Wednesday, February 23, 2011

World Coming Down

Here in Wisconsin, the Cons in control have rather overplayed their hand. I'm proud of the Dems there who left the state to deny a quorum, and incredibly proud of the tens of thousands of citizens who continue to protest. It's not just about the unions, either - if you read that noxious budget, you'll find plenty of gems like Walker & the Cons' plans to sell off the state one piece at a time to corporations. Keep this in mind as you watch Cons in other states rush to follow suit. If you were one of those who fell for the "where are the jobs?" schtick, I hope you feel a proper fool just now. The Cons are never about the jobs. They're about theocracy and oligarchy, and they're about breaking the backs of the common folk.

Unfortunately for them, they've chosen this moment in time to step on ordinary people. It might have gone more smoothly for them if, at this very moment, the entire Middle East hadn't flared up, with citizens pouring into the streets to topple dictator after dictator, no matter the personal cost. After Egypt, ordinary folk aren't quite as willing to abide quietly under the heels of their masters. I hate to tell the Cons this, but as complacent and submissive, as easily distracted by shiny things, as Americans can be, I don't think this is a good time to be trampling all over women, workers, science, and - well, everybody except for their corporate masters and religious right ringleaders. Libyans are still out there demanding regime change after getting slaughtered. Something tells me Americans might be a little more willing to risk a bit of inconvenience to prevent the GOP from decimating the country, considering nothing they do to us could be quite as bad. We'd be fools just to meekly accept their shit.

What I'm saying is: have your sleeping bags ready and sign-making materials to hand, my fellow Americans, because the time is coming soon when we, like our mates in Wisconsin, may find it necessary to camp out at capitols in order to make our wishes clear. Surely we can manage that much.

What's happening in Libya is horrific. The government there has turned its weapons of war on its own people. I'm hoping the UN and the US government will get off their asses and put a stop to it, because there are people getting blown to bits out there. I clicked on a link to a photo today and saw the results of a despot desperate to stay in power: bodies cut in half. Do not click this link if you can't stand the sight of blood, because the people in this photo were butchered. I almost wish I hadn't seen it. But you know what? I needed to. It gave me perspective on many things. It showed me the violence our country hasn't even attempted to stop, and it told me just how fantastically brave these people are, that they'd risk this to demonstrate for their freedom. It showed me how much freedom is worth. And it showed me that we've got a ways to go before it gets this bad here, but more importantly, that we need to ensure it never does.

Those folks in the Middle East going out right now to put an end to too many years of autocrats and dictators, those folks who are finding the power of peaceful protest, who are taking their destinies in their hands not with terrorism, but with courage, are so incredible. I don't know what future they'll build, but at least they've got the strength to build it for themselves. I hope all of them succeed. I'm in awe of them.

So there's the political world, all shaken up and in places toppling over, sometimes inspiring and sometimes horrific. But that's not the only news that's crossed my Twitter feed and left me reeling. There's also Christchurch, New Zealand, which got hit nearly dead-on with an earthquake. Buildings are down, people dead, and it's a reminder that we are not as much in control of the world as we might like to believe. Two earthquakes there in less than twelve months - and likely aftershocks to come. I know they're strong folk and that they'll manage to rebuild, but I feel for them. It's not easy, living at a plate boundary. Days like this are tragic.

Really does seem like the world's coming down. I just hope a better one rises up.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Joe Republican

Joe gets up at 6 a.m. and fills his coffeepot with water to prepare his morning coffee. The water is clean and good because some tree-hugging liberal fought for minimum water-quality standards. With his first swallow of water, he takes his daily medication. His medications are safe to take because some stupid commie liberal fought to ensure their safety and that they work as advertised. All but $10 of his medications are paid for by his employer's medical plan because some liberal union workers fought their employers for paid medical insurance - now Joe gets it too. He prepares his morning breakfast, bacon and eggs. Joe's bacon is safe to eat because some girly-man liberal fought for laws to regulate the meat packing industry. In the morning shower, Joe reaches for his shampoo. His bottle is properly labeled with each ingredient and its amount in the total contents because some crybaby liberal fought for his right to know what he was putting on his body and how much it contained.

Joe dresses, walks outside and takes a deep breath. The air he breathes is clean because some environmentalist wacko liberal fought for the laws to stop industries from polluting our air. He walks to the subway station for his government-subsidized ride to work. It saves him considerable money in parking and transportation fees because some fancy-pants liberal fought for affordable public transportation, which gives everyone the opportunity to be a contributor.

Joe begins his work day. He has a good job with excellent pay, medical benefits, retirement, paid holidays and vacation because some lazy liberal union members fought and died for these working standards. Joe's employer pays these standards because Joe's employer doesn't want his employees to call the union. If Joe is hurt on the job or becomes unemployed, he'll get a worker compensation or unemployment check because some stupid liberal didn't think he should lose his home because of his temporary misfortune.

It's noontime and Joe needs to make a bank deposit so he can pay some bills. Joe's deposit is federally insured by the FDIC because some godless liberal wanted to protect Joe's money from unscrupulous bankers who ruined the banking system before the Great Depression. Joe has to pay his Fannie Mae-underwritten mortgage and his below-market federal student loan because some elitist liberal decided that Joe and the government would be better off if he was educated and earned more money over his lifetime. Joe is home from work.

He plans to visit his father this evening at his farm home in the country. He gets in his car for the drive. His car is among the safest in the world because some America-hating liberal fought for car safety standards. He arrives at his boyhood home. His was the third generation to live in the house financed by Farmers' Home Administration because bankers didn't want to make rural loans. The house didn't have electricity until some big-government liberal stuck his nose where it didn't belong and demanded rural electrification.

He is happy to see his father, who is now retired. His father lives on Social Security and a union pension because some wine-drinking, cheese-eating liberal made sure he could take care of himself so Joe wouldn't have to.

Joe gets back in his car for the ride home, and turns on a radio talk show. The radio host keeps saying that liberals are bad and conservatives are good. He doesn't mention that the beloved Republicans have fought against every protection and benefit Joe enjoys throughout his day. Joe agrees: "We don't need those big-government liberals ruining our lives! After all, I'm a self-made man who believes everyone should take care of themselves, just like I have."

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Pico de Gallo and Guacamole - YUM!


This isn’t a meal, but it’s yummy. Oh, I absolutely love Pico de Gallo—the freshness of tomatoes, the clean flavor of cilantro, the cool, crisp wonderfulness of it all.

I’ve always had trouble making Pico de Gallo. For the longest time I mistakenly assumed that tomatoes were its chief ingredient, and the rest of the elements were just there for subtle flavor. Whenever I’d try (unsuccessfully, it turned out) to make Pico de Gallo, it went something like this: Chop a whole bunch of tomato. Add a tiny bit of onion, a couple of spoons of chopped cilantro, a teeny-tiny spoonful of fresh jalapeno, a bunch of lime juice and a ton of salt. And it wasn’t good. Ever. And I’d cry over my tortilla chips. Oh, how I’d cry over my tortilla chips.

But then I met Anna. She’s my only Mexican friend. Not that I wouldn’t want more friends from Mexico if I could have them, but I just don’t encounter that many people in my daily life, let alone people from other countries since I moved to Wisconsin. But oh, Anna is divine. She lets me practice my Spanish on her and she giggles at everything I say and she makes the most wicked Mexican food I’ve ever had, not the least of which is absolutely perfect Pico de Gallo.

Here’s the most important thing I learned from Anna about P. de G.: the tomatoes are only one part of the ultimate product. The jalapenos, the cilantro, the onions—they require equal billing with the tomatoes to make Pico de Gallo work. Just watch Anna in action and you’ll see what I mean. And I promise you’ll be drooling for "Pico and Chips" by the time you reach the end of this post.
The Cast of Characters: Five plum (Roma) tomatoes (firm, not soft), 1/2 large or 1 small onion, 3 jalapeno peppers, cilantro, lime juice, and salt. These quantities are approximate; you might need to increase or decrease the numbers, depending on the size of the vegetables you find.
Begin by cutting the ends off the jalapenos and chopping them into a small dice.
Keep going until you have a nice-sized pile.
Throw ‘em in a bowl, seeds and all. Surprisingly, this quantity of jalapenos did not add unbearable heat to the finished product. If you’re nervous about spiciness, you could decrease this amount at first, adding more later if you think you can handle it. Or, you can scrape the seeds from the jalapenos and discard them, as that’s where a lot of the heat resides.
Now begin dicing the tomatoes. First cut them lengthwise into thin wedges.
Then rotate the wedges 90 degrees and slice them into a fine dice.
Keep going until they’re all diced…
Then throw ‘em into the bowl with the jalapenos.
Stir together with a knife if you’re cool like Anna and don’t need a spoon.
Now it’s time to dice the onions. First turn the peeled onion on its side and make vertical slices.
Then rotate the onion 90 degrees and slice downward to dice.
Keep going until it’s all done…
And throw it on top of the jalapenos and tomatoes.
Stir together with a knife if you’re cool like Anna and don’t need a spoon. Did I just say that?
Now chop up a nice-sized bunch of cilantro. Don’t be stingy here! You can cut off the long stems before you start, but there’s no need to peel the leaves from the stems.
Chop until it’s relatively fine, but not minced.
Throw it into the bowl with the other yummy ingredients.
Then squeeze half of a small lime into the bowl. (If you have a double-jointed thumb, it helps!)
Add salt to taste. A couple of shakes should suffice. You might need a bit more, but keep in mind that your chips (or other accompaniment) will likely be salty.
Stir together.
And here it is—Pico de Gallo, baby! Notice how the tomatoes are only a part of the beautiful melange of ingredients? There’s plenty of jalapenos, onions, and cilantro to add to the diversity of taste and texture. Now it’s all ready to go on tacos, inside quesadillas, atop steamed fish, or OF COURSE, with tortilla chips.

Pico de Gallo won’t keep very long in the fridge—probably 24 hours or so. After that, the sugars start to break down and it turns into a soupy mess. So it’s best to make it the same day you’ll want to serve it, though you certainly could do so several hours before.

Now, one of the yummiest things you can do with Pico de Gallo is use it to make…

Guacamole! Allow Anna to demonstrate.
Start with buttery-soft avocados. Halve them lengthwise and remove the pits.
Scrape the meat onto a large plate.
If you get some on the side of the plate, it’s okay. (I apologize to all my obsessive-compulsive-ish readers who will spend the rest of today bothered by that small piece of avocado on the side of the plate. )
Anna likes to mash the avocado with the bottom of a (very clean) plastic cup.
Or you could mash it with a fork. Either way, be sure to leave it relatively chunky.
Add salt to taste. Just a couple of shakes will do.
Now throw a pretty generous helping of the pico de gallo you just made over the top. Don’t skimp; the guacamole should be chunky.
Fold together.
Squeeze half of a small lime over the top.
And fold together until it’s all mixed. You may want to add a little more pico de gallo if the guacamole isn’t chunky enough for you.
Hello, Gorgeous. I love you more than words can say.

Guacamole most certainly does not keep long in the fridge. If you press a layer of Saran Wrap all over the surface and prevent air from reaching it, it might go 24 hours. But guacamole is generally a same-day thing.

NOTE: If you do happen to leave your Pico de Gallo in the fridge for a couple of days and it’s no longer good enough to eat with chips, it still works wonderfully in the guacamole. If it’s just you, just mash up one avocado, add a couple of spoons of Pico, and have a little south-of-the-border fiesta in your kitchen. Or call me. I’ll come over.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

What makes a meal? The side dish of course!


Stuffed Onions

I’m a compulsive stuffer. When I see a vegetable, I pick it up, turn it around in my hands and my first thought is always “What can I cook with this?”, which is always closely followed by “Can I stuff this?”. It’s bad, I know. No zucchini, bell pepper, tomato, cucumber, egg or even bread (makes a great soup bowl) is safe with me.

When it comes to food, a lot of people are addicted to normal chocolate. Not me, though—I’m addicted to onions, of all things, in all their sassy varieties. Don’t get me wrong, I’m quite happy with my addiction. But it does raise the question “Can I stuff them?”

A few years ago, when I wanted to prepare a more special holiday appetizer using simple ingredients that most people like, I came up with this onion dish. I like onions so much that I just wanted to use them as a stand alone vegetable. Now, usually for a dish like this, you have to first boil the onions and take it from there—pretty time consuming, to say the least. But I found a workaround! The recipe does take some time but cooks pretty much unattended, leaving you with lots of free time for other things.


6 onions
handful of mushrooms
1 garlic clove
7 oz ground beef
stale white bread
1 tbsp sweet chili sauce
1/3 cup grated cheese
4 cups chicken broth
flat parsley
1 tsp salt


Preheat your oven to 400F (200C).

Season the meat. I like a bit of sweetness and spiciness in my meat—it works really well with the onions. So I seasoned my beef with 1 tsp salt, a good pinch of black pepper, some freshly grated nutmeg and my secret ingredient—1 heaping tbsp sweet chili sauce. Knead it well.


Beautiful onions! I love onions. It doesn’t matter how they’re prepared—I’ll eat them. Sharpen your knife (I always do before cooking!).

Just cut off the top, peel the onion and cut a small slice off the bottom so the onions won’t tumble over.


Grab a spoon, stick it between two layers of onion, really dig it in there and just follow the curves with your spoon. That way you’ll loosen the layers a bit making it easier to scoop them out. You can also use a small knife or even an apple corer, this just seems to work best for me. Just make sure you’re left with at least 1/3 inch of onion layer.

Give the onion you just scooped out a rough chop. We’ll use about 1/3 to 1/2 of it, depending on how much you like onions. I always put the rest in a ziploc bag and store it in my fridge to use in another recipe. I seldom throw things away, especially not onions.


Wash a handful of mushrooms. I went for about 6 of them. Remove the stem, thinly slice them and cut the slices in half.


I grated a medium-sized garlic clove and crumbled up a stale white bun. You can also do this with normal white bread—just make sure it’s not totally fresh.


Grab a good hand of flatleaf parsley, then wash and finely chop it. You can also use celery leaves.


Put your meat in a skillet and cook until brown. Drain the fat—yes, drain all of it! Not because I’m a health nut, but because the meat is part of your stuffing.


Lots of stuff going on here, so rather than take up your entire screen I’ll add it all to one storyboard.

I’m merely using the fat that was still inside the skillet to cook the onions. After about 4 minutes you can add your garlic and mushrooms. Cook until the mushrooms lose their whiteness. Now simply add a good handful of chopped parsley, put the meat back in and sprinkle the breadcrumbs in as well. Stir to combine.

Turn off the heat and also get 1/3 cup of cheese in there. Being in Gouda, I’ve used a spicy Gouda cheese, but a sharp cheddar would be great as well.


Now let me start by saying my roasting pan is way too big! It would have looked better had they fit snugly together. Just place your onions in a roasting tin or regular oven dish.


Spoon in the meat mix.


Now pour in chicken or beef broth until the onions are 1/3 to 1/2 covered in liquid. This way the oven will work double duty: the outside of the onions are cooked, making them soft and edible…while the insides are baked. Just let the oven does the work for you!


Loosely cover the tin with aluminum foil and pop in a preheated oven for about 1 hour.


Lower your oven to 350F (175C), take the onions out, drizzle a little broth all over them, spoon out a little of the chicken broth (if it hasn’t vaporized by now) and put it back in the oven, uncovered, for about 20 to 30 minutes. Until the onion and topping is golden brown.


When they’re done just sprinkle some coarsely chopped parsley on top and serve with warm, crispy bread topped with a little garlic and herb butter. It’s delicious.

Packer Pie. Kinda. Sorta.


Strict Key Lime Adherents: Please look away. I haven’t got time for the pain.

Everyone else: Let’s make Key Lime Pie! Using regular limes! Because that’s all I have available in my small town! And I don’t live in Florida! So I can’t grow my own! Key limes!

I’m still calling it Key Lime Pie, though—no one can stop me. Not even you Strict Key Lime Adherents.

But I love ya anyway.

Before I proceed, I would like to state that I am currently obsessed with refrigerator pies: pies that require refrigeration (to facilitate setting) before serving. These pies often have a graham cracker or other cookie crust, which I think is at the basis of my current obsession. They’re just making my skirt fly up right now. Can’t explain why.

I chose Key Lime Pie for today’s pie recipe (I have a second one coming tomorrow) because I love the movie “Heartburn”. At the end of the movie, just after Meryl Streep’s character, a food writer named Rachel, discovers that Jack Nicholson’s character, a political columnist named Mark, has just spent their savings on a down payment for a new necklace for his mistress, a tall, leggy European named Thelma with whom he’d had an affair months earlier, Rachel bakes a Key Lime Pie with the sole intention of smashing it into Mark’s face at a dinner party later that night.

And she does it.

And frumpy, disheveled housewives everywhere CHEERED!

And then we got really dang depressed.

But that’s what pie is for: movie-induced depression.

By the way, are you aware the story of “Heartburn” is loosely based on the marriage between Norah Ephron and Carl Bernstein?

Anyway, that’s why I decided to make Key Lime Pie.

We’ve got to begin by making a good graham cracker crust. Put 18 graham crackers (that means the full rectangle) into a food processor.

Pulse until totally crumbled. You could also put the crackers into large Ziploc bags, hand them to your sons, and say “Have at ‘em, boys.” It’ll just take a minute or two.

Pour the crumbs into a bowl.

Then throw in a little sugar.

Or a lot, if that floats your boat.

It usually floats mine nicely.

Some butter. Regular, please. This concoction needs the salt.

Melt it in the microwave.

Then just drizzle the butter over the crumbs.


Stir the mixture with a fork.

It should be moist, but still very crumbly.

Pour the crumbs into a pie pan.

Using your fingers, press the crumbs gently so that they form a crust on the bottom and sides of the pan. Again, don’t expect the crumbs to stick together like glue; the crust should easily crumble if you mess with it too much.

Now just bake the crust in a 350-degree oven for about 5 minutes. This will toast it up a little bit and cause the crust to set.

Grab some limes. If you have Key Limes, yahoo! If you don’t, grab some of these regular peasants.

Now zest a couple of them. You’ll need a heaping tablespoon of zest.

And if you don’t have a microplane zester, please obtain one at your earliest convenience.

And when you do: run the zester over the lime—not the other way around.

Now halve and squeeze the puppies until you have 1/2 cup of juice.

Now dig around your fridge until you find two eggs. Heave a sigh of relief. Then scribble “eggs” on your grocery list.

Separate the eggs. You just need the yolks for this one.

Now, throw the lime juice and the lime zest into the bowl of your electric mixer.

Then add the egg yolks and beat immediately on high for one minute.

Turn off the mixer, then pour in 1 can of sweetened, condensed milk.

It’s good stuff. I promise you that.

Mix it on high until thick and smooth.

If the mixture looks like it needs more zest, add it right in!

When it’s all mixed, just pour it into the crust.


Oh, honey.

I love you so much.

Now bake it in the oven for about fifteen minutes, or until no longer jiggly.

Then remove it from the oven, allow it to cool for a little while, then stick it into the fridge to chill for at least an hour. A couple of hours is better. You just want it to be nice and chilled and firm and perfect.

Like this.

Oh, how I love Key Lime Pie Sorta.

Now, here’s my stance on Key Lime Pie Sorta: it needs sweetened whipped cream. It could be that I’m overly sensitive to tart flavors and I need the whipped cream to balance it out. Or it could be that I just look for justification for putting more cream into my diet.

Either way, whipped cream makes it better.

And here’s how you make it:

Pour about a cup of cold, heavy cream into the (clean) bowl of the mixer. Then add in a healthy tablespoon or two of sugar. You can also add a little vanilla, but we don’t really need it here.

Then just beat it on high speed…

Until it’s very stiff. Perfect!

Now comes the fun part.


Mmmm. You can see that the crust is rather thick in relation to the filling. This is by design; as much as I love the creamy filling, I do find it pretty rich. With the ample crust and whipped cream on top, it turns out to be a really balanced piece of pie…and that lime flavor still really bursts through.

A little extra zest on top totally seals the deal.

Oh, man. I’m so ready for the next five (okay, three) minutes to happen.

It’s…it’s…it’s happening.

It happened.

And now it can happen to you!

Kinda Sorta Key Lime Pie

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

18 graham crackers (the 4-section large pieces)
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup melted butter

Crush crackers in a food processor or Ziploc bag. Pour them into a bowl and stir in sugar and melted butter. Press into a pie pan and bake for 5 minutes or until golden and set. Remove from oven and set aside to cool slightly.

1 heaping tablespoon lime zest
1/2 cup lime juice
2 egg yolks
1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk

Mix lime zest, lime juice, and egg yolks in a mixing bowl. Add in condensed milk and mix on high until smooth and thick. Pour mixture into crust and bake for 15 minutes.

Remove from oven, allow to cool, then refrigerate for at least 1 hour—more if possible.

Serve with sweetened whipped cream and more grated lime zest.

Enjoy every single bite!