Tuesday, June 21, 2011

I Miss You

Last Sunday was Father’s Day. My own father died in 1989. I miss him. He was only 81 when he left us. His father was 82. Guess that gives me an idea how long I’ll last.

Daddy used to love to eat. He loved some of the strange things my mother made. He loved what I made too. I remember long ago when he suggested I add more rye flour to the first two loaves of rye bread I made. I made them immediately. (The first two were being eaten fast.) I was only twelve years old. I was a good girl. I did what Daddy told me. We ended up with two loaves of what could have been very nice door stops.

Dad loved my chili and my pizza. Mom loved a night off from cooking. Of course, I never stopped making bread. I had my master recipe back then. It was good for pizza, bread sticks, onion bread, and Taos Indian bread. Izzy has gotten some of that master recipe too. Bread isn’t as easy to bake in Florida as it was in Illinois. But we still try. Chili worked well in Illinois, Arizona, and Florida. Glad enchiladas worked when I took them to Brooklyn!

For Father’s Day Izzy and I had pork chops. Ever since the iced tea experiments the beginning of June, I wanted to braise the chops in green tea infused with five-spice powder. I did it and I was glad. Daddy would have liked it. I can hear his voice now. “You made this up? It’s good. Not too spicy. Can I have more?”

Sure, Dad. You can have more. Save some for Tom and some for Ernie. There’s plenty for all my men who are no longer with me. All the men I miss . . . .

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Not Your Famous Southern Sweet Tea

June in America is, among other things, National Iced Tea Month. June 10, 2011, also happened to be National Iced Tea Day. With temperatures hitting the mid-90s every day, the timing seemed perfect to experiment with iced tea.

A check of the cabinet found Russian black loose tea and dozens of boxed-up teabags. Yerba Mate, orange pekoe, peach, raspberry, white, green, and rose offered plenty of base ingredients. Since June 10 was also National Herb & Spice Day, that’s the direction I went.

I started off with orange pekoe collected from Chinese take-out meals. Nearly out of coffee, a day of iced tea seemed to go well with 95 degree temperatures on a sunny afternoon. About six years ago I bought a spoon-shaped tea infuser on the clearance rack of my favorite grocery store. I put some dried rosemary in the infuser, closed it up, and put it in the cup to steep with the teabag. My bargain infuser wasn’t worth the promises. It was, however, worth the dollar I paid. Curled up dry rosemary leaked from the edges of the infuser leaving evidence of the flavor floating in the tea and hugging the sides of the cup. It was worth picking rosemary from my morning drink.

The next test was simple: Green tea with ground ginger. It was good. Izzy and I liked it better than the first tea. My preference, I must admit, was influenced by no need to pick hard, stem-like things out of my cup. I think Izzy preferred it because she got more of it. I think it may have worked better with candied ginger rather than powdered.

My favorite of all the teas came on Saturday. Green tea with five-spice powder was a winner! I love cooking with five-spice. Never thought I’d want to drink it. I drank three cups. I remembered my five-spice chicken with orange marmalade, five-spice pork chops with cherry jam, and five-spice chicken with cocoa and hot chile. They were all done in a sauté pan. Most ended up overcooked. With the heat that should stick around past Thanksgiving this year, I think I’ll play with my five-spice tea and the slow cooker.

Think I might carry this tea experiment past the end of June. Hot or cold, sweetened or not, flavored teas are a pleasant change from the plain unflavored water I drink by the pint (at least 10 cups a day!) and slow down the need for coffee.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Revenge Part Deux

In REVENGE! you learned why I feel no guilt eating pork and chicken. But what about beef? What about the bovine made “Gotta have my cow!’’ a motto of mine for years? No, it had nothing to do with shipping bovine seminal vesicles (otherwise known as bull balls) to England for years. I have no idea what they did with them but I feel responsible for thousands of steers during that time.

Let’s start with the Cook County Fair. I think the year was 1960. Mom got to drive the Budweiser team around the race track at Arlington Park. I got to meet Elsie the Cow. Elsie threw up on me. She ruined my day.

I was an exhibitor at the Illinois State Fair two years later. That’s a whole story in itself. A local florist in Palatine, Illinois was glad I was invited. I bought my flowers there. My flower arrangements brought me to the fair. We drove to Springfield in a station wagon that smelled like a funeral home. Checking out the livestock exhibits was the quickest way to wash all that sweet from my nose.

Somewhere between getting there and going home I cuddled sheep, pet rabbits, and got stomped on by a huge Black Angus steer. He must have broken a couple of toes but after my mother’s bout with the medics at the fair, I wasn’t about to let them look at my foot. Some tape from the first-aid kit and a new pair of socks and I was good to go. And go I did. I must have walked about a hundred miles. Think I had a hamburger as my next meal.

Geese are safe but ducks are not. I had a girlfriend who lived on a farm with “watch geese.” The first time I went there, a dozen geese circled the car. I hopped out and my friend yelled, “Get back in the car!” I didn’t listen. Instead I held out my hand and ran it over the head of one goose. Before I knew it, six geese were nuzzling me. The other six were chasing the other three people who had gotten out of the car. My friend, also named Judy, told us the geese had never been friendly with strangers. They watched the farm better than trained dogs.

And ducks? My brother and I got baby “chicks” on Easter that grew into ducks. Dad built an enclosure for them behind the garage. Whenever I went out to feed them, they bit my hands. I’ve been lucky enough to bite back as often as I can find the right chef. The expense? I chalk that up to the price of bandages for the farmers who raised the ducks.

One night during a rain storm the ducks demolished their pen made of chicken wire and lumber poked into the now muddy ground. It was late and Mom and Dad took off hunting our ducks, armed only with flashlights. Our parents returned without our ducks. My brother was heartbroken. I started thinking about planting onions where the duck pen had stood. I didn’t care if they ever brought them home. My I think my brother roamed the neighborhood for the rest of the week searching for his duck, Coca-Cola, and mine, Ducky-Lucky. I sensed the truth the Sunday following the great duck escape. Mom said it was pheasant. I knew better. My only question was which duck we were eating.

I do feel guilty eating some animal protein. I grew up eating lamb. It was always a special dinner for me. Then I met some sheep. They were warm and soft and cuddly. The lanolin in their fur made my hands feel so good. Best of all, they were friendly. I think my diet went lambless for five years after spending Fourth of July in a livestock trailer with a timid little lamb. (No, its fleece was not white as snow. Sort of gray actually.)

How do I justify the Thanksgiving turkey? Don’t think I’ll be doing that for a while. When I did, it was simple. If imagining a turkey, nude and roasted, as a giant evil chicken doesn’t work; listing examples of turkey intelligence should do it. Have you ever heard that turkeys drown during rain storms because they run through the rain staring at the sky? Don’t believe it. They suffocate themselves by huddling together so tight they can’t breathe. If an animal ever earned the right to be dinner, it’s Ben Franklin’s favorite fowl, the turkey.

While we’re talking meat, have you ever tried alligator? You should. It’s delicious. Besides, it’s scary, ugly, and could kill you. No need to feel any guilt. Besides, you could make luggage with some of what’s left.

Tofu burgers, anyone?


Revenge is a dish best served cold, it has been said. The only way I like revenge served cold is maybe on a sandwich. Yes, I’ve been known to eat revenge.

It all started when I was a little over two years old. Dad and his boss went hunting, for pheasants I think, and brought the families with. One family consisted of Joe, his wife Josephine, and their black Lab named Prince. The other was Mom, Dad, and me. I wasn’t expected to be as helpful as the retriever.

I got to feed the chickens on the farm the first morning we were there. The chickens were much more interested in pecking my ankles through my socks than they were in the corn I threw from the bucket I carried. After my legs were cleaned up and my bloody socks changed, I went back outside, steering clear of the chickens. I headed over to the pigpen to check out a sow and her new litter. The sow was a very protective mother and tried to tear down the wall of the pen to scare me away. I had just climbed up for a better look when the world shook and the sow snorted as if to say, “Leave my babies alone!” I got the message and spent the rest of the day in the kitchen with Mom, Josephine, and Mrs. K to keep me safe.

That night, after dinner, I went to bed in an upstairs bedroom. I like to think I slept with Prince but think it was more likely I did not. He probably slept in the barn.

The next day the men took the women with them in my father’s Nash sedan when they went hunting. Of course I went with. I was afraid to be left at the farmhouse with animals trying to get me. Daddy’s car had always been a safe place.

The men grabbed their guns and Prince and headed out to hunt birds. They hoped to get enough to take home for themselves and to feed the farmhouse for dinner. Soon enough they were nowhere to be seen.

The women talked women talk. I looked out the window and ate apples and oranges from a paper bag. Mom and Josephine ate apples and oranges too. They threw the apple cores and orange peels out the car windows. So did I. That was not allowed on the streets of Chicago but seemed perfectly natural in a farmer’s field in South Dakota.

Belly full, I took a nap until I heard a commotion from the front seat. Mom and Josephine were very upset. I think it was the first, and maybe the last, time I saw my mother afraid of anything. Josephine tried her best to keep from screaming. She failed. Mom wished out loud the men had left her a gun. I looked out the windows of the car and saw the ground had changed. Gone was green flecked with wildflowers, apple cores, and orange peels. Now all we saw were the backs of giant animals surrounding the car. Maybe it was instinct that sent me balancing on the back of the driver’s seat and reaching for the car horn. Mom helped me with the car horn. She was bigger than I was, closer to the steering wheel, and much more successful at making a racket our hunting men were sure to hear.

Hear it they did. The first evidence of their return were gunshots into the air, of course. It wouldn’t do to kill a bunch of Farmer K’s hogs. Prince tried carefully to herd the hogs away from the car. Dad and Joe yelled at the hogs, shooting in the air each time the giant pigs halted. Soon we were all together. Daddy heard the story of the hogs surrounding us. Then he heard how I was the hero with the car horn. On the way back to the farmhouse, birds collected and put in the trunk, Prince sitting next to me in the back seat, my father suggested I think of those hogs the next time he cooked bacon for breakfast. It was his way of making any fear disappear. I took it one step more, pretending the pheasant I would eat that night was really one of those chickens from the morning before.

Can anybody really blame me for enjoying pork and chicken? Yes, friends, revenge is sweet, especially with a good barbeque sauce.