Saturday, June 17, 2006


I've never been quite certain whether Guacamole is classified as a sauce or a condiment. Opinions very among cooking mavens I have talked to. Recently I was completely taken in by a joke thing On
  • The Last Duchess

  • where she posted a recipe that was supposed to be from Laura Bush's kitchen for "Slim Jim Gravy." I was unable to follow the link to the site which was clearly a satire site. And there were several thing in the recipe that were obviously not something any serious culinary arts devotee would be able to stomach. You can check out the post itself
  • holy shit i hope i did this right
  • . I also remembered a real dust up that happened when Laura who, unlike her all hat and no cattle "rancher" husband is truly Texan born and bred gave out her recipe for guacamole. While I don't feel a crappy guacamole is a sign of poor character or anything I do object to taking something fresh, and delicious and turning it into a mush of bottled flavors. Her recipe called for bottled lemon juice (traditional guacamole uses fresh lime but while I can stand the substitution of lemon I can't abide bottled juice) and bottled hot sauce instead of fresh chiles (ultimate heresy, I not only want fresh I want them from my garden or a close friend's). One of the reasons that I fell for the satire is that I have seen in my travels truly odious and disgusting things done to decent food and called "Southern Style." There are exceptions as always. Paula Deen is a hero on Food Network. Paul Prudhomme is a national treasure. Emeril Lagasse found his muse in New Orleans. But these are exceptions to the deep-fried greasy starchy fat cooked in fat salted heavily smothered with white glue gravy rule that gets lumped on your plate throughout the south. So, truly, Slim Jim Gravy was not something I would doubt the mere existence of. Enough background stuff, I'll get on with the recipe before I start a regional culture war.


    4 ripe avocado (soft but not mushy)
    1 medium brown (or sweet, Imperial Valley Sweets being best) onion
    4 serrano chiles
    2 tomatoes
    1 to 2 limes

    That's really all you need. Any more ingredients will clutter up the palette.

    Take the avocados, cut in half, take out the seed (and throw that thing away, it is total rubbish that leaving the seed in will keep your guacamole from turning brown. airtight containers, that's what stops brown, lime juice, that's what stops brown) scoop out of the skin and into a large mixing bowl.
    Peel and finely dice the onion. I like to go about halfway between a 1/8 inch dice and minced for the size. I likes mine chunky. Put it in the bowl with the avocado.
    Cut the serranos in half and remove the pith and the seeds (if you're a chili burn junky leave as much pith and seed in as you want to do, just remember that the degree of chili heat will grow exponentially overnight) and mince (I use a hand chopper for speed's sake)
    Dice the tomato about 1/4"
    Juice the limes on top of everything and using a potato masher mash the hell out of it.

    Stop when you want to. I like to have chunks of avocado mixing in with the tomato, onion and chile bits so I usually quit before it reaches mush stage.

    That's it. That's Guacamole. If you make your own tortilla chips (cut into wedge shapes and deep fry at 380°) you have the ultimate. Guacamole is also wonderful on toast, crackers, hamburgers, hot dogs, tacos, enchiladas, you get the picture. Best wishes in your endeavors. I, as ever, stand at the ready to give any continuing advice or moral support through the comments section should it be required.
    Promote Network Neutrality - Save The Internet

    Salutes are due to the Good Jesus' General for posting this first. I have great affection for mon general, but not in a homosexual way.

    Wednesday, June 14, 2006

    Abbie's Song

    My current German Shepherd, Abbie, was, in her youth, an Air Force Ordinance sniffer. She's a hero. She's also the smartest dog I've ever been around. She is also totally ball obsessed. That's actually a trait they look for in sniffer dogs. Because the dogs aren't looking for bombs, dope, people, or whatever; they are looking for their ball. Abbie's favorites are squeaky balls. She chews the squeak out pretty fast though, so new ones that are still squeaky are mingled with ones without sound effects. With four balls of the same shape and color and only one that's still producing sound you can tell her "Abbie, get the squeaky ball." She will pick them up until she finds the one that squeaks and then be ready to play. Play time is all day. Every day. Here is Abbie's version of the Pete Seeger song "Turn, Turn, Turn" offered with no apologies of any kind.

    "To everything, let's play ball
    There is a season to play ball
    And a time that we should go play ball

    A time to build up
    A time to play ball
    A time to laugh
    A time to play ball
    A time to cast away balls
    A time that we should play more ball"

    I'm always singing to the critters. They each end up with their own personal theme song. I smell a series here.

    From the NewsHour, Brzezinski remembers he was once a lion

    After the President's dog and pony show in the Rose Garden the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer had one of their informal debate sessions. Jimmy Carter's National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski (here after referred to as "Big B") went head to head with Walter Russell Mead. First off it was no contest. Mead is some dude with bad hair who wrote a book I haven't read ("Special Providence: American Policy and How it Changed the World." you can tell from the title alone that it's bullshit) but the administration is casting about wildly for parrots and human tape recorders to spout their crap.

    I have a soft spot for Carter. I remember the excesses of the Nixon and Johnson era when J. Edgar Hoover ran the F.B.I. as his personal fief, when McNamera decided it was better to lie and keep us in Viet Nam than tell us we'd been had and save a few extra American lives, when Nixon and his minions decided it was more important for Nixon to get a second term than to obey the fucking law. Carter came in as a breath of fresh air. You always knew that he was a decent man. You just knew that from the way Miss Lillian acted, from their loving indulgence of Silly Billy, from Jimmy's manner of telling you things, you knew he was decent. Of course, decency has rarely had a secure place in Washington so his time was limited. We needed Reagan to blow in and spout some comforting macho bullshit that made us like being Americans even while we were training the Salvadoran death squads and the minions of Big Business that Teddy Roosevelt and Wilson tried to rein in ran rampant through the economy and looted freely. Jimmy just walked away and started building houses for the homeless. They called him a failure as a President. I have always said we failed Jimmy as a people. But, I digress...any way Big B was like the anti-Kissenger, intellectual but realistic, he understood that when you make deals with monsters (tinpot dictators whose only redeeming virtue is that they are facist, not communist. You know the type, just like Hitler) you weaken and undermine any policy you might be trying to put forward. So here we are last night, Big B versus Whatzizface on whether or not there has been real progress in Iraq or were they trotting out the same bullshit and trying to tell us that it's brown ice in the punchbowl not turds. The quotes are from the NewsHour site here: (I promise to become more facile with my HTML coding as I mature in this arena, but it will probably end up just like the time I became a whiz at PL1, by the time I caught up with the technology that existed when I began my studies I was already behind the times by two years but I fucking promise anyway) The stuff that is obviously not a quote is stuff I made up to make Whatzizface seem even stupider.

    Dr. Brzezinski, the president ended his news conference saying, "Going to war in Iraq was worth it. It was necessary, and it will succeed." Do you agree?

    ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI, Former National Security Adviser to President Carter:
    No, I do not. I don't think it was worth it. I don't think it is succeeding, and I think we ought to think very seriously as to how we can extract still some degree of success from what, obviously, has been a major misadventure.
    JIM LEHRER: You did not hear the president say anything today that gave you confidence that success was still possible under his way of doing it?
    ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: Well, the president opened his press conference by make a statement, which I suspect most Americans didn't quite fully interpret correctly. This is what he said: "I have just returned from Baghdad. I was inspired to be able to visit the capital of a free and democratic Iraq."
    Now, this is what the president actually visited. This is an aerial map of Baghdad and, within it, the viewers can see a small spot. That is the so-called Green Zone, a fortified American fortress housing the American embassy, the American high command, and all the major institutions of the Iraqi, as he said, free and democratic government, in an American fortress.
    This is worse than in the bad days of Vietnam, when the South Vietnamese regime was still operating from its own palaces, had its own army and so forth. We do not have in Iraq a free and democratic government that is functioning.

    Big B comes out and smacks the opening pitch right the hell out of there. He didn't even have to mention that the President of the United States had to keep his travel plans secret from his staff and Cabinet and Congress for security reasons and sneak into this fortress under a combined armed presence of American Military AND Blackwater mercenaries.

    JIM LEHRER: Walter Mead, what do you think of that?

    WALTER RUSSELL MEAD, Council on Foreign Relations:
    Well, I think that's -- you know, there is, obviously, some truth to it, but I wouldn't be quite so grim about it, because, particularly making the comparison with South Vietnam, the big difference in South Vietnam is we had a government but we could never quite find enough of a people who wanted to support that government.

    In Iraq, I think it's very clear that the large majority of Iraqis wants this government to work. Now, whether they'll be able to succeed, that's another question.

    I don't think the president made anybody think it was a sure thing that we were going to win in Iraq, but I look at some slow changes, and I do see some encouraging signs.

    I mean, yes, it's true, the government is meeting in the Green Zone, but the government is meeting. You know, just a few weeks ago, there were a lot of people saying that the government would never be able -- they would never be able to assemble a national unity government. Then, when the key security ministries were left unfilled, they said, "Well, you see, they could do the easy part, but not the hard part." Now they've done that.

    So, lessee, in essence Whatzizface sez: "Ouch, damn, those fast homers give me whiplash. Ok, now what? He said stuff that's true so I can't do the liar liar thing, so I'll concede the point and try to change the subject. Of course, he starts that part with a bald faced lie. There's no way to know what the majority of Iraqis want, it isn't safe to leave the Green Zone and talk to them. Besides that, body armor, helmets and automatic weapons tend to stifle the free exchange of ideas don'tcha think there Whatzizface? translation minus bullshit: The government is meeting inside the American Fortress because nowhere else in the fucking city is safe enough to hold meetings. Without the American Army and the hired guns of Halliburton standing by locked and loaded you just can't do shit in the fucking capitol. But wait kids, Whatzizface ain't done dancing yet...

    The strategy that they were discussing for using 75,000 troops to begin to pacify Baghdad is a strategy that a lot of critics have been pressing on them for some time. And interestingly, in that strategy, they're calling for the effort to be led by Iraqis, with only about 10 percent of the forces being coalition.
    None of this would have been even remotely possible a year ago. That's not to say that Iraq is paradise or that somehow the end is just around the corner, but there -- if you look at it over time, I think you do see some very positive changes in the balance of forces.

    So, their big wonderful touchstone of how much progress is being made is that they are going to start a house to house, toe to toe fucking street fight. We are going to make Baghdad look just like Hue or Sarejevo. Fuck me tender. OK Big B, handle some shit dude.

    JIM LEHRER: Do you see those same positive changes, Dr. Brzezinski?
    ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: I would have to have an enormous magnifying glass to be able to see them that way. The fact of the matter is: The government is meeting in an American fortress.
    (blammo, right between the fucking eyes)

    If it is meeting in an American fortress, it is because it is not able to operate outside of an American fortress. That tells you a lot. The notions that a new plan is being put in to enhance security in Baghdad makes me think of a person in the midst of a huge fire in a house who all of a sudden announces that he has a new plan for the installation of air conditioning. (I love that airconditioning metaphor Big B you rock dude!)

    I mean, the fact of the matter is that, three years after the occupation of Baghdad, the authority we have installed is besieged and relatively helpless, and a civil war is beginning to mushroom, under the occupation, which is unable to crush the insurgency, because it is a foreign occupation. (is there like a mercy rule in TV journalism? You know like in T-Ball when your kids are behind a bazillion to nothing?)

    And, last but not least, we have to get rid of the mindset, which is really by now totally ahistorical -- we no longer live in the age of colonialism. We no longer have to assume "the white man's burden" in order to civilize others, and I'm using these phrases in quotation marks. (that means he's quoting Kipling you illiterate sons of bitches)

    The Iraqis are a historical people. They're quite capable of handling things on their own, provided their leaders are real leaders of the country and not essentially proteges of an occupying power hiding in an American fortress.

    In other words, if you want to act like there is a real government in Iraq, you have to quit pretending assholes. If you want to quell the insurgency, how about let's stop murdering (haditha and elsewhere), torturing (secret prisons, Abu Grahib, Guantanamo) If the best idea you have for peace and security is a full on house to house street fight in a city you've already lost this one bucko. Drink coffee instead of Kool-Aid, that's what grownups are doing in the morning.

    I only excerpted the first exchange. Click on the link. Read the whole thing. Big B, dude you fucking rock!

    poetry night - e.e. cummings

    i sing of Olaf glad and big
    whose warmest heart recoiled at war:
    a conscientious object-or

    his wellbelovéd colonel(trig
    westpointer most succinctly bred)
    took erring Olaf soon in hand;
    but--though an host of overjoyed
    noncoms(first knocking on the
    head him)do through icy waters roll
    that helplessness which others stroke
    with brushes recently employed
    anent this muddy toiletbowl,
    while kindred intellects evoke
    allegiance per blunt instruments--
    Olaf(being to all intents
    a corpse and wanting any rag
    upon what God unto him gave)
    responds,without getting annoyed
    "I will not kiss your fucking flag"

    straightway the silver bird looked grave
    (departing hurriedly to shave)

    but--though all kinds of officers
    (a yearning nation's blueeyed pride)
    their passive prey did kick and curse
    until for wear their clarion
    voices and boots were much the worse,
    and egged the firstclassprivates on
    his rectum wickedly to tease
    by means of skilfully applied
    bayonets roasted hot with heat--
    Olaf(upon what were once knees)
    does almost ceaselessly repeat
    "there is some shit I will not eat"

    our president,being of which
    assertions duly notified
    threw the yellowsonofabitch
    into a dungeon,where he died

    Christ(of His mercy infinite)
    i pray to see;and Olaf,too

    preponderatingly because
    unless statistics lie he was
    more brave than me:
    more blond than you.

    e.e. cummings 1931

    I've been coming back to this work of cummings for a while now. It is horridly powerful. With the Republican ranting and raving, and it having been flag day and all, I had to turn to this one.
    He starts out like Virgil (I sing of arms and the man), then he turns the epic on its head. cummings always said that his experience as an ambulance driver in WWI scrambled his head more than a little bit. Hearing the President today dancing around the issue of Guantanemo brought the cruelty of a military prison even farther home with me. Bush just wants the yellowsonsofbitches in his own dungeon to be forgotten. cummings switching madcap between classical structure and bar room doggerel propels us deeper and deeping into the horror of this story. I always picture some big dumb farm boy out of Minnesota. Born and bred Lutheran, full of decency, who, while he doesn't want to go to war, turns out to be better bred than the colonel, braver than the warriors, better indeed than all of us.

    Why Harp and Sword?

    I love this song. It almost became the national anthem of Ireland.
    The Minstrel Boy to the war is gone
    In the ranks of death you will find him
    His father's sword he hath girded on
    And his wild harp slung behind him
    Land of Song! say the Warrior Bards
    Tho' all the world betrays thee
    One sword, at least, Thy Rights shall guard
    One faithful harp shall praise thee!
    The Minstrel fell! But the foeman's chain
    Could not bring that proud soul under
    The harp he lov'd ne'er spoke again
    For he tore its chords asunder
    And said "No chains shall sully thee
    Thou soul of love and brav'ry!
    Thy songs were made for the pure and free,
    They shall never sound in slavery!

    Harpers are not mild people. We are individualistic, anachronistic, and stubborn analog items in this increasingly digital world. In history and legend harpers have been pretty damned rowdy. King David of the bible (remember he's the guy who invented Rock and Roll, he took a rock and rolled that giant), Tristan, Galahad, Sigfried, all harpers. It used to be that skill with the harp to accompany oneself while singing or telling stories was essential to being considered a complete human being. The sentiments expressed in this old, beautiful song speak to, and for, me. The harp is, with it's cousin the lyre, the oldest of stringed instruments.

    Almost every culture has harps in one form or another. Because it is so basic and so old it speaks to us on a very primal level. I have seen the sound of the harp touch people physically. I was playing at a busy shopping mall during the Christmas season. I would time and again watch people as they moved in a frenzy from store to store all of a sudden be stopped short by the sound of the harp. They would stop, breathe, and return to a more genial, human state. On my breaks I would let kids sit at the harp and touch the strings. They were captivated. When you play the harp it nestles on your shoulder. The action of playing it is like gathering the notes into your heart. It is also an unforgiving, and demanding instrument. I think that it's worth it though.

    Swords are also very old. They are among the most personal of weapons. You have to get in close to use them. It takes commitment to submit to the training and discipline of the blade. I have often said that I would be fine with the return of the Code Duello in our society. Things like tort law, pissants like Karl Rove, would all be improved by allowing folks to reach for their swords when they are aggrieved. One of my favorite Presidents, Andrew Jackson, solved his issues with a slanderous press by calling out and duelling the miscreants who wrote that evil stuff about his wife. And, let us not forget, a sitting Vice President, Aaron Burr, called out and met Alexander Hamilton, killed him, and kept his job. I would have loved being able to call up Ken Lay and say "You simpering bastard, you cheated my mother, the park, dawn, bring your sword asshole." It would have been much for fufilling to watch him defend himself on a sand bar than in a courtroom. On the sand bar, low tide takes the losers.

    Anyway that's enough ranting for now....

    Tuesday, June 13, 2006

    truffles, the ultimate chocolate experience

    I loves me some truffles. They are about as good as chocolate gets. Since my truffle operation is closed down for the summer months, I thought it might be fun to go through the step by step process. I'm working off the top of my head here, having never really done this before, but I promise if you bear with me you will have the ultimate chocolate experience.

    First though, some background on the materials. You want the best chocolate you can find (I'm not even talking about milk chocolate or that white shit I'm talking semi or bittersweet). My current favorite base chocolate to use is from Trader Joe's, their 70% cocoa mass pound plus bars. It rocks. If you can't find that, or have another, better favorite go with it. Ghiradhelli is quite good, although for the finest expression of the chocolate maker's art you should expect to be dealing with an import from the Belgians or the Swiss. On the butter, if you can find a euro style butter get it. It's worth the expense. Something like a truffle is not only about taste, it's about feel, you want it to feel right in the mouth, along with melting instantly. For the cream, a manufacturing cream is the ticket. 40% butterfat babies! Don't be shy. Go with it. Call a dairy outlet, pester the guys at your local market, be relentless and find the stuff. You'll thank me when it's over, I promise.

    Now to the process. Take two and a half pounds of the chocolate and bust it up good. If you use the pound plus bars the sections squares will do nicely. Then, over a medium flame heat 1 quart cream and a stick and a half of unsalted butter. This is important. Don't boil the cream. Take it right to the edge of boiling. But don't boil. Little tiny foaming stuff is alright if you stop it there, but no matter what, don't boil the cream. The reason for this is to achieve a much creamier and less fudgy consistency in the ganache (that's french for what we are making right now). So, you have your cream on the edge of a boil, the butter is melted, dump it over the busted up chocolate and wait two minutes. Then using what ever you prefer (I use a big ass whisk because I'm working with a batch at least 4 times this size) stir, gently. Stir until it is glossy and smooth. You want all the chocolate melted into the cream and butter, and you want a nice tight liason.

    Pour the warm ganache into a disposable roasting pan lined with plastic wrap (I like press and seal best). Now it's time to choose your flavoring. Frozen raspberries are nice, if you chop them up fine while they're frozen use about 1/2 cup. Just stir it into the ganache. To flavor with a liqueuer use 1/3 cup. My favorites are Calvados (I know it's a brandy not a liqueur but the apple flavor jumps right out of the chocolate), Starbuck's Coffee Liqueur (beats the hell out of Kahlua or Tia Maria and they ain't bad), Frangelico, Chambord (heaven), Amaretto,, are all proven winners. You can use fresh or frozen fruit but the liqueurs bring the most flavor through. I had my chemist friend Jim explain it to me but it was making my head hurt to listen and I quit.

    Cover closely (any ganache exposed to air will skin up and that's gross). Refrigerate overnight.
    The next day roll the ganache into balls. I roll mine to come out with about 8 finished truffles to the pound. Cover the balls closely again and if you're going to dip right away put them into the freezer to set them firmly. Otherwise, chill them for at least 3 hours.

    Now you have some choices. The first and most cruicial is dip or not? Dipping, using fine chocolate requires that you master the art and magic of tempering chocolate. It has to do with aligning the fats and ending up with a tight shiny shell without a lot of ugly light brown blooming. To temper without a tempering machine you have two options. You can use the microwave by putting chunked chocolate in for 10 seconds at a time, taking it out and stirring until it is almost smooth, then adding a big chunk of tempered chocolate. This way you can dip 4 or 5 truffles at a crack before you have to start all over again. If you have an instant read thermometer and a good heating pad (make friends with somebody who has a bad back) you can slowly melt the chocolate without ever letting it get above 92 degrees. Again, you can then dip 4 or 5 truffles before you have to add more chocolate and bring it back up to 92. To decorate your truffles use what ever you want. I use colored compound stuff (I will never call it chocolate) from cake decorating places, dyed sugars, chopped nuts, what ever pleases you tickles me plum to death. Cool down slowly. I make my truffles on the large end of the scale. Hell, I'm making them and if I want them to come out around 8 to the pound then good for me.
    I protect them by putting them into paper 2oz souffle cups. I then refrigerate them until about 2 hours before I plan to serve them.

    If you are a lazy git and don't want to bother with the hassles of temper and dipping you can do this. In the mircowave melt the chocolate in 20 second high end runs. Stirring between sessions until it is smooth and glossy. Then dip or roll the ganache balls in the melted chocolate, tap off or shake the excess away and wait about a minute. Once the chocolate starts to firm up again but before it hardens roll the truffle in cocoa, finely chopped nuts, powdered sugar and stuff like that. They'll never know what a slacker you really are when you serve them this way.

    Another thing to remember about ganache. It is a mother sauce. There are many other recipes that utilize it. Once made ganache will keep refrigerated for a week. frozen for a month. If you put a couple tablespoons of ganache into hot milk and drink it you will want to beat the crap out of the next person who offers you cocoa from a powder. Try it. Truffles can change your life. Another reason to not go to Iraq is they have to do evil things to chocolate to get it to the troops. Screw that heresy. Bring them home today. Feed them the real stuff.

    Update: I forgot to mention that this recipe makes around 4 dozen finished truffles. That they are slightly different size and shape is all part of the hand made charm.

    ok, so now what?

    alright, i've bowed, bent the knee, all that stuff. so i suppose i should make some kind of statement of what i want to do with this. lesse, don't know. i intend to use this to talk about important stuff like chocolate, music, poetry, books, history, philosophy, and less important stuff like politics and current affairs.