athletes exhibited graceful speed, others required the help of two adults just to start the race.
The students arrived at east Texas’ most celebrated high school football facility on school buses — more than 10 brightly colored vehicles with special lift gates. As the children emerged, they looked toward the 9,200-capacity facility with wide eyes. This was their Field of Dreams and they were about to enter an open gate near the north end zone.
Though an unseasonably cold wind sliced through their tights like a knife, high school cheerleaders celebrated the approach of each competitor as if they were about to witness a nationally televised match-up of highly ranked teams. ‘Olympic Fanfare’ roared through the stadium speakers as each team was introduced to the crowd of mostly volunteers and parents.
Smiles and laughter abounded throughout the day. There was the little boy who had no chance of coming out ahead in his heat. He grinned from ear to ear as he watched the pint-sized girl increase her lead. And there was the 11th grade volunteer who’s being wooed by the likes of Alabama and Oklahoma, despite that he’s already committed to play college football at TCU. With all of his hulking size and strength, there weren’t enough muscles in his body to contain his joy. Not on Friday, anyway.
For a few hours we spectators were oblivious to the bloody lead news stories, political pandering and our own baggage. We’d come to help children who are less fortunate than us in many ways. As it turned out, the children helped us.
It was magical. Special indeed.
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.
Any Tex-Mex restaurant worth its salsa knows its chile con carne. This is not the same stuff that folks eat on a cold wintry night, although they could. Chile con carne (sometimes referred to as ‘gravy; by chain restaurants or hideous local wannabes) is the ladle of Heaven served atop tamales and enchiladas. It’s rife with warm spice and, when made properly, can turn a mediocre plate of Tex-Mex into a gourmet experience. — The same can be said for Tex-Mex Rice, although most restaurants (including my favorite) get it wrong. Tex-Mex or Mexican rice shouldn’t be soupy or gummy. It should be infused with flavor, firm and separated easily with a fork.
I’ve experimented for years with Chile con Carne and Tex-Mex Rice. Following are my accomplishments. Enjoy!
2 cups – White rice
2 cups – Mild tomato salsa
2 cups – Chicken or vegetable stock
3 – Garlic cloves
⅓ cup – Corn or vegetable oil
¼ cup – Cilantro leaves & stems (optional)
1-2 – Jalapeno or Serrano peppers, seeded (optional)
Preheat oven to 350ºF
Rinse rice in a strainer until water runs clear, about 2 minutes.
In a blender or food processor, mix salsa and garlic until smooth. **If using cilantro and/or peppers, these ingredients should be mixed with the salsa.
In a 3-qt ovenproof pan (with an ovenproof lid), heat oil over medium-high heat. Add rinsed rice and stir until opaque rice has begun to turn white, about 2 minutes. Add stock, loosening rice from the sides and bottom of the pan as you continue to stir. Add salsa mixture. Stir. Mixture should come to a boil very quickly. — Once it does, make sure that rice is evenly distributed on bottom of pan, cover and place on a middle rack in the oven.
Bake for about 30 minutes, stirring rice once about halfway through baking. Allow rice to sit for about 10-15 minutes before serving.
Tex-Mex Chile Con Carne
1 lb. – Ground beef, browned and drained
2 – Dried Ancho chiles, stems and seeds removed
1 small – Yellow onion, diced
2 – Garlic cloves, minced
⅛ cup – Masa (or all-purpose flour)
⅛ cup – Vegetable oil
2 TB – Cumin
1 TB – Oregano (preferably Mexican oregano)
2 tsp – Freshly ground black pepper
1 can (8 oz) – Tomato sauce
3 cups – Beef stock
Kosher salt, to taste
Bring beef stock to a light boil in a large saucepan. Add ancho chiles and reduce heat to a simmer. Cook until soft — about 10-15 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
Heat vegetable oil to medium in a medium skillet. Add diced onions and garlic. Cook until translucent — about 7-10 minutes. Add masa (or all-purpose flour) to mixture, stirring well. Remove from heat.
Place ancho chiles, onions and garlic in a blender. Add cumin, oregano, black pepper and about 1 cup of the stock. Blend until mixture resembles a smooth paste.
Add blended mixture, tomato sauce and cooked/drained ground beef to remaining stock. Simmer over medium-low heat until thickened — about 1 hour. If mixture becomes too thick, add water or beef stock to desired consistency.
Serve immediately over tamales, enchiladas or Frito Pie. This is also an excellent hot dip for tortilla chips. Or — allow to cool. Refrigerate overnight and re-warm (it tastes just a little better this way!).
I was in my 20s before I realized that I’d never had true Mexican food. Well, except for the homemade tamales that the little old Mexican ladies sold door-to-door during the Christmas season in Corpus Christi.
I’d never topped off a meal of menudo or chilaquiles with tres leches cake. I’d never heard of mole (pronounced moh-lay) or sampled pozole. — I was raised on enchiladas, rice and beans. And tamales. Of course, there was also the requisite chips and hot sauce, as we called it before I knew the word salsa.
With Cinco de Mayo just around the corner, it’s time … time to lay it all out there — the differences (and there are many) between Mexican and Tex-Mex cuisine.
For starters, anyone who serves up fajitas, chimichangas, quesadillas or nachos is serving … Tex-Mex – dishes that were likely invented in one of two or three restaurants in the Lone Star State.
The birth and growth of Tex-Mex
With all due respect to our friends south of the border, most Tex-Mex dishes have their roots in Mexico. The big differences, at least as far as I can tell, are the tastebuds of American consumers and the availability of ingredients. Not to mention, there were some forward-thinking restaurateurs back in the day.
Tex-Mex is a term that was first used as a colloquialism to describe the Texas-Mexican Railway, which came onto the scene in the late 1800s. The term (and the hyphen) didn’t come along again until 1918 at the El Fenix, a restaurant that specialized in ‘Anglo-Mexican’ cuisine in the Dallas area. Proprietor Miguel Martinez was cooking Mexican fare for hungry customers. He was also asking them for their input on the recipes.
Hello burritos! And deep-fried burritos (chimichangas)! And hard-shell tacos! And chips and salsa!
Other restaurants entered the Tex-Mex scene through the years, most notably El Chico – a business of the Cuellar family that began in south Dallas in 1940. With that, the broad expansion of gooey cheesy goodness across Texas was on the move.
Over time, some once proud Tex-Mex chains have said adios — Monterrey House and Ray’s to name a couple. Others — Casa Olé, South of the Border, Chi Chi’s and Pancho’s — have managed to remain in some areas. Meanwhile, the Chili’s and Applebee’s of the world have placed numerous Tex-Mex items on their permanent menus.
Fajitas? Mexican? Yeah, right.
Fajitas (grilled skirt steak) were introduced in 1973 at Ninfa’s in Houston as tacos al carbon (charbroiled tacos). The history of the name is not exactly clear, but make no mistake — fajitas are about as Mexican as spaghetti and meatballs.
The dish was originally concocted to please eager customers at Ninfa’s downtown Houston location. When big names like John Travolta, Rock Hudson and members of ZZ Top began frequenting the place, the secret was out. Ninfa’s eventually became a chain and the rest is history.
Want fajitas on the cheap? Order tacos al carbon. While many chains have eliminated tacos al carbon from the menu, they can still be found on the menus of some mom & pop operations. Same meat. Same tortillas. Less money out of your pocket. (Besides, ‘tacos al carbon’ just sounds cool.)
Want real Mexican food?
First, go to a place at which everything is written in Spanish. (Make sure you bring cash.) Don’t expect soft lighting and trite murals on stucco walls. If the joint is lit by cheap fluorescent lighting and the paint job outside is any shades of orange and blue, you’re good to go.
Order a bowl of menudo. (Don’t ask what’s in it.) Then order a couple of lingua barbacoa tacos on soft corn (maize) tortillas. (Again, don’t ask.) Instead of water, grab a bottle of Coke. It’s likely that it was made in Mexico, where they still use real sugar. — When your dishes arrive, just enjoy. Don’t be disappointed that your tacos came only with chopped onions and cilantro. And don’t be mad that you didn’t receive a complimentary basket of tostadas y salsa. But, do make sure that you order a slice of tres leches cake. It’s simple and addicting.
If you aren’t hooked on the Old El Paso version of Mexican food, you’ll have a new appreciation. And, chances are, you’ll be back to see why real Mexican food regularly comes dressed with mayonnaise.
By far, Corona is the top-selling beer from Mexico. In fact, it’s one of the top 5 selling beers in the world. But, wait! Before you go grab a case of Corona for Cinco de Mayo, just remember: McDonald’s is the top-selling hamburger in the world; Budweiser is the top-selling beer in the U.S.; and Wal-Mart is the earth’s number one retailer. Need I say more?
This Cinco de Mayo, consider Bohemia, a Mexican pilsner that is widely considered to be among the best beers in the world. It’s a little cloudy. And there are more hops than you’ll find in the average brew that is offered on Applebee’s draft specials menu. You’re welcome. — If hops scare you, try Carta Blanca, which is more tame.
The harder stuff
Margaritas are to Mexican drinks what nachos are to Mexican food. Sure, some of the ingredients are grown or distilled south of the border, but there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that the first margarita was actually created in Galveston, Texas.
This year, consider serving Sangria, a wine punch with chunks of fruit. It has roots in Spain, but the Mexicans have done a pretty good job with their own version. There are plenty of excellent recipes out there. Pick your poison.
Did you know? Miguel Martinez (the father of Tex-Mex cuisine) also invented a tortilla machine that he sold the rights to in 1925. The buyer of the machine? Herman Lay — the originator of Frito-Lay.
Instead of insulting anyone with a recipe for nachos, I’ll share a short story and follow it with a few tips on making your plate of nachos the ‘best of all time.’
Several years ago, I made a groovy plate of Tex-Mex nachos for my wife. Beans. Cheese. Meat. Salsa. The works. As I tended to do back in those days, I asked her whether my nachos were the best she’d ever had.
‘They’re good, but they aren’t the best I’ve ever had,’ Catherine told me.
‘Really?’ I asked, somewhat surprised. After all, she’d never lived beyond New York or New Jersey. I am a Texas boy.
‘Yeah,’ she said. ‘Yours are good, but the best nachos I ever had were at a bar I used to go to.’
‘A bar? Seriously?’ I shot back. ‘What made theirs better?’
‘I don’t know,’ she said. ‘They were just really good.’
‘Well, why don’t I just go to hell?’ I responded.
Much like the eggroll argument that we had, the nacho episode got us nowhere — except me not making nachos for several years. (Shame on me. And shame on her for not lying to me.) Catherine has since changed her opinion on my nachos. They are now better than the ones served at the bar. Or so she says.
- Season your refried beans with some enchilada sauce.
- Fajita meat is good, but not necessarily for nachos. Use ground meat. Make sure it’s seasoned with cumin, chile powder and some minced (or powdered) onion.
- Instead of the classic Cheddar, mix in some Queso Quesadilla (or Mozzarella)
- Want more consistency and cheesiness? Use queso dip, then top with shredded cheese.
- A little salsa and chile powder over the top make a big difference in flavor. Black olives are good too, before baking. Save the pico de gallo, guacamole, sour cream and pickled jalapenos to dress at the table.
- Speaking of baking. Warm up the oven. Good nachos come from a 350F oven — not a microwave.