Roast Beef and HomeMade Bread!

.A Hot Meal, a Warm Kitchen .. Harvest is Over and Winter is Near.
(c) 2014, Davd

Home-made bread, baked potatoes, and roast beef: That’s a fine dinner for when you have time to enjoy it at leisure; and to me enjoying it at leisure means at home—mine or a friend’s—not in a “restaurant” where “your table” isn’t your own and the management wants to keep it actively making income. Not in a restaurant from which you have to drive home—and the Law demands, drive home cold sober. Enjoying a good red wine with this fine meal, should not threaten you with a criminal record, nor tax you with a cab fare more costly than the meal.

(It’s a shame, really, that we rural men can’t just go home from a fine dinner with wine, in a horse drawn carriage [or even a mere wagon] and be able to tell any cop who stops us, “but the horse is sober, and the reins are tied around the railing. He’s driving, not me; he knows the way home ….”)

I began making bread at least 40 years ago. I think i’ve made all my own bread for two years or longer. (I’m not flat certain of that; i might have bought a loaf or two of rye bread in the past two years, and somebody did give me a bag of ciabatta buns last year—are those bread or not?—but for the most part, the overwhelmingly most part—the bread i eat is baked in my own kitchen. In the summer, i make “frybread”, usually the kind that is called flour tortillas or chapatis, because having the oven on at a fairly high heat for an hour or so, isn’t welcome when the house is already more than warm enough.)

September, sometimes October is when the baking resumes after the heat of summer: I bake long-rise bread in the shape most often called French or Italian. It has more flavour than most store bread—it’s really good with butter or good margarine, and nothing more. I often have it with garlic-margarine, which is easy to make at home. It can be made with white or whole-wheat flour; i suggest starting with unbleached “white” flour because it’s easier to learn with.

(Whole wheat produces a smaller, denser loaf that’s a little more nourishing and at least as tasty [to me, anyway], but the rises tend to take longer. There’s not as much “leeway”, to make the dough wait while you do something else. When you’ve made a dozen or so batches of white bread, i suggest you give whole wheat a try. It’s heartier, and for instance seems to me to make better ham sandwiches—even peanut butter and jam sandwiches—but i like white bread better with garlic butter. Rye bread?—rye dough is very sticky, and hard to work; so it’s something to tackle only when you have more experience and plenty of kitchen time for the dough.)

’round about the time that the Frost Warnings start to appear in the weather forecasts, is when the idea of a hot electric oven just before dinner time becomes pleasant again, and will stay pleasant until mid-late spring. It’s time to thaw a beef roast [in the fridge], or buy one if there’s a good price on offer. It’s time to get out the big Bread Bowl the next morning after breakfast, or that evening if i want dinner at mid-day, and do a little over half an hour’s work, spread over 10-20 hours time, to produce one of the best dinners a beef eating man can eat.

The timing is worth repetition: If you’re thawing a frozen roast—and frozen beef, protected from the air, can be excellent for roasting when thawed—put it to thaw the morning of the day before you plan to cook it. The bread dough, using my long-rising technique, should be started late in the evening of the day before it’s baked, or in the morning right after breakfast; so by the time you start the bread, the beef roast should be partly thawed but still not completely (unless, of course, it’s one you just recently bought.)

For this technique, the best roast thickness is a generous 3 inches [7-8 cm]. Stores in the Francophone villages near here often cut “roasts” as thin as 4 cm [barely 1½ inches] and any thickness less than 6 cm [a scant 2½ inches] is likely to come out “well done” all the way through. I prefer medium rare, and 3 inches or a little thicker, gives me a roast that is red inside but not bloody. My favourite cut is sirloin; round will roast well also; “strip loin” is tender but more expensive, it tends to have more fat “marbled” in the meat, and the few times i’ve tried it, it didn’t have as much flavour as sirloin. Chuck [sometimes called blade] should be cooked moist, and more slowly; it’s the natural pot roast.

With the beef part-way thawed, sitting in the ‘fridge which is the best place to thaw meat, and a big bowl on some work surface in the kitchen where you can push down hard [and i suggest, don’t use the freezer top because it will tend to be cold] warm up 1 litre [just over one US quart or just less than one UK quart] of water to about body temperature [38-39C, 98-100F]. It can be a little warmer, but if it’s a lot warmer it might kill the yeast. One litre of water will make two big loaves of bread, the shape of French and Italian loaves, that will fit on a single cookie sheet [mine are 40×27 cm in size or about 10½ by 16 inches]. In a compact oven such as i have right now, that cookie sheet leaves just room on the same shelf [wire rack], for a Pyrex glass baking pan that will hold the roast and a couple of potatoes. If you have a big oven, you can try doubling the recipe later; for the first couple of tries, i suggest keeping to two loaves and a roast.

I do mean “big bowl”: Mine is 16″ = 40 cm wide at the top, a little less than half that wide at the bottom, and 6″ = 15 cm high. The one you use should fit in the oven, because in most kitchens the oven will be the best place to put the dough while it’s rising. It should also have plenty of room for the dough to rise. Stainless steel is my favourite material for most kitchen gear, including mixing bowls and cooking pots, and that’s what my big bowl is made of; ceramic or heat-tolerant glass will also do.

When the water is a little above body temperature, pour it in the big bowl. (Water that you saved from cooking pasta will help the dough start rising, by the way, because of the starch suspended in it; but don’t use pasta-cooking water that is turning sour or fermenting—at least, not until you’re ready to try sourdough, which can make delicious bread but can also be very sticky.) Add a generous pinch [half a teaspoon or so] of salt, a teaspoon or two of sugar and of cooking oil, and then mix them all into the water with a big spoon or, if you have one, a whisk. When the oil, salt, and sugar are mixed into the water, add a rounded teaspoon of baker’s yeast. (I buy my yeast in bulk and keep it in the ‘fridge, where it will keep for a year or longer because of the temperature. If you buy yours by the envelope, one envelope should do.) Sprinkle the yeast across the top of the water and let it “proof”, or take up the warm water and begin to come to life. It keeps in the ‘fridge so long, because at ‘fridge temperature, it’s “dormant.”**

The check-list is: Water, salt, sugar, oil, yeast, flour. You can add the salt, sugar, and oil in any order. You can add a wee bit of flour before the yeast, if your big bowl doesn’t have a residue of flour from the last batch of bread; but it probably isn’t necessary and if you used pasta-cooking water it’s definitely not needed. The yeast should go in second-last, the water first, and all but a wee bit of the flour, last… after the yeast has been sprinkled on top of the sugared salted oiled water, and given time to “wake up.”.

While the yeast is softening and waking up, oil your hands with cooking oil, or fat (I suggest not using bacon or ham fat because they have a smoky taste) rubbing it in as you do hand lotion. Cooking oils and fats make good hand lotion, by the way… and for my part, i don’t mind smelling a little like a kitchen. When the oil is rubbed into your skin—you did wash your hands before starting to make the dough, of course—then add a little flour to your hands, and take a measuring cup or a coffee/tea mug for adding flour to the bowl.

(I keep a mug, a narrow bottomed one that looked too easy to tip over if i put tea or coffee in it, in the flour sack; and also, 2-3 bay leaves. The bay leaves repel insects, so the flour won’t get infested; and the mug might as well sit in the flour sack as get washed and dried after each batch of bread, because it is always dry and never touches anything but flour [and maybe the odd bay leaf]. I put the bay leaves on a clean surface while making the dough, and then put them back in the flour bag with the mug when the bread starts to rise as loaves. I close the flour bag with spring clamps—whether they come from an office supply store or a hardware store doesn’t matter as long as they’re clean. Clothes pins aren’t strong enough to hold a 10-kg flour sack closed, though the good ones work OK for a 2 kg sugar bag.)

After 10-20 minutes, the yeast should have expanded from granules to a soft tan covering at the top of the water in the bowl. Now add the flour, a cup or so at a time. As one well known Canadian cookbook put it, you mix the flour and water into a batter [pancakes are fried from the batter consistency] and then by adding more flour, into a dough. A dough is more solid than fluid, but “pliable”: You can work it into a loaf shape, or a cylinder, or a rectangular solid, and it will hold that shape, more or less. If you’ve never made bread dough, it would be a good idea to help somebody who has, the first time you try it; or have somebody experienced come coach you for the dough-making stage.

As the flour-water-yeast-sugar-oil-salt mixture becomes a batter, you’ll notice that the whisk isn’t working as well as a spoon would. Tap the whisk sharply on the edge of the bowl a few times, to shake the batter that clings to it into the bowl; then put it in a can or jar of water to soak, and proceed to stir the batter with a big spoon. As the batter becomes a dough, you’ll notice that the spoon isn’t working as well as you could with your bare hands, so peel the dough off the spoon with those hands, put the spoon with the whisk to soak, and proceed to work the dough to a fairly firm consistency. If there’s a little flour clinging to the bowl, that’s OK; and don’t try to force so much flour into the dough that it starts being “crumbly”. (To repeat: It’s good to have somebody experienced come coach you for the dough-making stage, first time.)

When you’ve got a lump of dough, damp but firm enough to “shape”, in the bowl, shape it into a slightly mounded form, centred in the bottom of the bowl. Sprinkle a wee bit of dry flour on top—less rather than more. Cover it with a clean dry cloth, preferably linen rather than cotton. Put the bowl on top of a cookie sheet, and set them, covered with that cloth, in the oven. Turn the oven on to its lowest heat—less than 150F/60C,—when the light comes on indicating the oven has turned on, that’s enough … and put a tin can or small wide bottom steel bowl, at the bottom of the oven, with an inch or two of water in it so the air where the dough rises is slightly moist. (I prefer the 28-ounce/800ml cans in which i buy tomatoes after my own garden crop runs out.)

Making the dough, for me, is 10-15 minutes of work. Now the yeast goes to work for 3-5 hours, and can work for as long as 8-12, giving the dough its long, first rise. This long rise is part of what makes the bread taste special; and commercial bakeries almost never make long-rising bread because it ties up valuable space for too many hours (and because they don’t want to pay their workers to sit around and wait for a long rise… though maybe they can find the workers other things to do.)

If you started the dough in the evening, you’ll “work it” after the first rise, while making breakfast or right after you eat breakfast. If you started it rising after breakfast, you’ll work it some time after lunch, or perhaps while making lunch. The dough does not need to be worked a long time, in my experience; 5-10 minutes are often enough.

The pattern of “working the dough” is: Fold and press down. When you press down the folded dough, of course it becomes much wider than it is tall, and ready to fold again. Work more slowly rather than in a rush, so the dough can “get itself together” on each fold. You’ll find that while rising, the dough became damper in consistency than when it went into the warm oven; so you’ll add flour—and again, it would be a good idea to help somebody who has made bread for a while, the first time you handle dough; or have somebody experienced come coach you until your first batch of bread starts to bake.

The second rise should take 2-3 hours. When the dough has expanded to at least double its worked-down size, to where you could imagine it shaped into two good-sized loaves, then it’s time to make it into not those ready-to-bake loaves, but worked down into the shapes that will swell into loaves during the final rise.

At each “working”, the dough will take up some more flour. I’m not sure of the scientific reason for that; but i do know that when yeast “eats” sugar [and gradually, yeast converts starch in flour to sugar and “eats” that as well as the little bit of sugar you put in the initial mix], one of the reaction products is—water. Anyway, don’t be surprised when the dough, as you start to work it after the first and second rise, is wetter and stickier than it was when the rise began. Add flour until the consistency is good to work.

When you’ve worked it down at the end of the second rise, you shape it into two loaves [remember, this is based on 1 litre of water and the flour that much water needed, to make good dough]. The loaves should sit crosswise to the longer direction of the cookie sheet, with about twice as much space between them, as between each loaf and the end of the sheet.

Sprinkle a little flour on the cookie sheet before you put the dough-shape on it. Sprinkle a little more flour on top of each loaf. Put the linen cloth on top of the loaves, gently, folded so it covers them pretty well but does not run far beyond any side or end of the metal sheet. Then put the loaves back in the oven, still turned to about as low heat as will still heat at all, for the final rise.

(It is not very important to get the shapes of the loaves “just so.” Bread that tastes good and has its crunchy crust and soft interior, doesn’t really need to have any particular shape. In general, i enjoy loaves that are wider than they are high, biggest-around at the middle of their length, tapering very slightly toward each end until, for the last two inches [5 cm] or so, they form the graceful curved closure shape you know if you see much French and Italian bread.)

Meanwhile, if you don’t have potatoes waiting to be baked, get some from the sack or mound where you keep them for storage, and put them in a small bucket with enough water to cover. After half an hour or longer, the water will have loosened the very thin layer of dirt which it’s good to have on potatoes in storage, but not to eat. Then you can scrub them clean at—let me guess—a rate of two or three per minute… meaning there’s plenty of time to soak and wash potatoes while the loaves are rising, though you can just as well to it earlier. (If you bought potatoes from a store, you probably bought them already washed, and this part of the job will already be done.)

A good baking potato—for these baking conditions—will be up to two inches [5 cm] thick, wider than those two inches, and longer than it is wide. I typically put one such potato at each end of my Pyrex pan, and the beef roast between them, fat side up. If the potatoes push against the beef roast and cause it to stand a little taller in the pan, all the better … unless you have a thicker roast than i usually find in the stores. Pierce the top of each potato at least three times with a fork, four or five won’t hurt. (I find salad forks pierce potatoes more cleanly than many regular forks.)

The loaves are ready to bake when they’ve expanded almost to the size you want them to be when done. (They will expand just a little as they bake.) As with handling the dough, it would be a good idea to have somebody who has made bread several times, help you assess when the loaves are ready to bake, the first time or two.

The old cookbook i started from when i began making my own bread, decades ago, said to bake 50 minutes at 400 F[ahrenheit]. (My oven control is labelled in Fahrenheit, so that’s fine with me.) That temperature and time, i soon learned, cooks a three inch thick roast to a medium rare which i prefer anyway. I usually turn off the oven after about 45 minutes, if the light indicating heating, is off; and if the bread and roast are in the oven a minute or two longer than 50, that should be fine.

When you take the bread out of the oven, put it [still on the cookie sheet] on the stove-top elements, or something that can take heat well above boiling point, and cover the loaves with the same linen cloth. Put the meat and potatoes on a similarly heat-tolerant surface—but in this case, use a wooden board⁂, not metal, because the next and last stage of the cooking process is called “repose”. Cover the meat and potatoes with an upside down baking pan or mixing bowl—whatever’s the right size, clean, and made of thin metal. Glass might crack, a cloth would soak up juice from the meat, and plastic might melt. If the roast is on the thick side or you prefer medium to medium rare, take the bread out first; if you prefer rare or it’s less than three inches thick, take the meat out first.

Let the bread, meat, and potatoes “repose” for about 20 minutes. With the meat pan resting on wood, which doesn’t carry away heat as fast as metal does, as long as half an hour shouldn’t hurt. While the hot food is reposing, have your salad or soup course… or cook the vegetable[s]. Steamed broccoli, Brussels sprouts, carrots, cauliflower; frozen spinach heated just to boiling, or maybe boiled beets or peas, are what i’d choose… but sometimes, if i have lettuce and some tomatoes, i’d make a lettuce and tomato salad. Even carrot-raisin salad goes well with this meal, but i prefer broccoli, spinach, or lettuce-and-tomato salad. (Green beans are good too, steamed with mushrooms; but they’re not likely to be available fresh from the garden when the weather is cold enough for baking bread in the kitchen.)

This meal is worthy of a good red table wine—i prefer Merlot and Pinot Noir, which i make from kits, aged a year or longer. Rather than drink the whole bottle, if you’re eating alone, i recommend you save at least half for when you are enjoying the leftover roast beef.

That’s a good point on which to wind up one of the longest food blogs i’ll write: Like many techniques of cooking i write about, this one produces food enough to serve yourself plus some guests—or to enjoy some mighty fine leftovers. On the day i completed this in first draft, for instance, lunch was leftover baked potatoes with cheese and a little chive… warmed slightly in a frying pan, on low heat, until the cheese on top of them started to melt. Another meal was sliced roast beef and bread that had soaked up the drippings in the glass roasting pan. I don’t remember what the vegetables were, but i did have a deep red home grown apple.

The skills involved in this technique are not difficult to master. It is easier to learn them with an experienced bread maker for your coach, the first time or two; but that’s because they involve subjective observations rather than the kind that can be expressed in numbers: The moistness and texture of dough, the size of loaves when they’re ready to bake—these are things i can’t quantify, and you can’t measure with ordinary kitchen equipment—but you can learn them and it’s not so very difficult. Chili is a little easier to explain in writing, but it too has its “experiential” aspects.

This won’t be my last “Bachelor cooking” blog, but it may be a milestone of sorts: When you can present your guests with roast beef, baked potatoes, and fresh bread for dinner, indeed when you can sit down at your own table and enjoy them alone—and have mastered fish poached in homemade salsa, chicken cacciatore, spiced apple porridge, well-fried meat to go with that porridge, pea soup, homemade pasta sauce, black beans with bay leaf and onion, and the vegetable handling techniques i’ve posted—you’ve achieved a level of cooking such as my father and grandmother, both of them better cooks than my mother, taught me. You’ve probably gained the kitchen confidence any man smart enough to get a trade license, ought to have—and from what i hear this past few years, you’ve become a better cook than most women under 50.

If i think about that a minute, it occurs to me that there’s a conflict between the “job” that Governments have come to brag about “creating”, and good cooking. The hours that i let the yeast work while i do something else, and the minutes i spend working the dough, are available to a [wo]man who works at home, but not to a typical “wage slave” whose employer is miles from his kitchen. I became a regular bread maker while “self employed.” Egad! Perhaps the reason i grew up hearing that women cooked and men didn’t (though in my family, the best cooks were of both sexes) was an artifact of “the heyday of the job”… and if it’s not that simple overall, it is true that a man who goes his own way, alone or with some buddies, can eat well from the work of his own hands.

I mean to continue posting, from time to time, techniques of good cooking with a men’s perspective. There’s one i have almost ready, that’s as easy as this one is complex… so if you’re a pickle eater, and have fridge space, save the brine.

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Obiter,
The bottom crust can get thick and rather hard. Doubling the cookie sheet is a trick you can try; but so far, i don’t think it adds as much as it subtracts; and the crust doesn’t get scorched, so much as thick and crunchy. Rarely, if a bit of crust is especially hard, i might give it to my wolfmutt Fritz. He has an impressive, powerful set of teeth.

Notes:

* I don’t heat the house until the temperature in the main room gets down to 16 or so.

** I know that some yeast is labelled as “instant.” Since that word “instant” doesn’t make biological sense to me, i let the yeast have 10-20 minutes on top of the warm water, to wake up and change form from little granules to a tan soft covering over the water. Then i add the flour.

Don’t set a baking hot pan on a plastic cutting board, or a plastic table or counter top. It might even stink enough, melting, to spoil the taste of the food. A cutting board, or a scrap of plywood or board from the workshop, ought to work safely, and leave the roast and potatoes at eating temperature rather than too cold, after 20-30 minutes. (This is one reason i use a Pyrex glass baking pan for the roast and potatoes. Another is that it doesn’t scorch their bottoms while baking as metal might do.)

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Easy Garlic Butter:

..or Margarine:
(draft) 2014, Davd

Soon i will post a technique for baking bread, potatoes, and a beef roast together, which has made me many a fine meal (worthy of a good red wine.) The bread it makes goes very well with garlic butter, and so, i thought, i should first tell readers who don’t know, how to make garlic butter.

It’s quite easy: You’ll need a cutting board (oak is best, cedar is good), a sharp knife (if you have a “vegetable knife”, that’s probably best), a frying pan (or a ceramic mug and a woodstove, which is what i use), some butter or quality margarine, and a “clove” of garlic. Cut off the root-end of the garlic and chop it fine. Put the chopped garlic in the pan or mug, add the butter or margarine (try a half cup, or “eyeball it”)* and heat gently on the stove. If the stove is electric, you should use a frying pan, and stainless steel is as good as cast iron for this job: Turn the heat on quite low. If you have a woodstove, stand the mug or frying pan on a spot where the heat is relatively mild. The butter or margarine should melt, but not boil. (There is water in butter and especially in margarine.)

Once it melts, the fat-water mixture will probably separate; but still, somehow, the flavour of the garlic will gradually work its way into them both. (Stir it back together a few times with a fork, to make sure the fat gets its garlic.) Give it at least 15 minutes melted but not boiling, and if you have a place where you can leave it longer, an hour is better. Then you can let it cool; the fat will solidify on top of the water.

If you have fresh or frozen chives handy, adding some, cut about a half centimetre [less than ¼”; and the right length to cut chives for freezing] long, seems to me to make it even better.

Just as the fat is solidifying, if you want, you can mix it and the water back together with a fork. (A spoon doesn’t work nearly as well—just as a spoon doesn’t work as well for stirring spaghetti while it boils.) I usually leave them separate, spread the fat on bread, and add the fluid to something like pasta sauce or beef soup, or a marinade, whose flavour it will improve .

On the West Coast, cracked (Dungeness or Pacific) crab and garlic bread are considered a gourmet meal. Here on the East Coast, lobster is [imho] at least as good dipped in warm garlic butter as with mayonnaise; and snow crab also goes well with garlic bread and dipped in garlic butter. Fried or grilled chicken filet [“white” meat] is also good dipped in garlic butter. You can even have pasta, hot, dressed just with garlic butter… and i’ll be surprised if you don’t think of more and more uses.

I’ve made myself a note to grow more garlic in next summer’s garden.

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* How much garlic to how much margarine or butter, is a matter of taste; if the result you get seems too strong for your liking, you can warm it up again and add more margarine or butter.

 

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No Fair Approving Violence Against Me

… by omission:
(c) 2014, Davd

Is there any good reason, dammit, why i am a more legitimate target for violence, than a woman of my age, size, or strength?

Michael Enright, in his opinion statement1 which began the CBC “Sunday Edition” for November 2nd, made what has become a conventional demand to “stop/end violence against women.” I thought of writing him and recommend “Angry Harry”s blog and more generally, the Voice for Men site.

But Michael Enright’s radio editorial is a very recent, relatively visible example among thousands that have condemned violence against women and by omission, implied that violence against men, including me—and himself, by the way—isn’t so bad. I should not pick on him. Advocates of nonviolence should not pick on either of us.

I’m more likely, personally, to be a victim than a perpetrator of violence. When i was in my thirties, that was hard for many people to believe2. Now that i am in my seventies, it ought to be easy, because old men are not so strong, not so fast, not so well coordinated as young. There are millions of women who could ‘beat me up’, now that i’m old.

(I intend to follow up this short blog, with a longer one about specifics, but I want to keep this one short and to the point that opposing violence against only one sex, implicitly tolerates, or even approves, violence against the other—against my sex. I do oppose violence against anyone—and then, like most people, i make exceptions, of which the most common, for me and i believe for most people, is self-defence.)

Why is violence against a middle-aged or younger woman, worse than violence against me? Why is violence against any woman, worse than violence against me?

Why is bullying a teen-aged girl, worse than bullying a teen-aged boy?

If the answer truly is “It’s not worse; male humans have as much right to freedom from attack as female humans”—then we should say so.

We should not encourage violence against women—nor against men, nor boys, nor girls. We should not, especially not, tolerate nor approve violence against me and my sex, by omission.

 Notes:

1. The “Sunday Edition” normally begins with such an opinion statement.

2. When i was in my thirties, the reason i was more likely was my reluctance to do violence to others; now that i am in my seventies, the more obvious reason is my age (the reluctance still holds.)

 

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Movember Masturbation Message:

..Not Only Won’t It Make You Go Blind—It Might Lower Your Risk Of Cancer:
(c) 2014, Davd

This is not a joke; it is serious medical advice which i and at least one friend, have received from physicians: If you do not regularly have sexual intercourse to ejaculation, masturbation can give your prostate valuable exercise and lower your risk of prostate cancer.

The older you are, the more likely masturbation will help you—not because younger men have less need of prostate exercise, but because younger men are more likely to get that exercise via intercourse. If you are young and not “sexually active”, then masturbation might be especially valuable to you; because when men get prostate cancer in old age, it usually develops slowly enough that something else kills them before prostate cancer.* Men who get prostate cancer in youth or middle age are more likely to die from it.

During the past several years, i’ve read at least twice, statements that breastfeeding infants lowers a woman’s risk of breast cancer. Mammary tissues function to make milk, and giving them the exercise of making milk which is then sucked out by infants, reduces the risk that they will “go cancerous.”

Breast cancer isn’t our worry; prostate cancer, is. Prostate tissues function to make semen, the fluid that supports and transports sperm. If making and delivering milk protects breast tissues from cancer [not absolutely but significantly] there’s a fairly strong analogy to imply that getting your prostate to make and deliver semen, will protect it from cancer [not absolutely but significantly]. If you are married or cohabiting, there’s a good chance that you will have intercourse at least once or twice per week, until about retirement age. If you are not, two well respected physicians have said to two different men, it’s valid health promotion to masturbate enough to produce 1-2 ejaculations per week.

“Movember” stands for growing moustaches to raise prostate cancer awareness. I have a moustache—and full beard—all year ’round. I encourage men who read this and don’t usually have a moustache, to grow one; and i encourage those of you who do not already ejaculate at least once a week, also to talk with your G.P.** about prostate activity. My guess is that most who ask, will be told that one or two ejaculations per week, are better for prostate health than none.

What this blog won’t include is how-to. I’m convinced that when i write about how to cook salsa picante and chicken cacciatore, or cut up a cabbage to serve as three good winter vegetables, each technique will “do a good job”. Some readers might want to use less oregano or chili powder than i do, some other readers might want to use more; but the techniques produce good results. With masturbation, a technique that works for Alan might not work for Bill, one that works for Alan and Bill might not work for Charlie and Doug, etc. My technique for making salsa picante will work for anyone who can perform it. So while i’d encourage other men who are more expert about masturbation than i am, to hold Movember masturbation workshops, and might show up in solidarity if there’s one locally, i will not teach the subject. (You could say that, though in the interests of prostate health, i am a masturbator, i am not a master masturbator. In the cases of cooking and gardening, i might accept that kind of compliment …)

Usually i tend to agree with that American maxim, anything worth doing is worth doing well. When i cook, i want to cook well; when i garden, i want to garden well; when i write, i want to write well. I’m not very skilled at car mechanics, so i pay someone else who is. But face it, guys—paying someone else to masturbate for you, isn’t an option. What i need, according to those physicians, is one or two ejaculations per week. For a combination of “religious reasons” and most women my age being less than eye-stopping attractive, i don’t expect to replace masturbation with intercourse any time soon—probably not at all. So, mediocre masturbation is worth while for health reasons, and becoming a master masturbator doesn’t seem worth the effort if once or twice a week is often enough. (Cooking once or twice a week, where i live, would mean not eating nearly often enough.)

We men can be glad of two things at least: Masturbation doesn’t lead to overpopulation, nor to an 18-25 year responsibility for what starts out as a baby. To exercise her mammary functions, a woman has to give birth; and having borne and breastfed a baby, she has become responsible for a child. Children, in my opinion, are charming, lovable, and well worth having and rearing; but the human population of the Earth is already too large, and motherhood is too much for some women. Rare is the man for whom masturbation is “too much.” Indeed, masturbation might be the prudent, wise alternative for men who consider the risks of misandric divorce laws, and of STDs, perhaps even of false accusations.

If you haven’t been giving your prostate enough exercise lately, Movember means more than just not shaving your upper lip.

Notes:

* So i heard from a physician (which i am not). I don’t know how valuable prostate exercise is for adolescent boys; but scbool health and Phys Ed teachers ought to. If they don’t know now, they should find out: Prostate health is important and as of what we know this year, masturbation is the main thing for sexually inactive grown-men to do about it.

Looks like boys should not be ashamed of masturbating!

** General Practitioner, often called “family doctor.” There are millions of ‘doctors’ who are not medical practitioners, among whom Albert Einstein, Billy Graham, and David Suzuki are famous examples, and i am a not-so-famous example: Our doctorates (and those of most professors and researchers) are not in the field of medicine.

If you don’t have a physician you go to regularly, contact your local Men’s Centre, Men’s Rights group, etc.

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Some Confusing Worldly Nonsense:

… and Some Friendly Words for Muslims (and Jews):
(c) 2014, Davd

I have no sympathy for the vicious violence of the “Islamic State”* toward non-Muslims and sometimes toward non-Sunni Muslims. I hoped for a while that the worldwide leadership of Islam could discipline them as i heard they once disciplined the “Nation of Islam” in the United States. I was not present when it happened, obviously; the story that came to me was that when “Elijah Muhammad” and his “Nation of Islam” were condemning “White” America, the imams of world Islam somehow got together, “called them on the prayer carpet”, as it were, and said:
-1- Islam welcomes all races and treats all races as equal.
-2- You are welcome to call yourselves Bilali in honour of the first Black Muslim—to honour your own race—but not to hate other races.

From what i heard, the negotiations succeeded. Mind you, the Bilalis did not have one tenth the military hardware that “the Islamic State” has captured from less passionate armies in Syria and Iraq, nor had they done one tenth of the violence the “Islamic State” has done this year. But the older story is worth remembering, to remind us that the traditional Muslim greeting, Salaam, translates peace—indeed, it and the Hebrew Shalom are basically the same word pronounced a little differently.

My friends over the decades have included a few dozen Jews and at least a dozen Muslims. None of them seemed the sort who would kill anyone for following another faith or no faith at all. They might feel superior, in a way, because they regarded their faith as the best; but they were willing to let me regard mine as the best, also.

Let me picture for you, a few hours in the life of a Muslim family that does not hate.

I cooked two slices of bacon for breakfast one day last winter; and on the package was a brand name, Western, and a simplified picture of a bovine head—more likely a steer than a cow, i suppose, but that doesn’t matter much. Cattle ranching is a Western rather than an Eastern activity in North America; the head with its bovine outline and horns is thus a symbol of the brand name—to Canadians and Americans who grew up here. It might be confusing to people who can’t read the words, though.

Here was a package of smoked pork with a cattle symbol on it. Imagine some new Muslim or Jewish immigrant shopping for food, who looks at the package, doesn’t read the label because is his first language is Arabic, his second is Spanish, and he’s only learned a few hundred words of English so far. Bacon isn’t one of those words. He can see that the package contains meat, rather fatty but it looks to be smoked, so the fat can be used for cooking. The price, which he can read, is less than three dollars for a half kilo. And the picture is of a bovine—a clean animal, one that Islam and Judaism bless for food.

Oops! Imagine poor Yusuf, bringing home the bacon to his sister and brother-in-law, who do know English pretty well. This is pig meat, and Islam [and Judaism] do not bless pigs for food. First they are shocked that he could do such a thing… but they are not stupid, they know that Yusuf is only six weeks in Canada and does not read English—and they see the picture on the package. They start to laugh. Fatima hugs her brother and Abdul pats him on the shoulder.

“Don’t worry, Yusuf,” Fatima says through tears of laughter. “We can take this to the atheists in the next apartment, and exchange it for two kilos of sugar; the money is not even wasted. And the picture on the package, yes, in a way it is a lie—but the purpose was not to deceive anyone.

“Omar, come here and practice your Arabic, explaining to Uncle Yusuf why they would put the picture of a cow on a package of pig meat. And then Uncle Yusuf can help you with your differential calculus homework.”

- – – – -

* The CBC seems to insist on referring to them as “ISIS”, which is needlessly offensive. Isis was a goddess of Ptolemaic Egypt, based on Hathor, the cow-moon goddess, mixed with some Greek and perhaps Persian goddesses through a process scholars call theocrasia. [H. G. Wells, The Outline of History, v I, 1949, p. 385] To be named after a “pagan goddess” is needlessly offensive to any Muslim sect.

 

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Privilege Freely Given:

..The Only Legitimate Kind?
(c) 2014, Davd

There is an ugly—not very ugly, but unwelcome—pair of tire tracks through the edge of my prayer garden, past the \_ shaped herb bed to the front of the porch where it meets the deck. They display as two grooves in the grass-and-clover lawn, not as bare dirt nor gravel; but i’d much rather the lawn’s surface were something between elegant very gradual curvatures, and the slight roughness which the winter freezes and spring thaws seem to impose on the local ground surface.

Those tracks betray the passage of machinery where i would much prefer that only feet pass; bare in the warmest days of summer, and shod at other times. I would rather the prayer garden be walked, and only walked …
… but i wouldn’t rather exclude crippled men who do the best they can despite their handicaps, and want to pray and reflect here. The tracks don’t go all over the garden, they come through from the edge toward Claude’s home to the nearest doorway.

Claude loves machinery more than i do; and he gets around using an ATV that i’ve called “his wheelchair” for two years or so. I prefer skis, a bicycle, and walking boots; but they wouldn’t serve him as well as they have served me.

If Claude had to walk here from his house—a little more than 400 metres away—he would come far less often and arrive in far more pain. His knees are severely arthritic; he wears a back brace which he needs because of a work injury; i cannot remember seeing “a spring in his step.” Sure, it would do him good to lose weight (and it would do me good to lose about half as much weight; i’m on the stout side myself), but would i serve him or the cause of brotherhood by nagging and scolding, better than by occasional gentle wry references to our mutual overweight? I don’t think so.

I do think letting him have the privilege of defacing the prayer garden lawn for 10-20 metres of that 400+, so he can come to talk and pray, “is the lesser of two evils”; or more precisely, is an unwelcome bother for me, that frees Claude from an evil consequence of his work injury and his arthritis. I grant him a privilege i would not grant to an able bodied man, from compassion for his weaknesses and respect for his diligence and good work.

Claude has been Grand Knight of the local Knights of Columbus, and he’s one of the men with whom their priest confers about local concerns. He fixes equipment for his brothers and some other folks along the road, much as my grandfather did for his neighbours sixty and seventy years ago. Often when he goes somewhere to run errands, he asks me if i’d like to ride along. Considering his handicaps, he’s quite a contributor.

If by some marvel of modern medicine, Claude were to gain freedom from his back injuries and his arthritis, so that he could walk with a spring in his step, i might start telling him, “so leave the ATV outside the prayer garden and it’ll look that much better.” I might also walk him ‘way back into the forest to look at some reforestation problems and techniques. But i don’t have the power to heal by command, that the Scriptures report Jesus and some of his Apostles had; and it looks like modern medicine can’t heal him either. I have to deal with him crippled, the way he is now, and respect how much he does in spite of his handicaps.

Respect for what he contributes and compassion for his handicaps, are the basis for his privilege. One or the other, alone, might not persuade me to privilege “the next man”*. It was a personal decision to welcome him on his 4-wheel-drive wheelchair, rather than insist he walk; and not one i would trust to a bureaucracy.

I can sympathize with those who hope and who argue for a world without privilege. I expect to write “against” privileges that i regard as undeserved, in the coming months. Before condemning some privileges, i thought it might be good context to write about a privilege i myself, freely grant to a hard working, good hearted, crippled old man—and to emphasize, “freely grant”.

If enforced rather than freely granted, privileges become something different. Perhaps, much as taxes one must pay differ from voluntary donations to charity.

There is more than one basis for privilege; and so there is more than one kind of privilege. A privilege enforced by law, by threat of punishment and often of violence, a privilege imposed rather than freely granted, puts the privilege holder “above”, and denigrates, those who lack that privilege. A privilege granted in respect and compassion for the recipient, denigrates no one, and indeed raises both granter and recipient, one for showing generosity and one for evoking it.

I suggest as a principle, that imposed privileges are illegitimate.

Note:

* For reasons based in Orthodox Christian doctrine, i am sexually abstinent and avoid the unchaperoned company of women; so while a women might be welcomed here chaperoned, a more general welcome applies to other Christian men.

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Harvest Tomato Sauce for Pasta:

..So your tomato plants gave you a good crop and you hate to waste any?
… and what’s worse, the frost is about to kill your basil?

(c) 2014, Davd

Winter’s coming, soon (unless you’re reading this from the tropics, or the Southern Hemisphere.) The maple leaves have turned a range of reds and oranges and over half the birch leaves are yellow. Even one of the bur-oaks on the downhill side of the orchard has mostly yellow leaves on it. The cucumber and bean plants died mid September in a hard frost—a frost 3-4 degrees warmer than the average January daily-high temperature around here. I protected two short rows of tomatoes and picked the rest the day before that killing frost. Those last two rows came in at the end of September, with -4C predicted and the tomato leaves yellowing.

There’s a time lag, of course, between the growing and the eating. With leaf lettuce, sweet corn, and cucumbers, it should be kept to as few minutes as practical; while with apples it can stretch to several months and the fruit will still taste fresh. (Cabbage can be stored very similarly to apples, and last winter, i wrote about how to use one stored cabbage as 2-3 different winter vegetables. Fairly similar storage techniques work with beets, carrots, and potatoes—of which only carrots are eaten raw.) The time lag allows us to eat tomatoes and cucumbers in late September and early October—but not in June, unless we have a
greenhouse, though June is warmer. So September cooking and salad making uses summer vegetables from the garden, and winter comes to the kitchens of Canada in October and November.

Once carried indoors, tomatoes should be used sooner rather than later; and at this time of year good gardeners are likely to have more than they want to eat fresh. They can be frozen in their skins, but that merely postpones the work of cooking them1. It’s more compact to cook those tomatoes into pasta sauce or salsa-picante, and either “can”2 them in jars or freeze them in margarine tubs or some such plastic containers—and if you do it now, you’re more likely to be able to include basil.

I’ve already written about making salsa-picante and chili from canned tomatoes. Use fresh tomatoes and they’ll be as good, or better. (In making chili, a blender does a better job than a “food processor” [motorized chopper], of cutting fresh or frozen tomatoes into a semi-smooth state. For making salsa picante, the motorized chopper is better if you have one, but a blender can be made to work. For making pasta sauce, the blender does the better job—you want it more smooth than chunky—but the chopper can reduce the chunks small enough to work fine. It’s the flavour that matters most.

For Italian tomato dishes, three seasonings are standard: Oregano, onion, and basil. This being Canada rather than Italy, basil can be scarce and expensive; but at this time of year, i usually have a decent supply of “spice basil”—a hardier, less succulent, somewhat stronger-flavoured close relative of the Sweet Basil that is what you usually see in markets and gardening stores. I grow them both: Spice basil outdoors as a companion for tomatoes, and sweet basil in pots on the deck or porch. Spice basil can survive down to freezing [0 Celsius, 32 Fahrenheit] while sweet basil starts to die at +4C [about 39F] and needs to be taken into the porch when spice basil is safe outside. I use the sweet basil leaves in tomato sandwiches and maybe salads, and the spice basil in cooking, for the most part; but sweet basil certainly will serve well for cooking also.

Basil, then, is optional in this sauce—use it if you have it. To give the sauce plenty of flavour with or without basil, i add liveche (Levisticum officinale, a celery-like herb with a richer flavour—so if you don’t have it, substitute celery leaves [fresh or dried], cut-up coarser celery stems, or add “celery seed” which keeps like dry herbs generally) and hot paprika.; and if there’s no basil, i’m almost certain to add garlic. I might use garlic and basil in the same sauce.

The job starts with the tomatoes: Cut them in quarters or eighths and “blend” until it’s not quite as smooth in consistency as you want the final sauce to be. I have my blender jar marked just above the ¾ litre mark, at the level for the volume of a 28-ounce [.796 litre] can—the size can of tomatoes i buy. That way, i can use the seasoning quantities that work with one can of crushed or diced tomatoes. If i have a big harvest to cook up, i can make double, triple, even quadruple batches.

You can put fresh basil (leaves and flower stalks, not stems) into the blender with the tomatoes, and it will chop up the basil fairly well. Unless you live in India, the US Gulf Coast, Northern Australia etc.—somewhere that is sub-tropical or tropical, and wet rather than desert or Mediterranean—basil will be hard work to grow and you’ll be thinking “how much do I need?” rather than “how much can I put in without wasting it?”

Chive, oregano and liveche are hardy enough that most Canadians can use “plenty” and feel comfortable about it. In Climate Zone 4 and warmer zones, all three will winter over with a little mulch for protection. Chive has been known to winter over where the lowest temperatures go below -50C [-55F]. Greek Oregano—a pungent flavourful variety as well as hardy—and liveche [Levisticum officinale] probably aren’t hardy in Zone 3, but in Zone 4 i’ve wintered them both, several years now. Both dry well for winter use. (I hang mine in bunches in the woodshed, which is dry and shaded. If they don’t dry crisp enough for hand crumbling, they might be too damp for jar storage, so i “finish dry” them for a few hours in a sunny porch window.)

I recommend scissoring all three into the cooking pot, rather than try to chop them in a blender3. Chives must be fresh or frozen, not dried. Liveche and oregano can be added dried and crumbled, at the rate of one high-rounded soup spoon per .8 litres of tomatoes. (After you have tried the amounts i suggest here, use your own likings to decide whether to increase them, decrease them, or stay with the suggestions. I haven’t yet cooked a tomato sauce with so much chives that i said to myself “Less chives next time”—but that’s me. You might have different tastes.)

I add one low-rounded teaspoon of hot paprika, and half a teaspoon of salt. I then bring the mixture to a gentle boil, and simmer it for about ten minutes—longer won’t likely hurt, but i enjoy a fresh tomato taste when cooking from my garden.

My late September test batch—to verify the technique for this blog—was made with Scotia tomatoes, fresh chive and spice basil, mostly dried liveche and oregano, and [of course] dried hot paprika. Though the sauce looked to be a relatively small amount for the pasta, the flavour was rich and tangy, fit to serve to a guest and to enjoy several times a week—even without mushrooms.

This sauce is also very good with white rice4—I tried the combination for the sake of this “post”, and was actually surprised how well they go together. Since pasta presently costs a bit less “on sale” than rice, and has a higher protein content; and since rice with salsa picante is also very good, and a good deal better than pasta with salsa picante; i don’t expect to use this sauce with rice in most situations… but if you’ve rice handy, and not pasta, it can substitute well.

For a second “trial”, i added a few sautéed Suillus mushrooms to the sauce (with spaghetti) and wished i’d added even more. Several kinds of edible wild mushrooms are good with pasta and tomato sauce, as are “grocery store mushrooms”… and if the grocery store mushrooms are very expensive, the sauce is good with pasta only.

If you read back over the text, you’ll see several ways you can vary the seasonings in this technique; and the final “arbiter” should be your likings and those of the folks who share your meals. I’ve developed my version to be tangy and savory, with a fresher taste when the sauce is done, than canned tomatoes can produce. Having made chicken cacciatore with both fresh and canned tomatoes, i expect the seasonings and amounts given here, will work with canned crushed or diced tomatoes when i’ve eaten up the home-grown, some time toward the end of the year…

… but the harvest version, i also expect, will be the best. If you like this sauce as much as i do, when you try it; then i suggest you make plenty while the herbs and tomatoes are fresh, and freeze or ‘can’ a few pints for the coming winter.

Notes:

1. Nobody i know eats a frozen and thawed tomato, “raw”: The texture is not appealing.

2. In the Atlantic provinces, people refer to “bottling” food in sealed jars. To me, a bottle is a container from which the contents must be poured because the neck is too small to accept a spoon; and any glass container from which things can be spooned is a jar—in function, a re-usable can made out of glass. When i refer to bottling, the substance going into the bottles pretty well must be a liquid, such as beer, wine, cider, and the mehu concentrate produced by steam juice extraction, and the bottle is closed by a cork or cap rather than a lid.

3. Blenders will chop chives, basil, fresh oregano, and liveche when making mayonnaise; the oil makes the mixture thick enough that the blender knives can cut through the soft plant material. When making this pasta sauce, only the basil cut really well.

4. Brown rice is more nutritious than white, but it is also about twice as expensive around here—and it will keep only a few months, while white rice will keep a few years—so i usually cook white rice. Ideally, if i had an abundance of free time, i’d get a “pasta machine” and make whole wheat pasta.

 

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Chicken Cacciatore

(Pollo alla Cacciatora, Poulet Chasseur):
My Favourite Low-Cost Technique from Last Winter

and even better with fresh tomatoes
(c) 2014, Davd

Winter clothes unpacked yet? Shorts and swimwear boxed up and put in the attic? (If you put a few mothballs in the box with the out-of-season clothes—even though most summer clothing has no wool in it—and put them in the cellar or wherever mice usually invade your house, my neighbour Smitty tells me the mothballs will repel the mice. I’m giving it a try; it sounds plausible—and from inside a box, the mothballs should leak out their fumes slowly enough that the house won’t smell of naphtha.)

We don’t literally put our barbecues in mothballs, but we Canadians do use them seldom to never between early October and late May. And once the barbecue season is over in Canada, and the slaughtering season is here, food stores are likely to shift focus from luxury to economy. That’s what happened last year, anyhow: Starting last autumn, the nearest full-size grocery store to my home sold 5 kg boxes of “broken chicken drumsticks” (Pilons de Poulet Cassées) for about $2.50 per kilo. What’s broken off is mostly bone—the packages contained chicken drumsticks, with a third or so of the bone missing at the lower end—for about half the price of whole chicken drumsticks. It was the least expensive meat in the nearby grocery stores—and i like chicken maybe less than beef, trout, or wild salmon, but at least as well as pork; so last winter, i ate more chicken than any other one kind of meat.

Chicken, pasta, and tomatoes go very well together, and i like all three well enough to eat them just about every day. Mushrooms too, for that matter. With chicken the bargain meat last winter, chicken cacciatore became the commonest main dish of the season—and i remember those meals with pleasure.

(If you don’t forage wild mushrooms, start cautiously. There are a few deadly poisonous mushroom species, and some that can make you sick but not likely kill you, as well as a larger number of good to very good, safe ones; and there are many species that are neither poisonous nor pleasant to eat. To start with, read a good basic mushroom hunting book and take your first foraging trips with an experienced companion—one you trust, and who hasn’t made himself or herself sick with any recent mistakes.)

My favourite vegetable, among those that can be easily stored for winter use, is the tomato. It’s healthy, it’s versatile, it’s tasty. I can eat tomatoes twice a day for weeks, and not get bored with them. Sure, there are times when i prefer a fresh cucumber, 6-8 inches long and picked that same day1, quartered lengthwise, with a sprinkle of salt. In early spring, if i’ve had cooked tomatoes all winter, i’d rather have asparagus steamed to a bright green (and in early spring, fresh tomatoes are not an alternative.) And if i’ve had tomatoes every day for a week or two, i might prefer broccoli or green beans, picked that day and steamed to a bright green. But the number of meals per month i can enjoy tomatoes is more than the number i can enjoy cucumber, broccoli, or green beans.

Most fruits and vegetables, including tomatoes, are intermediate in “storage life”: They needn’t be eaten within a few hours of harvest as asparagus, sweet corn, cucumbers, green beans, and leaf lettuce reallly should be… but they won’t keep for weeks without losing quality.

Tomatoes, however, have two properties that make them more useful as “winter vegetables” than green beans, sweet corn, or even broccoli: They are acid, and their skins are virtually waterproof. Because they are acid, they can be sealed in canning jars with no risk of botulism2. Because their skins are virtually waterproof, they can be frozen in plastic food bags (even in grocery store carry-home bags) and they won’t freezer burn. (If you grow too many green beans, you can blanch and freeze them, but they won’t be like fresh cooked. If you grow too many broccoli, their texture after freezing will be even less fun.3) So while you shouldn’t plan to grow more green beans and broccoli than you’ll want to eat plus give away while they’re fresh, it makes good sense to grow lots of tomatoes and use the rest in winter cooking.

Few of us, once we realize how tomatoes can contribute to winter menus, will have the garden space and spare time grow a full year’s supply of tomatoes at home. Fortunately, canned tomatoes are about the least expensive canned vegetable: A 28-ounce [796 ml] can has cost 80 cents to a dollar on special, last year and this. It makes pretty good sense to buy ahead when you find a price below the dollar mark; because the “best before date” will usually be 1-2 years after the day you find them in the store. I like to have 2-3 dozen cans in the house by the time the snowplows first go to work, even if i’m still using my home grown tomatoes in the kitchen.

Cacciatore is the third tomato-sauce main dish i’ve described here: The first was salsa-picante; the second was chili. (The fourth will be a generic pasta sauce, and the fifth, St-Laurent pasta sauce.) Maybe it’s time to write a little about the common patterns to the seasoning of these five “presentation grade home cooking techniques”, all featuring tomatoes.

If you’re familiar with making turkey stuffing, you might remember the four seasonings Sage, Celery, Onion, and Pepper. Add those four to cubes of bread—stale bread works fine—and some fat and fluid, in proportion; and you’ve made yourself a good, standard poultry stuffing that also works with many kinds of baked fish. Beyond stuffing, and expressed more generally as Strong herb, Celery, Onion, and Pepper .. it’s a seasoning checklist worth remembering, especially with poultry or fish, often with pork, and not so often with beef, lamb, and mutton.

Using the general form, Strong, Celery, Onion, and Pepper , oregano or thyme could be the “strong” herb in place of sage… and oregano is, in most tomato sauces for pasta. Use chili powder as the strong herb, paprika in place of pepper, and add cumin or cilantro, and you’ve listed the seasonings for the basic salsa-picante technique i posted late last autumn. Celery or the richer, celery-like liveche [Levisticum officinale], and onion [or chive, or shallot with delicate meats] go well in nearly every soup or sauce that’s meaty rather than sweet, and some, like salsa-picante and chili, that are meatless but savoury. Some strong herb should be present, and usually, either pepper or one of the paprika-chili group.

In chicken cacciatore, i use both sage and oregano, liveche, chive in summer and onion in winter, and “hot paprika”. Rare is the cacciatore that doesn’t have some kind of mushrooms in it. And i usually cook only “dark meat” chicken pieces in cacciatore—chicken ‘breast’ i usually steam if skin-on, or sauté if skinless, preferably with tarragon and chive. You don’t have to follow my patterns slavishly; and as you learn to think in terms of flavours, it will help that flavour thinking if you know that my cacciatore seasoning choices are made for “dark meat”.

“Hot Paprika” is something i’ve only recently found in bulk food stores. I suppose it’s been known for years in the boutique gourmet trade—but I’m a gardener-forager-fisherman gourmet, not the boutique sort. If you don’t find it near you, use regular paprika plus a pinch of hot pepper or a couple drops of hot pepper sauce. If you do find it, give it a try; in my humble opinion it’s a bit better.

My first batch of cacciatore this autumn, was made from two “chicken thigh, back attached” pieces, some wild mushrooms [genus Dentinum] that are close to store bought Agaricus in taste, seven small tomatoes, a generous volume of cut chive, and what most recipes would call ample amounts of dried home grown oregano and liveche, plus a smaller but still noticeable amount of dried sage (about two rounded teaspoons, but of hand crushed home grown herb, not commercially powdered.)

The chicken was thawed from Wednesday morning to Thursday late afternoon, in the ‘fridge. This is usually the best way to thaw meat and fish. I cut the excess fat from the pieces and put it in the frying pan to begin melting, and when the fat sizzled, “borrowed” some chicken fat i had saved in the ‘fridge4, and a wee bit of canola oil… just deep enough to brown the skin on the chicken pieces.

While browning the chicken pieces, i cut the mushrooms into a smaller frying pan at low heat, added a tablespoon or two of scissored chive, and left them to cook slowly. I also collected together the herbs and diced the tomatoes. When the skin had browned, i turned the chicken pieces, lowered the heat a little, and when the other side had had a couple minutes to brown, added tomatoes, a substantial amount of cut chive, and the oregano, liveche, sage, and [a bit less than a teaspoon of] hot paprika. Then, the mushrooms being nearly cooked, i added them to the larger pan, along with some salt. When the tomatoes softened, the sauce filled the frying pan over half-way up the chicken pieces; i simmered them 10-15 minutes and then turned them so each side had that long in the barely boiling sauce. By this time, the seasonings had mixed into the sauce.

Since i’m an old man and hadn’t spent the day at hard manual work [just an hour or so], i took one piece of chicken, about half the sauce, and some pasta, for dinner; and put the frying pan with the rest of the chicken and sauce, aside for a second meal later on. (It went into the ‘fridge when it had cooled near room temperature.)

Though the sauce looked to be a quite small amount for the pasta, the flavour was rich and tangy—a special meal even before i cut into the chicken. The chicken was just fully cooked, the sauce had begun to flavour it and, adding the sauce in the spoon to what the chicken had absorbed—yes, this is a presentation quality “dish” when you get used to the seasoning amounts that you like best…

… and in this case, the ingredients i bought cost about a dollar per meal ($2 in total): Pasta, salt, hot paprika, and chicken. The tomatoes, chives, sage, oregano, and liveche were home grown (and i could say the same about the mushrooms, which came from the forest on this land.) I didn’t have to drive to a store for anything i used; indeed, everything that went into that cast-iron skillet had been in the house for more than a week, except the fresh herbs, mushrooms, and tomatoes. The chicken having been frozen didn’t detract from the result, which “freezer robustness” is often a benefit of brown-and-simmer cooking.

A technique worth knowing: Inexpensive, very tasty, handy at harvest time, and come winter, everything you need can be waiting in the house for weeks5.

Notes:

1. There are two choices for “the perfect fresh cucumber”: Eat it as soon as you’ve washed off any dirt or mulch, or put it in the ‘fridge for 2-3 hours and eat it cold. Which is better? De gustibus, non disputandum est [chacun a son gout].

2. Botulism is a deadly bacterial food poisoning that does not give the tainted food a bad taste nor smell. The bacterium that causes it, Clostridium botulinum, doesn’t multiply in acid environments. Tomatoes, in a can or in a jar, are acid—so botulism isn’t a danger if the seal isn’t perfect or the contents didn’t get hot enough to kill the bacterium.

3. Green beans, cucumbers—and broccoli, and most other vegetables—can be pickled for winter use. The result is different enough from the raw or fresh-cooked vegetable that it has quite different places in the menu; and the pickling process is quite a lot of work.

4. The fat trimmings stayed in the pan until the skin side of the chicken pieces had browned, to be exact; then i took out what was left of them to cool for the dog, and poured a little excess fat back into the children-fat container—which ended up less than a teaspoon lower than when i began.

5. Tomatoes freeze and ‘can’ well; chive can be frozen and the technique works well with regular onions; mushrooms can be dried, salted after parboiling, or sautéed and then frozen, to use when they can’t be foraged. (Mushroom hunting and wild-mushroom cooking books will tell you which preservation techniques work with which species—and more important, how to avoid the poisonous ones.) The herbs and spices, other than chives, dry very well.

 

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Quick Pickled Mackerel:

Tasty, Fairly Easy, and Keeps Well{!}:
(c) 2014, Davd

This recipe will be of most interest to readers who live near the sea. It’s tough enough to buy any fresh saltwater fish in say, Winnipeg or Kansas City—but mackerel? They don’t keep as well as many other fish—which is why the {!} after “keeps well” in the subtitle. (It’s true, too—vinegar is a good preservative, and this recipe seems to include enough vinegar to preserve the pickled fish for a week or two in the ‘fridge.) Salmon and cod and sole—often haddock, “Alaska pollock”, and some exotic farmed fish like ‘basa’—can often be bought “fresh frozen”; but if you find mackerel, or herring, inland, it’s almost certain to be smoked or pickled.

Living near the Gulf of St. Lawrence, i found mackerel to be one of the few species of fish that are available for ordinary people to catch in quantity for food. Salmon and sea bass are very restricted, i’m not sure if the public may angle for cod or haddock at all… but mackerel, you may catch all you can. Late summer and early fall are the easiest time to catch mackerel fairly near shore—so here, if you have a place nearby to fish for them, or somebody gave you a few, is something to do with mackerel that will make them a treat, and give some enthusiasm to your thanks for the next ones.

If you start with “round” (whole) mackerel, my first advice is: Fillet them soon! If somebody brings me a few mackerel and i don’t have time to fillet them that day—make it, within three hours—i put them in the freezer. Since they fillet rather well half-thawed, that’s a practical way to organize the work. I suggest peeling the thin, plastic-like skin from the fillets. (If you have a dog or cat, then when you have cooked the fillets,, pour the “juice” from the container that held them into the cooking pan, add the skin, and cook slowly a few minutes for your pet. My dog likes this treat and giving it to him helps him to let me eat the fillets in peace.)

If somebody gives you mackerel fillets, thank him [or her] enthusiastically. They’re well worth having if you know how to pickle them quickly [or smoke them]; and if you fillet them yourself, you’ll have the task of disposing of the rest of the fish. It has a fairly strong odor and will attract cats and larger carnivores1.

In Europe, i had eaten smoked mackerel that were delicious. Here—well, i won’t name the “brand” i found to be fit to eat but not nearly as appealing as the smoked mackerel i had met in Finnish (and if i recall correctly, Swedish and German) stores when on sabbatical. I didn’t find any processed mackerel that appealed to me as those in the Baltic countries had—and i had learnt to appreciate mackerel over there.

Reading several Internet recipes, and Lapointe’s Poissonerie, i found these seasoning patterns repeatedly:
— bay, onion, and pepper
— mustard and butter
— onion, vinegar, and mixed pickling spice

Dill and parsley were fairly often specified.

So, given what was in the house, including the fillets of two mackerel, i tried: Half a cup of white vinegar,
— 10 peppercorns, 1 bay leaf, a teaspoon of dill seed,
—and a generous amount of chive [cut no longer than ¼”—about half a centimetre—long],
… simmered in a small stainless steel pan. (If you don’t grow chives, i suggest you start with a rounded tablespoon of finely chopped onion [bulb or greens], and then adjust how much onion you use, according to your liking.)

When the liquid had simmered for 3-5 minutes—and it must simmer very gently or the pan will boil dry or too near to dry—i poached 4 fillets [2 fish] in that liquid, which required me to cut the fillets to fit in the pan, and cook them in 2-3 “batches”. Each pan-full took less than five minutes to cook, turning the fillets once, with the vinegar just barely boiling.

The mackerel came out delicious, not rank at all—and rank taste can be a problem with mackerel. It was good plain and with mustard. And unlike the cast iron frying pan in which i had slow-fried fresh mackerel, the stainless steel pan in which i pickled fillets, washed clear of the odor, so i could use it to heat salsa and rice without giving them a fishy taste.

I usually eat mackerel with potatoes or rye bread. I also tried some pickled mackerel with rye porridge for breakfast, just to see—and that was pretty good, too.

Take some time, i suggest, with the first batch you make: Be sure the vinegar doesn’t boil hard2, let the dried herbs simmer slowly so they can have 4-5 minutes to flavour the vinegar, and cook the mackerel at “barely a boil”. If you pickle mackerel often, you’ll get used to the timing, and then the work will not need your full attention.

It’s worthwhile making up plenty of this, and freezing it in small amounts to take out now and then over the winter and spring for a treat, if you have the time and the mackerel. If so, you can double, triple, even more than triple the amounts of vinegar and herbs. (You can also use this recipe to cook thawed fillets during the winter. I wouldn’t keep mackerel frozen all the way through spring.)

Like white fish poached in salsa picante, this can become something that distinguishes you as a cook. It’s distinctive, most men like it [and fairly many children and women, too] and it “repeats well”: A guest (or a host to whom you take it as a contribution) will be glad to see and taste it again.

Notes:

1. I recently filleted two mackerel, and buried the carcases about a foot deep, covered with some crab shells, then dirt, then a layer of dog dung, then more dirt. Two days later i saw that a passing fox, or perhaps a raccoon or cat, had started to dig for the fish and stopped at the level of the dung.

2. If much of the volume boiled away, you’d have to add water, and guessing how much water is difficult. Vinegar contains much more water than acetic acid, and the boiling point of acetic acid is hotter than that of water, so the little bit that is lost by gentle simmering causes no trouble.

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Divorce Insurance

An Instructive Concept: Does it Exist? Should it?
draft(c) 2014, Davd

Before registering your car, in this province of Canada and in many provinces (of Canada, France, .. and “states” of e.g. Australia and the USA), you must get liability insurance and are urged to pay additional fees for collision, fire, theft, storm, and even insurance against rocks hitting your windshield and breaking it. If you drive rather little, the insurance may cost you more than the gasoline you buy to fuel the car—even at this year’s and last year’s prices—but few people complain. Legally required it may be, but most people accept that paying for car insurance is prudent.

If someone in my grandfather’s middle years, between the World Wars, had suggested that everyone should have to buy insurance in order to drive, [s]he would probably have been scoffed-at, maybe called crazy. Cars were relatively new as a technology, speeds were lower1, experience with road accidents and the damage they did, sketchy. (Experience with divorce was also much less in those days—and even as recently as my own childhood after World War II.)

Today, if you can’t afford car insurance, you can’t afford to drive… and that got me thinking about marriage and divorce. If you can’t afford to insure your marriage—does that perhaps mean you can’t afford to get married? Divorce risks are becoming known and understood now, as car “accident” risks were becoming known in the middle decades of the 20th Century.

I could be mistaken, but it seems to me that i know of more men who have suffered terribly from marital mishaps, than from highway mishaps. I’m not writing about “fender-benders” in parking lots or getting tar on the paint driving past a construction project; and i’m not writing about arguments over whether you ought to eat breakfast in your pajamas or who takes out the garbage. Those can be frustrating, they are definitely not fun, but they aren’t disastrous like a divorce case, or having a woman get violent on you and get away with it, or a false accusation being treated as if it were true, or a major property or custody dispute on separation.

A divorce case, a violent wife who says “nyaa! Nyaaah! Can’t hit a gir-rul!“, an undeserved criminal conviction or even charge one must defend (sometimes even an undeserved restraining order) or a major property dispute on separation, is more like a head-on collision or skidding off an icy road and down a 200-foot cliff. You might survive. You might not2. And if you do survive, you won’t have the same easy graceful attitude toward life or the same sense of vitality that you used to have.

Suppose before marrying, a man “priced out divorce insurance”? What would it cover? What would it cost? How many men could afford to marry if the cost included divorce insurance?

[Suggestions, readers of this draft?]

It’s fair comment, to point out that the worst aspects of divorce—separation from your children especially—cannot be covered by insurance3. The same applies to being killed or maimed in a road accident: Money won’t make things right; what it will do is “mitigate the harm.” The concept of divorce insurance directs our attention to the increased—perhaps still increasing—insecurity of marriage in this century compared to half a century ago.

It’s been argued that requiring drivers be insured has motivated people to drive more carefully—because traffic tickets and accidents increase the cost of the next year’s insurance. Some analogy to divorce insurance exists, in the sense that if actuaries ever did design divorce insurance, they would identify risk factors and assign higher rates to clients whose “risk factor profiles” were not promising… but there’s no analogy to the annual setting of driving insurance “premiums”. The risk factors will have to take forms that can be identified well before marriage.

To me, it’s a sad comment on the past several decades, that this ‘blog’ can be worth writing. Fifty years ago, in 1964, marriage was safe for most men, and divorce was usually fairer for the unlucky, so it would have been fair comment to call writing about divorce insurance, alarmist… unless one knew what was going to happen between then and now.

One might add, that fifty years ago, in 1964, air travel was safe enough and easy enough to use, that it would have been fair comment to call any forecast of today’s “security precautions” alarmist… and eighty years ago, to repeat, if someone had suggested that everyone should have to buy insurance in order to drive, [s]he would probably have been scoffed-at, maybe called crazy.

Methinks the two declines in safety, air travel and marriage, have different causes4. But it is worth asking—how, in the past few decades, has life got easier, safer, and better? Are jobs better? No. Are they getting better? Not likely! Is higher education more or less affordable? Is a degree more or less worth having economically? Does the interest rate you can get for retirement savings even “keep you up with inflation”? Is economic growth a political mantra that might have made sense fifty or a hundred years ago, but doesn’t any longer?

It might just be, that the declines in “easy life based on economic growth”, though they never needed to include a decline in the safety and fidelity of marriage, are going to bring back some respect for men as husbands, fathers, and brothers.  Because the phenomenon, the “end of the easy-going world of Europe, North America, and ANZ” includes more than misandry, perhaps a longer piece i’m drafting about “the end of that world” will appear in a coming week.

Meanwhile, if you have been wondering if you ought to get married under today’s somewhat misandric laws, the questions “What would divorce insurance cost me?” and “Can I afford it?” might give you a useful perspective on the subject.

Notes:

1. Around 1950, when as a boy riding in the back seat, i first paid attention to speed limits, 50 mph was a normal highway maximum, 25 mph was normal on city arterial streets—and my grandfather was already an old man.

2. Might not survive? Ask Sergeant Tom Ball! (Many other men have died as a consequence of misandry in law and bureaucracy; Sgt. Ball’s last words have become relatively well known.)

3. To me as a Christian, what’s really needed is a revival of fidelity. So far, the one way to exert effective pressure toward fidelity, that i’ve seen reported, is for a church to expel those who divorce for no or frivolous reasons.

4. The (earlier) increase in the danger of driving seems to reflect mainly higher speeds, more distance driven, and much more crowded roadways. As an analogy, bringing down or hijacking an airliner probably has a closer parallel to divorce, than does a road accident.

 

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