Floodland And the Driven Apart

It’s Saturday night, the Saturday night before Christmas. After a month of long hours, fatigue and re-reheated dinners, Pete and I have just a few days to go before we both finally get two days off in a row, which we have not since the summer. You know what this means, don’t you? Exactly: the bread machine’s running and I want to talk about food.

What’s normal and ordinary culinarily for each of us will be different, depending on factors like where we live, where we travel, what kinds of people live around us, our ethnic backgrounds, our economic status and how adventurous we are. Here, all kinds of people from all over the world move and open restaurants. You can eat your way around the globe and never leave the county. But to really learn about one ingredient, you have to stay home and roll up your sleeves. I don’t recommend you go to this site unless you don’t mind sites that shout commercials at you, so here’s my current obsession: achiote paste.

A traditional Mexican sauce or marinade of Mayan origin, that is made by grinding annato seeds with spices, chiles, and added to other ingredients such as fruit to create a mild red paste used to flavor foods. Pork is often seasoned with Achiote by rubbing the pork and wrapping it in a cornhusk or banana leaf before steam cooking the meat. The sauce is also used on fish and poultry. Achiote may be referred to as annatto seed paste or recado rojo.

When we had the chance, we’ve smeared it on fish, pork, chicken and tofu, all of which turned out great and interesting. Achiote comes in several forms, which we haven’t found in the grocery stores. We’re going to search the bodegas in my old neighborhood for better ingredients. Those days off can’t come soon enough, because I have a new experiment to make all science-y, and I can’t wait to taste the results.

Waits A Beautiful Day

I declare today never happened.

Tomorrow: we have a do-over.

Yours is the coming snow.

Yours is the sun to follow.

Now, let’s agree that Little Debbie cakes are an abomination you should never, ever stuff into your socks and we won’t speak of this unfortunate incident again.

It Before It Grows

Tostones de panapen!

In the big struggle to get over myself, which is quite a climb, I could use a set of cleats. The fruit thingy has a hard, waxy rind. Even my sharpest knife had trouble slicing through it. The center is dense, and I don’t know if it’s edible, so I cut that out and made a mental note to look that up. Further: the panapen previously putting in a cameo appearance developed a delicate but inescapable aroma very quickly and went mushy within days; the pictured panapen is a worthy understudy, but it too was making plans to become One with the compost pile. Fortunately, once the skin came off, the seeds came out and I’d cut it into similar size chunks, the panapen merged with hot oil and magically transformed into tostones instead.

To make tostones, you take chunks of platanos or panapen, fry them lightly in hot oil, mash them flat and fry them to golden brown. Drain, sprinkle with sea salt. Nom, nom, nom. Tostones de panapen have a crisp outer shell, a soft, sweet center and a nice crunch. Eat while still warm for maximum happiness. You want that, right?

Me You Don’t Even Hear What I’m

In the context of the national healthcare and insurance debacle, some terrible truths about real life horror and love disappear into smoky political horsetrading and policy gaps. This video arrived in email today from my friend, poet and a photographer Dwyer Jones, whose personal story kicks the shit out of most people’s. Please watch this performance by Laurence Cantor of Dwyer’s Caregiver’s Resume. Please listen. Please overlook the filmmaker’s kind of adorable errors.

Dwyer’s wife, a painter and poet in her own right, is notably absent here in story form. We who have the accidental privilege of good health and relative stability can imagine a sudden bad break for ourselves – a car accident, a shadow on the X-ray – but we can’t follow a chain of events starting with someone else’s misfortune that ends with the loss of everything we have and are. As long as health care is a shell game with clear financial winners and broken losers, catastrophic illness or injury anywhere around us threatens each of us and there’s no protecting ourselves from it. We think we can by tut-tutting when our cousin smokes or when Uncle orders a steak or when Mama pours herself a scotch, but clucking doesn’t help. Clicking your seat belt won’t prevent the semi from missing the exit ramp. Some suffering is random; it is without meaning and that’s all there is to it. The best we can do is provide health care for all people so the suffering doesn’t spread.

And when suffering does spread, it is the duty of an enlightened society to refuse to make it worse.

Crossposted at Brilliant@Breakfast.

How Quiet the Chamber Is

First thing every weekend morning, I feel my way downstairs and refill the cats’ dishes. Because it’s winter, I put on scuffs and feed the outside cats, but that’s not as simple as it sounds because Topaz is always at my heel, trying to get outside. This morning, it was 29 degrees and an icy rain had just begun falling, Topaz wanted out and suddenly the door was locked behind me. Fortunately, Pete was upstairs in the shower and the tenants were all still in bed, so I discovered that I could actually stand up for 45 minutes. Naturally I was thinking about outdoor stuff.

Around the corner from our house, this sign is taped to a dumpster on a street wide enough for parking on one side and anxiety on the other. Certainly homeowners have every right to inconvenience neighbors with mid-winter renovations and unsightly scrap materials, but it seems likely canine enthusiasts have demonstrated their displeasure. Further: protest poop is a not unfamiliar sight upstairs in the attic here at Handmade House: an aggrieved party will leave a deposit located where it cannot be ignored, even if it can be stepped in. So it goes: point-making is a messy business and neither cats nor dog owners care for strategy. They are big thinkers! My advice: wear boots.

The Bacon So That

Note that this is a stock photo. It says STOCK PHOTO. Perhaps there are picture takerers named Stock. I bet they’re confused.

Feeling intimidated in the produce aisle can drain all the fun out of picturing yourself well-nourished and bantering wittily with someone sensational about the bloom in your cheeks. Go ahead. Picture that tantalizing tableau. Now picture yourself staring at a verdant mountain of greens at the grocery store. Are those your hands?

There are a few vegetables I haven’t prepared myself but have enjoyed when other cooks swung the spatula. Some are more exotic by virtue of their not growing in the temperate zone where my house currently maintains a daytime temperature of 62 degrees. Recall my joy when I stumbled on the panapen. That was exciting. The poor thing is shivering on my kitchen table and if a fruit can be said to look nervous, this one does. Other vegetables are rumored to be so difficult to cook properly that the inexperienced home cook may be discouraged from the start. Thus, it was only last week that I bought two bunches of collard greens. By gum, they’re greens and I own several methods of steaming those.

Last week, I was working at home and the Food Network kept me company. I know. The Food Network is a gossiping bitch who sometimes borrows my sweaters without asking, but she’s okay if I want someone to ignore. So I looked up and found the Neelys making dirty rice stuffed collards and I thought, ‘Greens, no three-hour boiling, dirty rice. Win/win.’ I didn’t follow the recipe – I’m almost incapable of following a recipe – but used their basic idea, substituting ground turkey for pork because I had ground turkey, and a can of diced tomatoes for the sauce. It was so simple I couldn’t believe it and much easier than working with cabbage.

About every five years, I buy a jar of grape leaves and never get around to stuffing them. The next decade looks very promising.

A Road That Would Only Misguide

Darwin Awards reward the stupid and foolhardy who sensibly off themselves without contributing to the gene pool with notoriety and ridicule, but when that’s not fast enough, there’s always Amazon’s customer reviews.

One glance at this patented lunacy and certain Christmas bestseller tells the average observer to wear a helmet while driving on the nearby interstate because district managers and real estate agents will soon be arguing with customers and the laws of physics at highway speeds, and it won’t end well. But don’t take my word for it! People besides me – people who probably finished high school in less than nine semesters – have also noticed something amiss.

The greatest thing ever invented!, October 26, 2009
By T. Meadows “TM” (WV) – See all my reviews (REAL NAME)
Wow is this thing great! I use it as a “mini-bar” when the friends and I go out to the bars. I can quickly fix multiple shots of tequila for myself and the friends as we drive from one bar to the next. We also discovered that if you place a pillow on top of it and turn on the cruise control you can catch quick naps on the interstate. If you swerve to the left or right the rumble strips on the road wake you up in plenty of time before you get into trouble. I can now take longer trips without being tired!

Also, i am now dating a midget and she fits nicely on the steering wheel desk which allows us to experiment sexually while driving. This thing is like WD-40 or duct tape, it is a million and one uses!

Tim, Tim, Tim! We call them Little People now. Rest up on the road, smartypants! Meanwhile, high in the skies:

These worked great in the cockpit for our tanscontinental flights!, November 4, 2009
By Linky’s Dad (Alexandria, KY) – See all my reviews
My copilot and I both used these during our “daily grind” transcontinental flights from San Diego to Minneapolis. We had to modify them a bit to fit snug against the instrument panels (when we bought them we didn’t realize the planes we fly don’t have steering wheels!), but in the end it did the job. With our laptops firmly in place we were able to focus our attention on what really mattered, participating in raids with our WoW clan. During our last flight we were so immersed in trying to take down Eranikus that we overshot Minneapolis by a full hour and a half before some annoying flight attendant interrupted us, babbling something about “FAA and F16 fighters.”

We’ll definitely use this product again at our next gig, whatever and whenever that happens to be…

Despite his propensity for non-standard punctuation and freelance spelling technique, that fellow seems sensible. I wish him luck in his further pursuits. Finally, we see that safe driving and those invention company commercials on late night TV don’t mix.

I loved this so much I got one for my 90yr old mother, October 29, 2009
By S. Kelly – See all my reviews (REAL NAME)
I loved my Laptop Steering Wheel Desk so much I got one for my 90yr old mother. She is an avid crossword puzzle fan and now she can work on them while she is driving back and forth from bingo at the senior center. One cautionary note be careful of those jerks that stop at yellow lights, my poor mother rear ended one and the airbag drove the desk back into her stomach which ruptured her spleen, well after a short down time I’m glad to say she is back on the road and cranking out those NY Times crosswords once again. Thanks Laptop Steering Wheel Desk you have made my mothers life more complete.

One suspects well-aimed barbs will not discourage humor-impaired shoppers from cooing and clicking and designating free shipping, because Uncle Skippy is on the road, isn’t he? And wouldn’t that just be perfect?