Virgil on January 3, 2014
My current pared down blogroll

My current pared down blogroll

This actually could have been written as long as ten years ago, unfortunately. I have been on the Internet since it started at universities and created web sites after it went “public” in 1996 or thereabouts. I loved the initial Internet. Nothing commercial, everything free, and people sharing ideas and their expertise for the love of doing so and meeting other like-minded folks. Back in 1997 or so, I predicted the commercial contamination of the Internet. I was soooooooo right. Now, everyone has to try and make a buck, that is the motivation. That is a terrible motivation, in my opinion, but I am not a commercially crass lover of all things money-making. Alas. although plenty of great stuff is on the Internet, greed has won the day.

Which brings me to my point. Back when blogs started up, everyone had a blogroll. A blogroll, to those who don’t know, and from looking at other people’s blogs, no one remembers what they are, were a means of sharing other great blogs with your readers. No one paid you and I never even required reciprocity, as in “I put you on my blogroll and you put me on yours.” Or, even worse, “Your blog may suck, but if you pay me, I’ll put you on my blogroll.”

Currently, I am one of the few blogs that still has a completely open blogroll. If I like your blog, I add you. I let you know to give you the opportunity to reciprocate if you like mine. But, if you don’t reciprocate, I don’t remove your blog from my blogroll. I have noticed that most blogs don’t even have blogrolls, but, hey, they have tons of ads no one clicks on. A few have blogrolls that are very small, a few friends maybe and thinly veiled ads to affiliated blogs.

I think one person on my blogroll has me on hers, and we are friends. Most sites on my blogroll have no blogrolls at all, but they all have plenty of ads. Obviously, this is a pet peeve of mine and I am paring my blogroll down big time. I find it a real shame that most bloggers today are so afraid of traffic going to another place (other than their copius ads, of course) that they have abandoned the blogroll, if they ever knew what one was in the first place. Many today have no idea of the original vision of what the Internet was and should be, but are only about trying to make money. It is yet another sign of the times and the me-me generations that care for nothing other than themselves.

Bottom line is you should never start a blog to make money. Your blog will suck. You don’t hire people to write crappy entries for you. It should be about passion for your subject, not about money.

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Virgil on December 27, 2013
Permaculture course

Permaculture course

I discovered this course on Christmas Day, so, since it is free, I figured I would treat myself to a Christmas present to me from me. The course is offered by the Regenerative Leadership Institute Community Foundation and covers a wide range of topics. It looks to be a very informative course.

It is a 72 hour certificate course on Permaculture design and some of the topics covered include:

  • Natural building construction
  • Pattern observation and site analysis
  • Renewable energy and appropriate technology
  • Reading the land and natural cycles
  • Rainwater harvesting and conservation
  • Soil regeneration and land restoration
  • Passive and active solar design
  • Food forests, trees, and garden design
  • Greywater considerations and system design
  • Business and financial permaculture
  • Waste recycling and treatment

The curriculum is wide ranging and covers communities as a whole, not just individual homes or farms, although, from what I can tell, you can take the information and apply it in your own personal circumstances, whatever the context may be. The world needs to be thinking about these kinds of topics before the chemical and GMO pushing companies and governments make it impossible. For community activists, this promises to be very helpful in developing plans and arguments for natural rather than artificial, living. I am looking forward to it.

The main instructor is Larry Korn, a student of Masanobu Fukuoka, who helped translate and edit the English language version of The One-Straw Revolution. He is also an educator, consultant, editor and author in the fields of permaculture, natural farming, sustainable landscaping and local food production.

Click here to take the course. Let me know what you think.

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Good Stock, Life on a Low Simmer, by Sanford D'Amato. A memoir, with recipes

Good Stock, Life on a Low Simmer, by Sanford D’Amato. A memoir, with recipes

I was lucky enough to get a copy of Sanford D’Amato’s Good Stock: Life on a Slow Simmer. It is, in short, a memoir with recipes. Not something I’d seen before, but it really works well with this book and I predict more of this kind of book in the future. Each chapter ends with a selection of sensational recipes that relate to that particular chapter. What a great combination.

Strictly from an aesthetic point of view, this is a beautiful book, hardcover and incredible food photography in color by Kevin Miyazaki. No dust cover and it lies flat nicely so you can follow a recipe you are making from it.

Sandford D’Amato grew up and worked in what he calls the era before Food Network. He is not a celebrity chef. Except he actually is, among other chefs, the highest form of praise. Once I got into the book, I couldn’t put it down. This is not a tell-all Anthony Bourdain type memoir (and I love Anthony Bourdain). It the words of a very humble man who happens to have started out in an Italian family who owned a grocery store in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, not exactly a town we think of when we think culinary mecca. He is close to my age and I really related to his descriptions of how life used to be.

Small grocery stores, bakeries, butcher shops. Shopkeepers knowing their customers and catering to them. The Sanford grocery store opened by his grandfather and passed on to his father, must have been a wonderful place for a child in those nostalgic times. For those who do not remember such things, the chapters on D’Amato’s childhood, the first three, will give you a wonderful glimpse into a bygone era. And the recipes are mouth watering, from Fennel Sausage Lasagna to Sweet-Sour German Potato Salat (which is to die for) to his surly grandfather’s Braciola to Tart Cherry Lattice Pie to Charred Corn, Zucchini, and Mussel Soup. And all these recipes have a story.

Perhaps my favorite part of the book is D’Amato’s journey to the Culinary Institute of America and his early life as a chef afterward, ending with him being one of the first non-French chefs to be hired by a French restaurant in New York City. At that time, New York City really was the culinary epicenter of the United States. Back then, fine dining was defined by French restaurants, owned and manned by Frenchmen. Frenchmen only, it turns out.

He was a member of the first Culinary Institute of America class after they moved to Hyde Park, New York. There he learned that he had to be aggressive to get ahead and noticed. D’Amato was a polite midwestern kid, not used to the New York atmosphere. But, he quickly figured it out and acquired an important mentor, Peter van Erp, an eccentric but brilliant chef instructor. In those days, instructors had side businesses catering or other food related endeavors. van Erp was one of the “chosen” instructors, you didn’t ask to work with him, you hoped he would ask you. And he asked D’Amato. He could see the potential in this young, green around the ears, budding chef. D’Amato helped him cook (and do anything else required) for an exclusive, private club in Pawling, New York, called the Dutchess Valley Rod and Gun Club. After graduation, he was honored to be a fellow under van Erp in the school’s main restaurant, the Escoffier Room. A couple of the recipes from this time of  the young chef’s life: Fermented Black Bean Clams with Spicy Salami and Ginger and Maple-Glazed Duck with Burnt Orange Vinaigrette, both of these have my mouth watering.

The book moves on to his early days as a chef in New York City, culminating in landing a job at a French restaurant, a rare thing in those days, and becoming accepted by the French . He tells about his crowning glory in opening his restaurant, with his wife Angie, Sanford, in the grocery store his grandfather and father owned in Milwaukee. They even lived upstairs from the restaurant for a long time. Anyone contemplating opening a restaurant must read this account of what it is really like, even for a chef with a great reputation. It is not easy and you will work your butt off. Sanford turned out to be Milwaukee’s best restaurant and brought the chef many accolades, among them James Beard award nominations and eventual win and being selected to be one of the cooks to prepare Julia Childs’ 80th birthday dinner.

The most important thing about this book is learning a philosophy of life, as exemplified by Sanford D’Amato’s life and the path he travelled to become one of America’s greatest chefs. I highly recommend this book, even if you don’t cook, but those recipes beckon to me, everything from sweets to entrees.

Book info:
Good Stock: Life on a Slow Simmer
by Sandford D’Amato
2013, Agate Midway, ISBN 978-1-57284-150-5, $35.00 list
Get it at amazon.com for $26.07

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Virgil on December 14, 2013
Mackerel

Mackerel

I came across some interesting research recently that demonstrates that eating two or more servings of oily fish a week is positively correlated with reduced chances of having a stroke and cardiovascular disease, while just eating fish oil supplements does not. To me, this is just common sense, but it is nice to have scientific evidence to back-up my thoughts on supplements.

I have said for many, many years that taking supplements cannot have the same beneficial as getting the same nutrients via eating foods high in said nutrients. Supplements extract out or chemically synthesize these nutrients and you eat them in isolation. You lose the interactivity between the beneficial nutrients and all the other substances in the actual fish, vegetable, or whatever it is you are eating. These substances act in concert with each other, in my opinion, to provide the desired results. That is, as they say, how nature intended it. Nature did not intend us to eat specific things in isolation of their source.

I think everyone knows that fish oil is good for you. But the best way to get that fish oil is to eat the actual fish containing the oils. Many people don’t like the more oily fish, like mackerel and sardines, but they taste great if prepared properly. I personally love fresh sardines, something I can’t find in the US, but are abundant in France, Italy, Greece, Turkey and other Mediterranean countries. Fresh sardines are a far cry from those in the tins you see in grocery stores. Same with anchovies.

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Virgil on December 12, 2013
Just after pouring into cheesecloth layered strainer

Just after pouring into cheesecloth layered strainer

I am taking an online course from Harvard called Science & Cooking: From Haute Cuisine to Soft Matter Science. Not for the faint of heart, it is actually a physics/chemistry class applied to cooking. But, some of the best and most innovative chefs in the world are part of it. For example Adrian Ferran, the father of molecular gastronomy. Enough said. I have to admit that I am not a math genius, so have a very hard time with that aspect. Yet, even if you don’t understand half the actual science, you can learn a lot.

For example, this week (I am on Week 2), the lesson explored energy, temperature, and heat and the science behind why adding heat (energy) to food makes it cook or otherwise do what you want it to do. In the lab, I made ricotta cheese. The principles demonstrated here is that adding acid (vinegar) to whole milk changes the milk. Yet, if you add heat AND the acid, you end up with something that actually tastes good. Without heat, it tastes nasty.I am going to share the recipe here, mine turned out really well, I’ll never buy ricotta again.

Ricotta cheese

  •  1 liter whole milk
  • 2 tablespoons white vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

You need a thermometer that will measure at least down to 100 degrees F and up to at least 200 degrees F. I used a candy thermometer that went down to 100 degrees, but a more precise one would have been better that went below 100 degrees F. A meat thermometer, except maybe for a digital one, doesn’t go down low enough.

Mix milk and salt in a pot and place on stove. Prepare a large bowl with ice and water to make an ice bath to quickly cool down your

Ricotta before going in fridge

Ricotta before going in fridge

mixture when the time comes. Also, prepare another large bowl with a strainer layered with four layers of cheesecloth. Now you are ready to heat the milk.

Heat the milk under medium high heat to 198 degrees F, stirring continuously. As soon as it reaches the correct temperature, remove from heat and, as quickly as possible, add the two tablespoons of white vinegar. Quickly stir the mixture for a second or two, no more than that. Let sit for about 15 minutes. Do not stir as this will disrupt the chemical process caused by the vinegar (acid). The milk starts to clump up and coagulate. After this, put in ice water bath until temperature reduces to 97 degrees F.

Next, pour mixture into the cheesecloth lined strainer and allow to drain. At this point, you can stir the mixture to help with the draining off of the whey. I found it necessary to pour off the whey as the fluid level reached the bottom of the strainer to ensure it continues to drain. Fold over the cheesecloth over the ricotta and let it sit in the fridge at least 20 minutes before eating. Mine rocks, I was really happy. This will be going in my next lasagna.

 

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China rejects US GMO corn shipments

China rejects US GMO corn shipments

Most countries in the developed world and many in underdeveloped nations ban or restrict use of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). Most at least have laws requiring labeling of any foods that contain GMOs, so the consumer may decide. In most of the United States, Monsanto, other agribusiness giants, and USDA have gone full-tilt boogie to keep labeling away from US consumers, with huge donations funding efforts to defeat ballot measures to require labeling on the national and state levels.

In the latest round of GMO disasters for US growers (and I don’t feel sorry for any farmer planting GMO crops), China just rejected 120 million metric tonnes of corn tainted with an unapproved insect-resistant MIR 162 variety of corn (yes, China allows some GMO strains to be imported). Last month, they rejected 60 million tonnes for the same reason. The US is the largest corn exporter in the world and China is the third largest customer.

The European Union countries have also rejected countless imports of GMO contaminated goods from the United States. The question for me, is why do we fill orders to these countries with goods we know they don’t want. Do we think we might slip one over on them? Maybe and it is possible that has happened. Or, in the case of corn in particular, is the farmer planting non-GMO varieties honestly that have become contaminated by his neighbors GMO crop? This has been documented countless times and there is very little to be done to stop it. Barriers zones don’t work all the time, if ever. It is like pesticide drift from a conventional field to an organic field, yielding the organic crops useless as organic products. In the US, nothing is done about these things. It is a very sad failure by the USDA and the courts.

There are plenty of places to sell GMO crops, why don’t we honor the wishes of other countries that have the welfare of their citizens at heart, unlike the US, where anything goes in the world of food except for more and more restrictions on local small producers in the false name of “safety.” Meanwhile, our food supply gets worse and worse.

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Virgil on December 3, 2013
B17 Flying Fortress under attack

B17 Flying Fortress under attack. You can see the attacking German plane behind the tail and the tail gunner had his hands full with this attack.

Ice cream is a favorite among Americans, as well as in other countries. The US Air Force was actually founded in 1947, but during World War II, it was part of the Army, the US Army Air Corps. Probably the main heavy US bomber during that war was the B17, the “Flying Fortress.” In addition to bombs, it carried defensive machine guns at the front, sides, belly, and tail. Being a belly or tail gunner had to be scary as hell, especially if you couldn’t get out of your compartment and the plane had to do a crash landing. I knew a guy once who was a belly gunner on one of these things. Those machine guns were the plane’s only defense against enemy fighters and the bombers were not overly fast or maneuverable. You hopefully also had some friendly fighter planes around to help protect you. Beside enemy fighters, there was the ever present flak and anti-aircraft guns on the ground. The men who flew and manned these bombers were incredibly brave.

Americans flying on bombing runs out of England came up with an ingenious way to make use of their bombing runs, assuming they made it home. They devised a way to make ice cream while on bombing missions. According to a great book I am now reading,  Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen, by Harold McGee (review to follow when I am

Tail gunner on a B17

Tail gunner on a B17

done reading it),

On March 13, 1943, the New York Times reported that American fliers stationed in Britain had discovered an ingenious way of making ice cream while on duty. A story titled “Flying Fortresses Double as Ice-Cream Freezers” disclosed that the airmen “place prepared ice-cream mixture in a large can and anchor it to the rear gunner’s compartment of a Flying Fortress. It is well shaken up and nicely frozen by flying over enemy territory at high altitudes.”

If they made it home, they and others had a great treat, homemade ice cream!

 

 

 

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Virgil on November 27, 2013
Jamestown Colony

Jamestown Colony

Thanksgiving is a wonderful holiday that celebrates family and being thankful for all the good things we have. It is a day of respite and relaxation, one to be savored. It really makes no difference that the holiday we have all experienced in our lifetimes bears no resemblance to the reality of what is called the first Thanksgiving. So, this post certainly recognizes and celebrates the modern Thanksgiving, but this holiday may top the list of myths. Nothing wrong with myths, of course, but I decided this year’s post would be a little different.

First things first. the first Thanksgiving was not at Plymouth Colony in 1621 and not celebrated by the Pilgrims. There were numerous prior dinners of thanks prior to this, including Jamestown, Virginia (1610 in the spring) that were actually called Thanksgiving. In the 1621 Plymouth Colony festival, it was not called Thanksgiving yet, it was a normal harvest festival such as are celebrated worldwide. But even prior to Jamestown, the Spanish held “thanksgivings” in the 1500s in North America, as did those at Roanoke Colony, North Carolina, circa 1586.

But, somehow, the Plymouth Colony Thanksgiving myth is the one we celebrate today. And it appears that that entire affair is also a

Traditional first Thanksgiving, Plymouth Colony

Traditional first Thanksgiving, Plymouth Colony

myth, at least in some people’s minds.  I cannot verify the authenticity of the following version, but it is interesting and, I suppose, possible. But I have seen no proof and accounts by the colonists do not mention this at all. And, frankly, they had no reason not to mention it if it were true.

According to a spokesman of the modern day Wampanoag Nation, the Indians were not invited. They heard shots and noise and were worried that the colonists might attack them. Much like in places like Afghanistan, people often celebrate with firing weapons, etc. It has gotten quite a few Afghans killed by the coalition, including an entire wedding party. So Chief Massasoit assembled a war party to check things out and prepared to fight if necessary. The colonists explained they were having a harvest festival, but the Indians stayed nearby to make sure that was all it was. They were not invited and things were probably tense rather than the friendly and loving atmosphere portrayed today. Is this version true? Perhaps. Is the version we have been taught true? Probably not. No one will ever really know.

But it is certain that Thanksgiving as we know it is a myth, a nice myth for sure and one we should continue as it brings people together in a positive way, at least these days it does.

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Virgil on November 18, 2013
Salt cod gently simmering

Salt cod gently simmering

Nostalgia can make you crave foods you ate as a child. I wrote recently about my mother’s canned corned beef hash and eggs, a super easy and decidedly non-gourmet meal that I remember fondly and hadn’t had in years. When I made it, it was still good. Read Momma’s corned beef hash and eggs.

My mother-in-law, Pat, was a child in Liverpool during World War II. Due to the German bombings, they went to Wales to ride out the war. There are a number of dishes she remembers as a child and has fond memories of. One, finn and haddie, we can’t find, yet. Marrowfat peas is another we are working on getting at a non-ridiculous price. Salt cod is one we have found in the US. You can find salt cod online and at specialty stores. Even in our relatively small city, Augusta, GA, there is an ethnic food store that has it.

It is simple to make and it tastes good, although definitely not in the gourmet category. Who cares? It is a tasty and filling meal. The main thing is soaking the salt cod in changes of water before you make the meal.

Pat’s salt cod

Place the salt cod in a bowl of water completely submerged. Put in the fridge overnight. The next day, pour out the water, replace it with

Salt cod served with Southern butter beans and bread butter buddies

Salt cod served with Southern butter beans and butties

fresh water and put back in the fridge. Note that the fish is already cured by the salt, like country ham, this is to just remove most of the salt. That evening, the fish is ready to cook. If you like more salt, cook it is the same water as the second soaking. If less salt, just use fresh water.

Put in a pan, again completely submerged by water, bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer very gently for 15-20 minutes. Serve it with a big blob of butter.

We love Southern butter beans (lima beans), made with some ham or bacon, and served it with that, along with buttered bread. They would also be great with English peas of any type.

This is a really quick and easy meal that tastes remarkably good.

 

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Virgil on November 17, 2013
The love of a dog

The love of a dog

This blog is dedicated to my dog, Maudie, aka Little Buddy. It was a nod to a great companion in all ways that also happens to like any food that humans eat. I thought it was kind of cute, many in my family thought I was insane. Maybe I am. If I am, so is my wife. Maudie has her wrapped around her paws, as well. I started this blog when she was still a puppy and she is over fours years old now. Long may she run.

Recently, there was a graphic circulating on Facebook that I want to share here. It is about dogs, not food, but really fits the theme of this blog, so I couldn’t resist. Here are some comments and thoughts on dogs in general and Maudie in particular.

My original comment to the post:

Anyone who has never had that special dog will think this is insane. But, pure love and no strings attached. My little dog would die protecting me in a minute up against anything and I would do the same for her.

A comment from a friend:

Dogs have evolved with us and have influenced our evolution along the way too. We are linked to their species by that, they’re a part of our humanity.

My response:

I have thought a lot about what you said and it is so true. Some other animal species have connections with humans, but

Maudie climbing a magnolia tree

Maudie climbing a magnolia tree

nothing like dogs do. Horses come close, but a dog will die for you without any hesitation. No other species (other than other humans, as in protecting their families), would ever do that. And lots of species are smart, but a smart dog beats them all in intelligence. Our dog Maudie aka Little Buddy, has an English vocabulary that is probably at least 20 words and she knows what we are going to do (like go out, so she can make sure she can go, too) before we know it sometimes. She is also a healer, and knows when one of us sick and reacts accordingly. She will also try and take out any threat against us and she weighs only 19 lbs. She would take on a pit bull if she had to. George Washington wrote a story about one of her breed (she is a feist) that was killed defending her owner against a bear. Unreal.

Her response:

just read something today that says they now think dogs have been with humans for 19,000 years, 9000 years longer than previously believed.

My response:

I believe it, there is a psychic bond with Maudie, possibly reincarnation is also involved. Not sure, never thought I would have such a relationship with a dog, although we have had other incredible dogs, like Lili, who was also like Maudie in devotion and love.

One thing about feists is they are believed to be derived from native American dogs and English small dogs. They have been documented since the 18th century and are totally Southern.

Am I crazy? I don’t know and don’t care. Little Buddy landed in a great home that treats her like a princess and she returns the favor.

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