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Monday, February 28, 2005

From the Blossom Comes the Nut

The day Bruce and I made linguica was also the day of the Almond Blossom Festival. Every year, the town of Ripon has this festival which consists of a parade and a carnival, and every year we all gather at Aunt Paula's for fun, food, and family. The festival is to celebrate the blossoming of the almond trees that blanket the area like snow and reek havoc on the allergies of thousands of people. A float in one year's parade summed it all up in one phrase: "From the Blossom, Comes the Nut". And that's about as exciting as it gets. Of course, we always have a blast at Aunt Paula's.

Snow? Look Closer.

The parade is a lot of fun to watch too, but not in the way the Chinese New Year Parade or the Gay Pride Parade is fun. Oh lord, nothing like that! Think more like the winners of the Christian schools' beauty pagents riding on top of the back seat of a cheesy convertible, purebred show horses, Shriners in go-carts, shameless corporate promoters, numerous pimply-faced ROTC cadets and out-of-tune marching bands, the town's librarians, the mobile County Jail bus, and the PT Cruiser contingent. The crowd ranges from weekend warrior motorcyclists, to bubbas, to soccer moms, to old duffers, to hordes of teenagers. Mix in with this your good ol' fashioned carnies and drunks, Mormon missionaries and dunkards, and really crappy "craft" booths, and you've got yourself a festival. Like all small-town American carnivals, this one is dominated by perhaps the evilest food combos one can imagine, with fried this and chocolate dipped that. You want fusion? This is con-fusion. Sugar, salt, grease bombs that were, without a doubt, born to complement whirling, nauseating rides with seizure-inducing strobe lights and loud top 40 rock. Greasy and fried, like the carny who's about take your life into his drug-addled hands on a twirling vomit machine that hasn't been serviced since your sister had feathered hair.

Forget the rides; very few of us brave the food booths. Last year I braved the mechanical bull and was sore for two days. This year, I braved Aunt Carol's strawberry funnel cake, smoothered in whip cream, chocolate syrup, and powdered sugar. I'm still waiting for the aftershock.

Funnel Cake Of Death

In keeping with food as a hallucinatory, mind altering substance, lemonade was being sold by elementary school children in what were very clearly designed plastic bongs, sans pipe. All of a sudden, this sleepy little town festival turned into the Grateful Dead parking lot. I've seen crack heads more discrete than this! Lemonade? Oh really? More like Mellow Yellow! I know where you're coming from you 8 year old pusher!

Bong Fest

Away from Burning Man and back to Aunt Paula's for some real food. Granted, nothing's fancy. Nothing's gourmet. In fact, isn't that what you expect from family events? Yet everything was good and homemade. For instance, there is Karen's cheese ball. Yum! They're so good, she has to make extra for Bruce and I. Then there's Mark and Rodger's spicy dilled beans; so garlicy and hot that they're more addictive than bongs full of lemonade. And this year we had a special treat as Jennifer, a budding cook, made superb Parmesan cheese crackers that would've gone great with smoked fish, fruit, or in a salad.

Half-eaten cheese crackers, half-eaten cheese ball, half-eaten dilled beans

Of course, there are the standards of potato salad, ham sandwiches, and chips. But come on, this is a family get together in a garage on a Saturday afternoon! You don't have to go all Martha, though Ripon does have its share of ex-felons. You just have to go easy. And that describes the Ripon Almond Blossom Festival at Aunt Paula's in a nutshell.


Smelling Like a Portagee

Friday night was tough. I was crying intermittently for a friend of ours in the hospital while Bruce and I were driving down to the Central Valley. A bathroom break at In and Out Burger in Pleasanton was an opportunity to get something to eat. My puffy red eyes, pale face, and glum demeanor stood in stark contrast to the peppy teenagers, hopped up on teen spirit, attempting to explain to me why I couldn't have extra mayo on my double burger. I felt alien, as well as miserable, and wanted to crawl into a Jack In The Box where I knew there were others who could feel my pain.

7 AM: Do You Know Where Your Geese Are?

Maybe it was because it was 7 AM or the fact I had cried so hard the night before that on Saturday I was uncomfortably numb as Bruce and I got ready to make the linguica. We were to drive to a Red Barn on a certain road, but really we didn't know where the hell we were going. We were one of the first to arrive when Bruce saw his cousin Evelyn and her husband Joe pull up in their van. The morning was crisp and sunny, with a little fog, and a smell that says "Welcome to the Cowboy Capital of the World". As we made our way through the large red barn doors, inside were old men in farmer/trucker caps and heavy jackets huddled around a wood stove drinking freshly brewed coffee. To the side was a huge, glistening metal table, approximately 10 feet long, 3 feet wide, slightly slanted down, with a trough at one end to catch any liquid and a large metal cylinder attached to a spout and a hand crank at the other. On the walls were posters of beer babes in swimming suits and of matadors skillfully dodging bulls in past bullfighting events. Slowly but surely everyone wandered in, some carrying snacks for later on, others carrying huge coolers filled with marinating pork. All in all, we were to turn 360 pounds of marinated pork butt into linguica.

There's something about the smell of 360 pounds of raw meat in the morning that, well, kinda makes you want to gag. Or maybe my stomach wasn't feeling good, but the thought of embarrassing myself in front of Bruce's family by going into dry heaves at the first smell of meat was enough to allow me to get a grip. Eventually, the smell of the spices and the raw meat grows on you and, like kudzu, is hard to get rid of. Out of the coolers and into a large plastic strainer first goes the meat. The meat is then scooped into the large upright cylinder and packed in with an adjustable lid.

There are several people who play an important role at this end of the table. The first is the guys/gals who load the meat into the strainer, and then into the cylinder. The second is the person who operates the cylinder/hand crank. The third is the person who blows air into the casings (pig intestine) and then rolls them onto the spout at the bottom of the cylinder. The fourth is the person who holds the casing while the meat is forced into it. The fifth are the people near the front end of the table who take the sausages, tie them on one end, and prick them with baby pins to let out any liquid or air. Of course, this would instantly cause juice to squirt on the person directly across the table and become the source of the phrase "smelling like a Portagee". These people would then squeeze the sausages meat toward the tied end of the casing to further pack them in. Then they would tie the other end or pass it down to the next person who would either continue to the pack the sausage meat and prick the linguica with pins, or tie both ends of the linguica together to form a 4-foot round ring/link. This was what Bruce was doing.

At the other end of the table were myself and an old guy named John, originally from the Azores. John took about 10 wooden poles and covered them with cloth sheathings. These were what we would use to hang the linguica from.

When a linguica link was passed down, John would take it and place it in a bucket, to free up the table for more. He would also push any liquid on the table (mostly from the homemade Portuguese wine used in the marinade) towards the drains on the end, which would drain into the trough sitting on the floor. When about 11 links were made, I would take one end of the pole while John loaded the other end.

With me holding one end and the other resting on the edge of the table, John would space out the links so that they wouldn't touch each other. If you ever want to get a good full-arm workout early in the morning, I suggest you volunteer at your local Portuguese Social Hall during the linguica making season. We would then carry these heavy suckers out to the smoke house, which wasn't anything impressive; just a corrugated metal shack with racks to hold the linguica and a fire pit. Now, I don't know how old John is. I know that he's a grandfather. But this guy was lifting these linguica-filled poles far above his head in what could only be described as an Old World Shoulder Press. Gym Bunnies: step back! Before 10 AM had finally hit, John had lifted at least ten or more of these.

In between loading up the links and taking them out to the smokehouse, John and I would talk about the bullfights and whom the best matadors were. He told me that as a youth, he would fight the bulls in the streets of Terceira, sitting in a chair and using an opened umbrella like a matador's cape. I don't know how much of it was BS, but something told me this guy probably wasn't kidding.

The linguica making was a collective event, with both men and women participating equally at various stations, and everyone equally shooting the shit, so to speak. That morning there were around 18 men and women, half of whom were making the linguica while the others were chewing the fat (not literally!). The linguica was made for 4 different families who had brought their own linguica mix, some more spicy than others. The linguica made for us was roughly 53 pounds of pork shoulder/butt, 2 gallons of homemade wine, cayenne, salt, pepper, homemade pepper sauce (piri-piri), and other spices. Not as much paprika went into ours. Joe says that cheap linguica is often disguised with a lot of paprika to cover up the high fat content, so that when you fry it you have a greasy, red mess.

Occasionally the casing would break as meat was being forced into it, and when this happened, Evelyn would take a metal funnel and stuff the linguica the old-fashioned way, i.e., by hand. She learned this technique by watching her mother-in-law (and Bruce's grandmother). She said in the old days, they would butcher a hog and spend hours cleaning the intestines with baking soda, oranges, and water. The casings we used on Saturday were the pre-packaged kind, which she says is better since you cut down on the cleaning time. They weren't as thick and fatty as those she used as a young woman, but that it was easier to add fat to the sausage mix instead. And while they still kill hogs for making linguica, we were using meat purchased in large quantities from a slaughterhouse.

After all of the linguica was hung, it has to dry out for a day. Then, John will light a fire and restart it every 4 hours or so to smoke-cure the linguica. This goes on for about a day and a half. Then the linguica is divided up, put into plastic bags, and frozen. When the linguica is finally cured, it will have lost around 20 percent of its weight.

When we were finally finished and the linguica had been hung out to dry, Joe and Evelyn broke out some of the linguica they had made the week before. They also broke out the Portuguese bread, pepper sauce, and homemade wine. Someone carried in a huge platter of asparagus wrapped in bacon and fresh vegetables. More folks streamed in to join what was turning out to be an afternoon social event. The linguica was cut into chunks as oil was heated in a cast iron dutch oven. According to Joe, the best way to cook linguica is fast and hot so that the outside skin pops, otherwise it comes out tough.

While some of the men cleaned the linguica-making table off outside, the rest of folks were cooking and resting inside. Bruce and I had a couple of hot pieces of linguica with bread and a little bit of Joe's pepper sauce. Wow! This wasn't like the linguica I had from the supermarket. This was a lot more complex and not as greasy. It wasn't overly spicy either and went great with just plain bread.

Man, if we could've stayed, we would've. Unfortunately we had plans to be at Aunt Paula's for the Almond Blossom Parade, so we thanked our guests, shook hands, gave hugs, and made our way back to the car. Bruce and I were so happy to have taken part in this experience. For Bruce I think it was important because it reconnected him with a part of his ethnic heritage and a side of his family that he wasn't close to. And they were really happy to accept him into it. Being an outsider, I felt very welcome and I was genuinely honored to take part in a ritual most people's families have lost or never had. To say the least, I am inspired.


Sunday, February 27, 2005

Barbecue or Slow Roast?

According to the Oxford Companion to Food (1999), barbecue is defined as:
“meat (or other food) cooked in the open air on a framework over an open fire; or an event incorporating such cooking; or the framework and accompanying apparatus required for this.
The word comes from the Spanish barbacoa, which in turn had probably come from a similar word in the Arawak language, denoting a structure on which meat could be dried or roasted. When the word first entered the English language, in the 17th century, it meant a wooden framework such as could be used for storage or sleeping on, without a culinary context. However, by the 18th century it took on the first of its present meanings, and – at least in the USA – the second one too. The third meaning, like the apparatus itself became commonplace in the letter part of the 20th century.
Barbecues, naturally, occur most often in countries where the climate is right for outdoor cooking. Texas (and N. America generally) and Australia are examples of regions where the cult of the barbecue is most noticeable. In the southern states of the USA the traditional barbecue was of pork. Traditions everywhere have been expanded in recent times to accommodate other meats (emphasis on spare ribs and sausages, steaks and chops) poultry (especially chicken), fish, and various vegetables (usually as an accompaniment). Rivalry between different kinds of barbecue sauce is intense. The barbecue scene and the atmospherics surrounding it are considerably affected by a cultural circumstance, to wit the general practice of having men rather than women do the barbecuing.”

O.K. Let me just add to that:
1. Barbecue (not Bar-B-Q, or any other variant) does not come from the French Barbe à queue, “from beard to tail”. If you are a Francophile you may wish it was true but it’s not, and if you don’t believe me check the OED (Oxford English Dictionary).
2. I do barbecue on occasion and I don’t believe I belong to “the Cult of the Barbecue”.
3. Also, to the issue of the intense rivalry between different barbecue sauces, I would also add the variant of the spice rub; both dry and wet.
4. Oh. And to you women out there, please feel free to barbecue at will. It may have been a man’s world but it’s not necessarily anymore.

I read an article by Jeffrey Steingarten called "Going Whole Hog" from his excellent and entertaining book The Man Who Ate Everything: And Other Gastronomic Feats, Disputes, and Pleasurable Pursuits, from which I gather that what most of us, outside of the Southern US, call barbecue is really grilling. That is quick cooking over dry heat of around 500 degrees or higher on an open grill.

Barbecuing is really cooking very slow, between 170 and 250 degrees, often over indirect, moist heat, usually produced by hardwood, and producing a good deal of smoke to flavor the meat. In fact what most of us call a barbecue is really a grill; while what we would refer to as a smoker or a pit; that is a covered cooker with indirect moist heat provided, most often, by hardwood coals, but sometimes supplemented with gas - produced in a separate chamber called the firebox – with the heat piped into the main cooking chamber is a real barbecue. Sometimes a water pan is used to humidify the air inside the cook-chamber and to catch the drippings, but often the meat itself provides enough humidity.

A whole hog can take twenty-four hours to barbecue, a shoulder or Boston Butt ten to fourteen hours, and ribs about five or six hours to barbecue. With this slow moist heat, the fat renders and the connective tissue dissolves leaving the meat literally falling off the bone. If the meat sizzles when you put in on you are grilling, not barbecuing.

For the pulled pork recipe, which follows, if you are lucky enough to have a real barbecue at hand, by all means, use it. If not, slow oven roasting will suffice. If your cut of pork does not have much fat on it, you may want to put a small pan of water on a shelf below the meat to bring up the humidity.

Pulled Pork

This pork is used with the cider vinegar BBQ sauce and the spicy slaw to make a classic Southern pulled pork sandwich on a bun. I like to serve open faced on a toasted bun or a good sourdough bread, sliced thick. Kevin & I make it on the weekend and we have a delicious lunch for part of the week.

If you are entertaining guests, the pork can be in the oven and the sauce and slaw can be made ahead so you can spend the time with your guests instead of in the kitchen. And the smell of the pork cooking will whet their appetites.

Dry Rub:
3 tablespoons paprika
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon dry mustard
3 tablespoons coarse salt
1 teaspoon (or more) cayenne
1 (6 to 8 pound) pork roast, preferably shoulder or Boston butt

Mix the paprika, garlic power, brown sugar, dry mustard, and salt and cayenne together in a small bowl. Rub the spice blend all over the pork and marinate for as long as you have time for: as little as 1 hour or, preferably as long as overnight, covered or in a large plastic bag, in the refrigerator.

Dry Rubbed Pork Ready to Marinate

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.
Put the pork on a rack in a roasting pan. If there is a layer of fat on one side, put that side up, this will keep the meat moist. If there is very little fat, place a pan of water on a shelf below the meat.

Marinated and Ready to Cook

Bake for about 6 to 7 ½ hours. Basically, roast the pork until it's falling apart (most important) and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part registers 170 degrees F.

Remove the pork roast from the oven and transfer to a large platter. Allow the meat to rest for about 10 minutes.

Fresh From the Oven

While still warm, take 2 forks and "pull" the meat to form shreds: if there is large layer of fat, it can be scraped free with a knife and discarded. Using the 2 forks shred the pork by steadying the meat with 1 fork and pulling it away with the other. Put the shredded pork in a bowl. Pour 1/2 of the barbecue sauce (see below) on the shredded pork and mix well to coat.

Served by spooning the pulled pork mixture onto the bottom 1/2 of a firm hamburger bun, and toping with the spicy slaw (see below). Serve the remaining sauce on the side. Or, as I prefer, place a 1 inch thick slice of your favorite sour dough bread (lightly toasted) on a plate, top with pulled pork, a little of the leftover BBQ sauce and top with the spicy slaw and eat with a knife and fork.

Pulled Pork with Barbeque Sauce with Cole Slaw Openfaced on Buns

Cider Vinegar Barbecue Sauce

1 ½ cups cider vinegar
1 cup yellow or brown mustard (or ½ cup of each)
1 ½ cups ketchup
½ cup packed brown sugar
3 garlic cloves, smashed and chopped (or more to taste)
2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cayenne (or more to taste)
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Combine all ingredients in a saucepan over medium heat. Simmer gently, stirring, for 15-20 minutes until the sugar dissolves and it is somewhat thickened.

Spicy Slaw

1 head green cabbage, shredded
2 carrots, sliced into very fine matchsticks
1 red onion, halved pole to pole, thinly sliced
2 green onions, chopped
2 red jalapeňo chilies, thinly sliced
1 ½ cups mayonnaise
¼ cup Creole or brown mustard
2 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 lemon, juiced
Pinch sugar
1 ½ teaspoon celery seed
A pinch of cayenne
Several dashes hot sauce
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Ingredients for the Slaw

Combine the cabbage, carrot, red onion, green onions, and chile in a large bowl. In another bowl, mix the mayonnaise, mustard, vinegar, lemon juice, sugar and cayenne: stirring to incorporate. Pour the dressing over the cabbage mixture and toss gently to mix. Season the cole slaw with celery seed, hot sauce, salt, and pepper. Chill for 2 hours in refrigerator before serving.


Friday, February 25, 2005

Dax, You Are In Our Hearts

Kevin, Dax, and Bruce


k. and b.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Chow Fun, or Not

On Tuesday, I was to meet Bruce and our out-of-town guests, Mark and Rodger, at the Ferry Building around noon. They had just been to Sears Fine Food for pancakes, so the timing wasn't really great for me, since I assumed we would be eating lunch around that time. In hindsight, I probably should've eaten something before I met them.

Ikea Stampede II: The Emeryville Horror

We decided to go to Chinatown (CT) to look for honey ginger tea, and we figured that while we were there I could stop at a place to eat and they could have a drink or maybe an appetizer. It's always funny that things that sound good in theory only are until you actually try to do it. For one, it was very busy in CT, specifically Grant Avenue. Normally this doesn't faze me, since I'm usually by myself when I'm in the hood, and I've become very agile at dodging little old ladies with plastic bags full of groceries. But when you have three other large guys with you, and when you don't have an idea of where you're going, and you have half a dozen aggressive hawkers with restaurant menus running up to you, it makes casually finding a place not very casual.

The other part of this story is that they had been walking all over town, so they didn't have the energy (and I don't blame them) to walk up and down the streets until my finicky taste buds found a decent place. And by the time we got up to the corner of Grant and Washington, I realized that I had to go with what was in the vicinity. Ruling out the Golden Dragon (as I didn't want to eat at the site of a massacre), the first place I wanted to check out was the Empress of China, since I had heard of its kitchy photos in the lobby and its spectacular views of the city. When we got to the 6th floor, my heart said "no" more than my stomach said "yes". My immediate impression was that it is a very generic, extremely overpriced restaurant for...ok, white people and other tourists. (Although! For drinks, it could be worth while.)

You know, maybe I'm not there yet, but as a semi-sophisticated ala wannabe, multicultural-loving, white almost bread, San Franciscan transplant, I still like to think that I could do better, try as I must, at a restaurant that isn't dumbed down for the rest of "my people", take 'em and definitely leave 'em. I'm open minded, my taste buds are open minded, so no, not the Empress of China. And especially not $17 for General Tsao Chicken. And it may be a stupid, narrow-minded way to find good food, but my first instinct when looking into the windows of a Chinatown restaurant (CTR) and seeing mostly non-Chinese people eating is to stay away from it. Am I a bigot? Am I self-hating? Am I a snob? I hope not. I don't want to be. It's true that there are a few CTR with mostly non-Chinese clientele, such as House of Nanking and Chef Gias, that are very good, but looking at all of the white tourists sitting on the balcony of the Chinatown Restaurant screams "CTR Disneyland With Mediocre Food" to me. Am I aware of the irony that as a white guy avoiding the CTR with white people that my very presence in any CTR makes it theoretically ineligible for me to eat in? Am I aware of the possibility that some CTR with all-Chinese clientele suck? Yes, I am aware of this. Maybe I'm making a big deal out of nothing. Maybe what I mean to say is that I want good authentic Chinese food and that's hard to find in restaurants frequented by tourists who tend to be white.

Since the Empress of China was out, the other option was Sam Wo's. Remember all of that stuff I said above? Here's where I stab myself in the back, needlessly, and really, I try not to be a masochist. I, especially after that speech I just gave, should've been more skeptical about this selection since my only experience was years ago, long after the novelty had worn out, and the food then wasn't that good, even with my limited experience of Chinese food. I also didn't realize that Sam Wo's is listed in all of the tourist guides until it was too late. But since none of us had been there for years, we decided to check it out. Besides, it was cheap. To make a long story short, I had the chow fun with bbq pork, they had the spring rolls, the deep fried shrimp (mistake), and the sweet and sour pork (big mistake). Not only was it a wretched place, cramped and dirty, to take visitors from out of town (to call it a "dive" is being kind), but we had mentioned the place to folks standing next to us as we were leaving the Empress of China. Now, with them sitting silently at a table behind us, we had ruined the lunch of total strangers. It probably didn't help that in between "this is awful" and "no, please, you have the rest", the rest of the gang managed to silently listen to my chopstick-lightening shoveling down of chow fun, while they, the tourists, sat in a catatonic stupor over the realization that $150/night hotel costs didn't equal the off Grant Avenue grease-trap they were lured into. In fact, they would've LOVED the Empress of China!

A place that always was good to be at at 2 AM, with booze you brought in yourself, and cheap hot Chinese food, was not a place to be at with no alcohol in the middle of the day. What use to be a place famous for the crotchety old man who would make you add up your own checks and insult your taste in food was now just filled with a bunch of rude, disorganized, bitchy women screaming "where's my tip" before we even had a chance to pay.

My dining experience in CT, while still limited, has been mixed. I've had cases of entering a CTR where I was the only non-Asian there, and waiting for a menu while other people who arrived after me were seated and already dining. I've had cases of being offered the more expensive dinner menu at lunch time, instead of the lunch menu everyone else was eating from. It's very much the status quo in CT that some restaurants are catered specifically for non-Chinese while others are all Chinese. This, however, doesn't stop me from trying. And I must give a disclaimer: while I have encountered racism from a few buttheads, I have also encountered kindness from many CT denizens, despite the language and cultural barriers.

One lesson I've learned when entering a new (for me) CTR is to look at what everyone else is eating, then look at the menu, then order. And for God's sake, don't order anything generic unless that's what the restaurant specializes in. For example if you walk into a CTR and everyone is eating out of bowls, don't order the broccoli beef! If the menu is dominated by noodle dishes, order the noodle dish. Some restaurants help you by listing their specials, so go with these if in doubt. When entering a new restaurant in CT, you have to be flexible, and if you have to have Hunan pork, go to a place you already know serves good Hunan pork. Other than that, you are on your own.

CT is filled with many interesting and good places to eat, as well as a few pits. Going there once or twice is not enough to find all of the real treasures (CT has the best toy stores), and as I'm still learning, not even going there once or twice a week is enough. As a neighborhood, I love it. I love the bustle of it. I love that it's a working neighborhood (I get my hair cut there). I love that it is insular as it can be. It's one of my favorite places to be on a sunny afternoon, and one day I will have hopefuly mastered my CT dining skills.


Sunday, February 20, 2005

Operation Sourdough Failure

Well, my sourdough bread experiment was a failure. I don't know what went wrong, but I suspect in was a) not the right flour to water ratio, b) not using the starter at it's peak (or right before it's peak), c) it was raining the whole day.

Everyone tells you not to use baker's yeast when making sourdough, but heresy of all heresies, I believe that if I had I would've had a nice loaf. Instead, I got this doorstop.

Needs Viagra.

The silver lining: it'll make nice breadcrumbs.

I still have a great starter and yesterday I made sourdough pancakes that were very good, lots of flavor. In fact, I think all pancakes should be made using sourdough starter. All too often, pancakes are boring vehicles for lots of butter and maple syrup. Sourdough pancakes don't need butter or maple syrup, although it sure doesn't hurt!

Not everything was a failure last night. One thing that came out really good was my spaghetti alla carbonara. No, this is not Tom Cruise's carbonara. Mine has black pepper in it, which many believe the carbon in carbonara comes from.

Spaghetti Alla Kevinara

Not low Carb-onara.

1 package (or pound) of thick spaghetti
6-7 strips of bacon (what we call bacon, others call streaky bacon)
1 cup of grated parmigiano regiano (or other hard grating cheese)
2 big-ass cloves garlic, minced
half an onion (yellow), diced
1 tablespoon (or more) freshly grated black pepper
1/4 cup italian flat leaf parsley, chopped
Fleur de Sel, or other course finishing salt
3 eggs, beaten

1. Boil your water in a big ol' pot. Add some regular salt to the water. When it comes to a boil, turn off the burner. Basically, this is how we cut down our pasta cooking time so that everything comes together at the same time.
2. Meanwhile, put your bacon in a cold pan and turn the heat up to medium.
3. While the bacon is cooking, chop the parsley, the onions, the garlic, grate the pepper and cheese. Beat the eggs.
4. When the bacon is crisp, remove to a paper towel lined plate to drain. When cool, chop roughly.
5. Add onions to the bacon fat and brown on medium high. Shortly after adding the onions, add the garlic.
6. Mix the cheese and pepper into the beaten eggs.
7. Bring pasta water to a boil, then add the spaghetti. Cook til al dente. When ready, pour some of the hot water into a serving bowl (this is just to heat it up). Drain the pasta.
8. Dump the water out of the serving bowl, then dump the pasta in. Add the onions/bacon grease and mix into the pasta, then add the egg mixture and stir until it makes a nice sauce. Add the bacon, then the parsley.
9. Plate it and sprinkle conservatively with the course salt.
10. Fret over sourdough failure. Scold your starter and promise to remove from will.

Everything goes better with bacon grease.


Saturday, February 19, 2005

The Day of Decision

Yay! Bruce's Portuguese cousin called last night and invited him down next weekend to the Central Valley to make linguica (say lin-gwee-sa). Apparently every year the locals slaughter a few hogs and have a big sausage making...I don't know, can you call it a party? Anyway, this is a new thing for him and he's going to be learning the traditional, authentic way the Portuguese here in California make it. Unfortunately that means he'll have to leave the Almond Festival/Aunt Paula's house early, since it's on the same day. Oh wait, it now seems that I can tag along, which means you all get to tag along too! I can't wait to see how the pictures turn out! Moo-ha-ha!!

This morning I began the process of making the sourdough loaf. I'm waiting to see if the rain affects it since I've always heard that you're not suppose to make bread on days where there is rain and it's been raining up a storm. It's getting Old Testament out there. And I noticed when I was getting the starter going that on the week it didn't rain, I had the best yeast activity. Am I just setting myself up for failure? We'll see.....

Here's my recipe:

2 cups of starter (my starter has a thick batter consistency)
3/4 teaspoons of salt
1/2 cup of whole wheat flour
1 1/2 cups of unbleached, all-purpose flour

Using the bread hook on the Kitchen Aid mixer, I mix the salt in to the starter. Then I added the whole wheat flour and let it mix on 1 or 2 for a minute. Then gradually I added the rest of the flour. I let it go until the dough had absorbed all of the flour and had formed a pretty good ball. Then I turned it out on a floured board and kneaded the crap out of it. Jesus! That sucker was tough! Pretty much I was folding and pressing and folding and kneading, grunting, praying that this would be over soon. Finally I got what I was looking for. No, not another pair of hands to take over. I got a smooth satiny finish on the dough. So I folded in under and made a ball. Oiled it, slapped it into a large plastic container with a lid and stuck it in the oven with only the oven light on.

That was 10 AM. I'm checking it every hour or so. I'll let you know more later.

By the way, how did I make my starter? Well, first off, can I just say that it probably took a month? Really, I think it was only three weeks. Every 24 hours adding a cup or two of flour (started with whole wheat and moved to white) plus equal parts of water in a large, wide, clear glass mixing bowl, stirring the crap out of it with a whisk (taking it outside on nice days to let it stretch, enjoy the weather for a few minutes, letting the wind blow through it's hair) covered with plastic wrap, in the oven with the light on. I took special care to keep everything sterilized.

It's alive!

Eventually I was refreshing the starter every 12 hours. What I was looking for was a strong yeast activity, more than a sour smell. The sourness just eventually comes along on it's own. It was the yeast I was concerned with. This thing has been my child for the last month. Yes, I do have a bun in the oven. I've burped it, I've fed, I've even taken the damn thing for walks.

See the bubbles? That's a good thing.

One thing I noticed is the smell of the starter when refreshing with whole wheat as opposed to white. When using whole wheat, the starter (when at it's peak) smelled really, really...well, like fresh horse poop. A very grassy horse poop. Frankly, I tend to think this is ok and I recommend that when you start a starter from scratch you use a mix of whole wheat and white to build flavor. Using white alone, I assume, wouldn't give you this complexity, that is, what I call the horse poo factor.

Neglected kitties: "We're so over your sourdough phase."

4:00 PM

It's almost 4 PM. Around 2:30 I punched down the dough. Unfortunately, there wasn't much to punch down. I'm starting to worry.

I formed a loaf. I didn't have cornmeal, so I (yes) am using polenta* to sprinkle on the bread board. I placed the loaf on the board and covered it loosely with plastic wrap. It's now in the oven, hopefully rising. I have a feeling this could take awhile. I may be baking til the crack of dawn at this point. Aren't you glad you came along on this journey?

*Oh crap! Why didn't I think to use the grits I have sitting around. I have plenty of that (bad Southerner, not eating enough grits).

11:40 PM

It's shortly after 11:30. My bread making has been a success...a successful disaster. My loaf never rose to the potential I thought it had. The final product was a hockey puck.

I'll comment on this as soon as I can....


Friday, February 18, 2005

What I Want To Know Is, What The Hell Is A Rib-B-Cue??

Submitting a recipe for Turkey Tetrazzini for the new cookbook got me thinking about school lunch menus, so I decided to surf the Internet to see if I could find out about what kids are eating nowadays.

Lo and Behold I come across a website that lists school lunch menus all over the country. On these menus is something call a Rib-B-Que, and apparently it is either so popular or so cheap that it's on the menu several times a month. That's in addition to the pizza, the cheeseburgers, the footlong hotdogs, and the chicken nuggets of God-knows-what unknown, unholy origin.

And I had to ask myself, what the hell is a Rib-B-Que? That doesn't even make sense! Did I happen to look the other way one day when evolution spit out a bizarre new animal species?

Are they that illiterate that they couldn't spell out "barbecue rib sandwich"?

And if so, what the hell kind of example of the English language is that to be teaching our young people? In a freakin' school, no less! What dropout from the 3rd grade wrote this menu?

One menu lists it as "Barbecue Rib-B-Que". Well I'm no genius, but isn't that redundant? Hasn't anyone ever told this moron who wrote that menu that you can't "extra barbecue" barbecue?

And, excuse me, but isn't feeding barbecue ribs to kids for lunch just a little extravagant? I mean, I'm already paying for your education and daycare, do I also have to treat you to freakin' Tony Romas?!

Looking at the menu further I found myself asking another question: Would I even eat this stuff? I mean come on, most kids will eat whatever you put in front of them, but that doesn't mean it's right!

Is it ok to put a fat-ass 40-ounce bottle of Olde English Malt Liquor in front of a 10 year old and just expect them to make the right decision? I guess if you think a "Rib-B-Que" and a soda is a spectacular source of nutrition, it is!

Frankly I wouldn't swab the ass of a lab rat with that stuff!

Now I realize that these school lunches are at a reduced price, but, uh…no they're not! We, people with jobs, pay full price for these lunches so that everyone's kid gets to pay equally. It's not some crazy deal we're getting! We're not getting a deal so Papa John's and Sodexho can come in and push their junk on our youth like backstreet crack dealers!

So my question is, if we are paying full price for these lunches, why do our kids still eat this garbage? What kind of mafia-in-hairnets is running these kitchens?

No wonder these damn kids are shooting each other, wearing their pants below their ass, and bouncing off the walls during class! It's not A.D.D. or O.C.D. or M.T.V. some other C.R.A.P. like that! It's all that sugar, fat, carbs, preservatives, and God knows what kind of weird-ass stuff they put in a Rib-B-Que that's literally melting their minds like Michael Jackson's nose under a heat lamp.

Just *casually* reading the lunch menu made me want to shank the teacher, burn down the school, and get high…and that was the elementary school menu!

For God's sake, someone stop this madness! We've become a nation of psychotic Rib-B-Que junkies see-sawing between one chemically-induced personality disorder to the other!

I shudder to even THINK about the future!


I'm Not Bitter, Just Sour

For the last few weeks my mind has been consumed with getting the perfect sourdough starter culture. I've been mixing, sterilizing, researching, reading, sniffing, and stressing over this damn thing. I think I've paid more attention to it than the cats. I've even felt a little sad discarding the old starter to mix in new flour. Personally I find it very difficult to do, especially since everyone makes such a big deal about how the yeasts in the stuff are alive and "feeding". It's like I'm aborting it.

Let that baby live!

Children, behave!

Maybe it's good that I'm pro-choice, otherwise I would have more starter than I know what to do with. Frankly, I'm not having sourdough pancakes every night. Though I may try it tomorrow morning. Definitely I'm attempting to make a real loaf tomorrow. But let me tell you, everyone seems to have an opinion on how to make sourdough bread, and all of them contradict the other. Should you use tap water? Should you use all-purpose flour? Can you use metal utensils? What about sugar? What about milk and grapes? Should your starter be stiff or liquidy? How long does everything take?

Oy. You would think something that is as old as Egyptian civilization would have a Dummy's guide. Or at least Cliff Notes.