Wednesday, July 01, 2020

"Accidental" Dinner

     There was a nice smoked ham steak in the fridge.  Not a lot in the way of vegetables -- some canned stuff, plus half a red bell pepper, fresh carrots and radishes.  I was due for a trip to the grocery, but my work day ran late.

     I didn't want to make Hoppin' John again -- besides, I didn't have any onion or blackeyed peas.  Maybe fry up the ham steak and make succotash with canned corn and cannellini beans?  I thought about that on the way home but it seemed a bit...thin.

     In the kitchen, I looked at the available ingredients, and cubed up the ham with a little garlic powder and a teaspoon of onion powder, then chopped up a half-dozen baby carrots and a couple of big radishes, following with the bell pepper, diced, once the rest was well-cooked.  Adding a can of the white beans, about half drained, and then the corn, well-drained, resulted in a nice-looking mixture.  I put in three bay leaves, some sage, parsley, celery seed, basil and some black pepper, covered it and let it simmer for ten minutes.

     The result was a thick and flavorful stew, a few steps away from ham and beans.  We ate it with some garlic naan left over from chili the night before,* which worked very nicely.
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* The Indian bread is hardly cornbread but pairs well with chili -- and keeps better than any cornbread you can buy.  Think of it as a puffy flour tortilla.

The Vice-President Says "Mask Up!"

     Yesterday, Vice-President Pence joined Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy in advising Americans to wear a mask to help control the spread of COVID-19.  Could we please go back to planting signs in our yards and putting bumper stickers on our cars to show our political affiliation now?

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Nearly Nine Years

     It was some time not too long before August, 2011 when I finally gave up on the Old Reliable brand of trash can that I kept buying more of, repairing and being frustrated by.  I like step-to-open trash cans.  In a home with cats, some kind of lidded can for kitchen trash is essential.

     Trash cans from an upstart outfit had been showing up at the big-box hardware store for a few years back then -- slick, modern designs, at about half again the price of what I'd been buying -- and, after yet another allthread and plastic washer repair had failed when I stepped on the treadle (with a loud thump and pieces all over the floor), I decided I'd spend the extra to see about the new stuff.

     Simplehuman trash receptacles come with a five-year warranty.  The first one I bought was solidly built, free of nickel-dime "value-engineering."  After nearly nine years, ours failed -- mildly, the treadle is worn enough that the lid doesn't open all the way. 

     The "Old Reliable" trash cans I had been buying lasted a year at most before needing tricky repairs, which might last another year.  So that's 4.5 times the life at less than twice the price. Better is also less costly, and by a considerable amount.  Plus they've got size and shape-matched bags, which (if you buy in bulk), are about the same price as one-size-sorta-fits.  I was happy to buy another Simplehuman can of the same model we'd used for so long.  (Their website doesn't show the older, less-expensive designs; I bought my replacement at Amazon and it's just like the one I bought a decade ago except for the color.  The newer models include one of the same "footprint" and capacity.)

     They're also selling some serious home-of-the-future stuff these days.  I don't need a trash can that can beat me at chess or a lighted mirror that looks like a computer monitor (and folds!) but I like living in a world where that's a thing.

Monday, June 29, 2020

A Whole New Monday!

     We might get some storms, but there's a nice sunrise at present.  Yesterday, I finally weeded the patio, and-- 

     Weeded the patio?

     Well, yes.  The previous owner built a nice patio from 1' x 2' concrete blocks.  He probably put down barrier cloth.  Over the years, the ground has shifted and the patio has a series of small waves and one sharp discontinuity.  Most of it is probably from tree roots and with the big hackberry tree gone, I'm planning to try to level the patio this Fall or next Spring.

     With the shifting, the gaps between the blocks have opened up, and in those gaps,weeds and grass had taken root: crabgrass, dandelions, creeping charlie, wild violets and what we always called "burdock" but I just learned isn't.  (Low grouping of semicircular of elliptical leaves, long stems from the center with a fuzzy-looking seed-blob on the end).  There was even moss growing, near the house.  It all had to go.

     A semi-flexible putty knife works well for digging out weeds between blocks and scraping off moss.  It took a couple of hours, but we've got a clear patio again.  And most of the work was sitting down, so it wasn't a bad way to pass part of the afternoon and pick up some vitamin D.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Pork Chops A La Something

     Saturday night, we had a couple of nice sirloins.  It was too stormy for grilling, so they got the cast-iron grill pan.  A nice meal, with corn on the cob and baked potatoes for sides.*

     The steaks were one-step-down from USDA Prime, which is great on the grill.  On the grill pan, I cheated: I have a bag of fresh cherries in the fridge, a little more tart than the label promised.  Still good for snacking, but tart enough that I halved and pitted several, and cooked them atop the steaks, the juice adding a little extra to the flavor and maybe even helping to tenderize.

     Those steaks were really good, tender and flavorful.

     So, with a couple of boneless pork chops for Sunday, I decided to give them a nice marinade with cherries: about a quarter-cup each of balsamic vinegar and soy sauce, with a tablespoon or two (or was it three?) of Worcestershire sauce, a couple of shakes of garlic powder, a teaspoon or so of my Japanese chili powder, and a half-dozen of those cherries, pitted, halved and mashed up a little.

     The pork chops sat in that (in a big zip-lock plastic bag) overnight and all day today, getting turned about halfway through.  As dinnertime approached, I lightly browned them in a little bacon fat, then poured the marinade over.  After it had cooked for several minutes, it seemed kind of strong, but I didn't want to water it down.

     Vegetables to the rescue!  I chopped up a couple of small celery stalk, a couple of fat baby carrots, a large radish and half of a red bell pepper.  I had two fresh mushrooms left, so they got chopped up and joined the pot.  I figured I had done what I could, and if the result was still too strong, it wasn't going to bother the pork chops much.

     I prepped for "popcorn" asparagus, quick-fried in a little olive oil with toasted sesame seeds (better in sesame oil but the shelf life is too short) and found a nice brown rice and quinoa mix to microwave.  Had another look at the chops and -- oh, they smelled wonderful!

     It was a long simmer to get them to 170°F, at which point the vegetables and cherries had cooked down nicely and there was plenty of liquid.  I sneaked a taste and it was even better than I could have hoped!  Served with the veggies over rice, and the broth over that and the meat, it was good enough that Tam went back for seconds of the veggies, rice and broth combo.  The flavor was savory and spicy, with a hint of sweetness.

     Popcorn asparagus is usually the standout of the meal.  This time, it was eclipsed.  Not bad for guessing, if I do say so myself.
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* Even better with a salad, too, but....

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Saturday Morning Omelet

     Rain is bucketing down outside as I write; at the peak of it, thunder was rolling just about continuously.  Instead of my desktop, I'm on the little MacBook Air, running on batteries.  Not for fear of lightning -- for a hit strong enough to do damage, having the machine on or not won't make much of a difference.  Nope, the thing is, I'm not sure how well my desktop machine would survive the kind of brownouts we sometimes get as storms roll through.  The little Mac is a pleasure to use, slightly better than my (gen 1) Surface Pro, and it is floating on its internal batteries.

     Before blogging, I made breakfast.  I bought a new skillet awhile back, a twelve-inch one with a gentle curve from bottom to sides, and it is a real treat for making larger omelets.

     I fried bacon and sliced fresh mushrooms ahead of time, and poured off the skillet grease; with a non-stick pan, whatever small amount remains is plenty.  Put it back on the burner at low heat.

     Start with a half-dozen saltines, well crushed, plus whatever seasonings you like (I used Italian mix and fresh-ground mixed pepper).  Add enough warm water to cover and let it sit until absorbed.  Once it has soaked in, take a look; you want a wet slurry, early liquid.  Add more warm water if needed, then add three large eggs and beat it until uniform and lemony -- usually a little more than seams reasonable.  I use a two-cup glass measuring cup and a large fork for this.  Once it's all mixed, pour it into the warm skillet and give it a minute.  Then slide the skillet back so the burner is centered under the front half of it.

     Now you can scissor up a slice of cheese into small sections, 1/4" square or so -- I used Swiss, covering both halves.  The easy way is to make a series of short parallel cuts along one side, then cut across them right over the pan.  Repeat until done.  Keep an eye on the cheese and the top of the omelet; once the cheese is well-melted, you can add the other ingredients in layers.  I started with diced radish, on both halves, then loaded the back half with mushrooms, crumbled bacon and sliced Castletvetrano olives.

     From here on, it's a game of patience and judgement.  The front half will start to look pretty dry; when it does, sneak in under it with a thin, flexible spatula or omelet turner, and check -- carefully -- if it will lift.  If it lifts cleanly, carefully fold it over the other half, so you end up with a nice D-shaped omelet.  If it starts to come apart liquidly, lower it down and let it cook a little longer.  If it breaks, you waited too long, but you can usually herd the pieces into position.  Slide the pan back to center and use the spatula to pat down the curved edges.  You should be able to chivvy the folded omelet to the center of the pan, too.

     Omelets are not the easiest things to get to turn out pretty.  Don't worry about it -- the ugly ones taste just as good and with every one, you develop more of a feel for getting then to behave.

     It will want a few minutes to get the down side fully cooked; after a couple of minutes, you should be able to roll it over on the fold to check for done-ness.  You don't want the inside to be wet; past that, it's matter of taste: how done do you like your eggs?

     I like them pretty well done, but not crunchy.  This omelet turned out great; Tam had her portion with Cholula sauce, while I put more diced radish and black pepper on mine.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Friday Off

     It was a scheduled holiday, moved a little to fit when things needed to get done.  I woke up, made a nice breakfast (corned beef hash and eggs) -- and went back to bed!

     I was just that tired.  Yesterday was stressful; after the crew left, I treated myself to a fancy-burger lunch from Five Guys.  Drove to pick it up and the place was a nail salon!  I'd only glanced at the map.  Yikes!  A quick phone call later, I learned they had moved about a half-mile down the road, into what once was a Japanese steak joint.  All part of the great circle of meat, or something.  Kind of an adrenaline hit; if they'd been much farther away, I would have just donated the lunch to whoever in the place wanted it.

     Drove back to work, ate, zoned out a little and then got so into what I was doing that the time got away from me.  Despite starting several hours early, I kept at it until my usual quitting time.   At least I got a lot done.

     It doesn't come without a price.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Long Day Thursday

     I'll backdate this.  Thursday was a long day, and my first working more-or-less around people since all this stuff started. 

     We had a tower crew and a tenant's technician at the North Campus for most of yesterday, making some minor but much-needed changes in their setup.

     They were about as good at pandemic prevention measures as you might expect -- averaging a little short of my employer's mandatory requirements, but a good-faith effort from all but one.

     There's always one.  No Mask: "I forgot."  In and out of the building without checking in, using the washroom without notice before or after (we're supposed to wipe everything down with a sanitizer after use, either a commercial product or denatured alcohol) but at least keeping his distance.  Yeah, look, I get it; I grew up in the pre-pandemic world too.  I'd go back in a flash if I could, but wishing will not make it so.  Adjust to how things are now and get through it, so we can eventually get back to normal.

     Aside from such wide considerations, it's my employer's bat, ball and ballpark.  They get to make the rules.  You don't like those rules?  There's the door.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Tuesday, Pasta

     There was a pound of ground sirloin in the fridge that needed eating, and a jar of Michael's of Brooklyn "home style gravy" on the shelf.

     Presumably, that's what his grandmother called it.  Out here in flyover country (unless your grandparents hearken from the regions where they invented the stuff and darned well know their own gravy when they see it), we call it pasta sauce -- and a darned good version, too.  In single-jar lots, it is neither the most nor least expensive on the shelf at our corner market, but it's worlds above the usual  thing.  It is just one of their varieties -- I have been nerving myself up to try the hotter Arrabbiata style.

     Of course, I can't leave well enough alone, so in short order, I diced half an onion and a stalk of celery, sliced up a few big mushrooms and added some shishito peppers* cut into rounds to the drained, mostly-done beef, then poured the sauce over and let it all get better acquainted.

     It turned out to want a little salt, and why use the shaker when there's a jar of Castelvetrano olives in the fridge?  I sliced up several and added them, and we had more on the side at dinner, essentially as a condiment.

     There was half a box of rigatoni to use up, too.  It takes a little longer to cook than most pasta but paired well with the thick sauce.
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* Shishito peppers are sold in a big bag.  When I buy them, they show up in dinner for several days.  They get along well in many dishes.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Grilled Cheese And Tomato Soup

     But not merely grilled cheese and tomato soup, oh no.  Grilled Swiss on whole wheat, with a layer of sliced shishito peppers in the middle and cream of tomato soup with chopped, sauteed celery for a garnish.

     Next time, I might give the pepper slices a quick tour of the hot frying pan before layering them into the sandwiches, just to wake them up a little more.  Tam would like hotter peppers.  And I'd like to try it with Manchego cheese.  But it was darned good and quick to make.