Friday, November 26, 2010

An Important Part of Cooking

An important part of cooking is creating the smell. Try this: heat the oven to 400°F. Take some chicken giblets, and maybe the wing tips, and place them with a little oil and butter in a small iron skillet. Sprinkle them with salt, a grind of pepper, and two large pinches of thyme. Set the skillet in the oven for fifteen minutes. In the meantime, chop half an onion, a small carrot, and a stalk of celery. Add to the chicken giblets, and continue cooking for another 15 minutes or so.

Take a sniff. The smell is herby from the thyme. The onions are fragrant, and you can smell the sweetness of the carrot and the fresh whiff of the celery. The aroma hits my nose when I open the oven door.

Quickly, my chicken stock takes shape as I dump the skillet contents in a saucepan, and add some water, a bay leaf, some cloves, and allspice. As the stock bubbles, the wonderful smells continue, and my home smells lived in and loved. The joy of onions, carrots, and a chicken neck transform a cool autumn day into an abundant scent of memories.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Each Day I Write a Poem

Each day I write a poem
Not always with much meter
Never published in a tome
Unsavored by most readers

Sometimes, my poems have punctuation.
Each line is filled with tidy thoughts.
Captitalized lines march in formation.
All ended neatly with tiny dots.

Or I can wander.

And not really put much thought
into heuristics.

I'm not Emily Dickinson.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Stone Gray Trunks

Stone gray trunks, leafless
limned in the radiant burst of
a declining fall sun
hold aloft a vault
dyed brilliant blue.

The brightness of autumn afternoon
fills my eye in this sanctuary
that was disguised as a forest path
just weeks ago.

I can see the vistas in the trail now.
The abrupt majesty of this place
overwhelms me in this moment.
I am grateful for this moment-
that in this little end node of time
the whole universe conspired
(for twelve billion years)
to make this happen.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Blind Passion

When Jerry, Ron, and I were traveling across America, we were having a food conversation, picking out the smells and flavors in a restaurant somewhere (possibly at the Painted Pony in St. George, Utah). Jerry remarked that without seeing the dish, and the ingredients, he wasn't picking up on the aromas and textures. He said he'd like to try the food blindfolded. Suddenly, a great idea was born.

Jerry and I talked about the blindfold idea several times, trying to figure out how people could eat a meal blindfolded. (Try it yourself; it's not easy. Hint: put a very large napkin in your lap.) Gradually, we refined the concept, and decided to try it out on a potluck group that we belong to.

Here's the idea: we would ask each guest to bring a dish that represented their cooking passion and a blindfold. Prior to the meal, we would have a blindfolded tasting of each dish. The rules were, no guest would tell the other guests what he had brought. No more than one guest could be in the kitchen at a time. While we were tasting the food, we would all be wearing blindfolds.

To make this possible, we needed some helpers. I volunteered Ron (bless his heart!), and Jerry recruited Ed. Ed and Ron worked the kitchen while six of us enjoyed the fruit of their labors. The helpers warmed up the dishes, and assisted those guests who need to make last-minute preparations of their dishes. The dishes were tasted serially, and for each presentation, Ron and Ed would put tasty morsels in six small cups, announce to the guests to put on their blindfolds, make a pass through the living room, giving us each our taste, remove the spent cups, and tell us that we could remove our blindfolds.

Having just a taste of each dish was delightful. Being blindfolded made me more aware of the food's texture. I tasted flavors that I don't think I would have noticed without the blindfold. The food was wonderful, from the papery lightness of roasted kale to the earthy, citrusy taste of a beet salad full of exotic textures and flavors. Quinoa added a bity texture to mashed sweet potatoes. Who knew that broccoli is right at home in a burrito? My offering was scalloped potatoes. There's nothing like a cheesy shot of goodness in the dark! The cruncy finale was a pumpkin cake roll filled with toffee and whipped cream, and topped with a caramel sauce. What a taste that was, a spongy, creamy, crunchy treat.

After each taste we took off our blindfolds and discussed the subject morsel. Each cook spent a few seconds talking about his dish. Personally, the most surprising taste and texture was the roasted kale. It was papery, and it's tasted exploded on the tongue. I thought the ending, the pumpkin roll was completely awesome!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Mouse Has Roared

The people have spoken, and it's going to take some real leadership in Washington to figure out exactly what the people have said. Mostly, I think, the people are fed up. All kinds of themes emerge from this disgruntlement: smaller government, less taxes, poor economy, government overreach, take back our nation. I'm depressed, but if I were Harry Reid, Mitch McConnell, or John Boehner, I'd be terrified. I don't think the government has overreached. I think our politicians have. The voters sent a message: change the way things are done in Washington. The conundrum is what do the voters want changed?

Our country is in for a lot of misery, two years of misery - maybe a lot more. The United States is in a different kind of recession, and businesses and people have lost confidence in the economy. This particularly hurts our consumer-driven economy, because people are saving more, spending less, and hunkering down for the long term. In short, personal responsibility is taking the economy to hell in a handbasket. For all the reasons that people voted in this election, this economic trend isn't going to change much in the short and medium term, not until the American people feel confident about their paychecks and their jobs.

Politicos are proposing solutions that aren't going to solve the economic crisis. Cutting taxes and reducing spending won't get the public to consume more. Instead, those two proposals will spread a lot more misery by removing an (already tattered) economic safety net from the very poor, and threaten programs meant to help the middle class. As for the government overreach charge, regardless of how voters feel about the bailout, it will be repaid to the Treasury, and the bailout did keep the finance system and the economy from collapsing entirely. Without government intervention, the calamity would have been a lot worse. I believe that cynical politicians know this, and that "government overreach" is a bogus argument that has confused voters.

Politicos want to repeal Obamacare. Beware. That really isn't what the voters want. When polled on various parts of the health insurance law, most voters agree with the provisions. But cynical politicians have twisted the law and scared the voters into thinking that the law will impose a socialistic dictatorship on America. Politicians sneer about "European-style healthcare." Irony is lost on our leaders. Most Europeans who are covered by a government-sponsored healthcare plan are really quite happy to have it. I'm much more frightened by our "American-style political discourse."

Rand Paul wants to take back America. He echoes many other newly-elected leaders on their way to Washington, DC. Who are these leaders taking America from? Is the level of discourse so polarized that those with whom we disagree are un-American? To the politicians who promise to take back America, I would offer this advice: look in the mirror. The American people want a responsive government. They want politicians who will work across party divides to find solutions. And the American voters will take back Capital Hill in 2012, if you don't make governing work. If that doesn't terrify you, you're already in trouble.