Fish Poached in Salsa:

.. building on experience for a “presentation quality meal”
(c 2013, Davd

“Fish” is about as diverse a class of foods as “meat” or “vegetables”. Filet of sole is light and delicate in taste and texture; sockeye salmon is robust and delightfully oily (and the oil is rich in the Omega-3 polyunsaturated fat that most people’s diets lack.) Mackerel has a strong odor that is also oily but very different from sockeye salmon, and can easily become “rank”; and its taste in the mouth is much lighter than sockeye or even Atlantic and coho salmon. Even among the fishes whose meat is called “white”, there is a great difference ranging from sole through pollock [goberge] and haddock to cod and on to some strong-flavoured kinds of sea bass.

The kinds of fish that cook well “poached in salsa” tend to be white or pink fleshed and relatively light in taste—though sole may be “too light” and tends also to be sold in filets that are thinner than ideal for the technique. This autumn, Pacific pink salmon [Oncorrhynchys gorbuscha] from Alaska and B.C. has been available, frozen whole [gutted, don't worry], at lower prices than any other kind of fish; and i’ve confirmed that it is delicious poached in salsa—as i knew of “pollock” (in English, or goberge in French) from earlier. I’m confident that other species of fish, especially haddock, perch when available in large enough pieces, and probably greenling, will also be good poached in salsa, but perhaps not cod, mackerel, or the higher-fat, stronger-flavoured species of salmon.

(Fish has become much more expensive during my adult life: As a graduate student on a tight budget i often bought rockfish, a very similar fish in taste and texture, for 25-30 cents per pound [55-66 cents per kilo, but in the 1960s, things were done in pounds]. Sirloin steak cost $1-$2 per pound, a good comparison because it, like fish filets, has almost no waste. Today i can get sirloin steak for $4-$5 per pound, or four times the price then; while the least expensive regularly available white fish costs at least ten times its price then.)

Poaching is simmering applied to meat or eggs “by themselves”, often in a flavoured broth: The broth (in this case, salsa picante) is kept just barely boiling, usually for a short time. Poached eggs, for instance, cook for 3-5 minutes. I poached pink salmon in about ten, and if you have doubts whether the fish is cooked, it shouldn’t hurt to cook it for fifteen.

You can make a batch of salsa, pour off two-thirds if you’re cooking just for yourself, and then add 150-200 grams [5-7 ounces] of fish. Or you can put a third of a batch of salsa into a pot (or a small stainless steel frying pan), heat it close to boiling, add the fish, and cook. Either way, a quarter to a third of a batch of salsa and 150-200 g of fish, should feed one man one meal.* For more people, multiply the amounts… and increase the size of the pot or pan.

Let the fish simmer [boil very gently], don’t boil it hard; and 10 minutes should be cooking time enough but if in doubt, 15 won’t hurt. Simmering gently, the salsa shouldn’t stick to the pot; if in doubt, test the bottom with a spoon. When the fish is done, it will be firm in texture. I haven’t made good notes about the time pink salmon takes to cook, vs pollock/goberge, but my educated guess is that salmon takes longer… so fairly thin pollock filets might be done in 5-6 minutes.

When the fish is cooked, add some grain—i almost always use boiled barley or rice—and you have a meal. Salsa in that amount counts as 1-2 ‘servings’ of vegetable in the terms of the Canada Food Guide, the fish is high-quality protein, and the grain gives a little extra balance to that protein. Salsa with a bit of fish taste from the cooking goes well with fish and grain.

My favourite among white fish readily available in the markets, for poaching in salsa, is usually called “Alaska pollock”. (I’m unaware of any way that “Alaska pollock” differs from other pollock, so “pollock” and occasionally goberge is what you’ll read here.) I can usually buy it for $9/kg at the CoOp and sometimes on special for $7.50 at another store, as frozen filets. If you’re near the West Coast and can get “greenling” or “rock cod”, those might be well worth a try. On the East Coast, they’re seldom if ever seen.

If you’re cooking for yourself or for “the guys”, the fish, salsa, and some cooked rice or barley, can be eaten from a bowl (shallow, wide bowls are sometimes called “soup plates.”) If you’re doing “a little nicer presentation”, you can separate the fish from the salsa, put it on a plate, and then add cooked grain to the salsa to serve separately. (I wouldn’t use salsa in which fish was cooked, for dipping corn chips…. or put it on the grain to go with chicken or red meat—but “it’s moot”, because that fish-poaching salsa gets used up in the same meal.)

The commonest white fish species in Atlantic Canadian stores are cod, haddock, pollock, and sole. For poaching, i prefer the pollock, which is the mildest-flavoured of the first three, and often the least expensive of the four. Haddock would be my second choice for poaching in salsa. Cod seems too strong-flavoured for best performance with salsa, while sole seems to me to be “too light” .. but you might think differently, so go ahead and try them if you like: De gustibus, non disputandum est.

I now know pink salmon is delicious poached in salsa. It’s well worth while cooking pink salmon this way; the difference versus pollock, is that pink salmon also comes out very good steamed with carrots, or grilled, or salted raw. (Other salmon species, and Western cutthroat and rainbow trout, are even better salted raw, or smoked, than is pink salmon… if you can manage a trout pond, that’s a great way to grow yourself some fine food!) I might try poaching brook trout sometime—but not the stronger-flavoured Atlantic, coho, spring, or sockeye salmon, nor mackerel and herring. Mackerel and herring are good ‘pickled’ and (mackerel especially) poached in a vinegar based broth; as well as smoked. The oilier, richer-flavoured salmon species are good fried, grilled, salted raw with herbs, as well as smoked, and the thicker cuts can be baked with or without stuffing.

Cod has a more distinct, stronger flavour than haddock or pollock, so i suggest steaming it with chive and a little tarragon or perhaps sage… a technique that also works well with pink salmon, and will be the subject of a future blog for those who don’t know the steaming technique. Your tastes might be different than mine, so go ahead and try those species of fish too, if you’re so inclined. What i can say is that pollock, which is mild flavoured even among white fishes, is mighty good, as is pink salmon, which is mild flavoured even among ‘red’ fishes

The first four “posts” on cooking started with an easy variation on a Finnish soup that not many non-Finns seemed to know about, then described how to sort out a cabbage and make the cooked part tastier, then described two techniques, for healthy fried meat and slightly fancy porridge, which add together for a good hearty breakfast. The last post, on salsa, described something a bit fancier; and now, combining salsa with poached fish and boiled grain (which cooks almost the same as making porridge, but takes noticeably longer than quick oats and is less likely to stick), you have a “presentation meal”, something you can serve that tastes special and many other folks won’t know how to do. (I strongly suggest you cook any meal for yourself and your housemates, at least twice, before doing it “for presentation”.)

Don’t get proud, though: There’s lots more to learn, and this week i’ll be thinking about what might come next. Maybe fileting those whole fish, and-or a review of boiling grain?

“footnote:”

* Those “hungry-man” brand frozen dinners brag about being “a whole pound of food”. That’s 454 grams if they are being precise. 150 grams of fish, plus 250 grams or maybe 300 of rice or barley, and salsa, plus a vegetable, add up to at least one pound. 200 grams of fish, plus 300 grams or maybe 400 of rice or barley, and salsa, plus a vegetable, and an apple (banana, orange, etc.) should add up to more than half-again the size of that “big meal”, and without a calorie count that will make any active man get fat. (By the way, i did notice that sausage soup is “too high in saturated fats”, and i don’t recommend you eat it more often than once, maybe twice a week. I wrote my first cooking post about sausage soup, because it is relatively easy for a beginner to cook, and gives beginners a good first experience—plus many people haven’t known about it before.)

 

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Basic Salsa Picante:

..sin cilantro, y todavía muy buena:
(c) 2013, Davd

It’s expensive to buy in a jar; it’s easy to make at home; it turns the reliably economical “canned diced tomatoes” into a versatile treat, it keeps a week or longer in the ‘fridge, and it goes superbly well with boiled barley or rice. You can even poach fish in it (Pacific pink salmon and pollock/goberge are two of the least expensive and poach very well in salsa), add rice or barley, and have a good, very healthy one-pot meal. Salsa can be a basic part of your diet, economical in time and money, and about as healthy as anything you cook.

If cabbage and carrots are the standard winter vegetables, canned or frozen* tomatoes are the choicest summer vegetable that can come into the winter kitchen almost as good for cooking as fresh. I delight in fresh cucumbers, and eat one or two per day all summer, but i don’t even want to think about eating frozen or canned cucumber. (If you just imagined the texture of a thawed cucumber, i’ll wait for you to go retch.) Dill pickles, yes, i do buy those fairly often in winter; and a few times i have actually made them—but tomatoes are more nutritious and dill pickles cost more per volume, plus their alum and salt content isn’t altogether healthy.

For making salsa picante, diced canned tomatoes are the form to buy. (For pasta sauce, “crushed” tomatoes are preferable, but if diced cost noticeably less, they’ll do OK for pasta sauce as well. Don’t try to make salsa from crushed tomatoes.) Frozen tomatoes can be thawed, chopped in a food processor or blender (or in the cooking pot, with kitchen scissors) and make good salsa; but i tend to use frozen for pasta sauce. For now, i’ll write two techniques for canned, diced tomatoes, and later, a few words about adapting them if you have fresh or frozen.

“The midwinter technique” uses canned diced tomatoes, onions, fried in good vegetable oil, and three spices you will find valuable for other cooking as well: Chili powder, cumin, and paprika. (all three are sold fine-ground, dry; and they all keep well; so if in doubt, buy a larger size of each if the price per kilo is lower that way.)

If you have celery leaf, celery seed, leftover celery (the outer stems tend to be coarse and strong-flavoured, as are the outer leaves of cabbage) or the stronger celery-like herb lovage [liveche, Levisticum officinale] add a little to the tomatoes when you start them heating.

The standard can of tomatoes contains 796 ml or 28 ounces (i would guess in the US it will read in ounces) and costs about a dollar on special**. (If you find that size cans of tomatoes for much less than a dollar, buy a dozen or two; they should keep more than a year.) Being canned, they need no special storage conditions.

Set out your ingredients: A can of diced tomatoes, a small-to-medium-sized onion (i prefer sharp to mild), celery stem or celery leaf (or liveche) if you have it, and your containers of chili powder, cumin, and paprika.

First, put a small frying pan on the stove (or you can use the pot where you’ll make the salsa) with a thin but visible layer of oil in it, and get it heating while you cut up the onion, fairly small. I quarter onions “from pole to pole” [from the root end to the bud end], and the quarters are easier to peel than an onion is while whole. Setting two peeled quarters together on the cutting board, flat side down, you can slice them a quarter inch thick or thinner, fairly quickly. The onion layers will separate, so quartered and sliced, a medium onion will be down to fairly small pieces. (You can cut the outer layers of each quarter halfway ’round it, halfway to the middle, to make the pieces really fine.)

Put the onions in the pan to fry until lightly browned. Medium heat should do.

As soon as the onions are chopped and starting to fry, open the can of tomatoes and when the lid is almost cut free from the can, use it to hold back the tomatoes and drain some of the liquid into a mug or teacup for thickening the salsa at the end. Then pour the tomatoes and the rest of the liquid into your cooking pot (unless you’re frying the onions in it, in which case wait until they start to brown) add celery (or liveche) if you have it, and heat on medium power. While the tomatoes are heating, add one flat to slightly rounded tablespoon of chili powder, and one slightly rounded teaspoon each of cumin and paprika, then stir. Add the onions as soon as they’ve browned a little.

As with porridge—as with all cooking—you should stir often enough to keep things from sticking to the bottom of the pot, as well as to mix things together. You can soon learn to feel with the spoon, when things start to stick. I don’t find salsa ingredients tend to stick until the cornstarch is mixed in and thickens.

The best timing is for the spices to go in while the tomatoes are still almost cold, and the onions when they and the spices are halfway to boiling. When the mixture is about to boil, ease the heat to medium-low, stir, and let things boil for just a minute or so, while you stir a generous forkful of corn starch into the liquid you saved in that mug. (A fork is much better than a spoon for stirring corn starch into liquid, and the liquid should be cold rather than hot while you’re stirring in the powdered corn starch.)

Next, add the corn starch and liquid to the pot, (this time the spoon will be better for stirring, though the fork can be made to work) and quickly stir it in well. As soon as the cornstarch mixture gets to boiling, in the presence of fat (the oil that came in with the onions), it will thicken the salsa. Cornstarch only needs to cook for half a minute—and hey! compadre!—you have home-made salsa. (Turn off the power, or take the pot off the woodstove, before the salsa sticks, now that it’s thickened.)

Freshly made and boiling hot, salsa will heat cooked rice or barley from the ‘fridge, and they’ll average out at a pretty decent eating temperature. I usually mix two parts grain to one of salsa—approximately. Use the proportions you like best—it’s your food.

(A frugal trick would be to pour the salsa into the can the tomatoes came in, then put some grain into the pot to absorb most of the salsa that didn’t pour, put that grain into the bowl you’ll eat it from, and then add salsa from the can to the proportions you want. A tin can can take boiling heat, and if you have a snap-lid that fits it, you can store the salsa in the ‘fridge, in that can, once it cools—compact and a minimum of fuss.)

The amounts of chili powder, cumin, and paprika i listed above work well for me; but chili powder varies in “heat” and so do men’s tastes. Adjust the amounts from your experience after you’ve made salsa once or twice. You can add “sweet peppers” to your salsa, but you don’t need to, and they’re often very expensive in Canada. Likewise with cilantro, which most weeks, i couldn’t even find in the stores nearest me… the cumin is enough, combined with chili powder and paprika, to give the basic salsa taste.

I eat salsa 3-10 times per week, year-’round, because it’s easy to make and i really enjoy tomatoes. In summer i make it less often because i’m having fresh tomatoes in salads and sandwiches… but salsa and barley or rice combine so well, and are so quick to put together when i’m in a hurry, that even in summer i use that combination fairly often.

In summer, i use fresh tomatoes, and chives rather than onions, because i prefer the chive flavour and the green colour makes the salsa look even better. (Next summer i’ll probably post more details about that.) The next post, this late autumn, i think, should describe how to poach “white” fish in salsa. Meanwhile, get some canned diced tomatoes, chili powder, cumin and paprika, onions and cornstarch if you don’t keep them on hand already, and give basic salsa a try.

It’s a good, handy, versatile technique to know.

Footnotes”:

* Tomatoes from the garden can be put in a plastic food bag and frozen in their skins. The skins protect them from drying out [“freezer burn”]. They do lose their texture when thawed, but for salsa or pasta sauce, that’s a minor rather than a major loss.

** I’ve found them at that price in the nearest Wal-Mart most of this year. Perhaps the Wal-Mart house brand has a bit more liquid and a bit less tomato, so i usually buy Co-Op or a name brand if it’s available at the same price.

 

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Frying Meat

.. for Flavour and Health: The Art of the Cast-iron Pan
(c) 2013, Davd

If you want a cheap laugh, and don’t mind being thought a fool, go into a good steakhouse and say “Boil me a T-bone.” (Even “Boil me a pork chop” is cheap dimwit comedy rather than mere ignorance.) Fried meat, we often hear, is unhealthy for us, and especially for our hearts and arteries. .. but would you boil a steak? even a pork chop or a slice of ham? Not if you’re sure it’s in good condition!

Since frying and grilling (and roasting for thick pieces) are the best simple ways to cook fine cuts of meat, it’s worth learning how to do them well—to get delicious meat with little or no risk to your health. The skills involved—much like riding a bicycle or driving nails with a hammer—will need careful attention at the start, to go well; and then you’ll gradually “get the hang of it” and they will become a comfortable routine.

You can make a stainless steel or Teflon-surface frying pan do a good job, but the metal that serves me best—that does a good job most easily and the best job when used with care—is cast iron. It seasons well with vegetable oil (or with animal fat); it builds up enough heat in its heavy metal, and delivers that heat fast enough, to sear meat well; and it’s easy to clean without damaging it. (Yes, it does need “seasoning” [for cooking performance, not for flavour] with oil; but that oil can be a very small amount and it will help sear the meat.)

Next time you see cast iron frying pans at a yard sale or second-hand store, if they’re reasonably priced, get the sizes you don’t already have. A little rust can be cleaned up and once well seasoned, cast iron pans won’t rust again. Oil protects the metal from rusting. If the rust has made pits in the cooking surface [inside bottom] deeper than your thumb-nail is thick, i wouldn’t buy
it even for only a dollar.

To season a cast-iron frying pan, first clean it thoroughly and let it dry. (It will dry fastest if it is at an angle between horizontal and vertical, inside down. To force-dry it quickly, heat it on a stove, fairly low power.) Then heat it to about the boiling temperature of water. (If a drop of water sizzles or even evaporates quickly without jumping around, the pan is hot enough.)

Now add a small amount of canola oil, corn oil—a good vegetable oil but not olive.* I aim to just cover the bottom of the frying pan with oil, when it’s hot—and hot oil spreads much more thinly over the iron than cold oil. You don’t need much. When the oil runs freely around the bottom of the pan—not sluggishly as oil does when it’s cold—tilt the pan this way and that until the bottom is oiled all over, then turn off the power or slide the pan to a relatively cool corner of the woodstove. Leave the pan fairly hot for at least a minute, then put it on a cold stove element, a trivet, an oven shelf, even a block of wood, to let it cool.

The first time you try this, you may find it hard to estimate how much oil to add. Take your time, and watch how the oil and the pan-bottom are interacting—this is learning time, not wasted time. Add a little and if it’s not enough, a little more… and if you wind up with too much you can pour the excess on the dog’s food, into a clean empty tuna can, even into another frying pan where you’ll cook potatoes or eggs, which cook best in more than a film of oil.

When the pan has cooled, then, if there is enough oil in it to run visibly to the low side when the pan is tilted, you can pour that oil out if you’re planning to fry meat. (Leave it in if you’re planning to fry potatoes or eggs. I often set a small frying pan inside a larger one, upside down with one edge tilted upward slightly, and let the oil run into the larger pan, .. then later, if i’m going to fry potatoes in the small pan, i put the oil back in addition to the oil from its latest seasoning… or i use that excess oil to season the small pan next time.)

It’s good to let a pan cool to complete the seasoning, then re-heat it when you’re ready to fry that pork chop, chicken leg, beefsteak, or fish. If you’re in a hurry, you can usually get away with using a pan that’s just been seasoned… but i wouldn’t make a habit of that.

Frying has at least two, different stages: Searing and cooking. Searing always comes first: The meat is browned at high pan heat—well above the boiling point of water—to seal the outside so the moisture will stay in. Throw a pork chop or a steak—even a chicken leg—in boiling water without searing it, and so much of the flavour will go out into the water that the meat will taste insipid, and the water will seem “bloody” rather than meaty. Before you make a beef stew, pot roast, chicken cacciatore, pork with bean sprouts and mushrooms in Chinese or Japanese style—before moist-cooking generally—you should also sear that meat.

To sear and then cook well, a pork chop should be at least half an inch [1.3 cm] thick, and ¾” [2 cm] isn’t too much. (There is a different technique, using a thin-bottom steel pan and a gas flame, for cooking thinner meat; and most of those i’ve met who do it well, also speak fluent French. Few of us who speak mostly English, even have gas flames to cook on, except maybe in a camp stove.)

So get the pan surface, with its thin film of oil that wouldn’t move around at room temperature, hot enough that the oil moves around easily or the pan threatens to go dry. Put the meat in, brown one side, turn it, brown the other side, and to be thorough, brown the edges also. (For a breakfast pork chop, the two large “sides” are enough, but doing the edges is still a good idea unless they are made up of bone or fat.)

If you’re not sure when the meat is browned, you can lift it and look. (Be sure you get the whole side of the meat down against the pan, each side, at the start and after looking. Pushing down with a spatula that’s almost as wide as it is long, will usually do the trick.)

As soon as the second side is down on the much-hotter-than-boiling pan, or when you start searing edges if you do, lower the heat; and when done searing, cover the pan. Searing is taking all the water from the surface of the meat, browning it, and thus sealing that surface; but you don’t want the meat dried out all the way through. Slower cooking after searing will produce a juicy and still fully cooked pork chop. You want the pork cooked to a tan colour clear through, not red or pink. If it has been well seared, it will still be juicy and tasty, not dried-out, not waterlogged.

(Why fully cooked? Mostly, because of trichinosis. Trichinae are tiny worms that can live in the muscles of pigs, bears—and unlucky humans. You don’t want them in your muscles, and apparently, they can survive stomach acid and get through the intestinal wall; so standard cooking practice for pork, since trichinae were discovered, has been to “cook it well done.” If there are trichinae in the pork, cooking it well done will kill them. Today, most pork is inspected and pig farmers seem to have learned how to keep trichinae out of their pigpens—but better safe than sorry.

Chicken and ground beef are also supposed to be “cooked well done”, because of disease bacteria rather than trichinae. It is possible to produce ground beef that is safe to cook rare or medium; but that involves a lot of cleaning and sterilizing and the big meat packers don’t seem to find it profitable.)

When the pork chop is done, you can put your porridge (or a slice or two of bread, or even cooked pasta or rice or barley) into the pan to soak up the mixture of fat and water that has formed during slow cooking. (If it’s mostly fat, you can choose instead, to pour it on the dog’s food dish. Dogs only live ten to fifteen years, and as far as i know, don’t have time to develop dangerous “arteriosclerosis”. They do enjoy pork fat; and when i have a pork chop with enough fat in or on it, to cut out, Fritz [my dog] gets the fat and counts it for a real treat.)

Whole grain porridge flavoured with pan brownings and a little meat juice from the slow cooking, is my preference. Add an apple**, and you’ve got a hearty healthy breakfast.

The same frying technique works, with a little adjustment, for steaks and lamb-chops. Beefsteak can be cooked “rare” to “medium” as well as fully [“well done”]. Lamb (and young mutton) i’d cook medium but not rare. For rare and even for medium, a thicker piece of meat will fry [or grill] best: An inch thick if you want rare, ¾” or more for medium… but i wouldn’t go thicker than 3 cm [an inch and a quarter] without consulting someone who’s more experienced with very thick steaks.

For chicken and ground meat, use the same technique as for pork, because the health authorities today say consistently, that these meats are not safe to eat partly cooked. Chicken “cutlets”, “filets”, “nuggets” and strips, are near enough uniform thickness to cook like steaks and chops, if they are all meat. I use mainly salt and pepper to season pork and beef after searing, but might add chive and tarragon to chicken.

Chicken pieces of any type that are “breaded” or otherwise coated, don’t need searing, so read the package directions and then adapt them to your liking. Chicken thighs [cuisses de poulet] without back attached, may also be uniform enough to fry like chops, though i’d be inclined to sear-and-simmer, as i do with whole legs. Chicken breasts with the skin still on, can be steamed skin-side up, and tend to be better that way. (Those techniques will be the subjects of future “posts.”)

To sum up: The best way to fry a 2-3 cm [¾" to 1¼"]; piece of meat—a chop, chicken ‘filet’, or steak—is to sear both flat sides in a seasoned cast-iron frying pan, lower the heat, cover the pan, and cook until it’s to your liking (or the safety requirements.) Steaks, pork sirloin chops, and white meat chicken “filets”, may benefit from searing the edges as well. When the meat is done, the frying pan will usually contain “meat juices” that can be used to flavour bread, barley, pasta, rice—or for breakfast, porridge is my favourite. What with apples and spice plus meat juices for oatmeal and meat juices alone for rye porridge, i find porridge is a food i can eat daily for weeks and months… and its proteins complement those in the meat.

Meat fried this way has very little extra fat, and that fat is healthy vegetable oil. The technique is easy once you’re familiar with it, and the results are as good as you’re likely to get until you’ve mastered the smoky-coals barbecue—which is a more demanding technique i expect to write about starting next spring.

“Footnotes”

… by the way … cooking most of the fat out of smoked bacon, really isn’t frying as we otherwise use the term.. it’s slow cooking in a frying pan, while real frying starts out “fast”.

* I believe i’ve been told that olive oil won’t work because it’s unstable at frying temperature. I’ve never tried it for frying, because it costs several times as much as canola oil, which is healthy and fries things well.

** Apples are high in pectin, which helps protect you from high-cholesterol foods. (See e.g. Castleman, Michael, 1991. The Healing Herbs. [Emmaus, PA: Rodale Press] p. 54) Thus, i usually eat apples with red meat and with eggs and have bananas and oranges with fish or poultry… when i have them. Apples grow right where i am; bananas, oranges, and pineapple don’t.

 

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Spiced Apple Porridge:

.. and a few more of the many ways to enjoy the virtues of Boiled Whole Grain:
(c) 2013, Davd

Breakfast, i’ve been told, should be the best and heartiest meal of the day. Supper should seek wisdom in the French souper from which it apparently derives, and be a small, light meal by comparison. The mid-day meal, whether you call it lunch or dinner, should be substantial if you are a farmer or other hard manual worker, and intermediate if you work in an office (and don’t bicycle a long distance to work and back, do a run and a workout every day—you get the idea.)

I wish i had a simple multiple-choice response sidebar where you who are reading this, could let me know how well your usual meal sizes and contents, agree with that dietary advice. Mine match only moderately well, and often that’s because it’s the evening when i have time to cook something really good. Where i match the pattern best is at breakfast—i do, normally, eat a good substantial breakfast of meat and grain and fruit. These good hearty breakfasts are rather easy to learn to cook—so, here goes.

A good substantial breakfast can consist of fried meat (pork chops are usually the most economical in terms of protein per dollar spent, sometimes ham is, and if you have access to low-cost trout or salmon, by all means eat it for many, even most of your breakfasts. Trout and salmon go better with rye porridge, maybe cornmeal “mush”, rather than oatmeal, but oatmeal will be good too.)

For this week, i’ll guesstimate that many more of you can fry a pork chop or a slice of ham (or bacon—if you dare risk the high fat content) than have learned to make porridge “from scratch.” It’s only a guess, and soon i’ll post a simple “recap” on cooking meat in a frying pan. It will feature good vegetable oil, of which only a thin layer is needed, and the simple art of browning [aka searing] the meat surface. For those of you who have good cooking experience, those points should be enough for the meat part.

The rule to follow unless you have reason to know better, in cooking grain, is Two-to-One [2:1]: Two measures of water to one of grain. This rule works well with oat and rye flakes, with rice and barley cooked by themselves, (but not with that old brand name hot cereal called “Cream of Wheat” nor with Steel Cut Oats.) I’ve used it successfully with a mixture of wheat flakes and “ground toasted corn”, which is good with beef and also with pork smoked or unsmoked.

The commonest porridge in Canada, the UK, and the US, though, is “oatmeal”: Oat flakes cooked for a few minutes in gently boiling water. (There are other definitions in Scotland, i’ve heard half-seriously; so if you’re a Scot or share a kitchen with one, you might want to have a few minutes talk about that. For most of us, oatmeal is made from oat flakes boiled in twice their volume of water.) Rollling the oats into flakes makes them cook faster without making them cook up worse, so that’s how most oats are sold for human consumption. (Horses, as far as i know, get them pretty well as they came out of the thresher. Since horses can’ t read and can’t cook, we’ll proceed with the human version.)

OK, there is an order of procedure to making oatmeal; it’s easy to learn, follow, and remember; and it does matter. First, measure the oat flakes: I use a fairly large mug, always the same mug, because the amount of oatmeal it produces makes three good servings. Find a measuring technique that produces the amount you (and whoever has breakfast with you) can eat in one or two sittings (maybe three sittings if you eat alone.) Then set that amount of oat flakes aside to wait for the water to boil. (I have an odd plastic container i use for the oat flakes to wait in; you could use a clean tin can, an empty margarine container, one of the bowls you’ll eat the porridge from when it’s done… whatever fits your household.)

Second, measure the water—two fillings of that same container you used to measure the oats—into a pot [it's OK to call it a pan, but it should have a lid, and don't use a frying pan] where you’ll cook the porridge. (If you measure the water first, the container will be wet and the oat flakes will stick to it… the order does matter.) Then put the water on the stove (and turn on the power). You’ll want high heat to get the water to boil quickly, unless for some reason it takes a long time to get the apple and spices into the pot.

The apple can be any variety you like to eat. My favourites are Brunswick, Forgeron, Honeycrisp, Paulared, Spy—and Fuji, Gala, King, which won’t grow here. Cortland, Red and Golden Delicious, Jonagold, and any good cider apple, are also to my liking. For me, McIntosh and Yellow Transparent are too light in flavour—i also avoid light beer when robust is available; and much prefer Merlot and Pinot Noir to claret—but de gustibus, non disputandum est.* Use whatever kinds of apple you like to eat.

How much apple? This is a technique, not a precise recipe, and again, “tastes” may vary. I’d use 1/10 to 1/4 the amount of oat flakes—and remember, both the cut-up apple and the oat flakes are loose—there’s a lot of air space in that measure. Because i’m using them boiled, i’m willing to put apples that are bruised, or bird-pecked, even the good looking parts of wormy apples, into the pot. Often i use the smallest, most damaged apples i bother to bring in the house. (Since only two of my trees produced more than ten apples this year, and together they bore less than i will eat over winter, i brought in apples half the size of a tennis ball, if they looked sound—this year. When the harvest is big enough that i can be “choosier”, i’d like to have chickens to feed the small and damaged ones to.)

Cut the apples up “fine”—into pieces from the size of a split pea to the size of a white (“Great Northern”, or “Navy”—not Lima) bean. A little larger won’t hurt; but they should cook fast once the water boils, and they should distribute well through the porridge rather than there being several fairly big chunks in one spoonful and no apple in some others. Get them into the pot before the water boils, preferably; and let them have a minute or two of boiling before the oat flakes go in. If you put them in when the water is boiling, you should wait for it to come back to the boil, and then give the apples a minute or two at boiling—more fuss and bother, which is why i put them in before the water boils.

Right after adding the apples, add a little ground cinnamon and a tiny amount of ground cloves. My big mug holds over 12 ounces—just over ,4 litres. I use an amount of cinnamon that equals the size of one of those small white beans—maybe up to the size of a dry chili bean before i soak it for cooking. My ground cloves are in a shaker-top container, and i give one or two quite small taps or shakes—with the container tilted just below the horizontal, not upside down. Cloves are expensive, and their flavour is very strong, so go easy on cloves.

Once the water, the apples, cinnamon and clove reach the boil, ease back the power if you’re using an electric or gas stove. When the apples, cinnamon and clove have boiled for a minute or two, add the oat flakes, gradually, stirring while they go in. (A “soupspoon” or “tablespoon” size spoon is most appropriate; a larger one or a teaspoon can be made to do the job.)

The cold oats and the stirring will probably cool the water and stop the boiling for a minute or two. If the power is at a level where the pot will boil lively but not furiously, a minute or two should be all it will take to get them boiling again. Stir again as they come back to the boil; but you don’t need to stir constantly: Stir often enough that the porridge, as it cooks, doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pot .. which means, the hotter the element, flame, or woodstove top, the more stirring.  “Quick oats” will cook in three minutes or maybe less; large flake oats or rye flakes will take five minutes at least (and should be stirred at least twice while boiling. Opening the lid to stir, means more steam will escape while you’re stirring, and that means you’ll need a little more power to keep the boil going.  At first it takes more attention than when you’ve got used to your pots and stove.)

If you’ve got your pork chop or slice of ham cooked when the porridge is ready, add an apple (or a banana, an orange, etc.) and there you have a hearty, very nourishing breakfast. Most of you, i do believe, will find it tastes better and feels better digesting, than a bowl of dry cereal—even granola—or a boiled egg and toast, which boiled egg and toast take about as long to cook as a pork chop and porridge, once you get the hang of making porridge.

I described Spiced Apple Porridge because it’s about the most complicated form of porridge i make. When you’ve made Spiced Apple porridge, adding cut-up apricots, blueberries, cranberries, raisins, raspberries, or whatever other fruit to porridge will be easier by comparison: No spices needed, and less or no cutting.

People who know more about nutrition than i—or write as if they did—say that refined grain, such as pasta, white bread, white flour, white rice, is much too large a part of the American—and they often imply, the Canadian—diet. Whole wheat bread, whole wheat pancakes, and especially, boiled whole grain give more complete nutrition. The easiest way to get whole grain in your diet, is boiling it in soups, stews—and good old porridge. That bears repetition: Whole grain porridge, whether oats, rye, or even corn or wheat (and corn and wheat together make a tasty porridge that goes better with beef than oatmeal does), is healthier than white bread or part-whole-wheat, or part-white-flour “rye” bread. Porridge beats toast for food value. It beats many of the “dry cereals” out of a box, that cost as much per kilo as steak does. And when you put porridge into the frying pan where the meat was cooked, it picks up the “juices” left behind, and tastes better still.

If you live by yourself or cook breakfast for just yourself, the easiest way to eat porridge and meat, is from the frying pan where the meat was cooked. A small frying pan is just about as convenient to put on the table as a plate (put some paper under it if you cooked on a woodstove, so the bottom won’t dirty your table or your place mat; and let it cool down almost to eating temperature so it won’t mar the table.) It will need cleaning anyway, so by eating from it, you save cleaning a plate—and unlike a plate, you can let the dog help clean a frying pan.**

Oatmeal is the commonest porridge in Canada and the States. Cornmeal “mush” is common in some places, and pretty good with pork and beef. (I think it would be good with chicken, too—but i’ve never had chicken for breakfast on any regular basis.) Wheat flakes with cornmeal, especially toasted coarse cornmeal, make a good porridge for beef and pretty good for pork. (This is written in Canada and like the US, we say “corn” to refer to what the English and most Africans call maize [Zea mays, maís en Español]. When i later refer to corn oil, that means oil pressed from maize, not from grain-in-general.)

The porridge i think really deserves more use and appreciation, though, is rye.

This autumn of 2013, and the rest of the year so far, rye flakes have sold at “Bulk Barn” for less than their price for oats. Rye goes very well with pork (including bacon, ham, and pork sausage) and better with beef than does oatmeal. It also goes best of the grains i know—better than barley, corn, oats, rice, or wheat—with salmon and trout. If you go fishing and have trout or salmon to cook for breakfast—rye porridge is the best accompaniment i know. (Well, if you can get whole rye bread, that’s equally good, a little less work but more expensive. I looked through the chain stores in Miramichi, the first Saturday in November, and found no rye bread. I didn’t ask at the deli counters, but on the shelves—no rye bread that i noticed. My practice, if i had access to good whole rye bread as i had in Thunder Bay, would be to have rye bread with cold fish and rye porridge with hot, freshly cooked fish, of the salmon-and-trout family.)

I’ll recommend that you get rye flakes, unless they’re awfully expensive where you are, and make rye porridge for at least 10% of your breakfasts. It goes well with pork, best with “red” fish, better with beef than oatmeal does. When you have two or more variations on oatmeal, plus rye porridge, in your repertoire, then maybe try cornmeal, or wheat flakes.

Meat, porridge, an apple or other fruit—in the summer, a cucumber or tomato maybe, and your choice of coffee and teas, make up a substantial breakfast that starts the day well and happily. More than one kind of fruit is usually even better than just one. (Cucumbers and tomatoes are botanically fruits, by the way; and i for one can’t appreciate vegetables like beets, carrots, lettuce and spinach first thing in the morning… so i write fruits. If you really delight in carrots and spinach for breakfast—well, de gustibus, non disputandum est.*)

“Breakfast like a king, lunch like a fine gentleman, sup like a pauper”, goes an old saying. The Jet Lag Diet prescribes meat for breakfast because high protein food energizes you. (Meatless pasta, or those ramen noodles with the little envelope of mock broth, would then be the dietetic sleeping pill.) My custom of having a decent-sized piece of [usually fried] meat, porridge, and fruit for breakfast isn’t quite kingly, but neither am i… and feasting like a king might do me the same harm it seemed to do Henry VIII. (Durant’s The Reformation: A History of European Civilization from Wyclif to Calvin: 1300-1564. NYC: Simon and Schuster, 1957, esp. p. 576, describes King Henry’s obesity and ill health.)

I expect the next post to be shorter, and focus on techniques of frying meat, for those who lack good experience at that. Meanwhile, if you can fry meat at all, go ahead and enjoy meat-and-porridge for breakfast. A week or so of too much saturated fat in the frying pan shouldn’t hurt you much, and many of you may already know how to fry well with modest amounts of healthier fats.

Bon appetit.

Footnotes”:

 

* That’s a famous Latin maxim, and a rough English translation is: “Let there be no arguments, no fights over matters of taste.”

** Dog saliva can carry microbes you don’t want in your food—but the operating temperature of a frying pan is well above the boiling point of water, and will kill them even more surely than boiling (which is the standard “aggressive sterilizing technique”. My rule about giving dishes to the dog to lick, is “will it boil or be hotter than that, next time it is used? If yes, let the dog enjoy what’s stuck to the pan or pot. If no, don’t give it to the dog unless you’re willing to sterilize it with bleach before you use it again.”)

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Steamed Cabbage with Caraway

(It doesn’t stink up the kitchen, it’s inexpensive, and it’s good)
(c) 2013, Davd

For the second item in the Bachelor Cooking series, i’ll continue the frugal-hearty theme; and this time, ask those of you who don’t keep a herb-and-spice supply in your kitchen, to get caraway seed the next time you go to the store. It keeps well, so if the large size costs twice the price and contains five times the weight—buy large (well, up to 200-300 grams.) Sometimes the best prices on seasonings are in the bulk-food section, or at places like “Bulk Barn”… and you’ll enjoy food shopping more if you can quickly translate prices-and-sizes into kilo or litre prices. (Another good reason to learn arithmetic.)

If you don’t have a steaming basket, i suggest you buy one now. I have three of them, and many meals i cook have two baskets working (so if you see a steaming basket at a yard sale, or the price is really economical, get a total of two or three.) It stands inside a cooking pot and holds the cabbage—or broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, green-beans, spinach, chicken breast, cod, haddock, pink salmon, etc. etc.—above the boiling water or stock.

My point in listing so many foods that you can learn to “steam”—and the list is not complete—is to give you a first hint of the versatility of steaming as a technique. As this series progresses, you can learn some rather fine cooking—far short of enough to get you a chef’s ticket, but enough, when you get used to the techniques, that a chef would take you seriously if you were to go sell him some ingredients. Before we get to the
“presentation grade” dishes, though, we should have us a repertoire of good basic meals that we can rely on, share with our buddies, and when eating alone, cook once for two to five sittings.

Basic meals use basic foods; and except in South Coastal BC (maybe also the Outer Coast north of Campbell River and Tofino) there are four staple Canadian winter vegetables: Cabbage, carrots, potatoes, and turnips. Of the Basic Four, only cabbage grows above ground and “counts as a green vegetable”. All four keep well over winter—you can harvest them in October (September if you’re in Climate Zone 2) and eat them through winter and spring. During this autumn and the coming winter, i’m going to emphasize how to make them versatile—how to cook them (and eat cabbage, carrots, and turnips raw, as well) so that they don’t become boring. (Later on we’ll meet a few other good winter vegetables, one of which—beets—many of you already know.)

Cabbage is cheap compared to its cousins broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower, it keeps better than they do (if the ‘fridge temperature is around 5C and the humidity is fairly high, it will keep for a month or two; and in a good root cellar, cabbages keep several months.) It is green, and more nourishing than turnips. And as you’ll read next, it is really two or three vegetables wrapped one around the other.

Steamed cabbage goes well with Sausage Soup (and with many other main-dishes). It also takes advantage of the structure of a cabbage: The outer leaves are a strong green colour and have a strong taste—they’re better cooked. The inner “heart” is a pale green and if the cabbage variety is mild, it makes a good munch, raw with a little salt. (Some kinds of cabbage are ‘sharp’ and their centres are less appealing raw; they can be briefly  steamed, stir-fried, or made into coleslaw or sauerkraut.) The dark leaves, in my humble opinion, always need cooking.

You could cook the whole cabbage at once, but the lighter the colour, the less cooking it needs—so cooking it all, together, doesn’t do justice to one layer or another.

The very darkest leaves are best used in stews (you can put some in Sausage Soup, cut small, too; and me-thinks many of you will like them that way); or used in hearty relishes. The medium-green leaves can be steamed (and as you’ll see later, used in stir-fry.) The pale, tight-packed “heart” leaves can be sliced or can be shredded and made into coleslaw… even sauerkraut, but that’s a more complicated technique that i won’t be writing about for months yet.

To “butcher a cabbage”, i first quarter it.* One cut goes from the stem end to the opposite end; the other cut can go through the middle or again, from the stem to the opposite end. Each quarter will have that pale green “heart” which i suggest you separate with a small knife (“paring knife”, “utility knife”) and put in a clear plastic bag—cabbage keeps well in the fridge, so you’ll have 1-3 weeks to eat it. The quarters might have very dark green outer leaves, or the store might have taken those off. If there are very dark green outer leaves, i suggest you cut them off and put them also, in a clear** plastic bag—which can be the same one where you put the “heart quarters”, if you prefer—to use later in soups and stews.

OK, now you have the definitely green but not exta-dark leaves which are best for steaming. Cut them into strips 1-1½ cm (about half an inch) wide. Probably, these leaves have held together when the heart pieces (and dark green leaves if there were any) were removed from the quarters. If so, a few parallel cuts, with one flat side of the bundle on the cutting board, will do the job.

There should be a half inch or so of water in the pot where you put the steaming basket—unless you are going to boil sliced beets or carrots in that water (thus cooking two vegetables in one “go”); in which case the water should cover one layer of what’s in the bottom of the pan. (Two layers might make it difficult to fit in the steaming basket… so the two-vegetables-at-one-go trick works for one or maybe two men, but not for a larger group.)

Separate the shredded leaves and distribute them loosely in the steaming basket—the air space will become steam space, and that’s how they will cook. Now, sprinkle caraway seed on top of that cabbage (many of the seeds will fall part-way through the loose “salad like” leafage)

Put the pot on the stove, and if it’s not a woodstove, turn on the power. High flame or electric switch setting will get the water boiling quickly, and usually that’s what you want. When the water is boiling (which you will see if the lid is made of glass or has a steam vent), lower the power (or on a woodstove, shift the pot to a slightly cooler part of the surface.)

The cabbage is ready when the color brightens. It’s OK, until you get used to steaming any vegetable, to let it cook a little longer rather than not long enough… but the best taste is at maximum brightness for leaf vegetables, so if the brightness starts to fade, take the pot off the stove and enjoy. (If you have other meal items still cooking and will be eating with others, leave the pan on an element or trivet where it’s not being heated. The hot
water in the pot should keep the cabbage warm until the rest of the meal is ready.)

Bean-sprouts, broccoli, carrots, spinach, frozen corn and green-beans, all steam well. I much prefer to boil beets. So don’t worry that your steaming basket won’t have lots of good work to do for you; as the months go by, you’ll learn to cook most kinds of fish in that basket, and white meat of chicken, as well.

For now, you’ve learned how to sort a cabbage into two or three different winter vegetables, a way to cook the medium green cabbage, with better taste than it has “naked”, and a pleasant smell in the kitchen while it cooks. Not bad for a technique that’s very easy once you get used to it.

{p.s. If you boil beets underneath the steaming basket, slice them thin! (less than a quarter-inch thick) Otherwise they won’t be done when the cabbage is ready. Carrots can be cut a little thicker, because they cook faster. And of course, if you eat alone, you can take the cabbage out when it’s ready, and eat it while the beets are finishing. Both beets and carrots are ready when a fork will push into them; as long as the root resists the fork the way it does when raw, they should be cooked some more.}

“Footnotes”:

* If you know you won’t want to steam more cabbage than you will get from half the head, then you can halve the cabbage, put one half in that plastic bag, and cut the other half into quarters.

** Why clear? So you can see what’s inside. When i buy bulk foods and grocery-store vegetables, i save the plastic bags if they’re still clean, even rinse them sometimes, so i can ‘fridge home grown vegetables in them later.

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Sausage Soup:

(easy Canadian variation on a Finnish traditional recipe)
(c) 2013, Davd

Welcome to the Bachelor Cooking series, whose purpose is to help more men enjoy the most practical of all the arts. We’ll begin with an easy, hearty, savory, satisfying soup i learned about from the Finns. It works with leftover sausage from a party or picnic, sausages “reduced for quick sale”*, even “hot dogs” sold off cheap as the Canadian winter approaches—and it’s quick and easy to cook. All the foods that go in it can be bought on special, stored for weeks in a fridge, freezer, and under the kitchen counter, and put together in about the time it would take to “go out for fast food.”

Finns are hardy, frugal, practical people who enjoy life’s good things—including efficiency. Sausage Soup is a good example of those attitudes; and it’s also something that beginners can cook. I want this series to be accessible to “Every man”.

Cooking is just as much men’s work as women’s. Most chefs are men. When i sold fresh herbs to fancy restaurants on Vancouver Island, most of the line cooks were also men. I learned much more from the chefs than they learned from me—but to get them to listen, and to consider buying from me, i had to know basic cooking and better-than-basic seasoning.

(What are the distinctives of bachelor cooking? I don’t yet have a list, but i’m convinced that distinctives exist. One, it seems to me, is that we men are less likely to cook sweets, and especially less likely to bake cakes, decorate cakes, and worry about how flaky the pie crust is. [We don't put dust ruffles on the tops of the curtains, either—i wonder sometimes if there's a connection.])

What we’re more likely to cook, are hearty satisfying savory foods—with herbs and spices as well as salt—that keep well and taste as good or better when eaten a day to a week later.  Chili is a classic example—anyone else notice how often it’s the man of the house who makes chili?—and i will offer a chili recipe before very long. Maybe two of them.

Today’s first-of-the-series technique is for something almost as hearty, simpler and much quicker to make, that can turn low-cost ingredients into a satisfying hot meal—a meal that keeps for days in the ‘fridge, re-heats well, and goes well with most beverages and vegetables. Economical in both money and preparation time., its basic ingredients are (from most to least abundant) potato, sausage, onion, and carrot. I usually make it when I’ve bought some sausage at “reduced for quick sale” prices from a store*, or have leftovers sent home with me from a potluck or picnic, so I work from the amount of sausage I have.

A stick of sausage [or a few small sausages] from the fridge or freezer, put in a pot as soon as you have it cut up, with potatoes, onion, carrots, and water or vegetable stock; can be good hot soup in about half an hour from when the pot starts heating. Of that half hour, you’ll do maybe 10 minutes of work cutting up the ingredients and stirring the pot—and the soup qualifies as a one-dish meal. (I usually have another vegetable with it… such as steamed cabbage  with caraway, which i’m planning to post next, or maybe a tomato sandwich with homemade mayonnaise, which will post a few weeks later. Homemade bread isn’t that difficult either, but i expect to introduce several skills before writing-up that technique for you.)

If you have a kitchen with a stove or even a hot-plate; and the usual tools—bowls, cutting board, pots, pans, knives, forks, spoons—that’s all the equipment you’ll need to make Sausage Soup. (One of the cooking pots should be able to hold two litres, or at least, two “US quarts”. If you have only a one and a three litre pot, that’s OK; half-full pots cook well too.) Later in the series, as the techniques get more complex, i’ll suggest a few trade-cook’s tools to add, and maybe even put up one or two posts on kitchen equipment and supplies. To start, i’m writing so the technique can work for the men who haven’t been hobby-cooks, much less trade-cooks. (If you’re already a good cook, but without a Finnish connection, sausage soup may still be something new for your repertoire.)

I cut the sausage into pieces no larger than an inch on the longest side, and do the same with about twice as much potato as I have sausage. (The milder the sausage, the less the potato, so with “hot dogs”, maybe 1½ to 1¾ as much potato is enough. Hard (“dry”) pepperoni can “soup up” 2½ times its weight or volume in potatoes, maybe more.) The sausage and potatoes go into a pot (sometimes called “saucepan”) with enough water to cover—plus up to half that much more. In other words, if you have the pot half full of potato and sausage, the water should fill the pot up to 3/4 full. (If you have the pot 3/4 full of potato and sausage, get out a bigger pot.)

Now take about a quarter as much onion as you have sausage, and that same amount of carrots. Cut the onion and carrot small: I often slice my onion(s) and then crisscross-cut the slices; and quarter the carrots lengthwise, then cut the strips every 1/8 to 1/4 inch. Put them into the pot (the water can already be heating), stir everything until mixed fairly well, bring to a boil, and boil gently for 15-20 minutes. It’s OK to stir the pot every few minutes; but if you’re busy, mix things together once or twice and just ease back the heat when it boils, so it keeps bubbling but not wildly.

If you have a herb garden with more chive in it than you’ve been using, you can substitute chives for the onion, and make the soup a little more colourful. I happen to prefer chive to onion flavour, but they are very similar and it’s not worth while diverting chives from better uses. I don’t add salt or pepper until the soup has cooked for at least ten minutes and i’ve tasted it**, because sausages are seasoned already.

Different kinds of sausage make for different tasting soup, of course; but they all share the hearty, satisfying, well-seasoned character that sausage generally provides. I like sausage soup made from any kind of sausage I’d eat in other forms—even grade B pepperoni and “hot dogs”—but of course, I usually use up top quality thuringer or hard salami in some other way—those expensive long-keeping favourites seldom need boiling “in case they’re starting to spoil”, and deserve fancier fates.

There are many possible variations on sausage soup: You could add a little dark green outer cabbage leafage, or even kale. You can increase and decrease the proportions of onion and carrot a little. I usually add celery leaf, tired celery, or Levisticum officinale (in English, lovage [liveche in French]) which is heartier than celery and grows in my herb garden. I make “vegetable stock” from vegetable trimmings and substandard herbage, and i might use that instead of part or all the water. If the sausage is mild you could add a few peppercorns or a tiny pinch of hot red pepper. None of the variations is necessary, because potato, onion and carrot are cook-friendly ingredients and sausage is seasoned to begin with.

You can boil water? safely handle a cook’s knife? You can now cook something satisfying—easy, frugal and good—from ingredients that all keep for weeks to months. I’ll aim to post a “how-to” for something equally frugal next week, on the vegetable side.

Footnotes:

* Because it’s cooked so thoroughly, sausage soup is OK to eat even when the sausage would be doubtful to eat “raw”. (What could be more economical than that?) You can use pale tan breakfast sausage—many Finns use a similar sausage called siskonmkkara for soup—but as with “hot dogs”, the result will be mild—only semi-hearty. Most sausages will swell up when boiling, “hot dogs” more than harder sausages.

** To taste it without burning your mouth, set a cooking spoon half-full of soup on a “spoon rest” (which can be a jar lid turned upside down) for a minute or two until it cools. Because of how spoons are shaped, it’s usually helpful to elevate the handle a little: If the side rails of an electric stove top aren’t high enough, a small piece of one-inch scrap lumber will do. It’s the broth, especially, that you want to taste for saltiness.

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Old Men at Work:

… and the Social Inefficiency of Jobs.
(c) 2013, Davd

This post began as a letter of apology to a son who called after ten at night1, when i was sound asleep: I had “turned in” around nine-thirty, and felt half-asleep while we were talking. For similar reasons, earlier this year, i had let his brother who i met shortly after midnight at Moncton airport, drive my “wheels” from there to Miramichi. It was probably a wise decision: On an unfamiliar road with relatively good signage, i noticed, he could spot animals on the roadside better than i could; and even allowing for the fact that it was earlier where he had come from than it was for me, i’m convinced that i tire faster than i did at 50-60. I would no longer try to drive as long stretches as i did in 1990-95; and intuitively, safely then.

I’m an old man now.

Otto von Bismarck, or so the usual story goes, invented retirement; and he chose 65 as the retirement age because most of the men who worked for the Prussian government lost the ability to work reliable, productive full time hours at about that age. Bismarck and his Kaiser2 were too humane to simply “fire” men who had served them well, and they found it more efficient to “pension them off” at that age and hire younger men who could readily work full time, than to continue paying them full salary for reduced and [due to sickness, mostly] unpredictable hours of service. Especially when asked to work overtime, older men tend to tire out (and even fall asleep at their desks; so goes the academic folklore.) Older professors and older Prussian bureaucrats could still work, but they could no longer work conventional full time hours.

My favourite grandfather lived in his own house to 81, maybe 82, keeping a small garden and making King apple cider. California grandfather Johann Karl persisted to his late 80s. Neither had long snowy winters to endure; and neither moved with youthful speed in his 70s and 80s.

In 2005, i sojourned for three weeks at St. Peter’s Abbey in Saskatchewan, where the winters are harder than they are anywhere i have wintered—yes, harder than Thunder Bay winters. The oldest monk with whom i spoke regularly was aged 91 or 92. He not only taught me much about the cloister and the Order which other, busier monks hadn’t time to teach3, but by report of those present, was a keen commentator in the conclaves to which inquirers were not admitted4.

Old, and slow, he was; but still a contributing member of the community. Had he been in the Prussian Civil Service, Bismarck would have pensioned him off some 26-27 years before. At St. Peter’s, he had earned his keep all those 26-27 years, working “part time” with gradually decreasing manual effort.

This summer, at my annual medical check-up, i heard that i am in quite good shape for my age. That seems to mean that my eighth decade can be less feeble than average; but i do not infer that i should take up marathon running, nor try to drive the long stretches i felt safe driving 20-25 years ago.

So Bismarck was probably “right” to invent retirement—given the choice between a full time job or not working. My point in this series on “Men working” is that it’s a poor choice to impose on most kinds of work… and on most men.

I’m quite capable of doing several kinds of useful work… as was that 90-91 year old monk, as were my two grandfathers in their 70s and 80s, as was 94 year old Fred Austin, whose weekly Bible Study drew admiring comments from clergy in their 50s. What we, at these late ages, were probably not “capable of”, was and is 40-60 hours of hard work in neat 8-10 hour shifts on schedule.

The “full time job” wastes a lot of good manpower… and not only that of old men, as we’ll see in a future post.

Notes:

1. During June, most of July, and part of May, the days are so long that i often will go to bed “right after supper.” In effect, the night begins earlier and the morning does also, than in early spring, autumn, and winter.

2… which is “Caesar” in Germanic form… often translated “Emperor”.

3. He often sat at the desk of the guesthouse, a job requiring many hours of mere presence, when he could pray, study, perhaps write; and a few randomly timed intervals of 10-60 minutes when he was working with visitors. As an inquirer who had expressed interest by e-mail for some months before arriving, i was quartered among the monks, not in the guesthouse; but he was there predictably and i could go there to talk with him.

4. One quote: “We’re here to live the monastic ideal, not the lowest common denominator!”

 

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Like-Minded Men:

It’s High Time We Got Together.

(c) 2012, Davd

Jim, watching the cowboys in the final days [of a long cattle drive] … saw things clearly. If this particular group could be held together, each man lending strength to his companion, they could build themselves a good life. … but when they broke up and each had to fend for himself, troubles might well overtake them.”(James A. Michener, 1974. Centennial. NY: Random House.)1

James Michener (as Centennial‘s four pages of Acknowledgments indicate) researched his books long and thoroughly; and they can be treated as geologically, historically, and sociologically sound. What Michener saw and tells his readers via the “Jim Lloyd” character, is a good lesson for us all2: Get together, co-operate, and you’ll build yourself and your buddies3, a better life than you’re likely to achieve alone or in a bureaucratic organization.

Fifty or sixty years ago, groups of buddies were an important part of many men’s lives, but usually secondary to marriage and sometimes also to “extended families” (networks of kinfolk); and for most men born in the first quarter of the 20th Century, that worked well enough. I was born late in the second quarter of the 20th Century, and for us and especially for men born in the second half, marriage hasn’t been so trustworthy. There ought to be a better way—and for many, co-operative groups of men can be that better way.

Co-operation is natural to us as men; and in the biased legal and bureaucratic milieu of the early 21st Century, i’m not going to try to assess how natural it is or isn’t, to women. Present-day civil law gives women incentives to exploit men rather than co-operate with us. Millions upon millions of women have seized those incentives—rejecting co-operation and choosing exploitation. As a matter of probability, trusting marriage was a fairly good “bet” in the 1950s, and now it’s a mediocre to poor one. Betting on other men and our co-operative nature hasn’t been degraded, while marriage has.

If you’re married to a compatible, trustworthy woman, don’t blame her for the overall decline in marriage; do count yourself lucky (where in the 1950s, your situation would have been normal); and remember that brotherly love and loyalty do not conflict with marriage vows. A genuinely compatible wife realizes that her husband’s buddies strengthen him and make him a better husband.

If you’re not, don’t think you need to find one…. there is an alternative: Sharing a house, a workplace, a “set of wheels” with a few like-minded men.

  • spending a lot less on housing [on “wheels”] than you do alone (enjoying economic efficiency);

  • sharing chores rather than having to do everything for yourself (more efficient use of your chore time, and more fun than working alone);

  • having more influence on your hours and terms of work, and sharing the decisions about hours and
    terms with friends rather than being subject to a bureaucracy;

  • having friends to eat, ride, and do chores with; and very important, supporting one another
    psychologically. Living with like-minded men, working with like-minded men, you’ll become more confident, more comfortable speaking from and advocating men’s interests. (You’ll also refine your understanding of men’s outlooks and philosophy, listening to the others.)

The efficiencies can be impressive: Four men sharing a house might each spend a quarter to half as much as he would on an apartment rented or bought “alone.” Four men sharing one car and one pickup or van, spend much less “on their wheels” even if each man travels a little further than he would if he used a car of his own—and can drive the kind of vehicle the trip calls for, most of the time; and larger vehicle sharing groups can do better still4. Men who find farming or house-building, publishing or sawmilling appealing—just to name a few of the many kinds of work that can be done efficiently by a small group—can incorporate themselves as a co-operative and set their own hours.

I myself am “a man of faith” (specifically, a Christian) with 94 acres, a house “that will do to start”, a prayer garden and about two dozen apple trees [mostly still very young, two bearing and four just beginning to  produce fruit], and most of the land forested. I am old enough to be aware of my own mortality, and would rather share my “property” with, and pass it on to, like-minded men; than sell it or have it sold when i die. More about that “below”… these few facts, plus the obvious fact that i’m a writer, will give a first indication what “like-minded” means in my case.

In “posting” this blog, i’m undertaking to enter into group-sharing myself—and also to help men who wouldn’t fit well in a household with me, whether because of personal style, geographic ties, different faith or philosophy of life, work skills, etc. to team up with compatible fellows. Sorting out what men are “like-minded” in the ways that matter for a particular kind of teaming-up, is important. My educated guess, though, is that quite many men can at least envision doing that… so the next few paragraphs will be for reassurance-by-example on the “ownership” question.

The radical-looking part of what i’m advocating is group ownership. It is not really new; in fact, family group ownership is written into the Mosaic Laws (set out, along with much story-telling about the history of Moses’ people, in the first five books of the Bible5… over 3,000 years ago.) The Benedictine Order [communities of monks and nuns in many countries] is over 1000 years old and still going strong—its communities own their land and buildings as groups and the monks are individually paupers6. So do the Hutterites, an Anabaptist Protestant sect that is over 400 years old.

Co-operatives are another form of group ownership, one that isn’t linked to any particular faith or religion. Not long ago—perhaps still—Europe’s best appliance manufacturer was a Basque co-operative in northern Spain. Last time i looked, housing co-operatives provided the best apartments for the rent charged in Thunder Bay and in Vancouver’s “False Creek” neighbourhood.

Group ownership doesn’t necessarily prevent members from having personal wealth. Monks and Hutterites don’t have significant personal wealth; most co-operative members do have, as do “oblates” associated with monasteries [a little more about oblates in the postscript].

Notice that co-operatives, cloisters, and Hutterite communities all can have lifespans much longer than any one man’s. The group can last for centuries, while members grow old and die and new members come in. What i know as a sociologist tells me that your “legacy” and mine are more secure in a good group than in Civil Law (as most readers who’ve suffered divorces they didn’t want, will agree from painful experience.)

College fraternities own their “houses” as a group; and especially around universities where there are no fraternities7, groups of students get together to rent houses and share them, thus having better kitchen and social space than they could afford if renting to live alone, and some efficiency gains from shared cooking and cleaning tasks. (“Which goes to show”, that group ownership doesn’t have to mean a lifetime commitment; as large housing co-operatives also show, though most people who live in co-operative housing stay longer than a student working for a degree.)

If you are not really satisfied with your life situation, then, it might be a good idea to consider how much it could improve if you do find several like-minded men and team up—for housing, for wheels, for work, and if you’re a man of Faith, for prayer and reflection.

So for those who might be interested—how do we go about it?

I have some experience hosting one- and two-man retreats and sharing a house with a younger man i met through our work. I’ve also lived for three weeks in a monastery among the monks and Novices; and that experience, at least as much as sharing my house for about as many months knowing it would not be for years, convinced me that group ownership works well, and will work for me personally.

The key seems to be like-minded, which means more than just androcentric, and much “less” than total agreement on everything. I expect that the way to work out what men are like-minded enough to live, work and-or “ride” together will be by exchanging e-mails, then talking on the ‘phone, then meeting. That’s how i came to spend three weeks in one monastery and a day in another; and how my retreat guests came to visit me8.

Michener’s Centennial story ends with a wealthy rancher and a successful singer giving thanks that they live out in the sticks, where they can walk the natural earth, and be who they are. They are far from being the same in work or family or art—but they are like-minded enough to each lend strength to the other, and build themselves a better life than they could have alone, or working for strangers.

Everyman.ca has set up a write-in address [project-co At everyman dot ca] especially for group formation—and that includes:

  • men who don’t belong to a group “sharing important resources”, and would like to look into the possibility;

  • groups that are looking for interested men who might join them; as well as

  • stories from existing groups9.

Please let us know your name, what kind[s] of sharing might interest you, your story if you have one to tell, and where in Canada you’re located now. (If you’re a Canadian living outside Canada who might come back to participate, say that. At this point, i doubt i should offer to try to be, or find, the secretary-co-ordinator for men who want to organize in other countries; but if you’d like to be the secretary-co-ordinator for men in another country, go ahead and write, i just don’t know at this early date how that might develop.)

We recommend you give your age, “trade”[or profession], postal as well as your e-mail address; and say whatever else you believe might be helpful.

Over to you—specifically, to those of you who are interested in the possibility, are starting group-sharing projects with room for more members, or have stories of group-owned homes, wheels and workplaces to tell.

Postscript:
We don’t want to leave married men out of the picture.

Some of you reading this have good marriages. Count yourselves lucky; and to repeat: I’m not trying to break up marriages—nor leave married men out of the picture. I know that married men have long been associated with monasteries as “oblates” who go to the monastery for a few days, sometimes as long as a few weeks, once or more each year; and i have hosted two men for retreats here where i am now (and hosted two different men at my smaller “prayer garden” property in BC.) Quite a few years ago now, i had a friend who was an “oblate” of a Hutterite community rather than a monastery, and he took me there for a day visit—which i enjoyed, and where i learned a lot. It ought to be possible for households of men owning as a group, to include married friends analogously.

Of course, workplace co-operatives can include married as well as single men.

Those of you who don’t have good marriages, and especially those of you who suffered divorce as i did years ago10—you don’t have to risk the bad bet that is civil marriage today, to have fellowship in your home and the social efficiencies that a household of 5-10 men can enjoy compared to someone “living alone.”

Notes:

1. Page references from an undated Fawcett Crest paperback. The text goes on to name the weaknesses of two men and imply that only two or three of the dozen are formed strongly enough to [in a customary phrase, make it on their own.] The story of the drive on which these men (some of them teenage boys when hired) formed a co-operative group, spans pp. 526-596.

2. I doubt the character “Jim Lloyd” was given the author’s first name, by accident.

3. I looked up “buddy”, and the Libre-Office thesaurus states that it is a colloqauial form of brother—that buddies are men who treat one another as brothers but do not have a parent in common. That’s just about perfect for my meaning.

4. “Going shopping” usually calls for a car or van inside which it’s easy to lock up a large volume of purchases. Buying bulky building materials, big appliances, or hauling manure, sand, and gravel, calls for a pickup.

Because of the complicated requirements of insurance, the likelihood of making many driving trips together, and the dependence of maintenance costs on time and rust as well as on distance and wear, it is very difficult to estimate whether men sharing vehicles will spend half, or how much less than half, relative to each having one vehicle “personally”. Imaginably, a man who doesn’t drive much would spend less than one-fifth as much.

Vehicle-sharing co-operatives probably have an optimal size of 10-25 men, sometimes more. You’re not likely to find a house that will shelter that many—so two to five co-operative houses grouped fairly close together, may be the best basis for a vehicle-sharing co-operative.

5. What the Mosaic Laws (Torah) specify, is lineage ownership—that’s one reason why the Jubilee was included; to return land to the lineage it belonged to.

6. I believe that Buddhist monks and nuns also own their cloisters as groups; but that is an educated guess. Any Buddhist reader who knows the specifics, please inform us.

7. Fraternities are commoner in the USA than in Canada. I have heard that the University of Western Ontario, the University of Toronto, and McGill University have fraternities; and that a “functional equivalent” exists around the University of British Columbia.

8. I met the man with whom i shared my house in BC, in person at work, before we talked on the ‘phone or wrote e-mails; and that’s another valid way to proceed.

9. If you now live in an all-men household, share one or more vehicles with other men, or are in a men’s group-owned workplace, we’d like to read about it

10. I follow an Orthodox Christian doctrine as it was taught to me, which demands (as many other varieties of Christianity demand or urge) that any divorced Christian, even if a victim rather than a perpetrator of the divorce, refrain from pursuing the possibility of remarriage and abstain from “sex” and dating. So for me, men who are sexually abstinent are more like-minded than men who are sexually active, and Christian men are more like-minded than men of other faiths or no faith. I don’t condemn men who are Buddhist, Jewish, Muslim … or sexually active—my Faith teaches that mere men should not judge (Matt 7: 1-2; Luke 6: 37-38)

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Enter Androcentrism…

It’s been a long time—too long a time.

(c) 2013, Davd

The notion that a man, a real, anatomically complete man with healthy normal human male physiology, should declare himself Feminist, is not merely absurd. It is a form of self-condemnation which has parallels in history—none of which parallels* is worthy of respect. For a man in a Feminist milieu, to say “I hear and I obey, mem-sahib1” to a woman who decides to boss him around, is acceptance of a subordinate status—but it is not complicity in the degradation. It derives from prudent fear and not from self-condemnation.

For a man to declare himself Feminist is much worse. Feminism entails gynocentrism; therefore, a man declaring himself Feminist accepts gynocentrism as the right-and-proper ideological stance where it be relevant2. A woman declaring herself Feminist speaks in self-interest. Whether or not gynocentrism be the right-and-proper ideological stance, it is the one congenial to her. Therefore, a woman is more to be heard claiming gynocentrism to be the right-and-proper ideological stance (or at least, a respectable option), than acknowledging or conceding—or proving—that contention. A man, whose natural outlook and style is androcentric, speaks against self-interest if he declares himself Feminist; and therefore, his doing so is to be heard as a concession or acknowledgment rather than as a contention.

For a man to declare himself Feminist, it is worth repeating, entails his acceptance of gynocentrism: By calling himself a Feminist, he declares (concedes?) that gynocentrism is the right-and-proper view of social life, wherever it has relevance. Since gynē is a Greek word meaning woman, he is declaring that women have the right kind of attitudes, mental emphases, perceptions, etc. ad naus., and that where men’s attitudes, mental emphases, perceptions, etc. differ from women’s—the women know best.

Such a declaration “puts oneself down”, somewhat like the mid-20th Century “Afro-Americans” who preferred white images, who thought “white” dolls were prettier than Negroid dolls (Clark and Clark, 1947). Please notice the past-tense: The  study’s findings, “obviously”, would not be replicated today if the research were repeated, due to social change: Afro/Black/Negro Americans today are not ashamed of their race nor do they try to adhere to “white” standards of beauty or social appeal.

A similar development of men’s sense of self and of worthiness, is entirely appropriate. If that is not obvious, blame Feminist claims that men are condescending and privileged—which claims are based on outdated “information” and biased perceptions. In fact, very many women have long assumed for themselves a stance of moral superiority with which neither the facts3 nor the Great Faiths4 concur; and many men, some out of false consciousness and some out of “courtesy” (misplaced chivalry5), have supported that stance to our loss. It is not my task here to assess whether men or women are morally superior overall; suffice to say that as with merit, a default stance of equality is both democratic and, until clear evidence shows otherwise, fairest. Both men and women are imperfect, both evil men and evil women can be found; if gynocentrism be normally appropriate for women, then androcentrism is normally appropriate for us men.

It has been a long time since androcentrism “prevailed”, longer than most Feminists seem willing to admit. Looking back at the chivalry displayed at the sinking of the Titanic, the combat death rates of men vs. women in the World Wars and smaller wars since, and the social and financial consequences of divorce since the end of the “Vietnam war”, it seems impossible to regard the 20th Century as even slightly “male chauvinist on balance”. Early in that 20th Century, one might say, there was a  balance of advantages and disadvantages, which balance was lost in the second half of that past century: If anything, the status of women was better than that of men by some time between 1970 and 1990; and women’s advantage has if anything, increased rather than declined since. (Perhaps some men have accepted Feminism and gynocentrism as their outlook because women have lately been “the winners”, in parallel with what the Clarks found about Afro-American children in 1947.)

It is better to be as honest as we can, about facts and about our own natures. Androcentric thinking is more normal to us, just as gynocentric thinking is more normal to women—and if each sex functions in accord with its nature, fairness and truth should be more readily accomplished.

It is not for me, as one man with one life experience, to detail “what androcentrism is”. That must be worked out among the colloquy of men—and note, not “in colloquy with women”, much less in any colloquy led by women. Women can and likely will influence how androcentrism is expressed in social activities that include them; but of androcentrism itself, they can be but observers, as we can be but observers of gynocentrism.

We have as much human right to our ways of perceiving and our inborn attitudes, as women have to theirs. Our turn for the consciousness-raising.

My next ‘post’ will be about making spaces—androcentric, economical, co-operative spaces where men can live and work—and revive our natural consciousness.

References:

Baskerville, Stephen, 2004. “Divorce As Revolution:The Government has a vested interest in destroying Marriage and the Family.” The Salisbury Review, July 22.

Clark, Kenneth B., and Mamie P. Clark, 1947 “Racial identification and preference in Negro children.” In T. M. Newcomb and E. L. Hartley, eds., Readings in Social Psychology. New York: Holt, Rinehart, Winston.

Rowan, Carl T., 1991. Breaking Barriers: A Memoir. Boston, Toronto, London: Little, Brown & co.

Thatcher, Virginia S. and Alexander McQueen, eds. 1971. The Webster Encyclopedic Dictionary of the English Language. Chicago: Consolidated Book Publishers.

Turnbull, Colin M.1968. The Forest People. NY: Simon and Schuster paperback.

Zacharias, Ravi, 2000. Jesus Among Other Gods. Nashville, TN: Word Publishing. Coming from Asia, Zacharias is well exposed to Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism; and his commentaries contain a logic which makes them the more valuable, especially for the edification of non-Christians.

Notes:

*… at least, none of those i have seen …

1. Thatcher and McQueen, 1971: 740-1 states that the word sahib is Arabic in origin, was spoken from servant to master, and was used in India and Persia as a term of deferential “respect” by then-colonialized natives speaking to and of Europeans. Its use connotes the speaker’s subordination rather than concurrence: “I obey because you are more powerful.” p. 385 states that gynē is a Greek word meaning woman.

2. Some “Feminist men”, sadly including at least one of my own kin, claim they are working for equality; but a look at current school performance, death rates by age, rates of death at work, hours worked relative to pay [preferably with allowance for hazardous work] indicates that for a generation and longer, it has been advantageous to be born a girl rather than a boy in Europe and North America: Social policy is gynocentric “overall”, and has been for decades.

3. Baskerville (2004) quotes Feminist Shere Hite as reporting that 91% of all divorces are initiated by women, and Elaine Epstein, former president of the Massachusetts Women’s Bar Association, as writing that restraining orders are doled out ‘like candy.’ ‘Everyone knows that restraining orders and orders to vacate are granted to virtually all who apply,’ Baskerville quotes, ‘the facts have become irrelevant.’ False accusations of violence and sexual assault are common enough to support a website for the wrongly accused.

4. Christianity, Judaism, and Islam all revere the “Old Testament”, which includes as exemplars the sins of Eve and the evils of Delilah, Jezebel, and Potiphar’s wife (as well as exemplary stories of sinful and evil men and of good and holy men and women.) Zacharias (2000) informs “Western” readers that Buddhism has more restrictions and “hurdles to jump” for women than for men.

5. Chivalry comes from the French cheval (horse), and is defined as “Knighthood; the system to which knighthood and all its usages belonged ….” (Thatcher and McQueen, 1971: 144). It is an upper-class code (cf. the Roman equestrian class), and is ipso facto misplaced when attempted by or demanded of, men of the working or middle class (or in a society which has status-differences but not social classes.)

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What Are You Working For?

 

What Are You Working For?

You can do better than money

(c) 2013, Davd

As those of you who have read a few of the earlier posts in this series already know, that title question is not meant to imply “Don’t work”; but rather, “Work for what matters most, and does the most good, in terms of your philosophy and enjoyment of life.”

The obvious, inadequate answer, to the title question, is left over from the 20th Century: Money… and the obvious answer to that answer is that money is at best, a means to things you actually need or can actually enjoy. Stop and think about that for a while, if you like; and remember the anonymous Cree Elder’s obvious fact: You can’t eat money… nor can you wear it, nor is it good shelter. It might be a way to buy food, clothing and shelter—but even that isn’t guaranteed. If there were a famine, and i had an extra tonne of apples, i might very well give those apples to hungry, good people i know, rather than sell them for a lot of money. (If you’ve read the Christian gospels lately, you’ll realize that i would simply be living the teachings of Jesus, to give away extra food in a famine rather than “get rich on it.”)

This is the 21st Century, however. Much of the “equipment and supplies” i use, from bow-saws to cut the firewood, to the computer i write this on, plus digging forks, glass windows, and on through the alphabet past underwear, are things i don’t make for myself—and can’t swap-for with anyone i can name personally.

Money isn’t always or necessarily a wrong answer, then—but neither is is always a right answer, and it should never be the right answer. Indeed, having a lot of money can invite trouble, grief and woe.

It’s worth keeping in mind that our species evolved over hundreds of thousands of years, and for most of that immensely long span of time—there was no such thing as money. There was production for use and there was production for barter, starting with chip-shaped flint spearheads and fire-hardened wood handles to put them on, with stone axes and grindstones to make wheat and barley into flour, with smoked hides for clothing and wineskins to age wine in1. Such things were made to be used by people known to the maker.

Money came into existence before 500 BC (Lenski, Lenski, and Nolan, 1991: 165, 219-202) but not, it seems, before agriculture took over from horticulture. It’s a contrivance, a social artificiality, but one which has some usefulness. To work sometimes for money, makes sense for most modern people; to work for money alone and then try to live from money alone, i strongly contend, is folly. More on that in a subsequent blog.

The “Divorce Revolution” (Baskerville, 2004) has made working for money much less rewarding for men especially, than it was in that “heyday of the job” some 40-65 years ago. Baskerville writes, “The first principle of family court is … remove the father. So long as fathers remain with their families, the divorce practitioners earn nothing. This is why the first thing a family court does when it summons a father on a divorce petition—even if he has done nothing wrong and not agreed to the divorce—is to strip him of custody of his children.”

While there may be some hint that treatment of fathers and men accused is becoming less Draconian than in 2004, divorce rates remain high, mother custody remains normal, and it remains “obvious” that the more a non-custodial parent earns, the more he will be required to pay. If you take a well-paid, unpleasant job “for the family’s sake”, a divorce you did nothing wrong to “deserve” could tie you to that job with orders to pay “support”, (“as a walking wallet” some would say) while forbidding you to take part in the family’s life.

Don’t go there. That well-paid, unpleasant job might have been a noble sacrifice for the good of wife and children, for which they would later honour you—in 1953 and even 1963. In 1973 it was beginning to get risky; in 2013, with half or more of all marriages ending in divorce, it’s foolhardy [a word meaning fool a lot more than it means hardy] unless you have something much better than Civil Law to assure her fidelity.

For most men in 2013—as in the earlier years of this century—it’s better to earn less money than their wives and “cohabitants”, than to earn more. With all that “affirmative action” in schools and in Government-prescribed hiring policies, it should be easier for a woman to get paid more than an equally competent and qualified man, than the other way ’round; so by insisting that she have the higher income, you’re “effectively” insisting she be your equal in competence.

If either “partner” works mainly for the money, it should be her, not you. A “role reversal” compared to the 1950s and 1960s?—yes, indeed. Feminism lobbied for it, Feminism got it; and paradoxically, many, many men can enjoy it, working for the love of the task or the value of what it accomplishes while she gets the unpleasant well-paid job.

… but that’s not always the best outcome, not nearly. ’tis good for men to reject the unpleasant well-paid jobs; because of divorce risk, because job misery tends to carry over into home life, and because money is too anonymous. ’tis also bad for women to have unpleasant jobs, though; and a sensible prudent man wouldn’t want a wife who suffers at work and comes home miserable and grouchy—now, would you?

Rather than marry to make your wife suffer—seriously, man, you should rather stay single. Rather than marry to exploit your wife financially—you should rather stay single3. Which is a roundabout way of repeating the main point about money—don’t make it the only or the overwhelming reason you take a job.

The “heyday of the job” wasn’t a perfect interval in history, either… some of those abundant, relatively well-paid jobs were little or no fun, and many entailed “commutes” that interfered with fatherhood. Another lesson we can learn from the men of the 1950s who took unpleasant jobs for the sake of the pay, is that our working time shapes our mentality. The lesson we can learn from the men who became victims of the “Divorce Revolution” more recently, is that the respect and support most men of the 1950s received for such sacrifices, is no longer a safe bet.

Perhaps sacrifice of self was never a good idea. Surely it is a bad idea when fidelity is as uncertain as it is in civil marriage today.

Subsistence is something for which we must all work, except the few who are “independently wealthy”. Philosophy—including the Great Faiths—teaches us that work is good; but seldom makes the point strongly enough, that to be good, the work must be well fitted with who we are. Most of us should be working for subsistence; all of us should be working to become better men.

Becoming a better man will call for different configurations of work for different men. “Farmer Frank” drives a school bus ‘part-time’ for money income and farms because he believes God and his family history call him to, and he loves the work. “Preacher Phil” serves a small rural church and is organizing to acquire an acreage and do subsistence work for his family’s food, housing and fuel, which combined with his pay should enable them to live well with a small money income. No “alienation” in the work of those men!—they are working for what they believe and love.

As Jesus said about the Good Samaritan, “Go thou and do likewise”4—not the same thing “Preacher Phil” or “Farmer Frank” is doing, unless it suits you as well as it does him, but the work that is yours in character and spirit, and makes you a better man.5

References:

Adelson, Howard L. 1962. Medieval Commerce. NY: Van Nostrand Anvil paperback.

Anonymous, 2013. “The tide is turning: serious legal writing takes issue with the assault on the rights of the presumptively innocent in campus sex charges”. www.cotwa.info website, June 14.

Baskerville, Stephen, 2004. Divorce As Revolution: The Government has a vested interest in destroying Marriage and the Family. The Salisbury Review, July 22

Futurist”, 2010. “The Misandry Bubble”.

Lenski, Gerhard, Jean Lenski, and Patrick Nolan, 1991. Human Societies: An Introduction to Macrosociology. 6th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Notes:

1. Yes, wineskins were used to age wine, as St. Luke’s Gospel [5:38] specifies, “No man having drunk old wine immediately desires new, for he says, ‘The old is better.’” Luke was a physician by profession, well positioned both to appreciate good wine, and to know of any dangers in its handling and storage.

2. On p. 165, Lenski, Lenski, and Nolan state that “Money as we know it was absent in the first simple agrarian societies. There were .. standardized media of exchange. Barley served this function in ancient Mesopotamia, wheat in Egypt.” They indicate that copper, silver, and probably gold, weighed rather than coined, were also used for large transactions “from a fairly early date.”)

3. If there be an exception, a type of situation where a man can morally “exploit his wife financially”, it is where she has great wealth already, or a high-paid job she greatly enjoys—and marries him knowing she’s the wealthier of the two. The mirror-image situation also applies: If a wealthy man or a man who loves his high-paid job, wants to marry a woman with much less wealth and let her exploit him financially, knowing that’s what she’s doing—well, rich women who marry less-wealthy men usually demand “prenups”, and rich men would be wise to do the same.

4. Luke 10:37

5. No, i didn’t forget earning your keep. It’s better to earn your keep than not to (and better to contribute to your neighbours’ subsistence than not to); so work that provides subsistence, by so doing—contributes to making you a better man, as it amply does for “Farmer Frank”.

 

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