You Fell Into the Water And Down

When Martin Yan famously declares that if he can cook you can, too, he is adorably full of shit. Now, when I tell you something is so easy you can do it, you should laugh, “Oh look, doofus has spoken.”

I hate crowds.

Okay okay okay the bag of masa for tamales says MASA PARA TAMALES on it, and you should buy and use that one only. It has directions on the side, which is good even for people like me who can’t follow recipes to save their lives. The directions call for lard. I infused olive oil with annatto seeds. The directions call for salt as the only seasoning. I added ground cumin, fennel seed, chili powder. The directions call for water or stock. I used fancypants organic chicken broth. I had that. I’m not ashamed to admit it. It tastes good.

Mise en place.

Once you mix up the masa, you have to let it sit for a few minutes. You will be tempted to skip this step because HEY! DELICIOUS TAMALES! but don’t. File your nails. Call Dial-A-Horoscope. Lament not going to the prom. Or you could take out your frozen banana leaves and cut approximately 8″ x 8″ square pieces and an equal number of thin strips. Plop about 1/3-1/2 cup of masa on the top sheet. Pretty, eh? Already, you feel like aces.

Masa, chicken, pepper strips.

Tamales are super great for using up small amounts of leftovers. I diced two chicken thighs, added a bit of leftover gravy and tossed in some chili powder, herbs and pepper. In the back of the fridge, I found two pepper hulls left in an aging jar and because I put vegetables in everything, I sliced ’em up all cute. The colors are really something, aren’t they?

More masa.

On top of your colorful concoction, plop another bit of masa. It doesn’t have to be a lot. Now, imagine the banana leaf is aluminum foil with a spine along one edge. You’re going to fold the banana leaf the same way you would any food pouch-thingy. Take the spine in one hand, match it with the opposite edge and fold down to the surface of the masa. Then take the loose, rolled ends and fold them under.

The bow is showing off.

You can either place the package into a steamer as-is or tie the whole thing securely with a thin strip of banana leaf. I’ve made them with and without the ties and it’s fine either way. These little bundles smell good and feel heavy in the hand. In the proportions I make them one, maybe two, will be sufficient for dinner. Knowing that, when you see eight or nine in a steamer basket, you feel good.

It's like a steamer full of chickeny luuuuuv.

Steam for an hour. Yes, an hour. Argue with your mother. Wash your car. Call your insurance company about that last bill. Or you can set the table, make a salad, clean up your kitchen and make it all look easy. After an hour, put the tamales on a plate and serve them. Because we are brave and love delicious everything, you can serve it with plain yogurt or salsa or hoisin sauce or sliced mangoes or guacamole or crumbled queso fresco or cole slaw or ANYTHING YOU LOVE. I regret all the years I didn’t know I could make tamales for myself. You must try it. The hardest part was finding the right masa mix, but after I found it, the rest was easy and really inexpensive. If I can do it, you can, too!

Through the Streets While Everyone Sleeps

Cats: dangly.

These pictures were in a little folder from the first months Pete and I were seeing each other, when Topaz perched on the highest surfaces she could find and played Bagheera. The kittens loved the wooden ladder as a scratching post and indoor tree, which I had forgotten until I saw these pictures again. What possessed me to put that ladder in the basement where the pussycats cannot climb it and fly through the air?

Cats: kitteny.

I don’t believe in God, but I see ghosts. I don’t believe people are inherently good, but almost everyone deserves a second chance. This week, I decided I firmly believe that good people work for the common good and people who work against that common good are not just apolitical or differently motivated or whatever euphemism you please, but actually bad people. As starter beliefs go in this corrupt and deeply selfish time, it’s not going to make me a lot of friends who aren’t covered with fur, but there my popularity is wildly secure.

Topaz: panthery.

Look, I do three stupid things before breakfast and the day I don’t shoot my mouth off has not yet come, so I’m far from a paragon of any virtue but the easy kind, but I am saying we all have to do better. The disastrous gas and oil leak in the Gulf is weeks from being capped and already our representatives are saying no energy bill will make it through Congress with or without expanded offshore drilling – which is to say no energy bill will pass without offshore drilling, because the Democrats will cave to their corporate masters before we have even assessed the spill’s true damage to our planet. That is not good enough.

Cat: radioactive.

Sweetpea, who has become a fourteen pound handful, developed a new habit last week: while I am eating dinner, she leaps on the table’s other end and sits next to my water glass. She wants nothing more than my undivided attention, so I bump foreheads with her. In the Pussycat Lexicon, this means we love each other. You’ve seen lions bump foreheads affectionately on Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. I’m scared of lions, and I want to finish my dinner.

Drusy: curiousy.

Today’s WikiHow was How To Thicken Soup. Perhaps it is because I am 900 years old, an age at which smokin’ hotness assumes new meaning, that simple solutions to common problems appeal to me. Children, I say, toss a couple of starchy diced potatoes into that watery soup and simmer. Or make a slurry by adding a few tablespoons of cold water to a few teaspoons of cornstarch, stir, then simmer in your soup. Or get some arrowroot and follow directions on the package. Or start with a roux in the first place and what’s the matter with you? You’re grounded.

Topaz: shiny.

Last summer, a friend asked how we would find each other in a convention center in Pittsburgh. Obviously, I said, you’ll listen for me to Wimoweh at the top of my lungs and follow the sound of people calling for Security. I didn’t end up in Pittsburgh, but it turns out I’d Wimowehed in public before. Sweetpea licks my hand, testing me for doneness and unsatisfied with the results.

That A Woman Can Be Tough

Where's Panky? You cannot see him!

David Dayen spills some very bad news:

Understand what we have here. There’s a fiscal commission operating partially in secret, without transcripts or recordings, planning to drop recommendations on Congress in the middle of a lame-duck session, with each leader in the House and Senate promising a vote on the recommendations. Unlike the Conrad-Gregg commission upon which this was modeled, the executive order on the fiscal commission does not mandate a super-majority requirement in each chamber of Congress for passage. It does mandate the need for agreement from 14 of the 18 commission members for passage of any recommendation, but the commission is stacked with people who want to target entitlement spending rather than any balanced proposal.

Even those supposedly defending bedrock programs like Social Security and Medicare on the commission, like the SEIU’s Andy Stern, have expressed a desire to at least open the retirement program to add-on private stock accounts:

“I agree with many Commissioners who have said that all entitlement programs should be on the table. We should include tax entitlements in that conversation… This Commission should examine our country’s entire retirement security system, private and public. Taxpayer dollars are spent in a multitude of ways, not just on Social Security, with the aim of producing retirement security. Yet, many Americans retire with anything but security. We should include as part of our agenda ideas for strengthening the private parts of the retirement security system, reviewing both the adequacy and the solvency of the Social Security system, and the possibility of universal add-on retirement accounts.

Add-on private accounts are an idea direct from the DLC in the late 1990s, when Bruce Reed, who co-wrote a domestic policy book with Rahm Emanuel, was involved with the group.

We have a commission pre-disposed to those types of ideas, operating partially in secret, foisting recommendations on Congress in December, without a super-majority obstacle to overcome in the House or the Senate (although the filibuster would presumably still be in play should a Democrat actually want to protect people from safety net cuts).

An House aide told me that the commission is deliberately trying to “keep the public from weighing in until the last possible moment.” They aren’t delivering public hearings outside of Washington, claiming that they don’t have a budget, but that could be deliberate as well, because it allows them to have billionaire hedge fund manager Pete Peterson provide the commission with staff and fold the conversation into his deficit mania “America Speaks” tour. It’s quite a public/private partnership going on.

Privatization of Social Security and Medicare – or trusting Wall Street with healthcare and pensions -is as brilliant an idea as trusting Halliburton and BP with an entire coastline. How stupid do you have to be not to get that?

Go On Shining, Shining Like Brand New

Somewhere, a ceramic spider is out of a job.

Today, Pete and I arrived at the garden center as the clouds burst and torrential rain sent huge carts of flowers sailing across the parking lot. Pete chased one down as I pushed a cart back onto a sidewalk. Hollow-eyed employees, hair dripping onto their faces, apologized to us. When I smiled, they did not smile back. We wondered what’d just happened as rain pounded the canvas roof. We stared around and stared at each other for a few minutes before remembering why we’d come: window boxes and containers. Our space is very limited. We make the most of it with containers we can move from place to place, plant and re-plant, and I’d run out of containers that fit into the window box frames. On a lark, we picked up two strawberry plants we hope won’t join the Choir Invisible like their predecessors, which we refer to as mulch. One of Pete’s clients gave him two odd urns. When the skies cleared this evening, I transplanted the strawberries into the urns and placed them on our front steps.

Later this week, it’ll be time to start the second set of seeds for lettuces, chard, spinach, sorrel and herbs for when the first set has been picked, bolted or suffered some disaster. You can’t rule out incursions by groundhogs or mysterious blight, so: containers, compost, potting soil, seeds. I growl at squirrels.

Because the Night Belongs

I bet it sounds like the ocean.

This morning, I opened every window and dodged cats scrambling for prime positions from which to Why-I-Oughta snickering squirrels. We took our coffees and sat on the porch. The air was still. Sunlight dappled the lawns. For the first time in months, I was warm enough without footie pajamas, a slanky and ear muffs. Two loads of laundry dried on the line. Tomorrow, we install window boxes, lettuces in containers, a summer state of mind.