Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Writing

     Spent the morning working on a new story, trying to get the general idea on paper.  I have several in the works, but this one is something I'd been toying with and it took form.  The recent extrasolar visitor 'Oumuamua is far too good a fit to Far Edge reconnaissance patrols to pass up -- but it's too slow, tumbling, and years late.  What could have happened?

     That, you see, is a story.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Eclipse And Chill

     It's not going replace video-streaming-service and chill, but last night's eclipse probably would have gotten good Neilsen numbers, if the ratings service kept track of natural phenomena.

     Last night I napped a bit, then added a thick robe and sandals to my socks and sweatpants and Winter nightgown to go looking for the Moon, peering out windows until I realized a total eclipse was going to be pretty much overhead.  I stepped outside -- into air about nine degrees above zero -- and discovered high, thin clouds were making a rainbow ring around the moon, which was already showing an edge of the Earth's shadow.  I took a deep breath and realized I wasn't going to be able to stand outside long.  The cold air was overwhelming!

     The soles of thick sandals make good insulation and my toes didn't feel too cold.  Multiple warm layers kept my core comfortable but fingers and ears and the tip of my nose were well-chilled in only a few minutes looking.  I watched the rest of the eclipse on a handheld, warm in my bed.

     This morning, the air was clear and the Moon was exceptionally bright.  Temperatures are below zero at the official measuring points.  In town it may be above zero, but only barely.  

Sunday, January 20, 2019

...Then They Came For The Coffee.

      Look, when it was just snail darters and polar bears, I worried, but not so much.  But now they're warning that wild coffee may be in trouble, and that's a whole different thing.

     We don't so much drink the wild stuff, and it's not quite as bad a dead-end as the banana,* but there are only two main branches of the coffee family we drink; all of the lovely different kinds are just little variations on one or the other, grown in different soils and conditions, roasted differently and occasionally specially sorted (Tanzanian peaberry) or passed through a civet cat (no, really).  The wild relatives are used to breed in resistance to disease or pests, or to get a different flavor.  The seeds don't store well, so you need places where the stuff grows wild.
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* There have only been two varieties of dessert banana sold in the U.S. and each one was essentially a cloned plant.  The Gros Michel was gone by the end of the 1950s, all but eliminated by Panama disease.  It was replaced by the Cavendish and if you're under 50 years old and haven't traveled, Cavendish may be the only dessert banana you have ever tasted.  Panama disease is going after Cavendish bananas now; there's a disease-resistance Gros Michel under development but you might bear in mind that the old song, "Yes, We Have No Bananas" refers to some of the earliest banana crop shortfalls in the 1920s -- and, perhaps, to the power of positive thinking!

Saturday, January 19, 2019

A Little Dinner

     It's actually leftovers from last night.  A good meal for a cold evening: temperatures are in the twenties now and predicted to reach single digits overnight.


     Ingredients include kielbasa, a pound and a half of on-sale New York Strip steak cut up (it was considerably cheaper than their steak tips and they were out of stew beef), fennel bulb, onion, carrot, a few Brussels sprouts (quartered)* and diced giant Portobello mushroom caps. Once that was cooked enough to suit me, I added some beef stock and fire-roasted crushed tomatoes...which were kind of overpowering, so I put in a little more stock, a handful of raisins for sweet and sliced black olives for salt.
 

     It was pretty good last night but it still needed...something. So tonight, I added a can of black-eyed peas, basil, and celery flakes with a dash of Per-Peri sauce and that did the trick!

     I was especially happy with the kielbasa's contribution; it was just one sausage squeezed out of the casing but it smelled heavenly as it cooked down and added to the broth.

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* A little bit of cabbage improves the broth, but you have to buy a whole cabbage.  Brussels sprouts are at least as good, and you can use them a few at a time.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Breakfast Omelette

     I brought home cooked chicken breasts from the deli for dinner last night.  Tam didn't want any; her cat Rannie Wu had been unwell and they'd spent much of the afternoon at the vet.

     Rannie is better, but worry ruins Tamara's appetite.  That meant there was left-over chicken, with a half-life measured in days (and not many of them).

     So -- why not a "Simon and Gafunkel" omelette?

     Why not!  Leftover chicken, cubed and fried in bacon grease with a little Peri-Peri sauce, Colby Jack cheese, black olives and a few garlic-pickled mushrooms and red peppers.  I put a little parsley and a few crushed corn chips dissolved in water in the eggs,the first for flavor and the second to help them hold together.

     But why is it a "Simon and Garfunkel" omelette?  Here's why!

     The song was named for a chicken-and-egg dish Paul Simon saw on the menu in a Chinese restaurant.The equation's reversible, right?

Thursday, January 17, 2019

There's Still Plenty Left

     Sweet orange marmalade* on toast: good.

     Sweet orange marmalade in oatmeal: not bad, don't know if I would try again.

     Sweet orange marmalade and peanut butter sandwiches?  So much better than grape jelly!  It surprised me.  It's a real treat.

     I bought a jar of orange marmalade on a whim, week before last.  The store was out of rye bread and if I'm going to have to eat white bread,† I'm going to have something to put on it.
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* Traditionally, marmalade should have a bitter component from the acid in the citrus juice that helps it set.  The Smucker's orange marmalade of my youth -- and occasionally, adulthood -- is made to be sweeter and less bitter.  I'll buy Dundee or another traditional type occasionally, too, but for "comfort food," the sweeter version wins.

† Mass-produced white bread is much too cake-like for me.  The "hearty" versions toast up all right, with Pepperidge Farm "Farmhouse White" and "Italian" among the best.  Most store-baked white bread is okay, but shelf-life is short and having to slice it is unhandy.  Home-made bread?  It usually gets eaten within a couple of hours of baking!

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Federal Shutdown: Day 25

     The streets are strewn with wrecked, burned-out cars and the gnawed remains of the dead.  A cold wind howls down from the north, seeking the gap at the collar of my coat like an arrow to the heart. It is a half-hour before dawn, with the only light a faint, bluish skyglow and the flickering of candles down the block -- or perhaps larger fires, farther away.  A coyote howls and another. closer, answers.

     I can't let it frighten me.  With a prybar, rubber tubing and gas can, I hope to siphon enough gasoline from the wrecks to get to work, if there's anything left downtown.  A dozen hours ago, the generator was running and my co-workers were patrolling the fences, a block-sized island of order in a world gone mad....

     Except, of course, that hasn't happened.  I won't kid you: the news isn't great and the dim light of Caesarism flickers over the horizon like heat lightning.  This is good or bad, depending on your choice of pundits, and a cunning plan or the surprise outcome of mutual intransigence, also pundit-dependent.  Me, I don't know; all I know is that the rough beast slouches on towards our modern Babylon, with no recognizable face save that of Everyman.  Tick-tock!

     Tick-tock.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Good Morning, Readers

     I'm drawing a blank.  The current Congress is a nearly-endless source of amusement -- but it's as funny as riding in a bus going over a cliff.  You can laugh all the way down, but it's still going to hit.

     On the other hand, how hard is it going to hit, and what is at the bottom?  The Federal government has been shut down* for over three weeks and yet civilization has not fallen.  Who possibly could have predicted it?
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* N.B., a "shut down" fed.gov still seems to be operating at a level that George Washington or Calvin Coolidge might have recognized as a functioning Federal government.  It's not like Congress has gone home and there's a stack of sign-in sheets at the abandoned border crossings.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Oxtail And Root Vegetable Stew

     It's seriously and officially Winter in Indianapolis.  That means it's time for slow-simmered stew!  Sunday, Tam braved the elements, with a promise to bring home "stew fixings."  I didn't press for details -- it's more interesting that way.

     She returned with a half-pound of Italian sausage, a pound each of steak tips and oxtail, a huge rutabaga, several turnips, a bag of carrots, a whole fennel,* a couple of onions, sliced shiitake mushrooms and a big carton of crushed tomatoes.†

     So, here's the procedure for turning all of that into supper:
     Set the meat out before you start cooking; put salt and pepper on the steak tips (or stew meat) and oxtails and let 'em get less cold.

      I started by cooking the half-pound of (loose) sausage with a little Italian spice mix and fresh-ground mixed pepper while I peeled and cut up the rutabaga, which was huge. As I cut it into 1/2" cubes, I put them in a bowl and sprinkled a little ground chipotle and sea salt with garlic on each layer. Don't go overboard!

     The sausage is cooked like ground beef for sloppy joes, you just keep breaking it up, When the sausage was cooked, I removed to a bowl it with a slotted spoon, covered it and set it at an angle. So there's grease in the pan; the rutabaga goes in, maybe with a little sesame oil for smokiness. You'll get some more grease from the sausage after a few minutes, just pour it over the veggies. Cover and make sure the heat's not too high. (Once you get the last of the grease from the sausage, set the meat somewhere to keep warm.)

     As the rutabaga cooks (and the more you cook it, the better), peel the turnip and cube it, then add it to the pot and stir everything around. After it has cooked down some, you can add a little water (and deglaze, the spatula is your friend and that goodness needs to get cooked into the vegetables), but not enough to cover. Then cut up the carrots, 1/2" cubes, and add them. You're sauteing all this as you go. The photo shows this point in the process.

      (About here is where I should have put in the oxtails, salted and peppered, but I hadn't noticed them. Get them well-browned on all sides. I added them with the steak tips and it went fine.)

      Wash and cut up the fennel bulb -- a little bigger then 1/2 cubes, since the layers will fall apart. You can wash some of the feathery bits and add them in small clumps, if you'd like.

      Dice the onion and add it, too -- I put 3/4 of it in now and saved some back, on a whim.

      Add the mushrooms right after the onion. Follow package directions. Most of them need to be rinsed off. Chop them up if needed.

     Cook all that down, while cutting up the green and red bell pepper. Use something with heat here if you would prefer. They go in last. Peppers are kind of delicate and shouldn't be overcooked.

     Add the stew beef (half pound to a pound) and brown it. Once it's well-browned, add the sausage back in and some beef broth (I use Better Than Bullion, which is not cheap but worth the price. A little dab dissolved in boiling water will do you, read the directions); deglaze, get it simmering, add the tomatoes and then cover. (My biggest stewpot and one of the saucepans have clear covers. Handy as can be for keeping an eye on the food.)

      You might want to grab out the biggest oxtail right before you add the tomatoes. Haul it out and set in on the cutting board and let it cool a little. The go after it with a small, sharp knife and pointy kitchen shears, removing meat and discarding fat and small bits of gristle. Toss the meat in, and put the bone back in once you have it as picked clean as you can manage. Don't worry if you missed some. Fish out another section of oxtail -- Tam bought three good-sized ones -- let it cool enough to handle, and give it the same treatment. You will probably do this at least twice for each section. Keep returning the bones to the pot: there's all manner of good stuff in there that you want cooked into the stew.

      It's done when the rutabaga and turnip is soft and the oxtail bones are as clear of meat as you can get them.

      This will easily serve six. Or two people for several days. It generally gets better after a day in the fridge and reheating -- and leave those oxtail bones in if you can!

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* Not everyone is familiar with this.  It's kind of like celery, turned way, way up.  Stalks with feathery green leafy parts emerge from a large bulb.  The taste is distantly root beer-like but not overpowering, and works way better in savory dishes than you might expect..  As far as I know, the whole thing is edible, though people generally use the bulb and feathery parts.

† Our favorite brand recently stopped using cans in favor of lined cardboard boxes.  I was doubtful, but it's fine.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Snow Total

     The official total is nearly seven inches.  My back yard varies but the average is about six.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Snow Day!

     It's snowing.  It's been snowing.  My Bobbiometer snow gauge (which readers will recall measures snow depth in inches and "kiloPascals," only the latter not really) reads two and a half inches on the ground and lots more on the way.

     Our plans today include not going anywhere.  There's a gun show in town, but it runs through Sunday.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Eggs Pomodoro Rides Again!

     Now there's a pulp story you'd not forget!

     But what it was last night was dinner.  I like Eggs Pomodoro, especially when the weather is cold.  It's a tasty, hot, filling meal that doesn't take a lot of effort to cook;

     Start with the base -- here, Italian sausage, fresh mushrooms, sliced fresh cherry tomatoes, onion and ha;f a green bell pepper.  The sausage and green pepper each got a little chipotle powder.  The sausage went in first and I drained the fat immediately after adding the mushrooms.

     When that's done, pour good pasta sauce over it and stir; I found a nice imported tomato/basil version marked "no sugar added."

     Once that's bubbling, add the eggs and cover until they're done enough to suit you.  Tam didn't want any, so I kept them to one side.

    We devoured our dinner, so no photo of the plated version.  But there is this:
     Leftover sauce can come back as omelette filling the next morning.  It's as good in eggs are eggs are in it!