A Straight Shot of Politics

A blog from a gentleman of the Liberal political persuasion dedicated to right reason, clear thinking, cogent argument, and the public good.

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Location: Columbus, Ohio, United States

I have returned from darkness and quiet. I used to style myself as "Joe Claus", Santa Claus’ younger brother because that is what I still look like. I wrote my heart out about liberal politics until June of 2006, when all that could be said had been said. I wrote until I could write no more and I wrote what I best liked to read when I was young and hopeful: the short familiar essays in Engish and American periodicals of 50 to 100 years ago. The archetype of them were those of G.K. Chesterton, written in newspapers and gathered into numerous small books. I am ready to write them again. I am ready to write about life as seen by the impoverished, by the mentally ill, by the thirty years and more of American Buddhist converts, and by the sharp eyed people [so few now in number] with the watcher's disease, the people who watch and watch and watch. I am all of these.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Cooking In Self-Defense

To cook is to learn about one half of human life, to use handtools (and weapons) is to learn about the other. Back in the dark, pre-feminist, ages, when I was young, public schools taught the first to girls and the second to boys, leaving each of the genders clueless about half of the things going on in their lives.

The social and economic pressures since have largely, I think, forced "shop" and "home economics" (the names sounded goofy even back then) off of the educational radar, resulting in at least some people who are clueless about most everything except how to take standardized tests, and that not very well.

Using tools teaches you that some processes in life are absolutely linear: A + B + C = D. Cooking teaches you that some processes in life are non-linear: the whole does not equal the sum of the parts. You are prone to major mistakes in any walk of life if you do not understand both these lessons.

I did not learn to cook until I was in my middle twenties. I had preceded this with a deliberate campaign, as soon as I left my parents' home, to both expand my taste in dishes, and to obliterate strong food prejudices. Such prejudices, like the ones I had developed against beets and liver from baby food forward, stuck me as a silly refusal to seek new pleasures merely because they were strong and unfamiliar.

I was taught to cook in graduate school by a male roommate in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He was Irish/Italian from Long Island and his Irish mother, unlike mine, had not chronically chased him out of the kitchen when he was curious about what she was doing there. Because we were both in the same graduate program, as artists with large materials expenses, and living on a shoestring, we had to cook the cheapest dishes possible, which means we taught ourselves the Northern New Mexico style of Mexican-American cooking.

Suffice it to say that I knew about tortillas, salsa, enchiladas, and burritos far earlier than almost anyone else east of the Mississippi River. I also knew about dishes that still have not penetrated the general culture of both "Mexican" (run by Anglos) and Mexican (run by Mexicans) restaurants: Carne Adovada (the best New Mexican dish and the simplest), Green Chile Stew, and Mixed Meat Red Chili (Lamb and Pork) garnished with olives.

Since I have your undivided attention, I will append the first recipe:

New Mexico Carne Adovada:

Pork, cut in one inch chunks
--The chewier pieces do better, pork shoulder is fine.

Ground chile molido
--This is ground red chile powder with no other added spices--take the time to seek this out in a specialty grocery and, if possible, obtain the brands from Chimayo, New Mexico--they are well worth it. I suggest "medium" if you are inured to chile heat, it has by far the better aromatic flavors than the "mild" or the "hot".

Minced garlic
--Use fresh cloves if you have the time, but jar garlic is perfectly suitable.

--1/4 level tsp per pound of pork

Mix ingredients, except the pork, with warm water to form a thick paste. Add pork and stir thoroughly. Refrigerate 24 hours. Cook as slowly as possible, a crock pot is excellent. Failing that, heat to a boil on the stove, then cook at a very slow simmer 2-4 hours. Serve with warmed and buttered flour tortillas, milk or chilled lager beer, tostadas and salsa. Carne Adovada also makes an excellent burrito filling.

The crock pot. That and the microwave oven are the backbone of defensive cooking, which is not cooking for pleasure and recreation, but, rather, a time efficient means to sustain eating for pleasure and recreation, particularly in terms of minimum prep and clean-up. In defensive cooking, one complements the other. The substitute for the crock pot, if you have the time to tend it, is the regular oven. The stove top is not completely useless, but its best application is in the making of Plannedovers, or dishes deliberately made in large quantities, either to be reheated or enjoyed without cooking.

Always use a crockpot with a removable crock. For safety's sake, since you don't want to ever make the Mexican dish known as the turistas or Montezuma's Revenge, always pre-heat the crockpot, microwave any slow cooked dish to germ killing temperature in the removable crock, and then return it to the heating pot. Depending on your oven and your crock, somewhere between 5 and 8 minutes on High setting should do this. A rough indicator of the proper time is when you can vividly smell the dish cooking while it is still turning in the microwave.

The microwave is an amazing tool in its own right, bringing the simplest of ethnic based dishes to fruition in a matter of minutes, such as Tibetan oatmeal. This dish is derived from the staple of Tibet known as tsampa, or roasted barley flour. Since my Tibetan friends tell me that any genuine barley flour you find in American health food stores is usually well past its peak of freshness, I have adapted the traditional Tibetan tsampa porridge for quick oats in the microwave:

Tibetan Oatmeal

1/2 cup Quick Oats

1/4 cup raisins

1 TBS salt-free butter

1/2 tsp salt

1 black tea bag

1 cup water

Place all ingredients except water and tea in a serving bowl. Heat water to tea brewing temperature in microwave, + or - 2 minutes on High. Brew tea in water 2-3 minutes, then pour tea into the serving bowl over the pat of butter. Stir until the butter is completely melted and the oats are soft. Enjoy. A dish like this, of course, offers many avenues for adaptation: dried apricots or apples, almonds, a little cinnamon or a very light touch of ground cloves or anise, ect.

The crockpot is essentially a small, slow oven, whose best use is either in the cooking of stews or in the roasting and braising of meats a blanc, or without browning. Carne adovada is the archetype of this process. To abandon browning gives up two things, a crisp outer texture and a degree of inner juiciness--if you want these in your meat, use the regular broiler or oven. A tip: larger roasts done in the oven can frequently profit by an initial 20 minutes of an oven pre-heated to a high temperature, around 475F, followed by longer time in a cooler and slower oven, about 325F with doneness assessed with a good meat thermometer. This procedure seals in meat juices.

Conversely, do not cook the leanest cuts a blanc in the crockpot, you will dry them out. A cheaper cut, pork shoulder or beef chuck, will serve you better. For defensive purposes, I buy larger roasts of such cuts at a discount and cut them myself at home to crock pot size pieces, essentially small roasts.

Slow braising a blanc requires interesting liquids which will complement the flavor of the meat and stand alone as a broth with the meat juices in them. Twenty years of exploring various cuisines on the business end have taught me some novel tricks. For example, meat likes to be cooked with fruit--particularly pork, lamb, and veal. Pork and canned tart cherries, lamb and dried apricots, veal and pears are some of my favorites.

Soy sauce and salsa combinations do well with chicken pieces, particularly chicken dark meat, and a can of sliced okra can be added to this at the end for a wonderful gumbo texture. Make lots of this liquid, for the leftover, with 1/4 tsp File powder (dried sassafras), makes a wonderful stew base for catfish nuggets or mock crab.

All of the above also have the added advantage of satisfying our various official dietary nannies about eating fruits and vegetables.

Lamb and beef go well with a braise of canned German potato salad, pork with turnip or collard greens, veal with any dairy product (you will find out first hand why the Levitican dietary laws prohibited seething a kid in its mothers milk--it is deliciously pagan and sinful when it graces your table), and any form of smoked or spiced pork with pre-cooked white beans and 1/2 cup of apple cider vinegar.

And, of course, if you have time, you can always brown the meat. A quick and useful way to do this with crockpot sized pieces of about 1/3 lb. is with an electric, George Foreman style, grill. You can also grill good steaks in this, of course, and succulent salmon pieces, but if you are savvy enough to cut beef round roast into 1/3 lb. chunks, with the muscle grain running the length, broiling them medium rare on the four length sides will give you exquisite slices of London Broil, crossways cut for serving.

Try this combination for grilling any beef or lamb: light salt, freshly ground black pepper, minced garlic, Worcestershire sauce, and lime juice.

Often the simplest way to cook defensively is not to cook at all. Frozen vegetables , for example, have already been blanched and are at their nutritional peak right out of the package. Further cooking, or even re-heating, degrades their nutrition to some degree. Many such vegetables are splendid served at room temperature, either alone or with a simple dipping sauce: drawn butter, olive oil & rosemary, rice vinegar with your favorite herbs, sour cream, or a good bottled salad dressing. My favorite vegetable for this treatment is sugar snap peas.

Moreover, even the stronger flavored green vegetables lend themselves to refrigerator pickling (a la Kim Chee) such as the following recipe:

Chick Pea & Brussel Sprout Pickle

2 small packages of frozen Brussel Sprouts

1 16 oz. can of chickpeas

Blended spices
--my favorite is Original Mrs. Dash's

Freshly ground black pepper

1 cup Rice Vinegar

Layer the sprouts in a flat-bottomed sealable container. Scatter some chickpeas between each layer. Sprinkle top liberally with the spice blend and pepper. Drizzle vinegar over the top. Seal container and invert it a couple of times to soak the sprouts and spread the spices.

This pickle develops its flavor over one or two days and its worth waiting this out before serving. It will keep a week, with occasional turning, in the refrigerator.

Finally there is the ultimate in defensive cooking, Black Bean, Hominy, and Salsa Salad. You can serve it as a cold salad; spread it over a layer of tortilla chips, garnish it with shredded cheese or guacomole or sour cream, and serve it as Killer Black Bean Nachos; you can use it to braise pork as Spicy Black Bean Pork; and you can dilute it with tomato juice, a touch of lime juice, 1/2 tsp or less minced garlic, and some minced fresh cilantro for Chilled Black Bean Gaspacho, garnished with a dollop of sour cream.

Black Bean, Hominy, and Salsa Salad

1 28 oz. can La Preferida Black Beans (this brand is superior and worth seeking)

1 16 oz. can Golden Hominy (you can substitute white hominy or even sweet corn)

1 16 oz. jar medium Picante Sauce

Mix the ingredients and chill.

Bon Appetit!


Blogger TallDave said...

Hey, I saw your post on Belmont Club, but couldn't comment there.

Just wanted to say: yeah, war is hell, but tyranny is hell with the purpose of perpetuating hell on Earth forever. It's sad that your dad has nightmares, but the postwar Vietnamese lived the nightmare of mass executions, forced starvations, and Orwellian "re-education" camps.

War for democracy and freedom is always justified.

11:01 AM  
Blogger TallDave said...

I see your father's war was WW II; At first glance I assumed you were misspelling Saigon.

But still, the point remains: there are worse things than war.

Have you ever seen the satellite view of the Korean peninsula at night? You can practically draw a line across the border, because in N Korea there are no lights, no energy, no freedom, no food, no hope.

GDP per capita in S Korea is around $17,000. That's not rich; it's about $8.50 an hour working 40 hrs a week, but it's a living. GDP per capita in N Korea is around $1,500. That's life on the edge of starvation, with death's grin so close you feel his breath on your neck every day -- and 2 million have felt his bite as well.

When did liberals stop believing in liberty? You think we pro-war neocons don't understand the human cost of war, but I say you don't understand the human cost of not liberating the oppressed.

11:25 AM  
Blogger Joseph Marshall said...

Well, if you insist on leaving this on a purely recreational post, I suppose I'll have to reply here.

My point was about the dissing of the AP for its photo coverage and not about what wars we should or shouldn't fight. Fighting is sometimes necessary in a hard world. But no one should ever try to hide from the human cost.

Malkin, Wretchard, and their ilk are trying to do exactly that.

They want the nice, sanitized, television war where the "shock and awe" bombs are no more dangerous than Fourth of July fireworks. Where Marines "kick butt" just like football players rather than kill men like soldiers and leave them where they fall. And where a battle is no more than a pin on a map.

I'm from Ohio, just like General Sherman, who knew perfectly well what he was doing to Georgia in 1864 and didn't hide from its implications.

5:13 AM  
Blogger TallDave said...

Interesting. Well, what about over-representing the cost of war while ignoring the costs of not going to war? The AP and their ilk are doing exactly that. Did you see any pictures of Iraqis maimed by Saddam? Where was the endless coverage of Abu Ghraib when far worse things were happening there under Saddam?

For a variety of self-serving reasons (such as access and personal beliefs), Western media tends to present the nice, sanitized version of tyranny, under which we hear ridiculous propaganda like what a great health care system Cuba has, that the Arabs don't really want freedom or democracy because they have a "different culture," and Soviet Communism is "economic freedom" which is equal to or better than our "political freedom."

Killing is always unfortunate, but there's nothing wrong with cheering on our soldiers in an ugly but moral task.

I actually just finished one of Victor Hanson's books which has an extensive section on Sherman. Sherman uniquely among Union generals seems to have recoiled from open combat between fixed armies, not merely because of its horror but equally from its ultimate ineffectuality. By instead ignoring all advice from contemporaries and boldly marching through the South freeing slaves and destroying Southern infrastructure, he saved tens of thousands of lives and ended the war years sooner. Despite the fact his actions saved huge number of lives at the expense of property, Sherman is by far the most reviled of all Civil War generals. Certainly Sherman knew what he was doing, but I wonder whether you understand what Sherman was doing.

The Civil War analogy raises another interesting point as well: 400,000 Americans died in that war, a war which few would question the morality of today since it freed 5 million blacks from slavery (though many Union soldiers themselves did so question, and many resented blacks as the cause of the war for the rest of their lives). 1,500 Americans have now died in a war to free 25 million Iraqis from bondage to a mad dictator, and we are told we need to be more aware of the human cost.

11:04 AM  
Blogger Joseph Marshall said...

The cost of war is a fact. The necessity for a war is an opinion. Our conventions of journalism require that the latter be confined to the editorial page, where, if you look closely, you will find plenty of support (though not, of course, unanimous support, as some demand) for the view that the Iraq war was necessary and justified.

Do jounalists and media outlets always live up to that convention? Certainly not.
But the mere fact that we have such a convention at all is something that makes our journalism unique in the world.

The very vocal domestic critics of our journalism often have even less capacity to distinguish between fact and opinion than any errant journalist.

The photographs are facts and need to be taken so. And the Pulitzer Prize for hard news photographs is about the quality of the collection of the facts.

They could actually be used as fact by anyone of any opinion about the Iraq war. What I find troubling is the clear indication that folks like Malkin and Wretchard refuse to face them as facts, merely because they find them distasteful, and cannot tell the difference between their own private distaste and the foolish notion that no one should make of print such photgraphs because they don't "support" the opinion they believe everyone else should hold.

12:56 PM  
Blogger TallDave said...

The cost of war is a fact. The necessity for a war is an opinion.
The cost of not going to war is also a fact, and the lack of necessity equally an opinion.

Opinions are not confined to the editorial page. They are present in every decision about what to present and how to present it. Whether those opinions show up in stated or unstated form is a meaningless distinction. And in the media, those opinions are overwhelmingly anti-war and left-of-center as demonstrated by numerous polls of the media. Journalists' personal views will inevitably color their covergae; pretending that's not the case will not solve the problem but instead merely erodes their credibility.

Inevitably, decentralized media means these slants (left or right)are increasingly coming to light, with the result being a welcome resumption of a Socratic style of journalism, in which competing viewpoints vie to convince people rather than doling out unquestionable Truth From On High.

4:37 PM  
Blogger TallDave said...

Malkin and Wretchard object to the fact the supposedly objective pictures take an anti-war slant. If they're going to be anti-war or anti-Republican, they have every right to do so, but they should be honest about it rather than pretending that "the cost of war" is objectively some great overarching story that needs to be told while the benefits of the war (like the elections) and the bravery of US soldiers objectively are not.

To elucidate, were you as a newspaper to publish only the photos of African-American criminals and never of white criminals despite equal numbers being available, you would be guilty of inserting a racist opinion into your coverage whether you explicitly made any anti-black statements or not. Black crime is a fact, but so is white crime. Neither is an opinion. How you choose to cover them, however, obviously can be.

4:52 PM  
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