Archive for September, 2007

Huh? –

29 September 07

I was raised an Episcopalian. In the South, in the 50’s, the Episcopalians were the movers and shakers and the intellectual elite. The Methodists had overcome their Holy-Roller past and had become solidly middle class. The personal magnetism and powerful oratory of Peter Marshall had put the Presbyterians on the map in the South. The Baptists were mostly lower class, but were moving up fast. The rest belonged to this, that or the other smaller protestant groups that I couldn’t tell apart. Back then, them that didn’t believe slept late, but didn’t mention it otherwise. Roman Catholics and Jews kept a very low profile. The Klan was still around.

In the Episcopal Church, the Book of Common Prayer of 1928 was used. The services were calm, dignified, rational and comfortable rituals. The sermons were somewhat warm, fuzzy and gentle exhortations to live the Christian Life. Usually not spelled out in detail. Sermons were also mercifully short.

I never really understood some of the thinking of the protestants. I used to go to church with my best friend, whose family belonged to one of those “sola scriptura” fundamentalist sects. I spent most of the service wondering what on earth the preacher was doing, other than trying to get more money in the plate. This was perhaps not entirely fair, but I didn’t have any background that would enable much deeper understanding.

They had the choir singing, usually pretty decent stuff. I rather like some of the more spirited protestant hymns to this day. And I really do like gospel music – both black and white – but that’s another story.

After the choir, they had this, that and the other prayers and announcements, but the main course was absolutely the sermon. Now, this preacher would really get all kinds of wound up. He would whoop and holler and jump up and down and grab the pulpit and duck down beside it and then jump up and pound on the bible. And sometimes I could follow him. Usually it seemed he was yapping about what would send you to everlasting hellfire. I seem to remember him as being somewhat fond of describing the torments. But – to be fair – this is 50 years later and is a bit fuzzy here and there. When he got exhausted/wound down – seemed to take about the same time every Sunday – then the choir would sing to the chink of money hitting the plate – mostly he liked the “quiet” money. Then another prayer and the choir would sing it closed.

One thing that I am quite sure of is that he would race around to the front doors at the end of the service so he could shake everyone’s hand as they left. I became convinced that this was a necessary part of the ritual. I clearly remember that at least every other person would shake the preacher’s hand enthusiastically and declaim “That was a real sincere sermon, preacher. Real sincere!” That to me has always been the most puzzling feature of all. Why is sincere so great?

Adolf was quite sincere in his hatred of the Jews. The Klan is sincere in its hatred of blacks. Farrakhan is sincere in his hatred of whites. Osama sincerely hates America. Satan is extremely sincere in his hatred of humanity.

Hatred is one the most honest and sincere of all human emotions. It is not, however, a Christian virtue. When we are infected we must pray and fast and strive to eliminate it from our souls, no matter how sincerely we hate.

So, why is sincere a Christian complement? Huh?

Roll ‘Em Up – Beef –

28 September 07

Roulade is French and means a thin piece of meat rolled around some kind of filling. Most European cultures have developed some variation on the roulade. Other cultures may also, but I don’t know of any recipes off the top of my head. Getting the meat to the right size and thickness can be accomplished several ways. Slice some thin off a London Broil or some such. Get some Italian Scaloppini. Get some medallions at the grocery and pound them thin. But one of the nicest is the lowly (and comparatively cheap) flank steak. Come to think of it, most of the roulade recipes were developed to deal with the inferior cuts of meat. Tender cuts have little connective tissue and are suitable for rare to medium rare usage (and costs more). Cuts with lots of connective tissue are tough and unpleasant unless handled properly (and are cheaper).

The principle way that everybody knows is the slow cooking method. If you cook the meat with lots of liquid slow and long the connective tissue will soften and partially dissolve. This lends flavor and tenderness. Think of the old fashioned pot roast. Chuck has to be cooked to death or it is not very appetizing. This presents problems if you don’t like overdone meat. I don’t.

There is another way around the dilemma. Instead of making shoe leather, pound the meat thin, using a tenderizing mallet. This mallet has a roughened face that will cut the connective fibers while thinning the meat. Think about it – thinner presents less mass to chew through, therefore less effort, therefore more tender.

Now what you want to get to is about ¼” uniform thickness. Try not to shred the meat. It’s not so easy. You can also cheat. When you select your meat, ask the butcher to run it through his tenderizing machine a few times to get to the right thickness. The butcher should also know the right thickness for rolling. They will usually be happy to do that for you. Either way you should wind up with a piece of meat about ¼” thick, and it will be much larger in surface area than when you started. BTW – don’t think to use a really good piece of meat for this. Pound fillet thin and it will shred.

Ok, we have some meat, we need some kind of stuffing. Sky’s the limit. If it tastes good to you go for it. I’ll give you some ideas in a minute. Spread whatever stuffing and spices over the meat, not too thick. Roll up the meat into a tight cylinder and tie it off with butcher’s twine or just stab toothpicks in to hold it together. Then roast, broil, pan-fry of whatever cooking method you want to use. Now, although it has been tenderized, it is still tough meat and you will need to get the center part at least medium.

Stuffing #1 – Sauté equal amounts chopped carrots, onions, celery, with a couple of big chopped garlic cloves in some olive oil and butter until tender. Maybe 5 minutes. Add chopped mushrooms. Sauté another 5 minutes. Mix together with salt, pepper, wine, shredded ham. Whatever spices you like. Basil is nice. Bay leaf simmered and then removed is good. Add a bit of thick crème and some beef stock. Simmer a bit and then add a couple of tablespoons of flour to thicken it up a bit. When things are stirred together and looking nice remove from heat and spread over the meat. Grate a bit of parmigiano reggiano over the top. Do the roll and tie routine and cook the way you want. I rather like it salted and peppered on the outside and sautéed in olive oil and butter, turning about every 4 to 5 minutes, depending on size. By the time you have done all sides, the center should be on the far side of medium. Let it rest a bit to absorb all the juices, then slice and serve.

Stuffing #2: Cheat. Get some packaged herb stuffing. Make per directions. Add some chopped mushrooms. Add some chopped onion and garlic. Add some French onion soup. Use any or all the add-ons to taste. Spread it on, roll up, tie, cook.

Stuffing #3: Kind of Italian pesto sort of thing. Dump whatever combo of mushroom types you like into a processor. If the mushrooms are dried, soak them in some warm water first. Add some toasted walnuts, garlic, parsley, salt, and pepper. Pulse the processor a few times, just to get things roughed. Start adding olive oil and pulsing until it is a smooth pesto. Spread it on, roll up, tie, cook.

Stuffing #4: Kind of a Bordelaise in feel. Slow cook chopped shallots until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add chopped mushrooms and a couple of sprigs of thyme. Cook another 5 minutes. Discard the thyme, add some good, rough red wine and reduce by half. This is going to be a bit liquid, so add a couple of tablespoons of flour to get a spreadable paste. Don’t overcook. Spread it on, roll up, tie, cook.

Stuffing #5: A total cheat. Use any concentrated soup that you like, cream of mushroom, whatever. Spread it on, roll up, tie, cook. I guess you can tell a couple of things here. First of all, yes, I really like mushrooms, garlic, onions and such. Second, the filling can be just about anything that you care to throw together and spread in there. Let your taste buds be your guide.

Philosophy of Slavery –

25 September 07

The history of slavery precedes written records. It is conjectured that when man turned to agriculture slavery became practical. In the hunter/gatherer society the numbers are small and the tribes diffused across the land. There can be no higher concentration of people than the land will freely support. Those who are not strong, diligent, intelligent and talented die. When primitive agriculture is the norm, muscle power becomes paramount. The land is plentiful and cheap, or free. The labor is scarce and expensive and needed. Does slavery happen rapidly, as in one tribe just wakes up one day and decides to pillage another for forced laborers? Or is it slower, the less able to provide for themselves voluntarily taking service with someone who can provide for all? Is it the easy path from voluntary servant who gets life’s necessities in return for allegiance and labor to full blown slavery in a few generations? It is unanswerable at this time, but it does seem to have happened at one time or another in all cultures. However, once slavery is established it seems to self-perpetuating until it becomes economically impractical. Or until that society is conquered by some stronger culture. Then the masters also become slaves. Be it noted: most slaves didn’t really see anything wrong with the system. They just wanted the roles reversed.

We should define and examine the various kinds of slavery. There is total slavery, with the slave owned by the master and totally at the mercy of the master. These can be bought and sold and families split up.

There is slavery where the slave is bound to the land, not directly owned. This is usually called serfdom or peonage. The serfs cannot be sold or families split because they belong to the land, not the master.

There was also indentured servitude where the slavery was for a contractually limited time in return for some consideration. This was mainly limited to the settlement of the American colonies in modern times. Frequently indentured servants were treated worse than owned slaves. Most people will take better care of their own property than they will rental property.

There is also the slavery where one individual has some hold over another. This is more a modern phenomenon and does not usually have legal status where practiced. Think of prostitutes held to a pimp by a dependence on the drugs that the pimp supplies.

The things that distinguish slavery are:

· No freedom of movement
· No freedom of occupation
· Receive no recompense for labor other than necessities
· Bound to do the will of the master with no alternative

For right now we will concentrate on legal and condoned slavery. One of the things that people seem to overlook in discussions of slavery is the economic side of it. Humans don’t generally do anything that is not economically advantageous. The myths about slave ships showing up at coastal villages in Africa and just running in and capturing a whole bunch of people are pretty much fantasy. It is dangerous to run into a village. Some cranky guy just might shove a spear through you. Death is generally considered economically undesirable. It did happen, but not all that often.

There were thriving slave markets in Africa when the Europeans showed up. It was much better to purchase existing slaves and load them and ship them back. The markets were run by Africans, for Africans, selling Africans. When the European traders started buying it was the beginning of a two hundred year economic boom for the suppliers. Of course they had to raid further and further afield to gather fresh merchandise. It is of interest to note that a good bit of the African slave trade is tied up with the spread of Islam and a good many of the slave traders were Moslem. The early African Christians did not practice slavery.

The Moslems practiced slavery up to the present. Slavery is still practiced in the Sudan. Note that Louis Farrakhan has visited the Sudan often. He has never seen fit to criticize the slavery in the Sudan or the forced servitude in modern Saudi Arabia. I guess it is only wrong if the master is white. One of my ancestors was Captain James Riley. He was shipwrecked off the west coast of Africa and after a harrowing ordeal in the Sahara, was captured and enslaved by Moslems. The story of his torture and eventual bid for freedom are chronicled in his memoirs. His book had considerable influence in the mid 1800s. You can look him up on the internet.

There is not a human on the planet who does not descend from slaves and slave owners. The talk of reparations is just foolish distraction. If your grandfather murdered my grandfather do you owe me a life? Money? Foolishness. More crap from the professional “victims” of the world.

Back to philosophy and history. The slavery that comes to most modern minds is that African period of the 1600s to the 1800s. Using Africans had several advantages:

The first and obvious was that they were visually different from the European masters and thus easy to spot. Less opportunity for a runaway to make freedom. Better economics.

The second was that in the new lands of the Americas and the Caribbean area, the Africans were more heat tolerant and stronger than the indigenous Indian tribes. Many of the Indian tribes practiced slavery, but not on so wide a scale as the Africans. The Africans were culturally used to the institution of slavery and fared better mentally. The Indians tended to die when overworked, the Africans survived. Better economics.

The third was that the existence of the large African slave markets. Since slaves could be bought rather cheaply at the markets, it then boiled down to simple transportation and housing to get them to the New World markets. The ships could be built so that a maximum number could be shipped with minimum loss. Read dead or permanently damaged people from horrible conditions. Chained in the holds and unable to move about. Stench, heat, boredom and terror constant companions. Hell. But a Hell designed to be just barely survivable for 90% or so. Your profits went down if too much stock died. Therefore the shippers provided the minimum expenditure for the maximum return. Good economics.

The price of slaves went from a low of around $40.00 in colonial times up to $1,000.00 in the 1850s. The average return on a slave after all costs was around 5%. This factored in shelter, clothing, sickness, death, runaway loss, and any other losses likely to be incurred. It was generally considered cheaper to buy slaves than to breed them. The slave was not considered fully functional and profitable until around age 14.

This may be compared to a general cost for sex slaves in Thailand of around $1,000.00 initial investment. The general return is around $35,000 until death from abuse, HIV, or drug overdose. There is no economic incentive for the pimps to cease this lucrative trade. There is no particular incentive to take good care of their stock. People come from all over the world to partake of the sex market. It is a significant part of the tourist trade. The world community has not seen fit to punish the country for condoning this trade. It also occurs in surrounding countries, none of which are being punished with UN sanctions. This kind of trade does occur in all modern countries. However, in the west it is not openly or legally condoned and carries some risk of prosecution.

The fact that slavery is morally repugnant does not enter into the thinking of the practitioners. One of the abilities universal to humans is to either demonize or de-humanize others, particularly if there is some group difference. Most people are not deliberately cruel, but can be quite malicious when thinking about others as some sub-human group rather than as human individuals.

Of interest is the constant historical emphasis on the degradation of the enslaved. A small point here – an individual cannot be robbed of his essential humanity and dignity if determined to keep it. Even in horrible circumstances. From a Christian perspective, the corrosive effects of slavery on the soul are far more dangerous to the master than to the slave. This is not to say that many of the preachers of the time did not blind themselves to the incompatibility of slavery and Christianity. Indeed, many of the preachers of the day condoned the practice. Unfortunately, the economic arguments far outweigh the moral for the majority of humans.

Man is not a rational animal. He is a rationalizing animal.

Kitchen Stuff –

22 September 07

I like heavy kitchen stuff. Iron skillets that have been well seasoned and well loved are just a joy to cook in. Unfortunately, my 12” iron skillet is getting way too heavy for one handed use. Two hands for worn out old guys.

Cooking: Gas range is a must. We put in gas the first week we were in this house. I can live with an electric oven, if I must, but I prefer gas. But cook tops – gas is the only option. I really like commercial ranges, but the kitchen in this house was obviously designed by a 70s construction worker. He may have heard of the “golden triangle”, because you can certainly get from the sink to the range to the refrigerator in one step. The counters and cabinets reflect this. I personally don’t mind a few steps to be able to have lots of cabinet and counter space. I would rather have more steps and less cramping. But I digress.

Appliances: I really like Kitchenaid appliances. They are heavy, smooth, long lasting. The only drawback is that they are not cheap. I am cheap, therefore a conflict of emotions when I have to spring for a new appliance. I search the web for the very best price over and over. Then I read user comments until my eyes blear. Then I usually decide to do without. I cuss and fuss in the kitchen, trying to get along without whatever gadget has seized my attention and for which I don’t have storage space. After a few days I realize that I really do need the new whatever. I then break down and do the whole internet search again, this time for the best brand (usually Kitchenaid) at the best price. Then I bravely place the order with the plastic that stands for the pound nearest my heart. Then I have to wait forever for UPS to deign to visit.

Cutlery: The only place I have never skimped. We have a complete set of all the Wüsthof Grand Prix commercial knives from the 70s. They take and hold a razor edge. I don’t know if they make these anymore, but if they did it would probably be around a grand to equal what we have. I would probably have palpitations and faint to pay that much for anything.

Mixer: Kitchenaid, of course. Heavy, smooth, strong. I just wish I had not cheaped out and had gotten the lift bowl instead of the hinge top. Oh well, this thing will last the rest of my life and then some, so it is not going to be replaced. Makes very short work of home sized bread, cookies, or whatever. Attachments also good for grinding up potatoes to make a Rosti – Swiss/German hash browns – damn tasty.

Yeah, I know about bread machines and we have one for when Herself gets on a kick. Arthurwrongus and any kind of real cooking is a bad combo. I don’t like them. I will probably have to break down and use it when the body deteriorates further. But dammit, part of the fun of cooking is the sensual use of the knife to do the chopping, the handling of the dough in its fine, smooth, plastic form when you pat down the various risings. I also like the feel of meat as it is sliced and formed. The bread machine just takes you too far away from the sensuality of cooking. Cooking is not just smelling and tasting, but also touching and hearing.

{{Herself Sez: Now that I’m getting more and more decrepit, and the Ol’ Curmudgeon’s heart is not doing well, I have to consider what to do if/when he precedes me in death. I used to be a pretty good cook – just have problems with standing for any length of time at the counter or the stove. But I LOVE homemade bread – especially the Ol’ Curmudgeon’s recipes! So, I have plans, in that eventuality, to get a Zojirushi BBCCX20 Home Bakery Supreme Bread Machine. I’ll miss out on the sensuality of the feel of the “handling of the dough in its fine, smooth, plastic form when you pat down the various risings,” but I’ll forgo that in order to have homemade bread!}}

Sourdough Bread Starter –

20 September 07

Sourdough breads are a whole new level of baking. Some like it – I do. Some don’t. No less an authority than James Beard didn’t think much of the sourdoughs as a whole. However – since the only opinion that matters is your own taste buds – try it – you might just like it.

There are three ways to get into the whole sourdough thing:

  1. Grow your own from scratch. Basically just put a cup of water and a cup of four into a bowl, mix it up, cover with a towel and let it sit for one to four days and it should bubble and grow. Every day toss half, add a cup of flour and 1/2 cup of water.
  2. Get some from a friend who does sourdough baking. You will see why all sourdough people have the stuff to give away in a minute.
  3. Buy some from somewhere. The web is full of places that will sell you starter. If you like a really sour clang, you probably want some San Francisco stuff. If you like a mild, flavorful mix, King Arthur Flour’s website has a very nice New England starter that is 250 years old. Very tasty. However, no matter where your starter is from it will eventually become samey-samey as local starter grown from scratch as local yeast-beasts invade and multiply. You just about can’t keep it pure.

Regardless of how you get there, you will have to maintain the starter, since it is a living organism. Short version: Keep it in the refrigerator in a quart jar with the lid on loosely. Once a week, throw out or use about half of the mix, add flour and water 2 to 1. Usually 2 cups flour, 1 cup water. If you use one cup of starter, just add 1 cup flour and 1/2 cup water back to the base. I am usually using about half the starter to make a sponge, so there’s not a whole lot of waste. Anyway, once you get this whole cycle going, you will have plenty to share. Be sure to leave enough room in the jar for it to grow, and leave the lid loose enough to allow gas to escape.

If you look on the web, there are tons of places that discuss the growing, care and feeding of sourdough starter. Why go with this rather irritating process? Simple – flavor. There’s a ton more flavor in a starter driven bread than in any yeast packet I know of.

Using the stuff. Most sourdough recipes will be three stage jobbies. Starter, sponge, dough = bread. And several rises. Sourdough doesn’t rise as enthusiastically as commercial baker’s yeast – you know – the stuff in the packs or jars. Therefore you can see that the rise may take a little longer, therefore more time to develop flavor.

Starter can be grown from just about any flour, but you will probably have best success with plain old all-purpose unbleached. Don’t use bread flour, it has a higher protein content and the yeast gets giddy with that much food. Not to mention that it will be a bit gummy. To get the stuff to be rye or something else, just use about a cup of starter with 2 cups rye flour and a cup of warm water. Feed it for several days and you will have a very happy rye starter. Or grow it from scratch over a 10 day period. First 3 days feed it once a day. Next 7 days feed it twice a day. Now you have a really good rye starter.

I am not a purist, I will sometimes use commercial yeast in the dough stage if I think a bit more lift is needed. The purists will take issue with this practice, but it works.

Now – a simple recipe to try:

Just plain old sourdough white bread:

1 cup starter
1 1/2 cups warm water
3 cups flour

Mix it up, cover, sit overnight in a warm but not hot place. This is called the sponge. If the sponge is too warm, it will rise too fast and not develop full flavor. Depending on your climate, putting plastic wrap over the bowl and then a towel may produce better results than just the towel by its lonesome. You will only find out by trial. (We don’t admit to error!)

Add in:

1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar (you can skip this if you want)
2 to 3 more cups of flour, depending

Mix in the salt and sugar and 1 cup flour at a time until it is smooth and elastic to the feel. The amount of flour will be variable. Knead for about 10 minutes by hand, or until it is together and climbs the hook in a good mixer. Let it rise in a bowl until doubled, maybe 2 hours.

Divide in half, make whatever shape bread you like: baguette, batard, round, oval, whatever. Place on a greased baking pan that has been liberally sprinkled with coarse cornmeal. Cover, let rise to double, could be 2 hours or so. Slash the tops with something good and sharp and bake at 350° until golden brown. 20 to 30 minutes. Let it cool on a rack before cutting.

BTW – the bread snobs hate batard – means bastard in French. But – the batard is better for sandwiches or toast than the baguette – which is better for dunking in a nice soup. Do what you like, never mind the snobs. We will get into shapes and pans and oven stones and such in some future writing, but don’t worry, you can knock this stuff out on a plain old cookie sheet or some other type flat oven pan.

Well – just one advanced tip for now. Get a cheap spray bottle that can be set for a mist. Fill it with good, clean, water with no chlorine. Filter and/or let sit overnight if necessary, or use bottled water. Anyway, spray a good bit in the oven when you put the bread in. Spray again after 30 seconds. Spray again after 1 minute. Spray again after 2 minutes. That’s enough, let the bread finish cooking to the thump test level of done. This will produce the nicest, crunchy-chewiest crust you have ever had. What we have done is faked the steam injection used in French commercial ovens. I guess I should mention that if you want bread with big holes in the crumb, just let it over rise by 1/3 or so.

Immigration and other such –

18 September 07

To the Congress of the United States of America,

People, wake up. We, the citizens of the United States of America, would like for you to do your jobs. If we performed as badly on our jobs as you do, we would be fired. 20% approval rating indeed. Let us go back and review. You are not the Executive Branch. You do not govern the country. Your job is to legislate. Not have committee meetings to investigate who stole the toilet paper. Your job is also not to sell influence. Reid, you owe representation to your constituents, not the milk lobby. Feinstein, how dare you pose as a left peace-freak and push appropriations to your own military company? Did you people ever hear of moral integrity? Get some. It’s good for you. It’s good for the country. Remember, this is a representative republic. Your job is not to do the popular thing. You job is to do the right thing. Even if some of your constituents don’t like it. If the signers of the Declaration had gone by popular sentiment we would still be British Subjects. Stop pandering to the kooks. Stop the poisonous personal attacks. It is fine to disagree. Debate the ideas. Then vote your conscience. Quit buying votes. Quit being bought. You represent your constituents, not any foreign country. Not any lobby. Us. The people of America.

Immigration. What’s so hard about this? We’ve got fleas in the house, we need to get rid of them. I don’t think any rational person wants to close the country. What we do want is get the illegals out and control the borders. This is not hard to do. Most of the laws are already there. Enforce them. If that’s too simple for you, try this:

1. Any employer is fined $1,000 per employee per day if they are illegal. Enforce it.
2. Let the border patrol do its job. If a wetback gets shot, tough. Don’t cross the border illegally, you are breaking into my house.
3. Any landlord who rents to illegals is fined. Enforce it.
4. Any criminal is deported, any illegal is deported. If there has to be jail time, fine. Deport on discharge.
5. No welfare or medical care for illegals except minimal for absolute life saving.
6. A baby born to a foreign citizen is NOT a US citizen. Period.

Now there are 3 classes that should be allowed into the country:

1. Tourists. Keep track and make sure they leave when the visa is up.
2. Workers. There are thousands of companies that bring in executives, engineers or whatever. These people are necessary and welcome. Make sure that they leave when the visa is up.
3. Immigrants. Welcome. This is my house, there are a couple of rules. You must speak English. You must have a job. You may not go on welfare. You must be on the track to citizenship. You must learn our culture and customs. We will not use your language. We will not adopt your culture. You adopt ours,. What you do at home is your business, but in public, speak and act like an American. We don’t want to see your old flag, you must want to adopt ours. Don’t tell me how great it was back where. If it is that great, go back.

Now there is some talk that we have to have these illegals to do jobs that Americans won’t. Nonsense. Cut the welfare. Get the inner-city kids into a WPA type program. Get people working. If a head of lettuce goes up a nickel or a dime, so what. If we stop babying these illegals you can reduce my taxes enough to make up for it, especially if you stop the shameless pork barrel projects. If we still need more workers, then class #2 above should handle it. Speed up the background check and let employers bring people in to gather the crops or whatever. Make sure they leave when their visa is up. You can give 6 months to a year for illegals to liquidate and move out with no penalties. After the grace period is up, all illegals to be deported, all assets seized and auctioned to help pay the cost.

If the individual meets the requirements for immigration and for service and serves in the Armed Forces for 6 years, there should be citizenship for him(her) and the immediate family upon honorable discharge. If the individual wishes to become an officer after citizenship, then education and promotion should be available.

Baking in Society –

15 September 07

Warning – this is pure opinion not backed by research – other than life and a ton of reading. You can do the research and draw your own conclusions if you like. But – I bet I’m right.

Baking perhaps shows the difference between American society and the rest of the world more clearly than any other activity. Nowhere else is the emphasis on home baking as pronounced.

In the beginning, humans were a primitive group society. To see what the earlier society looked like, just look at chimpanzee society. Jane Goodall, to her credit, has reported what she has observed for almost 50 years. Good, bad, ugly, she has been honest even where her observations horrified her. In the beginning, she assumed that chimps were like humans, just nicer. Since we share around 95% common DNA and are both tribally social creatures, this is not an unwarranted starting point. Unfortunately, she discovered that chimps are not nicer; they are, in fact, just like humans. Period. They practice all the human virtues and vices, including premeditated organized warfare, murder, grieving for lost ones, etc. The main difference is that since chimps do not have advanced weapons, the large, psychotic bully usually beats his victims into a slow, painful, brutal death. And since there are no advanced weapons, it is not possible to sneak up on said bully and rid the tribe of him quickly. Sometimes her, but very rarely. Usually the females aren’t that big and strong and don’t make tribe leaders. They can be just as nasty; they just don’t have the muscle to back it up.

Anyway, as we evolved, we stayed with the tribal structure. Mostly loners died off. The oddball and different were expelled from the tribal mix. Early food preparation was a communal affair. It took cooperation to grow, harvest, store, and prepare the food. This was the central activity of the community. (You don’t work = you don’t eat = you die.) Even the mobile raiding tribes such as the Goths stayed with the cooperative community approach to food and life. And, when they settled down, it was as a community.

As we grew from migrating tribes, we evolved the village. In the village, specialization began to formalize. Notice that in the Canterbury Tales, Chaucer has the Miller’s Daughter (Reeve’s Tale) who is going into the nearby village to get bread from the baker. This demonstrates the fact that bread is one of the most complex tasks that we ever undertake, and one of the first to become specialized.

Milling grain into flour takes one tremendous amount of personal labor and energy, and/or specialized equipment. If you do not believe this, try grinding your own. I don’t mean with one of the handy-dandy home mills. No, no. Try taking a couple of flat rocks and grinding the grain into acceptable flour. Oh yeah, well, first you have to shape the rocks into something useable. Have fun. Back to the grain. That should pretty well kill a morning and use most of your day’s energy. Now it is one thing to grind a coarse meal for some flat bread like tortilla. Quite another to produce a well made loaf of good table or sandwich bread. OK, we’ll be reasonable. Grind your grain on one day, and let it rest for several days. You really should do this, anyway, since flour has to rest for proper oxygenation or it doesn’t work right. (Home grinders – pay attention!)

So, now you have some flour. If we’re doing this the old way, we have to capture some wild yeast, mix the stuff up with flour, water, yeast, and salt. Oh, yeah, we had to get the salt from somewhere. We got it mixed up; we were savvy enough to get the dough just right, good texture, and good rise, ready to go. Ok – just exactly what are you going to bake it in? A good bread oven is a large, complex affair. Yes, I’m talking about the old wood-fired sort of oven. You can’t make good bread in a fireplace or open fire. Even in modern times, you can still see women in some areas of the Middle East, particularly, that pre-make the bread at home and then go to a community oven to bake collectively. Of course, this means that everyone has to bake at the same time and that someone has to be compensated for maintaining the oven and firing the bread. Not exactly as convenient as turning over the whole baking mess to a professional.

The modern baker’s ovens mostly are trying to mimic the old type without the fun of tending the fire. (There’s a whole discussion in ovens, I’ll have to get to it one day.)

So, as societies evolved, the whole bread thing became very specialized, and the miller and the baker were men of substance in the community. Medieval law even guaranteed the incomes of these two specialists. European, Middle Eastern, Eastern, you name it, all the advanced societies had/have this specialization. This is not to say that rural people don’t have to make their own bread – they do. But recollect that until very recently, France, Germany, etc. tended to sneer at such efforts and the results thereof. There has been some increase in respect for the country breads in recent history, but it was generally done out of lack of a local baker than for any other reason. In France, this was part of the whole Nouvelle Cuisine movement, where the great glories of French cooking were sort of peasentized (dare I say somewhat Americanized – heresy!). This may or may not be a good thing, use your own taste buds.

Then came the Americans. We were founded by people who could and would leave the settled, comfortable life of stable communities to try it on their own. Or we ran away from poverty and hellacious existence. Or we ran away from the law. Or the law shipped us involuntarily (Oglethorpe, Georgia). Most of our people settled in the existing communities. But not all. Our national character has been formed by people who were willing to root hog or die (or had no choice). And indeed, the penalty for failure was death in the early days of the settling of America. We have evolved into a people who like to do for ourselves. The failures mostly didn’t pass on genes or attitudes. (This is not true of modern society, to our detriment.)

The concept of home baking of bread has become part of the independent spirit of our people. The French do not make their wonderful bread in the home. French bread is still made by professional bakers with complex ovens and practices and each householder picks up a day’s supply on the way home each day. It does not occur to the Frenchman that he might even want to think about trying to make this bread for himself at home.

This is not to imply that there are not hearth breads, pan breads, and campfire breads and such that have been made from time immemorial in the local home fire. But these are not the same thing as a nice loaf of bread suitable for toast, sandwiches, dunking into soup, or whatever. It is called the staff of life for a good reason. It is the truth. It is just as great a delicacy as the either of the other two great fermented foods – booze and cheese – and just as complex to get just right.

Not only is bread baking endemic in this country (and not just plain either!), but look at the number of people who make fancy cakes, etc. In European society, if you want to make fancy cakes and confections, you work in a store under a master. Here, you just start, read, research, maybe even take a class or two, and trial and error until you get there, whether for you own use and pleasure or for sale. No other society in the world has taken what are normally specialized village tasks and done it in the home on as massive a scale.

Why do we bake at home when the local bakery has stuff that’s pretty good? Taste, taste, taste! Fun! And some think that there is additional nutrition. Probably not a whole lot. Cost is not one of the factors. Good bakery bread is cheaper than what you can make at home. Sure it is. Figure in all the costs of setup and materials and your labor. Bakery is cheaper. Store bought, factory bread just is not in the equation, it’s pretty gross stuff. But good bakery bread is hard to beat. Unless you want the taste of your own and the variety (and the fun!). You cannot get good salt-rising in 99% of the bakeries out there. I know of no bakery in this neck of the woods that makes a good, genuine Westphalian Black Bread (heavy rye). The rye in this country is not the same animal. These are specialized regional breads just not available unless you make them yourself.

So, where do we go from here? Mostly, bake your own bread if you have the independence of spirit. Otherwise, get it from a local bakery. Forget the store brands, mostly they are not good bread. Experiment, read, learn, grow – be an American original.

Liberal Hypocrisy –

13 September 07

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. is a convicted felon and heroin junkie. He has stated that anyone who disagrees with his extremist environazi position is a traitor. If someone on the right stated that anyone who disagreed with them was a traitor the liberal press would crucify them. For days. Look how long they howled for Don Imus’s blood. The Duke Lacrosse case got tons of press when they were after the player’s hides. I noticed a whole lot less coverage of their clearing and the crazy DA’s indictment. Bobby, Jr. won’t have this. He is a liberal, and so is the press. They like him.

Dianne Feinstein is guilty of using her senatorial committee position to steer military contracts to her husband’s arms firm. You don’t see that one in the press. They like her.

Edward Kennedy is a drunk. He is either a murderer or guilty of drunken incompetence while leaving Mary Jo Kopekne to die a horrible death. The press likes him.

John Kerry is a liar and a giver of aid and comfort to an enemy of the United States while in a condition of war. He met, as a private citizen, with the representatives of the North Vietnamese government while shooting was still going on. This is a matter of public record. It is also recorded at the North Vietnamese museum, with Kerry shown as one of their heroes. It is also against the law, and can carry the death penalty. This is beside the issue of whether or not he has lied about his service in Vietnam. His stories have been inconsistent and the Swiftboat Veterans were there. The press wasn’t. But they like him.

Joe Kennedy made his money as the banker for the mob. Edward owns lots of oil company stock. (So does Michael Moore).

And so on. Not that the Republicans are any better, but the press does crucify them. If they blow their noses wrong. Whether there is a real story or not.

I see that the Kerry’s have several limousines and SUV’s. I don’t see them with any hybrid cars. I don’t see them with ethanol, which doesn’t work. Corn has to be subsidized to make ethanol from corn even vaguely affordable. When corn is used for ethanol, the price of staples goes up. Taxes go up. The price of fuel goes up. The poor are the ones that suffer most. Some compassion. But wait – Brazil makes it work nicely! Well yes. They do. They use sugar cane for ethanol, not corn. Corn is a lousy energy hog. It takes more energy to grow it than it yields. Sugar cane is pretty efficient. We don’t have enough land that is available for sugar cane to amount to beans where fuel is concerned. Anyway, where was I. Oh yeah, the Kerrys are not called to task. The liberals like them.

I see private jets used by all these rich, environmentally conscious liberals. When (rarely) anyone in the press has the temerity to question the use of private jets, the rationale is that “emission reduction credits” are used.

Let’s see. Emission Reduction Credits. ERCs. That’s where you don’t reduce your own pollution, you buy these credits from someone who has reduced pollution below the mandated levels and can therefore sell their credits.

So, the conclusion here is that if you are rich enough, you can buy the credits to maintain any lifestyle you damn well please. Kind of like the indulgences that the Medieval Western Church was selling. Rape, murder, adultery, whatever. Just buy your way out. Of maybe it was more like the draft in the Civil War. You could buy your way out of the draft. If you had $300 you could avoid service by paying someone else to pay the final price. I don’t see a whole lot of difference.

I don’t know that I have a lot of beef with people who honestly believe that we should reduce environmental impact. That is a worthy goal that should be everyone’s. We might disagree on how to get there. That’s ok. What does really bite is the worship of these lying hypocrites that lead the libs. If Republicans act anywhere near like these people, the outcry from the press and the mass of libs is loud and long. I only ask that the playing field be level. Hold these lying slimeballs to the same standards. Hate speech is hate speech, whether by RFK, Jr. or some wild-eyed ethnic hater.

It is popular on the left to characterize the Nazis as right wing. Not so, totalitarianism is the last thing a conservative can embrace. A conservative is interested in individual freedom. For everyone. Any group that would use the power of government – read armed force – to force a particular view and behavior on the populous is to be in the same bed with the Nazis. Whether the goal is power for the sake of power, or to eradicate some hated group, or to force the use of certain light bulbs, or to force some type of salvation on everyone else. Including environmental purity. Using the force of law to effect social change is always tricky and highly dangerous. What is started with the best of intentions (the road to Hell is paved with) will almost always be hijacked by extremists if there is any force involved at all.

If we really have a climate change problem – and the final scientific proof does not seem to be here yet, but there does seem to be anecdotal evidence – then instead of panicking about a light bulb or using one piece of tissue paper, or expecting cars to go away, we had better figure out the consequences. We had a climate change back in 535-536 AD. (And have had others throughout recorded history). We didn’t have any industry to blame, but the consequences were rather severe. Including famine. Do we need to think about preparing for a famine? Even the back-to-the-earthers are going to be in a hurt if crops won’t grow. I submit that if we are having climate change, then coping with the consequences and good scientific examination of the causes and possible cures are more important than trying to base public policy on a populist movement. If we waste our effort in going the wrong direction, we may feel warm and fuzzy and virtuous, but people could die if we are wrong. Lots of people. If it is within out power – doubtful, but possible – and we are to achieve any significant cure then this must be a coordinated worldwide effort. This will take people and nations all working together. Not trying to grind the ax of blaming the US for everything. Not exempting the Chinese and Africa. (Both pollute more than the US now. Both have worse human rights records than the US ever did). Everyone. Together. Rationally. No more killing because someone’s religion is different. How are you going to persuade them to stop?

Satan and Rebellion –

11 September 07

One fine non-day – this was before God invented time and days and all that stuff – God was kicked back admiring His plans for creation. Lucifer (Satan) – lux opher – light bearer – brightest of all the Angels wandered by. Lucifer’s attention was caught by the plans on the drawing board. He looked carefully through each stage and admired the concept. He especially liked how everything was linked and interdependent. He was wowed and said so: “Cool, boss!” Then he got to the final creation. He was appalled. He was disgusted. He was horrified. He said so: “Boss! You are out of your mind! Look, this thing is spirit and physical! Why, look at how it processes energy. This is disgusting. This is terrible. These are the filthiest things I ever saw. Gross! Yech!”.

God just smiled and said: “These things are great. I’m going to make them my children. They will learn to love. I’m going to give them free will so they can learn great lessons. I’m just totally in love with them, they are going to be my greatest creation.”

Lucifer was nauseated. “Boss, you mean they are going to have a greater place than us angels?”

God thought a minute and said “Well, I suppose you could look at it that way. But really, I love all of you too. But I can join with these humans in ways I just can’t with you. They are different.”

Satan was so revolted, he revolted. Prematurely. Satan did not get as far as the last pages of the plans. He did see that God intended to become one of the humans. He did not see that the humans could/would actually become part of God Himself. If Satan had, he would have been even more appalled, but he would have known that he could not defeat the humans.

Terrible, nasty creatures. But with a capacity for Godhood when they love enough.

Old-fashioned drugstore soda –

9 September 07

They don’t have drugstore soda fountains anymore. At least, not around here. There’s all kinds of snazzy designer ice-cream stores around, though, with flavors God never heard of. I like the old, original type.

In downtown Atlanta there was a large drugstore right across from the W.W. Orr building. The Orr building was also called the Doctor’s building. It was built in the 1930s in an art deco style. There were panels around the base with relief castings (they weren’t really carved) showing the various aspects of the medical profession. I don’t remember the name of the drugstore, but it was also art deco. It had a huge soda fountain and the soda jerks could work magic right in front of your eyes. They could make floats that would give you a cholesterol attack just by looking at them. When they made a milkshake, they really shook it. Shaken, not stirred (or whipped). But, as far as I was concerned, the soda was the king of all.

Later, when my first wife and I lived in the North Atlanta section known as Brookhaven, the last real drugstore fountain in the Atlanta area was down the street. Unfortunately, a huge road project went through about 3 months later, so I didn’t get to enjoy it long. Ah yes, progress. Anyway, the only one there who knew what to do with the big old fountain was a little, dried up old woman about 75 or so, who had been working at that fountain since the forties. She wasn’t fancy in her movements like the soda jerks I remembered. Maybe she had been when she was younger. But she had an economy of movement that was nice to watch, and the end result was just as good as I had remembered.

You need a few things to really make an old fashioned soda, but you can compromise if you want.

First you need a gasogene. What! You didn’t read your Sherlock Holmes? Well, I never. Americans call a gasogene a soda siphon. There were two ways of making soda water. The old traditional calls for dissolving yeast in some 100° water, with a bit of sugar to let it eat and bloom. It is put into a pressurized container with a valve to release the water under pressure. The yeast makes CO2 as it grows, you see. The next way is to look up a soda siphon on the internet and get one (and extra chargers). This is usually a metal pressure bottle that will be filled to a predetermined level with good water. If you don’t have good water then filter it. If there’s any chlorine smell, let it stand awhile. Then you put the cap/valve assembly on. Then you pressurize it with a CO2 charger. These are the little metal bottles that were popular in the late 50s/early 60s for propelling rockets and other things. They were also used in CO2 pellet guns, I think. Shake it well. Now you have a metal container that has water with CO2 mixed in under pressure. This will benefit from being kept in the refrigerator between uses. (Makes great Scotch and Soda!). You can also use bottle soda water from the grocery, but I have noticed that it does not keep fizz and flavor for more than a minute or two.

Next you are going to have to decide whether to go whole hog or cheat on the whipped cream. There are a couple of ways to make it. If you have a whisk attachment for your mixer that will do. Chill your mixing bowl. Take chilled heavy cream and whip the daylights out of it while adding powdered sugar to taste. Start about ¼ cup sugar to ½ pint cream. Adjust later batches to taste. You can do this with a hand whisk if you are a masochist or need good arm exercise. Whip until it makes nice peaks. You can put the whipped cream into a plastic bag with a small corner clipped off and make a simple pattern. You can screw different nozzles on and squeeze out snazzy patterns. The nozzles can be gotten at any confectioner’s of baker’s supplier. Seal it off inside another bag and store in the refrigerator until the next use. You can also buy cream whippers on the internet. These are kind of like the gasogene, but with cream and sugar instead of water. They use N2O chargers, not CO2. Same size, so don’t get them confused. The main advantage is that these come with snazzy nozzles and make it easy to squirt nice patterns. Last method: cheat. Buy Reddi-Whip or something similar. Just be aware that this is not whipped and not cream. I listed these in order of ease. From pain-in-butt to easy. I also listed them in order of flavor. Sooper-Dooper-Fantastic to pretty good. Notice the inverse relationship so common in life and cooking.

Also it helps to have soda glasses. You can get them at the grocery. A long-handled iced-tea spoon is also handy.

Put a tablespoon or two of chocolate syrup in the bottom of the glass.

Add an equal amount of soda water.

Stir the daylights out of it to thoroughly liquefy the syrup

Add enough French Vanilla ice cream to get about an inch from the top, use fully rounded scoops and don’t pack it down. We want plenty of room for liquid.

Add some more chocolate syrup over the top.

Fill it up to about ½” below the rim with soda.

Add whipped cream in a nice sloping or rounded shape to fill it up.

Fit a cherry on top.

Now everything is optional here. Try a scoop of chocolate ice cream for the bottom. Use caramel syrup and Dolce la Leche ice cream. Add a small amount of good liquid vanilla – easy there, straight vanilla tastes terrible. Smells good though. Add some chopped nuts. Add some chopped fudge. Let you imagination run wild.

Enjoy!


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