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It’s chili out there

February 4, 2016

This winter has not been the snowpocalypse that last year was.  Frankly, I prefer all that snow if this winter is my only other option.

Sleet and mud is just not as exciting.  Not to mention the extra half hour it takes to clean the dog after we get inside.  She glories in mud pits and her paws hoard dirt like a dragon sitting on a pile of gold dust.

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Is this really the start of February in Chicago?  My paper boats are still in storage!

 

That famous rodent claims there will be an early spring.  We barely had any winter.  I wake up praying for cold these days.  It makes the swamp in the park easier to deal with.

Rise and shine, and don’t forget your booties!

What better time to savor some chili.  I used up all my space-hogging squash for a squash and black bean chili.  Three types of squash (butternut, delicata, acorn), one groundhog sized yellow onion, red bell pepper, black beans, tomato, garlic, bay leaf and spices.  I went with smoked paprika, cinnamon, ground coriander, and ground up dried chile de árbol.

Chili is catch as catch can.  That’s the joy and wonder of it.  Stuff a pot full of good things and let it simmer for a while.  Add some toppings and serve.  I topped with some greek yogurt, chive and toasted wheat tortilla strips.

Really good stuff.  Spicy with a hint of sweet.  Even better the next day, as happens with this kind of kitchen magick.

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Team Chili, assemble!

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Chop, chop.  This stuff won’t make itself.

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Startin’ to look purty.

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Long time no see, chili.  My, how you’ve changed.

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I would eat it.

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With some Dino’Smores.  Off Color Brewing has the coolest labels.

General Tso’s Christmas

December 24, 2015

Are you eating Chinese food for Christmas?

It’s a thing.  Don’t knock it.

I’m not blaming this tradition on Jewish people, but non-Christians gotta eat out too.  Even on Christmas Eve and Christmas.

Maybe those Chinese restauranteurs just saw the opportunity and grabbed it by the brass wok ring.  If no other joint was going to be open, you might as well fill that void.

Don’t worry, kids, Jewish Christmas at the Chinese food palace isn’t going to ruin your Santa moments.

Everyone is digging into it these days anyway.  GrubHub notes that Chinese food is 152% more popular on Christmas Day than the rest of the year.

In fact, three of the top five days of the year to order Chinese food are Christmas, Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day, followed by “smoking holiday” (4/20) and Labor Day.
By far the most popular item for Chinese food orders is General Tso’s Chicken. According to GrubHub — which features roughly 30,000 restaurants on its site across more than 800 cities in the U.S. — it’s actually the 4th most popular dish on the site, all year-round.

I don’t even eat that guy’s chicken, but even I know it’s not authentic.  That doesn’t really bother me.  It spawned a pretty good documentary about American love for Chinese food, called The Search for General Tso.

Adaptation happens.  It is not destroying the fabric of anything.  So, let’s keep the Tso in Christmas.  It’s crazy nonsense, but it’s food evolution – the best kind of crazy nonsense.

The real question is why I have so many chopsticks and why are there so many manufacturers?

I don’t need all these disposable chopsticks, I have my own stainless steel set.  I haven’t the heart to toss them.  Maybe I’ll make a tiny house with them one day.  Something the trees would be proud of.

In 1878, Japan produced the world’s first disposable chopsticks. Today in China, around 20 million trees are sacrificed to make disposable chopsticks, which is leading people throughout Asian chopstick countries to reconsider their use.

Those sticks come in different shapes and sizes.  They tell you the story of the chopstick and give you usage tips.  They wish you good fortune.  The various wrappers are a kind of cross cultural pop art.

As food became bite-sized, knives became more or less obsolete. Their decline—and chopsticks’ ascent—also came courtesy of Confucius. As a vegetarian, he believed that sharp utensils at the dinner table would remind eaters of the slaughterhouse. He also thought that knives’ sharp points evoked violence and warfare, killing the happy, contended mood that should reign during meals. Thanks in part to his teachings, chopstick use quickly became widespread throughout Asia.

Different cultures adopted different chopstick styles. Perhaps in a nod to Confucius, Chinese chopsticks featured a blunt rather than pointed end. In Japan, chopsticks were 8 inches long for men and 7 inches long for women.

The Riddle of Steel tells us flesh is stronger than steel, but my stainless chopsticks still rule the day.  They’re probably even bigger than 8 inches.  I didn’t measure.  En garde.

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Whatever the hell you plan to feast on, much joy to you.  Hold on to that happy, contented mood.

The Dehydrator – not a really crappy superhero…yet

November 13, 2015

A while back, I was gifted a dehydrator.  It’s the kind of thing I always wanted to play with but was never going to buy.

I finally got around to running a few tests with it.

What do I always have too much of?  Kale.  What did I recently acquire too much of?  Pumpkin seeds.

The dehydrator is sort of big for a one trick pony, but it’s about as uncomplicated as a machine gets.  Plug in, set temp.  Wait.  Wait some more.  And a bit more.  Ah, hell, wake me up before  you go-go.

The kale is pretty basic.  Wash, dry, 2-3 teaspoons of oil per big bunch, I added salt and paprika, placed on the racks in single layers.  100 degrees Fahrenheit for 8 hours as a general starting point.

For the pumpkins seeds, I riffed off this recipe.  Don’t forget to soak those seeds first.  My version for 3 1/4 cups of seeds used 3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract, 3/8 teaspoon sea salt, 3/4 teaspoon cinnamon, 4 or 5 tablespoons of plum cherry jam and 1/4 teaspoon chipotle chili powder.  Use whatever ya got, that’s what I did.

ProTip:  Do not crack a molar days after you’ve made pumpkin seeds because the dentist will tell you not to eat them while you still have the temporary crown.  I’m thinking maybe I should have gone with a platinum blingy mouth grill.

Enough about dentistry.  Let’s do this.

Ayup, that’s kale alright.

Dry that stuff, coat it, but don’t drown it.

Glistening moist and ready…for the dehydrator. Sheesh, pervs.

Stacks and stacks on stacks.

There is going to be some shrinkage. Make sure you start with big enough pieces.

Jack, we hardly knew ye. Thanks for the cranial donation.

Mixing a gooey mess. The best part of anything.

Spread ’em. Thin layers.

Now take your bowl of sweet and spicy and go watch a movie or something.

Halloween Happenings

October 31, 2015

The usual.  A million pounds of candy for the tiny terrors at the door, pumpkins, muppet zombie dance cookies and frozen rain.

Pumpkins carved and seeds soaking. I’ll get around to putting them in the dehydrator in a bit.

My boys are ready to get spookin’.

Team Zombie Dance Party assembled.

The unboxing.

So far so good…

There were some casualties. Many in the first batch were too thin. They lost their heads. Stupid zombie cookies.

This is where it all went tits up. I gotta admit, I lost my mojo here. I cut the piping bag tip too wide. The color wouldn’t come out of the tubes easily. I needed to go watch the Georgia football game. Nevertheless, the pile of viscera came out really well.

Scout went trick r’ treating as a drowned, frozen dog.

I think it’s time for some werewolf themed brews. Let’s go Dawgs!

Summer Leftovers

October 9, 2015

This past week brought back some really nice weather.  The kind that people around here have to relish every moment of because it would come ’round again for a while.  A last gasp of warm breath from Odur.

Such days are even easier to appreciate after the dismal weather of last week.

Not that dog and I wouldn’t be out there slogging no matter the weather, but a late night walk through the park was a beautiful experience.  A soft, refreshing breeze.  The smell of the most stubborn flowers mixed with the scent of wood fires dancing in the air.

These evenings paint a sort of languid melancholy in the face of yet another turn toward shorter days, falling leaves and cold rains.  It feels good to slow down and feel the lush grass.  Watch the fat bumblebees meandering, getting in a little overtime while they can.

It was a dark and unstormy night…

That leaf is acting suspiciously. Bark at it!

The following afternoon felt no less right.  The sun was blazing and the sky was crystal clear; blue as ever it was meant to be.

I give in fully to Autumn when the baseball playoffs begin and I’ll turn my sights to pumpkins and zombie cookies.  Yes, I got suckered by the grocery display and I’m going to enjoy making them, dammit.

The Cubs won on Wednesday and made it to the big boy playoffs, but until they play tonight, I’m hanging on to summer.

Together forever; survivors ’til the bitter end.

It’s just one leaf. It doesn’t mean anything!

The Rusty Blackbird. Only rusty in autumn. I guess I have to give in.  Those cookies won’t bake themselves.

All things considered, the crowd was pretty civil.

Go, Cubs, Go!

Back in the saddle again

September 11, 2015

Things change.  Usually slowly.  Often so slowly that you hardly notice.  Your new self is shocked when comparing with days gone by.

Sometimes, drastic shifts happen in the blink of an eye.  Today is a day people are reminded of something like that.

For us, dog and I, today was a reversion to the norm.  Or whatever was the norm when our world shifted with the violent tearing of a dog’s ACL nearly a year ago.

Running was out of the question.  Walking was something to work on.  Pills and pills and pills are now just part of dinner time.

5AM was still 5AM, but we no longer belonged in it.  We used to go run.  That became an assisted limping walk to the front yard and back inside.  I had to find a new way to work out.

The surgery fixed the immediate issue, but it’s been a long haul.  We adjusted.  Life goes on.

This past week was a sort of breakthrough.  The dog has a hitch in her giddyup, but it’s more of a memory than a reality.  I rub my shoulder sometimes, even when it doesn’t hurt.  It’s a memory prick.  The phantom of a pain you know too well to believe it has ever left you for good.  The hitch is gone when she gallops, lost in the joy of it.  The distrust of her knee is gone in those moments now.  This has been a long time coming.

Today was like falling back in time.

There was carefree running and some jumping without obvious canine cringing.

Nevertheless, our routine is forever changed.  We do what running is possible in the afternoon now.  It was the best time to make use of a slow walk when that was all she could do.  The heat of the sun made it more of a workout and slowed the dog down naturally.  She’s not a dog that likes the heat.

Today was a gloomy, rainy afternoon.  Not cold and not hot.  With a cool sprinkle from up high.  Darkened shadows under the clouds and tree cover.

The kids went back to school on Tuesday.  The park was empty, like it is when you are out before the crack of dawn.  It’s solitary, not lonely.  Peaceful.

We splashed in the puddles and ran through the mud.  We chased every squirrel.

The newest generation of fuzzy-tailed rogues learned that the old myths were really true.  The scourge of the northern Chicago parklands is back.

The clouds are rollin’ in.

And we are rollin’ out.

She can see you in the trees, you rascals.

You best keep your wits about you, nut-lover.

The beast is back.

I didn’t order any red sauce!

September 6, 2015

I’m fairly certain that, by the time I pass out tomorrow, I’ll have had enough grilled meats to choke a werewolf.

Today, I’m staying light.

It was time to clear out some zucchini and bell pepper from the crisper.

Making faux noodles out of zucchini is nothing new, but I’ve never actually done it.  Most of the process was ridiculously simple.  The noodled-up zucchini slices got a minute in a hot pan with some olive oil.  A half cup of water and another five minutes or so until tender.  Salted to taste.

Where I went wrong was in my approach to creating the thin slices of zucchini.  The mandoline worked.  Too well.

I muddled on with one and a half hands and though it may not be the most beautiful plate I’ve ever produced, the flavor was all there.  A quick sauté of bell pepper, cherry tomato and garlic, plus a dash of hot sauce and I could almost ignore the pitifully useless green band-aid I was forced to use.  I’ve had to change it out a few times already.

This is what happens when you’re too cool to use the blade guard, kids. Do as I say, not as I…doh!

Good enough. I tried super thin, but I liked the thicker cut better.

Just heated this stuff in a pan long enough to release some flavor.

Jumble of tasty stuff. The vibrant colors will have to cover for the lack of artistry in the arrangement.

I can type without a thumb, but this is really going to hamper my attempts to play the beta for Romero’s Aftermath.

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