Tag Archives: prose

Snippets, newly minted

The new year is rambling on…

Writing
I mentioned a while back that I had submitted a poem that was accepted for an online publication. It is posted here, in The Front Porch Review, or at the link Periodicity under Published Work, down at the lower right of the menu bar. I am fond of this poem, as it captures some actual experiences of my life, and rolls some of the meaning into life’s cyclic nature. There are some other excellent poems in that issue, I invite you to give it a read. As always, I welcome your comments and thoughts.

I’ve started off the new year writing (attempting to write) some flash fiction pieces. I may share something here soon, but I’m also contemplating moving/reorganizing my blog site to accommodate things differently.

Music
After bingeing on holiday/Christmas music since mid-November, I have been cleansing my musical palette with “oldies.” That’s such a relative term, isn’t it? One generation’s oldies are not the next. When I say oldies, I mean 50’s and 60’s jukebox tunes. Doo-wop and British invasion songs are peppy enough to gloss over the general ‘suckiness’ of January weather. I don’t mind the snow…but the bitter cold. What do you listen to on a winter day?

Some random statistics
Since my unemployment began, I’ve applied for approximately 125 positions, mostly through internet application processes. I’ve gone through 12 phone interview processes (with different companies) resulting in 1 onsite interview. That means almost a 10 % conversion from application to phone interview, and only about 8 % of those result in a site interview. This gives a whopping 0.8% likelihood of a job interview based on internet applications – I think. This is biased due to my specific area of expertise and experience level, but it demonstrates the level of difficulty in finding the right job. Sorry about the math…I have to keep my skills up.

Reading
I wish I could say that I did a lot of reading over the last part of 2014 and the Christmas holiday…but I didn’t. I’m still nursing Philip Kerr’s novel Dark Matter:The Private Life of Sir Isaac Newton– A Holmes-esque mystery novel during the time when Newton was Warden of the Royal Mint. I’ve read some interesting journal articles about anthocyanins that I mentioned in a post a while ago in December. And, my MIL gave me three Jack Higgins novels to read…which I am excited about. I read The Eagle has Landed when I was in high school and really liked it. Also, I dusted off my copy of The Silmarillion (after seeing the third and final Hobbit film), and leisurely read a few sections to try and jump start my interest in the book…sigh…the names.

Thanks for visiting and reading.

2014 -Es war ein gutes Jahr für das Schreiben und Tomaten.

2014 was a difficult year.  

It was a year of very large statistical variances…very high highs and very low lows.  In retrospect, I recognize it as a phenomenal year of change.  Change is never easy, particularly when thrust upon you unexpected…unplanned.  But you manage it, take the opportunity life gives you and move on.

Eventually, things even out.  It is important to remember that life happens to other people as well.  And the recognition and  ability to help each other out in times of crisis is what makes our human existence different from other creatures.

I encourage each and every one of you to do something to help someone in 2015.

At the beginning of 2014, I posted a resolution post with three goals for the year about writing.

I think I achieved two of them. I did attend a local writing conference and had a blast. I will do that again, and will seek other opportunities to improve. I wrote a lot this year (even without participating in NaPoWriMo in April) and ventured beyond poetry for much of it. I did seem to devote several posts to tomatoes…but it was a banner year in my continuing efforts to grow good tomatoes. They tasted good too. I made numerous batches of salsa, tomato sauce, fried green tomatoes, and a season ending green tomato salsa, which was such a hit, that my plans to freeze most of it and save it for winter months was squashed. It was gone after 2 weeks.

I traveled this year. In May, my father, my eldest son, and I traveled to Germany for a bus tour of the country. It was a GREAT trip. It is worthy of several posts on its own, but I just haven’t plowed back into my journal and pictures to write posts on that. A recent blogging exchange about Johann Sebastian Bach reminded me of the trip and I thought I would share this.

On our trip, we had numerous stops and very short (or at least in my opinion…short) durations to see the sights. One of these stopovers was in Leipzig. We had two hours to see sights in the old town, shop, snack, etc. The bus stopped in front of St. Thomas Church, where JS Bach served as cantor.

St. Thomas Church, Leipzig

St. Thomas Church, Leipzig

Bach’s tomb is prominently placed in the front chancel area behind an iron gate.

JS Bach Tomb, St Thomas Church, Leipzig

JS Bach Tomb, St Thomas Church, Leipzig

During our short time there, we were fortunate to listen to a choir rehearse from the choir loft. And in no time, 2 hours was gone (I have tried to upload the short video I made of a portion of this, but WordPress does not like my video).

Here is a view of the altar, past where Bach’s tomb is located.

The altar inside St. Thomas Church, Leipzig

The altar inside St. Thomas Church, Leipzig

Germany was definitely a highlight of 2014, lots of good food, fellowship, mountains, and castles, and I will strive to post more of our travels in 2015.

Later in the year, after such a peak experience, there came an incredible low. I was released from my job. A bitter pill, but I am better off mentally and physically. I’m still looking for full-time work, and am hopeful that 2015 will bring not just a job, but the RIGHT job.

So what does 2015 have in store. I don’t know…but I am setting up for a really great year. I will continue writing, and if 2014 has taught me anything, it is to be willing to go into the unknown. So my writing may be somewhat different this year. I may try my hand at short stories. I also want to go to another writer’s conference or perhaps a workshop.

And to all of you out there, Happy New Year, and I wish you all the best in 2015. May you experience all the joy and success you can hold.

Resilience

There is a lot more in him than you guess, and a deal more than he has any idea of himself.

-Gandalf, speaking to the dwarves about his choice of Bilbo to be their burglar, in The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien.

Today (December 17, 2014) marks the release of the third and final movie installment of The Hobbit, directed by Peter Jackson, and perhaps our last film adaptation of Tolkien’s Middle Earth, unless someone tries to unravel The Silmarillion or tries to flesh out any number of short stories. I plan to see the movie (not today, or even this week -probably), because this story is such an important part of my literary life. I read The Hobbit for the first time as a 14 year old, then moved on to the LOTR Trilogy. I recently read it again (a couple of years ago, prior to the film releases), and was still amazed by its light-heartedness compared to the later trilogy – though the films are trying to invoke that more brooding environment.

My enjoyment of The Hobbit has always centered around Bilbo Baggins. He was written as such a likeable character and an everyman that readers (and I think, especially adolescents) could relate to. He wasn’t adventurous and had never sought out grand change – yet, he had the internal bravery to go beyond his comfort zone when faced with the choice. He wasn’t thought of as much of a warrior or a contributor to the dwarves group. He was very much an outsider, culturally and personality-wise. He didn’t fit their idea.

Bilbo Baggins, as depicted in the Rankin/Bass film production of The Hobbit (1977)

Bilbo Baggins, as depicted in the Rankin/Bass film production of The Hobbit (1977)

Yet Gandalf knew…and took a chance.

Either he knew something of Bilbo’s ancestry (as Tolkien suggests some of Bilbo’s ancestors were more adventurous hobbits – which made them something of a novelty to the culture) or he recognized something in Bilbo’s personality that made him appealing in the role of burglar.

Perhaps, it is because he was so small.

Perhaps, it was because he was so self-effacing.

Perhaps, it was because hobbits are generally resilient and self-preserving, yet light hearted.

Whatever the reason, Bilbo ultimately proves his worth to the group and grows in confidence by saving them from various situations until the dwarves accept him. He returns to his home at Bag-End a wiser, more confident hobbit.

And while he was also the fortunate finder of a ring of power and being literally invisible is much more useful than just being ignored, the ability of people to achieve things under unusual circumstances should never be underestimated. Certainly Bilbo had to prove himself, but he also was put in circumstances where he had to do something. He chose to help out Thorin and Company. His self-preservation didn’t win out. This is seen later in other hobbits in the trilogy: Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin all faced challenges and stepped in to do something.

That is the redeeming part of Tolkien’s Middle Earth Saga, that hobbits and other creatures (Ents?) viewed as unimportant tipped the balance and achieved great things.

Think about that.

Extracting meaning

Ain’t that the berries

was an expression my high school band director used when expressing excitement and surprise over something.

As he used it, this is an equivalent expression to:

Way Cool! and That’s the bees knees* and That’s great!.

Presumably, the origin of this saying has something to do with things being just as awesome as berries (which are pretty good – particularly in jams, pies, cobblers, and some simply by themselves). It is an interesting equivalency. And while the awesome culinary delights of berries are mostly undisputed (though some may have their favorites and not-so-favorite), there are other properties of berries that are quite unique and contribute to their awesomeness.

The extracts of berries contain flavonoids, phenolic acids, lignans and complex phenolic polymers (polymeric tannins). Among the flavonoids, the predominant group of anthocyanins give color to berry fruits (characteristically orange, red, or blue). These color compounds are interesting, because they can be used to study a variety of chemical interactions.

I find blueberries interesting because they are blue food. There are edible fruits that are green, yellow, orange or red, some purple…but this is the only naturally occurring blue food. In some of my recent reading**, I found an interesting research study on the potential use of blueberries for improvements in night vision. There have been numerous studies that claim this fact, but all have been subject to criticism for poor control studies. This recent report was inconclusive on the fact of improving night vision; however, it suggested a strong correlation between anthocyanin consumption and recovery after photobleaching (that moment when you step out of the dark into the blinding light, and you go.. Whoa! that’s bright!..and it takes you a moment to adjust.). The anthocyanins in blueberries may assist that recovery time.
stock-photo-blueberry-92682373

Another interesting berry fruit is cranberries. Like them or not, this staple of the Thanksgiving meal has also long been used as a folk remedy for urinary tract infections. In 2008, research*** was published that showed that cranberry juice cocktail inhibits the ability of E.coli bacteria (one of the common bacteria that causes UTI’s) from forming biofilms. This in turn makes it more likely that the bacteria can be flushed from your body.
stock-photo-glass-of-cranberry-juice-isolated-on-white-106026374

In raspberries, there is a diversity of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory phytonutrients unlike any other commonly consumed fruit****. Raspberries (both red and black) have been studied to determine their antioxidant content, and it has been suggested that raspberry ketone (rheosmin) increases metabolism in our fat cells, which has an impact on the management of obesity. Further, rheosmin can decrease activity of pancreatic lipase (a fat-digesting enzyme released by the pancreas), which may result in less digestion and absorption of fat. Another benefit is that by providing a rich supply of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory nutrients, raspberries can help lower risk of oxidative stress and excessive inflammation, reducing the potential for cancer cell formation.
stock-photo-raspberries-with-leaves-isolated-on-white-background-163382147
It is amazing that these small fruits pack so much punch in flavor and health benefits. So I suppose there is something to the expression –Ain’t that the berries.

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*Another curious expression that I’m not sure about.

**”Blueberry Effects on Dark Vision and Recovery after Photobleaching: Placebo-Controlled Crossover Studies” Journal of Agricultural & Food Chemistry 2014, 62 (46), pp 11180–11189

***New Biological Activities of Plant Proanthocyanidins,ACS Symposium Series Vol. 984, Chapter 7, Brandy J. Johnson, James B. Delehanty, Baochuan LinFrances S. Ligler, 2008, 101-114

****Anthocyanin content, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anticancer properties of blackberry and raspberry fruits. Journal of Food Composition and Analysis, Volume 23, Issue 6, September 2010, Pages 554-560.

Thoughts for the 31st of October

I have a lot of random crap in my head today, so indulge me…

Music sets a great mood for holidays. I turned on the cable holiday music channel yesterday, and to my delight, it was Halloween-focused. Great favorites like Monster Mash, (It’s a) Monster’s Holiday by Buck Owens, Rick Scott’s Halloween Hoodoo, and The Guess Who’s Clap for the Wolfman to more contemporary adult fare like The Eagles Witchy Woman, Cliff Richard’s Devil Woman, and the ubiquitous Thriller and well known movie soundtrack clips.

Some others were a bit of a stretch…just because devil is in the lyric, it doesn’t make it an automatic Halloween song, does it? Cases in point…(She’s got the) Devil in her heart by The Beatles, Sympathy for the Devil by the Rolling Stones, The Devil went down to Georgia by the Charlie Daniels Band. All great songs in their genres, but not on my go-to list for Halloween mood music.

I’ve also been singing Grim, Grinning Ghosts to myself since yesterday… Thank you Thurl Ravenscroft.

Movies have also been a source of enjoyment for me this Halloween season. I am particularly thankful that some stations broadcast the older, more gothic-than-slasher, creepy movies. I’ve seen Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Halloween and Friday the 13th and most of their sequels over the years, and I’m not as big a fan of revisiting those movies as some are. I really enjoy the classic horror tales and anthologies. Some that I’ve seen this year are Twice-Told Tales* with Vincent Price, The Legend of Hell House with Roddy McDowell, and House of Wax with Vincent Price. I caught a moment of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter last night and just couldn’t force myself to watch it. But, if I catch Bela Lugosi’s Dracula on tonight, I will be watching.

Cooking
I tried a leftover casserole recipe on Tuesday. If you have leftover chili or taco meat, or taco soup, this is a good thing to try. In a small baking dish (8 by 8), spread out the leftover chili/soup/taco meat about an inch or two deep, then cover with a layer of sharp cheddar cheese. On top of that add one mixed box of corn bread (Jiffy brand works well). I added a handful of cheese and half a jalapeno pepper to the cornbread mix. Cook according to the cornbread instructions. You get a nice layered casserole dish. Quick and easy.

Writing
Well..you know how it is, sometimes you write a lot, sometimes a little, and sometimes none. I’m in a little-to-none mode right now – at least in the poetry realm. I recently had a poem selected for an online publication in January 2015, so I’ll be sure to highlight that when it happens.

Have a safe and happy Halloween.

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*I am now intrigued by the writings of Nathaniel Hawthorne, particularly his short stories, such as Rappaccini’s Daughter and Dr Heidegger’s Experiment. Both stories use a plot foundation of chemical dosing. One as intentional poisoning/conditioning – Rappaccini, and the other as a discovery of a potential fountain of youth to restore their lost youth/bring back the dead – Heidegger. As events unfold in both stories, their desire to manipulate people is their undoing. It ultimately leads to retribution and judgement on them for their actions. Karma is dark romanticism, indeed.

A cappella Friday: Bars and Feathers

em>Acappella music (without instrumental accompaniment) is particularly enjoyable for me to listen to. As a poet (and an avocational musician), I am drawn to the similarities that poems and acappella music have. Lyrical phrasing, meter, rhyming, assonance, and consonance mean so much to acappella music, because it relies so heavily on the human vocal element.

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It has been a while since I did one of these.

Partly because I hadn’t heard any new inspiring songs recently, neither was I particularly inspired to seek out any songs.

Until today.

I was wondering whether anyone had done an arrangement of Emily Dickinson poems for acappella chorus. Google. What a time waster saver. I found quite a few. And it should come as no surprise, as Ms. Dickinson is arguably the most prolific of American Poets and one of the more emotive poets (and also – to her credit – concise). These characteristics make her writing great fodder for choral literature.

The first one I noticed (and I think that I’ve sung it once) was Let down the Bars, O Death, composed by Samuel Barber, who was responsible for another haunting poem/choral selection that I discussed a while back, Louise Bogan’s To Be Sung on the Water. He wrote this piece during the same summer (1936)** as the string quartet that would eventually become Adagio for Strings.

Let down the Bars, O Death*
Emily Dickinson
Music by Samuel Barber

Let down the Bars, O Death —
The tired Flocks come in
Whose bleating ceases to repeat
Whose wandering is done —

Thine is the stillest night
Thine the securest Fold
Too near Thou art for seeking Thee
Too tender, to be told.

This setting is a simple chorale, with none of Barber’s usual complex counterpoint, but it is effective  at letting Dickinson’s text carry  the load.  Given her gift for emotionally charging phrases, it definitely works with his gift for musical conflict and resolution.  The opening of the piece sounds like a call, an invocation that begins hushed, and crescendos to the conclusion, where the opening lines are repeated/declared with emphasis.

The next piece was a bit of a surprise.  I have a soft spot for poetry that is light and hopeful (something that is not necessarily plentiful in Dickinson’s canon of writing), so when I happened upon “Hope” is the thing with feathers, I was hooked.

“Hope” is the thing with feathers*

Emily Dickinson
Music by Kenny Potter

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –

And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –

I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.

There are several different choral arrangements of this poem, but in my opinion, none of them capture the intention of the words like this arrangement by Dr. Kenny Potter of Wingate University. Recently composed in 2011***, this piece allows the underlying message to drive the song, with the opening lines carried through as heartbeat. A carefree melody, which breaks slightly to express the seriousness of the last line (much like Barber in the effective use of chorale style), but then returns to the patter of the “thing with feathers, and sings the tune without the words – and never stops – at all” fading to the end.

I believe he created an earworm.

The video I selected is a combined performance of several pieces. The first one is “Hope” is the thing with feathers. Have a listen. You will be humming this the next day.


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*The Poems of Emily Dickinson Edited by R. W. Franklin (Harvard University Press, 1999)
**G. Schirmer, Octavo 8907
***Published by Santa Barbara Music Publishing (SB.SBMP-1017) 2011

that’s a lotta somethin’

Many years ago, I lived in the Crescent City.  

fleurdelis

This was in a time of relative innocence before Katrina, before the Saints were consistently good, before Casino gambling was legal, but ….it was not a time before there was good food.  I think there has ALWAYS been good food in New Orleans. It was probably written into the Louisiana Purchase agreement.  

You can’t swing a stick in that city without hitting a restaurant or sandwich shop or street vendor selling some delicacy…that is good to eat.

While living there, I discovered many unique foods: stale pastries with little plastic figurines in them are great party foods, street vendor hot dogs at 2 AM are THE BEST, oysters and crawfish taste better when you drink cheap local beers, coffee with chicory (tree bark) is best with cheap stale pastries or deep fried donuts with powdered sugar (beignets), crawfish etouffe’, po-boys are superior to subs, hoagies, or hero sandwiches,

and the muffuletta is a big-@$$ sandwich.

The moof-fa-what-Ah?

The muffuletta (moo-foo-let-ah) is a creation of the Italian community of New Orleans. The story goes that ca. 1906, Sicilian farmers selling produce at the Farmer’s Market would stop into the nearby Central Grocery for lunch. They would order ham, salami, cheese, olive salad, and bread, and then sit out on barrels or crates with everything spread out, eating everything separately (as is typical in Sicilian culture). The proprietor of Central Grocery (Signor Lupos Salvatore) suggested that they cut open the bread and prepare everything as a sandwich, and a new sandwich was born. The muffuletta is ubiquitous in New Orleans now, but there is a sign outside Central Grocery claiming the birthright. The name was derived from the bread roll used, which was determined to be better than french bread (already in high use for po-boy sandwiches) due to its soft interior and crunchy exterior. The typical muffuletta roll is a flat-ish bread disk that is about 10 inches in diameter. So it’s a huge sandwich. That is why it is typical for sandwich shops to sell 1/4 or 1/2 muffulettas.

Too much food you say?

There is a way to bring a little of that Noo Awlins food to your kitchen.

Single Muffuletta Sandwiches*

Ham, sliced (can be traditional Italian style ham (capicola), or something like Black Forest Ham. Use salty, cured hams, not sugar-cured or sweetened)
Salami, sliced
Provolone cheese, sliced
Mozzarella cheese, sliced
Marinated olive salad (Giardiniera or similar)**
Kaiser roll or similar bread

Cut the bread roll horizontally, and dress the bottom slice with the olive salad. Add the sliced ham, cheese and salami in alternating layers to the bottom bread roll and top with more cheese. Top the sandwich with more olive salad and the top piece of bread roll. You can prepare several sandwiches this way for a family, party or to save for later.

You may eat your muffuletta cold (as is traditional), or it can be toasted for 15 minutes or so (as shown below). Serve with some good ridged/ruffled potato chips.

20141005_130949[1]
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*Disclaimer: This sandwich does not adhere to the strict ingredients of the muffuletta, but it is quite tasty and suitable for consumption.

**There are store brand giardiniera salad mixes that are quite good, or you can be adventurous and try to make your own. Someday, when I’m feeling more adventurous….

and isn’t it a lovely blog….

Occasionally, these award thingies pop up. The ones that ask you to share little known facts about yourself or your blog, and then nominate other blogs to do the same.

I find them interesting as a way of increasing blog fertilization, and making your blog gardens grow. I know all the writers out there see little bits of inspiration in comments, characters, people and blogs. You wouldn’t be a writer if you didn’t seek out a little ‘miracle grow’ every now and then to jump start your own creativity…what they used to call the muse (they still call it that, but in this technological world we live in now, the muse is now pixelated as well as natural, electronic as well as acoustic, and present even in other people’s work and art). I write mostly poetry, with the occasional travelogue or recipe or blah-blah piece thrown in, so a little fertilizer goes a long way with me.

growing plant

These awards are a little way of getting to know each other too, I think. Behind the curtain of the internet, we could be anybody. At least these attempts at internet small talk help us be a little more human and hopefully “real” in our discourse. Small talk is not always easy for some people, and at times we might feel a little like Cleavon Little in Blazing Saddles trying to make friends with the citizens of Rock Ridge.

what did you expect?

Well, Sarah Wesson over at Earful of Cider has nominated my blog. Thank you Sarah. I’ve never personally met Sarah, but from her blog I know Sarah is a librarian by day, and a detective noir fiction writer by nights and weekends and days off with some interesting and fun ideas about character development. Plus she wrangles a couple of kids along with her patient-sounding, saintly husband.

So the rules are:
1. Share seven (7) fact(oid)s about yourself that you haven’t already made known in your writing.
2. Nominate seven (7) bloggers you regularly follow to do the same.

Factoids up.
1. I started drinking coffee when I was 11 years old. My Dad would make me a cup to help me wake up, because Middle School started at 7:30 AM. I am now an incredibly early riser. 5:30 AM is not unusual.

2. I secretly enjoy doing yardwork (mowing, weeding, etc.). There is something sustaining about a completed task where you can look at your results from a porch swing while drinking a tall glass of iced tea.

3. I wish peanut M&Ms were healthy snacks.

4. I like surprises (good ones).

5. It is no surprise (see what I did there…) that my favorite reading genre is Mystery/Thriller. This started in my adolescent years with The Hardy Boys, and then moved to Ellery Queen, Sherlock Holmes, Agatha Christie, and on to P.D. James, Dan Brown, James Lee Burke, Kathy Reichs, Matthew Pearl and James Rollins.
mystery

6. If I were to become independently wealthy (almost no chance of that happening – because, hey, it’s statistics and there is always a probability, no matter how small or insignificant), I think I would still work at a job.

7. Even though I find most math tedious, I find statistics strangely exhilarating. If only there was a porch swing and a tall glass of iced tea involved.

porch swing

iced tea

And now…onto other blogs.

I am admittedly more of a blog lurker than a regular follower, and I will not impose upon other bloggers who don’t necessarily know me from Adam’s off-ox to participate. If you wish to play along, consider yourself nominated, check the rules and have at it. Otherwise, enjoy the increased traffic (maybe..no guarantees) that my link to your blog could induce.

1. Sister Madly at The Sixpence at Her Feet, wickedly sarcastic and funny observations. Also, she smells colors.

2. Charlotte Hoather at Charlotte Hoather Blog. She is an aspiring professional singer studying Soprano in Glasgow, UK. She has over 11,400 followers so she needs no boost from a lovely blog award. She posts snippets about life for her and also clips from some of her performances. She’s very good and likely will be a star in the future. Search and find her performance of Oh, Danny Boy…beautiful.

3. Shawn L. Bird at Shawnbird.com. She’s a writer, poet, teacher in Canada. She also has quite a following. I like her blog because she posts at least one poem a day…and it seems so effortless.

4. Becky is studying horticulture in the UK. She has two blogs: one for plant stuff called Life of a plant lover and one for just her creative side called this and that. She posts beautiful pictures of gardens she works in and places she visits, and explains about the different types of flowers and plants and her nature poems are very heart-felt.

5. V. C. Linde, a poet/writer at Listen for the Reverb, is a restless soul, writes very well, and is involved in different venues to make her writing accessible (something I identify with). She has an interest in many different styles. I think her found poetry is most compelling.

6. S. K. Woodiwiss, a poet/writer who writes several blogs, but I follow Poetry: Because Obscurity is a Sin. She has a brooding passionate style. Her words almost ache. It’s a style that’s not for everyone, but it’s good to feel that kind of writing sometimes.

7. Jamie Dedes, at The Poet by Day posts poems, stories, inspirational pieces, pictures….She has a great eye for poetry and the beauty in the words.

If you made it through this, thanks for reading. If you’ve been nominated, feel free to ignore or participate at your choice. If you do participate, link back to me, because as blog neighbors I’d like to know what you do and think about.

The secret’s in the sAuce

My tomato plants are slowly but surely yielding edible fractions. Last week may have been the high-water mark for yield. By Friday, I had ten tomatoes: six of them quite large (fist-size) and four reasonably mature ones (billiard ball size).

Running out of things to do with tomatoes shouldn’t really happen. There is always a need in a recipe, salad, or sandwich (BLTs anyone?). Tomatoes are rather ubiquitous in recipes, garnishes, sauces, or just eating them with salt and pepper. Given their prevalence, they don’t seem that special.

This past weekend, though, was special, because we had a house full of college kids visiting for the BIG football game. My two sons and seven friends stayed over Friday night…I had a golden opportunity to prepare something and as every good host should…we provided food.

Meatball subs – I cheated and used store bought tomato sauce… though if I had a large enough yield I would try to make my own tomato sauce.

Cheese dip with tomatoes and green chiles – again store bought and totally synthetic complete with a brick of melt-a-cheese, 2 cans of diced tomatoes and hotdog chili. No mess, no fuss. But…a family favorite.

I had that pile of tomatoes just sitting there. I decided to make salsa…from scratch.

I have an app on my phone to help learn languages. And I’ve recently been learning Spanish. One of the vocabulary words a few lessons ago was la salsa or the sauce. Language is a peculiar thing. Salsa – to me- has always been that tomato based condiment you get with chips as a free appetizer at Mexican restaurants* – And….it is that…but the word means any sauce.

We’ve come to use the word much like a brand shorthand for a product (Kleenex for tissue, for example). I found that the world of salsa (sauce) is varied and complicated.

There’s salsa roja (cooked tomato sauce), salsa verde (green sauce, made with tomatillos), salsa ranchero (ranch-style sauce cooked with peppers and roasted tomatoes), as well as mole’ and guacomole’ being classified as salsas**. All of these are generally blended or cooked.

I made a coarsely chopped mixture.

So technically I made salsa picada (chopped sauce) or pico de gallo (rooster’s beak???) -if you prefer, as follows:

4 large ripened tomatoes
1/2 yellow onion
1 bunch cilantro (12 stems or so)
1 medium serrano pepper (slightly ripened)
2 tablespoons lime juice
5 or 6 liberal dashes of garlic salt

Chop tomatoes, onion and cilantro and mix in a glass bowl. Finely chop the pepper and add to the mix. Stir and mix liberally with spatula. Add lime juice and garlic salt. Add more to adjust to taste if needed. Mix well. Cover and refrigerate for an hour before eating (if you can). Get some good sturdy corn chips to eat it.

My sons and their friends devoured it. (before I could get a picture)

I guess it was that good.

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*I recognize it is also a dance style, but I have never tried to dance the salsa. And I’m writing about food here.
**Not to mention the mango, pineapple, corn, and carrot varieties.
There might even be pumpkin or squash salsas in keeping with the autumn season.

The Grilling Gene/Chipotle-Beer Marinade

I am descended from a long line of outdoor cooking enthusiasts.

I’ve heard stories about my paternal grandfather, who would dig a hole in his back yard, start a fire and set up up a kettle of lard to deep fry catfish and oysters. I also recall visiting my grandparent’s house as a child and he would cook filet mignon on his charcoal grill.

My Dad is also adept in his grilling skills, and cooks a mean steak and ribs on charcoal.

I have enjoyed outdoor cooking since my childhood, when my Dad would host parties for his students and would cook large quantities of hamburger patties and hot dogs.  I would just hang out near the grill and watch. Back in the days before cable television and cooking networks, I would watch Justin Wilson on public television every chance I got.

This enthusiasm for grilling seems to have passed on to my sons, both of whom enjoy outdoor cooking, as seen by our campfire feast from last Father’s Day weekend.

campfire

I used to cook on charcoal, exclusively, because at the time I couldn’t afford a gas grill.  I was brought up on charcoal grilling, and frankly I like the taste of char-grilled meats.  For a time, I owned a smoker grill and used it for chicken, steaks, pork…whatever would cook.  That grill didn’t make a move with us at one point, and I did without until last year..when my 10 year work anniversary gift  was a smoker grill.  I’ve used it several times over the last year, with excellent results.  An example is shown below from it’s inaugural cook.

smoker 2013

I now also have a gas grill, that I use quite often, especially during the summer.  I use it for convenience, because there is not much setup or cleanup required.  I like to keep the grill charred for flavor purposes.  I cook *everything* on this grill (ribs, chicken, steak, hamburger, brats, hot dogs, pork chops, pork loin…etc) In a nod to my Grandaddy, I once cooked fried catfish and oysters on the side burner, using a large cast-iron skillet and vegetable oil (no lard).

It is quite enjoyable to cook this way. But a major part of outdoor cooking is preparing the dish so that it has the right flavor. Just this week I prepared a set of pork chops for dinner using the following marinade.

1 bottle beer (I used an IPA, because I had it left over – you can use whatever you have)
2 teaspoons of salt
2 teaspoons of cracked black pepper
4 teaspoons of garlic powder
1 chipotle pepper (I used an orange one), cut into 4 pieces.

I mixed all the marinade (except the chipotle pepper) in a large measuring cup and set it aside. I rinsed a package of 4 pork chops, lightly salted them on both sides and placed them in a gallon size plastic bag. I poured the beer marinade over the chops and closed the bag and mixed the contents for about a minute. I reopened the bag and added the pepper pieces to the mix, closed the bag and remixed the contents. This time, I found each of the pepper quarters and squeezed them in the marinade (through the bag). I used the orange chipotle because I like the flavor of the chipotle pepper, but I don’t like it overwhelming the natural flavor of the meat. Certain restaurants tend to overdo it – in my opinion. You can use multiple peppers, a greener pepper (hotter), or a different pepper type if that suits your tastes.

I let the chops marinate in the refrigerator for ~ 4 hours, flipping the bag once or twice during that period. This is something that is variable…I think you can marinate up to 12 hours and it would be fine. Some people adhere to more strict marination times.

I preheated the gas grill for about 10 minutes prior to cooking, then reduced the flame to a medium low setting. I placed the chops on the hot grill surface and closed the lid, cooking for about 7 minutes. I then flipped the chops and cooked the other side, about 7 minutes. I took the chops off the grill and covered them with foil until the rest of the meal was ready.

Along with this, I prepared a bunch of asparagus brushed with olive oil and salt and pepper, and cooked in a foil pouch on the upper shelf of the grill. Some chopped red potatoes were seasoned with ranch seasoning and olive oil and baked at 350C in the oven for 30 minutes. Also, a small ripe tomato from the tomato jungle.

The result:

pork chop

Excellent. I garontee!