Sunday, December 31, 2017

It's Just Matt and Ana Maria...

Was at a dinner party over the holidays and the host finally opened the wine I brought: Merlot, Seven Hills, Walla Walla, Washington, 2013.  He splashed a rush of gorgeous varietal color into immense burgundy stemware, the nose was intense and it focused lush blueberries, cocoa, and currents.  I love this already.  The first sip, and I closed my eyes...delicate tannins and balanced acidity on the palate, the aromas carried over to the palate, with blackberries and dark chocolate setting off a series of mid and back palate detonations and finally, breathing the whole experience through the olfactory after swallowing.  My eyes opened, my chin dropped as I stared into this divine liquid clinging to the sides of my Austrian crystal stem.

"Matt needs to be here," I lamented, shaking my head,"this is friggin stellar, it's a pour that you talk to!"  He knows because he planted and started the vineyard and winery with his dad and 7 brothers back in the 70s.

Sometimes, I talk to wine.  When it is particularly enchanting, it becomes a muse that temps us into not only description, but, conversation.  She speaks without talking while we respond with all 5 senses, waiting for responses to our rhetorical questions.  I needed my favorite interpreter, my wine geek brother to help me translate this beautiful verse spoken from sun and soil, vine and rain.

Matt and Ana came by last week for Clam Chowder and Garlic Bread on Christmas Eve.  Not an unusual event since they are practically family; we've seen each other in the craziest circumstances and supported each other during triumphant and sometimes bitter life moments.  Actually, they're better than blood relations since we don't carry grudges, can come together or stay away as long as we want.  If something happens on the way to the dinner table (I over-cooked a pork loin once...horribly!), we say, "oh, it's just Matt and Ana.  They understand..."
Should we go to their place and the egg whites for the egg nog are on the ceiling because the spatula got dropped into the mixing bowl, no problem.  "It's just the Quinns, they understand.  Can you grab a mop?  Oh, and watch the seat, it's a little sticky.  Beer's in the back fridge.  Dinner will be a little late."

Our friendship is like that comfy, plaid bathrobe you would never get rid of, ya know, the one missing it's cinch, so, you take a leather belt and secure it, much to the distress of your family.  Or a t-shirt with rips in the pits and the collar is about to separate, but, it has so many great memories.  You didn't get into it to 'create memories' or become threadbare, but, it just kinda happened because every time you came in contact with it, it just felt right. And stains?  We laugh them off eventually, and call them 'character marks.'  Each was earned and from each we learned. 

Ana is a great story teller.  She spent her adolescence in foreign countries as her father worked for the State department.  Since her mom was from Mexico, Ana blended well during posts in Chile, Bolivia and Italy.  Her relaxed manner in regards to time and schedules is legend; her compassion for the down-trodden is exemplary.  Summer parties on the back deck are incomplete until she tells a tale of high school cigarette smoking at a convent in Rome, visits to Uncle Pepe' in Mexico City or market excursions in Bolivia with the domestic staff.  Ana's timing is pitch-perfect, she displays a grin that barely breaks, laughs so hard it squishes her cheeks, and works an eyebrow that conveys simple surprise to unbearable breaches of protocol.   She commands unsolicited, yet, prolonged hugs from my adult boys, their undivided attention during Life Journey critique and plate clearing, Prosecco filling needs are fulfilled with a well directed, maternal smile.

All in a barely 5 foot frame.

Our friendship began over meals at our restaurant, the former Ivy House.  They were customers, I was the chef in a sweaty t-shirt, apron and shorts, pressing hands and checking on customers satisfaction. They were a young family, but, evolved into much more than clients.  We share a passion for stinky cheeses, eclectic menus, tapas, any kind of grilled meat.  Wine is a particular area of shared interest; we go deep into acids, tannins, mouth-feel and finish.  We can sit at a table, talk, laugh, discuss and agree-to-disagree till the wee hours.
They were restaurant regulars, became friends and are now indispensable members of our family.  We are solid.

Food, wine, dining together are transformational; we discover, we learn, celebrate and grow.


We are all blessed and this next year, I hope you have someone so special, so close you can succeed and fail with the same sense of acceptance.  'Foodie Friends' that praise your best efforts and are blind to your mistakes. Food is the vehicle, the table is our road, but, lasting friendship is the destination. 

Take care, God bless and remember,

"Food, Faith, Family and Friends,
the Best Things in Life Aren't Things!"


Friday, December 15, 2017

Gifts Money Can't Buy...

Received a Facebook post that a friend had made, imploring anyone in the area to get to the mountain quick; they had 20" of new snow and regardless of seasonal shopping obligations, we needed to embrace the day, the season, by immersing ourselves in God's glorious nature.  She concluded that, "the best things in Life aren't things..."

So, it got me to thinking.  What is Christmas about, really.  Other than the main focus of the celebration of our Lord's birth, and a beautiful celebration it is, where do we stand in the mix of all this swirling, commercial confusion?  Do we buy more stuff to show our love, do we add $100 to the collection plate at church, or plug-in an extra display to our outdoor light scheme?  I stopped and thought of the last 24 hours and how it was different than other months.  How am I changing and how are people changing during Christmas...?

Standing in line at the neighborhood, Safeway supermarket line is one of my favorite experiences.  Who is the checker, what is her stress level and who are my co-shoppers?  I'm usually in the Express Line, which is neither fast, nor a line, since so many people have 15 items or less, that there is a daisy-chain of humanity trailing off into the pet food aisle.  Nonetheless, we stand and eventually a conversation begins.
"So, fresh pineapple already cut up and vanilla extract...I see a cake in your future," I commented to the lady behind me.  Conversations are never initiated by the person behind, that would be intrusive.  It is up to the person in front to pass a favorable word to the person behind us; reaching out, as it were in a kindly manner.
"Well, yes, my neighbor watched our house while we were away during Thanksgiving and this is going to be our 'thank you' to her.  She is such a dear."
"Well, bless your heart, I wish I was your neighbor, that's a very kind thing to do..." I said.
"It IS the Season and you know, it's such a great time to thank all the people in our lives.  We're so very fortunate to have such wonderful neighbors.  Our kids grew up together and attended the same schools.  We're blessed to have neighbors who are genuine friends!"


I was sitting on the couch this afternoon, working through the flu, when the screen door made the 1-2-3 noise that only a wheelchair bound neighbor with a cane can make.  Like she's a Marine breaching a door in Afghanistan, fer chrissakes!
"Hey Dennis, I was just dropping off some soup for you.  It's my Romanian grandmas recipe and it will make you feel better."
"Thanks, Rhonda-le'."  I was in socks standing at the threshold, but, she was parked with the brake on and ready for a visit.  Went outside and sat on the steps, crossed my arms round my legs and asked how she was.
"Oh Dennis, I told him that I'd give him a year and after that, I'd move back to family in Washington.  This working in Seattle and home on the weekends isn't what a relationship is about.  We have a house in Portland and that's where he needs to work!"

She talked for a bit about how she was so angry with him, but, how they both loved each other so much.
"Dennis, he told me that he couldn't live without me," she whispered in a soft voice, "wanna have a drink?"

I popped up, grabbed the dish towel wrapped chicken soup and bounced into the kitchen.  Put the soup in the fridge, put on a toasty duck hunting coat, poured two bourbons in lightly faceted, whiskey neat glasses and went back outside.  Her eyes lit up.  She slid her right hand into a hidden pocket on her Hoveround and whipped out a cigarette like an old West gunslinger.
"Oh, Dennis...what's this?!"
"Bourbon," I quipped, "you said we need to get together for a Holiday drink.  Well, here we are!"
"Just seems like we used talk more during the nicer weather, ya know, out in the yard.  Just talking. I miss that...well, Cheers!" she lamented.
"Did I tell you that big-ass coyote came up the street last night at 7:00 as the girls were getting into the car for the Christmas pageant?  The BIG one!  He high-tailed it to the top of the hill once a cars lights came on him,"  I told her matter-of-factly.
"Oh Dennis, when's somebody going to do something about him?!  I mean, all they found of Michelle's cat was a paw up in the cul-d'-sac.  That's it, a paw right there in the road!  Don't you have a gun with a silencer or something?!"
I assured her that I would do my best with Lisa and Siobhan out of town this week.  I couldn't divulge details, since it may incriminate her.  Rhonda nodded briskly, then flicked her cigarette and smiled slowly.
"It's getting cold and I should get in.  Thank you for the chat and drink," as she reached for her pumpkin pie plate from Thanksgiving I brought out, "and Fluffy still sleeps on my back porch sometimes.  I brought her a blanket, but, she seems to prefer the elements."
I thanked her for watching my cat, the neighbors cats, my gopher holes, hops and tomato plants.
"It's what I do Dennis.  Some people say I should make a business out of it..." she cackled as her buggy pulled a 180 in the walkway and down the driveway she went.

Christmas is a perfect opportunity for reflection.  Winter is upon us, the world is quiet, and in silence, there is God.  Each single element we bring into that silence is profound and magnified by it's purity.  I put on Mark O'Connor, a bluegrass fiddler, this evening with only the Christmas tree lit to write.  No TV. No extraneous noise, laugh tracks, booming voices from commercials.  Just the tap of my heel lightly touching the Douglass Fir floor in time to Amazing Grace.
The traditional music foundations from Irish and Scots immigrants formed the basis of all American music and is still so moving when we allow it to be so.  Peaceful, emotive, reflective; it can make a fire burn slowly and deliberately as you watch it consume itself and fall asleep to it's wisps and gentle sighs.

Thank you, Kristy Lou for your passion of snow, beauty and service to others.
Thank you, Rhonda for chicken soup to a sick neighbor.
Thank you, Mark O'Connor for bringing traditional American music to Christmas.

The Best Things in Life Aren't Things!

Merry Christmas,

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Cooking at the community college #5..."I hate onions."

Between 2:00 and 4:00 p.m., things are a little quiet at the griddle station.  Restock for the next day, pre-cleaning and sanitizing for the days end, and service for the occasional food order.
'Mason' approached, looking somewhat bewildered as he glanced side-to-side, hoping to find instructions posted or a counselor on hand to guide his search for a hot sandwich.

"How's it going, what can I do for you?" I asked, giving him a generous and welcoming smile.  The verbal cues seemed to settle his meal time trepidation and he flashed a broad, beaming smile.

"Oh, sweet!  Ummm, I just wanna get a burger and some fries," he stated.   I showed him how to fill out the order form and where to place it for future reference.

"Soooo, just meat and cheese?" I asked, scanning his white chit, "No lettuce, pickle, tomato, onions?"
He claimed to have missed that part, feeling that it would be like the advertising pictures with all the accompaniments on it.

"Everything only no onions, hate 'em," was his final word.

Come to find out, after a very short interview with his culinary consultant, Mason didn't like the heat of raw onions.  We can fix that, I told him.

"OK, while, the burger is cooking, let's try some things out with onions," I stated, like an instructor prodding a reluctant student, "we're gonna grill some using a few easy-to-do preparations.  You folks in the home audience can try this in your own kitchens."  My fake, info-mercial voice was on and it caused Mason to break a crease of a grin on one side of his mouth.  He strained his neck to watch how I put melted bacon drippings onto the hot griddle and spread thinly sliced onions onto the surface in a low stack.

"Next, I'll use just canola oil in another pile, and finally, cook a third portion in canola then, reduce with Balsamic vinegar.  That shit will blow you away, dude!"  I was getting excited as the chemistry of applying heat to the carbohydrates in onions was explained.  Those carbs converted to simple sugars, then, the simple sugars became 'caramelized' with additional heat, giving grilled onions a sweetness that is antithetical to the pungency we experience in say, a fresh salsa.

"Dude, it smells so friggin' sweet!" he told me as his eyebrows raised while pulling on the bill of his ball cap, leaning further over the grill, "that's amazing..."

With a pair of kitchen tongs, I pinched the onions in bacon fat for him to taste.  His face said he had just finished a test.  The ones in canola, he gave a neutral nod of agreement.  The onions in oil and reduced in Balsamic vinegar, elicited the look of a marathon finisher.

"Oh...My...God...!" he quietly murmured, "I want those on my burger!"

"What did you learn at college today, Mason?!  That onions are friggin dee-licious when they're prepared the way you like 'em, right?  I chided.

"Yes, sir.  Thank you SO much!" he concluded, reaching over the sneeze guard for a fist bump.

Atta Boy...

Cooking at the Community College...#2...Miss Tina

(This was from June '17, but, forgot to post it)

"Well, hellllll-o, handsome!" It was Tina, my favorite transitioning student at the community college, sidling up to the sneeze guard separating her from me at the fryer station.

 "How's your day goin'?" she inquired in a perky, supermarket, check out girl tone of voice. She then leaned one arm on the old tray line, swinging her chin upon her shoulder in a rehearsed pose of classic, Hollywood seduction.  Goodness, it's early, I thought, but, we have theater in the cafe' today. With great earnestly, I resolved to remain virtuous to this cooing temptress by shaking a basket of tater tots, grabbing her standing, daily order of gourmet fries and dropping them into the scalding oil.

"Not too shabby," I started, looking away from her and gazing out across the Cougar Cafe' pausing, "but, it just got better."

Looking directly at her, I needed to make eye contact and parry her fledgling advance.  A confused, 20 year old queen isn't going to put me on my heels, I thought.  Flattering though it may be, attempting to put this middle-aged cook in a dither at my own work space is not an open audition. There will be push back.  Gloves off...

"How's your morning going, sweetheart?" I confidently inquired, "love your blouse and jeans shorts outfit...PERfect for our first 90 degree day of the year.  And the dark denim of the cut off short-shorts? Nice contrast to the lighter top.  I LOVE the puffy, Mexican peasant shoulders, too.  They really suit your body type.  Oh well, I could go on..."

Her mouth was visibly agape; hazel eyes bulging and stunned behind black rimmed, safety glasses.  A blank expression had set into a light, powdery foundation; a few blotches of acne concealer barely visible under a soft pink expertly brushed into her plumped cheeks. The boy from Pendleton that became a girl in Carlton actually blushed.  She took a breath and composed herself.  Someone finally noticed her.

"It's all I had today.  Was running late, slept through my first mid-term, then...," she began making swirling gestures with a hand in the air, rolling her eyes in an attempt to break my fixed and piercing stare.  Tina actually looked away and pretended to wave at a friend across the cafe'.  She nervously resumed our conversation and peered into the fryer, hoping her gaze would complete the cooking process.

"Girl did what Girl had to do with what Girl had," I stated matter-or-factly,  "And she looks FABULOUS!" I confirmed, pulling the french fries out to hang for a few seconds.  Tossing them in a bowl with seasoning salt and into a paper-lined basket, I then loaded them with Tina's favorite toppings: bacon, cheddar cheese, garlic/parm and sour cream.  Presenting the dish to her, she commented,

"And you remembered no green onions..."

"Of course I remembered.  Enjoy, and have a great rest of your day, sweetheart" I offered.

Daintily selecting, then tasting a few shoestring potatoes, Tina turned, threw her head back and winked,

"It just got better..."

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Cooking at the Community College, #4, 'Gene'

Probably in his mid-fifties, he strolled through the food court area surveying choices, cold cases with prepared foods, beverage coolers with colorful, trendy products and fountain stations with inverted RC Cola cups, stacked in columns and at the ready.  A tray with Rice Krispie Treats in tidy plastic envelopes occupied one shelf, cookies the size of dinner plates sat shingled neatly next to an Italian pottery bowl of apples, oranges and bananas; Devil and Angel.  Finally, the ubiquitous 'Bagel with Cream Cheese', a throwback to the '70s, holding steady next to the not yet filled lunch crock pot of  'Soup of the Day.'

None of which impressed Gene, nor do they ever.  The man from Boise via Mollala, does like to take in the sights though, just in case there's something to entice his predictable tastes.  Invariably, he moseys on over to the griddle station, says hello and fills out a breakfast order ticket for a dish that is familiar, offering great value: two buttermilk pancakes the size of hubcaps, with two strips of bacon, cooked, but, not crisp.

"She wants me to pay for toilet paper, can ya believe that?!"  he calmly stated, fully expecting the absurdity of the statement required no voice intonation and my immediate concurrence.  His head was cocked slightly backwards, black rimmed glasses resting on the bottom third of his nose with every intent of seeing through them at this acute angle.  Unfortunately, being a mouth-breather, it makes him look cross-eyed and detracts from any thought emanating from his mouth. The comb-over haircut doesn't help matters any and putting a vest over yesterdays elk hunting shirt can't hide the fact that you're wearing the same clothes two days in a row...

"So, whaddya think about that?  $425 dollars a month for my room and she wants me to pay for toilet paper.  Doesn't seem right, does it?  To you, it don't seem right, does it?  I mean whadda YOU think about that?"
Gene was laying his case out in the court of common sense as his two pancakes got the flip.  It's hard to keep a straight face sometimes.  The faint whistles he makes when he speaks nearly kill me.  Looks like all his own teeth, but, s-words come out like he's calling a wayward pooch in from a morning shit on the front lawn.

"Ya know, with these hood fans right over my head," I called in an exaggerated manner, "it's hard to hear very well, but, I'll tell you what.  If you have a common restroom for multiple tenants, seems to me that the land lord should cover that expense, since you all don't have a private bath.  She's just trying to put that cost onto you...ain't right, Gene" I offered.

He nodded and grinned, giving his receding hairline a reassuring swipe with this left hand to confirm his stand and opinion on things.  Gene even seemed to bounce a time or two on his feet, giving it a 'Hell Yeah!" while bobbing his head.

"Movin' in with my daughter at the end of the month and gave my notice," he concluded, "so, ta hell with that landlord, anyways."
I assured him that was a sound and prudent move; being with family and closer to the community college was a win-win.

"So, what are you studying, right now?  What's your plan after completing your education?" I asked as I draped his frisbee-sized flapjacks on a plate.

"Well, I'm studyin' reading and math.  Never read so well and need to be better with numbers," he whispered across the sneeze guard.
"I'm on disability, ya know.  Got T-boned by a drunk when I was a cab driver in Portland.  Get $947. 32 per month.  The new rent will be $300, school is covered, take the bus, so, I got about $500 free money each month.  Pretty good, huh?"

"Reading and Math...what am I gonna do with it?" he beamed looking up from his pancakes,

"Enjoy Life more...!"

Thanks, Gene.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Cooking for...None?!

I miss cooking for starving, ravenous boys.  I'm talkin' about high school boys that wake up hungry, eat potatoes, bacon, biscuits for breakfast and chug a gallon jug of milk as they try to hide behind the refrigerator door.  The very same lads have lunch at school and upon return home, make a B-line for the kitchen, dropping books, gym bags and jackets along the way, following their noses to the stove top, lifting a few pot lids to inspect the evenings offerings.  The first question is always the same for every guy,
"When's dinner ready, I'm STARVING!!" The high school exchange students were more tactful in their inquiries,
"Um, Mistah Queen, what time is dinn-ah?"  6:00, same as always, Nghia or Luis or Ching-shi.

Music to my ears. Young men will and do eat anything, so, you're guaranteed success and a feeling of accomplishment.  There are no picky eaters, no allergies or sensitivities, no scraps in the garbage.  It's clean and they'll do dishes when you ask them.  But, when they leave, it's like you've been down-sized at work or retired.  You've gone from boots on the ground to management.  Player to coach.


Hey, I think to myself, I can still cook for a crowd.  Come on, somebody come over, text some kids to invade and raise hell. I need a party in the basement requiring late night appetizers.


Siobhan awoke Monday morning for her second week of 5th grade.
"Baby, what would you like for breakfast, eggs and bacon?  An omelette? Bagel with cream cheese or a chicken-cheese quesadilla?"

"Daddy, I'm not very hungry.  I have to take my shower and do my hair.  Thanks."
Risa, our Japanese community college, female student hasn't started classes yet, so, she is asleep till noon.  There I stood like a batter in the box taking practice swings, only no pitcher.  Actually, no game.  Shoved my cast iron pan to the back burner in disgust and disbelief.  This is how it ends, I thought, old cooks don't die, they just don't have anymore customers.  They shop, do their mis en place, take inventory, plan seasonal adjustments and events, but, lack a clientele.  They get diabetes, the gout and burst like an over-ripe melon in August.  Wait a second...


My next door neighbor with her MS, cigarettes, two electric chairs and prying personal questions, who loves to trim my shrubbery without asking, who smoke bombs my gopher holes so they don't migrate to her yard, she always appreciates a plate when her boyfriend is away for the week.

(text message): Hey, I'm coming over with some breakfast.  You awake?  I'll put it outside the sliding glass door.

(Rhonda reply): I'm awake, come in and set it on the kitchen counter.

I dish up a Tillamook cheddar omelette with mushrooms, bacon and green onions.  A quick wrap with plastic and out the back door I go.  She's slid the door open ahead of me as I approached her back yard.

"Dennis, just put it by the microwave.  Whadja make anyways?"
Oh, nothing special, I tell her as I tip the plate towards her.  The omelette is shining with a garnish of salsa and sour cream on top.

"Oh, DEN-iss, that's beautiful.  And HUGE!  How I'm gonna eat all that?"
"One bite at a time," I reply, "and use a napkin," winking at her.
"Thank you, Dennis."

"No Rhonda, thank YOU for being here, my one and best customer this morning."

Take care, God bless and remember:
"Food, Faith, Family and Friends, 
the Best Things in Life Aren't Things!"


Monday, July 31, 2017

...our Daily bacon...?

What if the Lord's Prayer actually said, "...and give us this day our Daily bacon..."?

Bread is fine, don't get me wrong, and really good bread is brilliant.  I love the chewy texture and light acidic tang of San Francisco sourdough.  Olive Pugliese is heaven when grilled or just dipped in olive oil as an appetizer.  A sturdy, dark Russian loaf, sliced and slathered with sinus blazing mustard and cured meat is the epitome of sustenance.  But, bacon?  It raises the Dead...

A guest at our Fourth of July party brought a perfect little tray of deviled eggs as part of the pot-luck and handed me a brown paper wrapped package.  "You'll need something to help you clean up tomorrow morning after the mess we leave," she assured me with a chipper smile; lipstick and shoes perfectly matching coral.  I didn't open it for two days, but, when we eventually got around to opening it and giving it some heat, Brendan, our home for the summer collegiate, found his voice.

"Shit!  Where the F is this from!?  Dad, this is like the BEST bacon I've ever's so thick and the smoke is like perfect...and like it's not crispy...these are like bacon steaks!"  I allow some latitude with language when the girls are not awake, so, channeling his passion for an outstanding product via dorm room profanity was permissible.
"So, you like, like it then?" I replied while pouring drippings into a ramekin, only to get actual eye contact of condescension for using 'like' twice in a sentence.
"Yeah, it's from Otto's Sausages over in Eastmoreland on Woodstock Blvd.  They've been doing things right for over 80 years.  Break down deer and elk, too, cut and wrapped."
"Damn, it's as good as Daily's, "  Brendan noted, referencing our preferred, commercial brand we source for our home in restaurant supply houses, only this was even thicker.

Brendan and I went on to analyze these hefty strips of cured pork belly.  What makes superior bacon so much more of a treat?  Cut, cure, smoke?  All of the above we concurred, but, proper slow cooking is key to doing honor.  The fat and the meat in bacon must be cooked to the same temperature.  Too fast and the meat draws up, curling the strip while the fat remains in cupped pockets of white. Wrong.
Too slow and over done?  The fat renders and becomes crisp creating a rigid strip of incinerated protein and crunchy fat more reminiscent of Mexican chicharrones.  

Last week, the family went on an outing to the Columbia River Gorge with stops at one art museum and a winery.  It was a beautiful and breathtaking drive, but, a long one in 95 degrees.  A final stop in Hood River at Full Sail Brewing seemed a logical recompense for the girls, Siobhan and Risa our Japanese exchange student, being such troopers.  Plus Mom and Dad needed a pint of hoppy, malty goodness.  Bonnie Belle ordered a cheeseburger, the rest of us Big Salads.  The facility is a monstrous brewing complex started in 1987 and has grown each year.  With balcony seating overlooking the windsurfers on the Columbia River and bustling train tracks directly below, it can't be beat. Cheese and crackers would have been fine.  And beer.

Salads arrived and our 8 month pregnant waitress slid Siobhan's burger, open-faced, into her place setting.
"Dad, lookit," she motioned with her finger, "this bacon looks a-MAZ-ing!"
Sure as hell, on top of her burger patty with lightly melted cheese, lay two thick, perfectly cooked slices or porcine art, draping her entree like a festive table runner at a holiday meal.  
"Oh baby, that looks NICE!" I proclaimed as Siobhan held a look of finding a Golden Ticket to Willy Wonka's chocolate factory.
We all dug in and as usual, something funny came up while dining.  Risa cannot, under any circumstances, eat carrots or celery.  So, Siobhan tried to fool her by blindfolding her with a napkin and putting small bites into her mouth while Risa guessed what it was.  She immediately spit out the carrot shavings and minuscule celery slices we attempted to trick her with.  The blindfold was passed around and each of us allowed our dining partners to put things in our mouths to test our palates.  It became a source of entertainment to tables around us, but, I thought, it's OK; we weren't being loud or vulgar, just having fun.  I was last...
Siobhan fed me a garbanzo bean, a black bean, Dijon with catsup.  Slam dunk.

"Last one, Dad," she proclaimed as laughter increased around us.
Something scratched my nostril and soon was IN my nose!  I jerked my head back, yelled 'OW!' and ripped off my blindfold to see Siobhan holding one of her french fries in two fingers.
"That's not fair!" I yelled.
"It's a French Fry, dad,"  she beamed with a horrible grin.

Tables around us were hooting.  Thank God it didn't have any dipping sauce on it.  Again, no harm and no foul.
We finished our meals but, Siobhan had one bite left of her burger.  I offered to take care of it and she graciously acquiesced.  The meat was thick and retained a perfect Medium temperature, the tail-end of a piece of bacon remained.  Fortune was smiling on me.  It was beyond delicious.  The texture of the meat was as if we cooked it at home, the bacon cooked on a sheet pan in an oven, the best way to have flat, meat/fat doneness.

We paid our waitress and headed for the door, weaving through tables of windsurfer spectators.
"I'll bet that bacon was Daily's Brand," I told Lisa, "it was THAT good."
Passing the kitchen door, I couldn't help it, so, asked a nearby waitress what bacon brand was used for the burgers.  She looked at me for a second like I was some kinda nut, then, changed to server face and said she would inquire.  Peeking through the service door, I saw her asking a cook.  His shoulder shrug indicated he didn't know and really didn't care.  A floor manager passed by and came through the kitchen door, asking if I needed help.  I told her how impressive the simple burger was: beef with Medium temp throughout and the bacon was perfectly cooked, not raw, not crunchy strips of fat.
The waitress popped through the door at this time.

"We use Daily's brand that what you wanted?"

Yes, it's exactly what I wanted.  Thick, flat, salty, smokey bacon that lays like glove leather.

Thank you Lord for our Daily Bacon...

Take care, God bless and remember:

"Food, Faith, Family and Friends, 
the Best Things in Life Aren't Things!"


Friday, June 30, 2017

It's the Fourth!

I saw bunting on a neighbors front porch today; 3 drapes of red, white and blue in perfectly spaced semi-circles, fully deployed like patriotic stripper fans from a 50's burlesque show.

"Damn, John beat me..." I murmured, "looks like the casket flags are coming out early this year."

The Quinn house of Tiara Drive in Milwaukie, Oregon will not be outdone in decorating for the Independence Day celebration in our neighborhood.  We have index card sized flags planted around the front yard perimeter.  There is a garage sale find, sheet-sized, veterans burial flag that is tacked up under the gutters over the garage door.  The mail box is festooned with crossed flags on sticks.  A standard 3' X 5' flag on a piece of one-by is taped to the telephone pole on the corner at a 45 degree angle.  Bunting hangs under the two bedroom windows facing the street while 3 crepe paper rolls of our national colors wrap the clematis pole on the front porch.  I'm wearing a Hawaiian styled shirt with the Preamble to the Constitution printed on it worn only one day per year.

Damned if I'll be out done.

It's a friendly competition, but, the day has nothing to do with neighbors winning or losing.  The day is about love, friendship and gratitude for all who came before us as stewards of this great land we live in today.  We show our love for one another by preparing food, opening our home and providing the best hospitality we know how to offer.  Then there are the illegal fireworks in the street as darkness falls and guests carry camp chairs from the back deck to the front yard while a few cigar smoking dads referee the pyrotechnic display, keeping everyone reasonably safe.

I can't wait.

People who have attended past 4th of July celebrations ask if BBQ Pork Spare Ribs will be on the smoker, will Lisa make her famous Banana Cake with Whipped Cream frosting, blueberries for Stars and Strawberries for stripes on the flag, will Home made Garlic Dill Pickles be available?  Is anyone bringing Deviled Eggs, Watermelon, Solo Cups and Ice?  Should the kids bring their suits for the unheated Jacuzzi?  Yes, yes and a thousand times Yes, but, bring what you do best, I tell people.  OM-Gosh, the offerings are straight from the heart as our friends arrive with some predictable accompaniments and some straight from their childhood.

"This is my Aunt Rosalie's Potato Salad, it's the best you've EVER tasted.  I taped my name on the bottom of the bowl, see?" as she cautiously hoists the container over her head for proof.   Others still,

"We brought Jello shots.  These are Cherry Vodka, these ones are Cinnamon Vodka and these guys are Lemoncello...ya got room in the fridge for 'em?"

"Gluten-free Hot Dogs for my kids, hope that's OK..."

"I brought the lettuce and the ingredients for Caesar salad.  Can you help me with this and do you have a bowl?"  as my friend plopps a freshly dispensed paper shopping bag down on the kitchen counter.
"I've got it," I assure her, gently shepherding her out of the kitchen towards the patio, "Go get yourself a glass of Prosecco and find a seat at the Girls Table,"

The Fourth is unlike any other celebration in that people don't mill around waiting to be engaged. People arrive happy and in great spirits, like it's their home or we're related.  Complete strangers may loiter for up to a minute, but, will soon be in conversation with another guest.

"Let me get you a beer"
"What'd you say your name was?"
"How are you connected here; friend, family or from the parish?"
"Yeah, just put that over there on the food table.  Hell, that looks good, whad'ja make there!?"

It's better than a Christmas party.  The Fourth is a gathering of people with shared experiences, memories of summertime childhood bliss, home made treats, kids playing till sweat-dripped, moms clucking and whooping, dads always standing while telling lies and laughing.

Perhaps it's the informality of it all.

There is no dress code, china or cloth napkins.  You can talk, laugh and tell a story with a mouth full of food.  Kids are never told to eat all their vegetables or hold their fork a certain way.  Watermelon is supposed to drip on a child's belly and dessert is not saved for last.  It's OK to chase the chickens and if you fall through the hammock, the grass is soft underneath.  Say Please and Thank You. Yes, if we need a beer run, you can do it.

People on the Fourth of July are out-SIDE themselves with gratitude and hospitality, whether guest or host.  "How can I help" is an oft-used phrase, followed by, "Let me get that for you."  Women must love it.  It's like every guy is a co-host; clearing a stack of plates, picking up beer bottle tops, taking some trash out, topping off the Girls in the 'Mom Zone.'  The funniest damn thing when a guy slides in to provide a service, that the gals are beside themselves, like it's Mother's Day or their birthday. Jeez, are we that bad on other days?

I like the girls to be pampered a little, they're so appreciative of the smallest kindness in the company of other women.  If it was the living room on a Wednesday night and you brought her a glass of Pinot Grigio, no big deal.  In front of other women?  You just crossed the Sahara barefoot holding her wineglass only.
Do the same thing at Christmas?  Not that big of a deal, either.  It's to be expected, thank you very much, and now you may go away, we're talking.
On the Fourth, it's like I put a slug in a pinball machine and got 3 plays.
Somethin for nuthin.

And on the Fourth, people love the food, all of it.  There is no critque-ing, no down side, no 'hmm, that could have been done better."  It's all gone at the end of the night!  Complete disasters are consumed by rabid children fueled by over stimulation and 56 grams of sugar.  Remnant ribs are wrapped in aluminum foil to select friends at the end of the night, as a bootlegger might slip a flask into a clients jacket pocket with a wink and pat on the shoulder.  Should there be a dish that didn't sell as well, it is distributed into 'ToGo' plates and foil wrapped for guests to enjoy at a later date.  No harm, no foul.  But BBQ Pork Ribs?...

...they have to be spot-on!  I have done bowls with 'hot and 'mild' for the sauce, but, found that squeeze bottles do a more efficient job.  BBQ'd pork spare ribs, slowly cooked over mesquite charcoal, are the benchmark upon which all other ribs are judged, according to my children.  I even have a picture of my baby girl, Bonnie Belle, at 1 year of age in a high chair, holding a single rib, her face covered in sweet, sticky sauce and smiling like she just found a golden Easter egg.  Funny, each year as my boys grow up and move away, they ask the same thing:

"So, Dad, you're doin' ribs, right?"  Like I would order Subway for our BBQ or engage in some other sinful act.

"Ya damn rights, I'm doin' ribs!" I say as I shake my head wondering if somehow Newton's First Law is no longer valid, Portland isn't truly weird and that ketchup water is no longer an abomination.

Yes, ribs are the center of the menu, all 12 full racks of ribs, each rack possessing 13 bones.  All 156 ribs will be dry-rubbed, smoked to a cracked skin perfection and drizzled with a hot version of my personal, sweet sauce.  They will rest in the enameled Nesco warmer, it's cloth covered, 40's cord plugged into an outlet near the food table, steaming gently all day, getting more and more tender.

People will consume food and beverage the entire day.  We will laugh.  Children will play. Music will fill the air.  Ribs will touch their soul as no dessert ever can.

"Mr. Quinn," a Gabrish boy will tell me, "I came her for the ribs and they ROCK!"
"Dad, nice job.  These are just like I remember them, " a son will say.
"I don't normally eat meat, but, these are like SOOOO good," a young mom informs me.
"Dude...nice." a dad tells me, waving a shiny bone right before he flips it into the garbage can.

Informality. Meat. Bones. Fire. Smoke.

We have evolved in myriad ways, but, sweet meat on a smokey fire still stirs a shared primal, genetic hunger.

Give it a shot this year, smoke some Pork Ribs on the 4th of July and watch your world assemble, celebrate friendship and grow closer.

All with a sweet smile.

BBQ Pork Spare Ribs

1 full rack....Pork Spare Ribs, untrimmed

1 C. salt
2T. ....ground black pepper
2T. ....ground coffee, dark, fine
1T. ....smoked Spanish paprika
1T. ....chile powder, dark
1t. .....allspice
1t. .....cardamom
1t. .....tumeric


Unwrap the slab of ribs and place in your spotlessly clean kitchen sink.
Combine all spices for the rub in a mixing bowl with a whisk, transfer to a sheet of paper and pour into a large holed shaker.  Like what is called a 'dredge,' a large shaker.  You won't have to use all the dry rub on the rack.  It's more than you need, really.
Using tongs in one hand, hold the rack while you generously coat the exterior.  The rub will stick to your hands and make a mess if you're pawing them with a bare hand.  Just sayin'.
Set aside on a cookie sheet.

Go outside to your webber dome or whatever charcoal grill you have on hand.  Using only Mesquite Charcoal, make a stack and douse with fluid.  Ignite and let your fire rage.  Once the coals have gone to white, knock them down to an even layer and place the grill on to heat up and burn off any remnants from previous successes.  Give it a brush and place your ribs, meat-side up, on the grill. Cut the rack in half if need be, to fit in your smoker.  Cover and adjust the vents for passage of hot air circulation and smoke to escape.
If the fire gets too hot at first, choke it down or even sprinkle with water.  The smoking process for this should take 4 hours.  If your heat begins to die, push a stick of oak, cherry or any hardwood onto the coals and allow to ignite, then, cover and choke it down allowing the smoke to escape.
As the meat cooks, you will see the flesh receding from the tips of the bones.  That's a good thing.
When done, the bones will become flexible in the rack as you bend them with your tongs.


Remove and tightly wrap in foil to steam themselves for 30 minutes and become more tender.
Slice and serve with a light hand on sauce.

Sounds like tending a newborn, but, at least this project won't spit up on you!

We celebrate our Founding Fathers and the principles for which they dedicated "...our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor..."

Have a great Fourth,
Take care, God bless and remember,
"Food, Faith, Family and Friends, 
the Best Things in Life Aren't Things!"


Thursday, June 22, 2017

Nice Butt!

"Dad, lookit!"  my daughter alerted me as we scanned the meat section for something compelling to prepare for dinner.  Siobhan and I were picking up a few things at our neighborhood supermarket, when a questionable word was discovered printed on a meat package.  I was flipping through packages of chuck roast like a red meat Rolodex, looking for a super-marbled piece as BabyGirl ran her finger over ridged slabs of back ribs in the Pork section.

"Dad," she whispered, "it says 'Butt', seriously, lookit!"  Siobhan, eyebrows raised and smirking, looked as if a rude joke was being played and had slipped pass the meat department's packaging censors.  Lips curled in, she stiffled a belly laugh and giggled while holding her breath, letting it go in muffled bursts.  

"See?!"  she pointed while spelling out, B-U-T-T, "why would anyone eat a pig's butt?!"

We giggled and re-spelled the word, saying aloud, "BUTT!"

It took a few seconds for me to leave the 4th grade and resume Dad composure, informing Siobhan that it actually is a 'meat term' for a pork shoulder.

"Baby, it's called a 'Butt Roast' and don't ask why.  It musta been a long time ago before the word 'butt' became another term for your 'nalgas.' "
"Ya know, like these cheeks," my index finger pointed to puffed cheeks in my face, "and those cheeks," sticking my rear end out.

"Da-aaa-duhh, stop!  That's embarrassing...!" she admonished me while slapping my hand and quickly glancing to ensure we were not being watched.  Weeks shy of 10 years old, embarrassment is becoming a nearly fatal, female emotion.

The lesson began with why I like shoulder cuts of meat.  They have great fat content which makes it juicy, it feels 'round' in your mouth and kinda coats it. When you slow-cook a shoulder in the smoker or oven, alot of the fat melts away, leaving a perfect balance of protein and flavor.  I pointed to the ivory hued fat cap that will be trimmed a little and the white lines in the flesh.  All that will baste the meat, just like the turkey at Thanksgiving, I explained.  This is what we use for the pulled pork sandwiches and the same cut I use for sausages, I concluded.

"Let's get one and do something with it," I suggested, "pick one out, baby."

She looked, pretending to exercise discriminating selection, finally returning to the one she first touched.  I picked it up and concurred it would do just fine.

Bonnie-belle looked up to me with a guilty grin and an Irish twinkle in her eye.  With excruciatingly perfect timing, she said,

"Nice Butt, Dad!"

Pulled Pork Sandwiches

1     Pork Butt roast, boneless, about 7 lbs
4T  Kosher salt
2T  Black Pepper, ground
1T  Cayenne, ground
1T  Smoked Spanish Paprika
1T  Coriander, ground
1t   Allspice, ground
1t   Ginger, ground  (my mouth is watering already!)

Place the shoulder/butt on a sturdy sheet pan with 1/2 inch sides and set aside.  The butt seems to be split in two with the bone removed.  No joke.

Measure all spices and combine in a bowl, whisking gently to blend thoroughly.  Place the spices in a shaker of sorts, sprinkling the exterior and interior of the meat till all spices have been used up.  DON'T use you hands to rub the spices in!  What happens is that your hands get wet, the spice blend sticks to them and you lose alot of seasoning because you now have red, salty goop on your hands.  Use a shaker to apply all your spices on the meat.

Next, place the seasoned meat in a pre-heated, 200 degree oven (no fan), preferably at 9:00 or 10:00 p.m.
Kiss the handle of the oven door good night and crawl into bed with a good book.
When the chickens start to fuss in the morning ( 6 or 7 a.m.), the pork should be done AND the house will smell like a rib joint.  A long, thin knife should pass through with ease.   The pork should have a bit of a crust on it, but, don't despair, as the interior is super moist and tender.

Remove from the oven with caution.  There will be rendered fat on the bottom of the sheet pan, so, be careful not to spill-zy.  Let cool for 30 minutes.  For best results, move the pork to a large mixing bowl and begin shredding with two forks, one in each hand.  Place some shreds on a piece of bread for the first person fortunate enough to witness your creation; squeeze bottle of BBQ sauce providing some extra luvin'.  Once completely cooled, place the meat in Sharpie labeled and dated, 1 qt. freezer bags for later use.  Frozen, this will keep for months and be a great 'dinner to the rescue' meal.

I wish you the best in this very do-able venture.  Add condiments at meal time to make it a Cuban, Mexican, Asian or just good 'ol BBQ dish.

Take Care, God Bless and Remember,
"Food, Faith, Family and Friends, 
the Best Things in Life Aren't Things!"



Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Cooking at the community college...#3.."It's just a burger."

Bun, beef patty, LTOP (lettuce, tomato, onion, pickle), choice of cheese.
The American Hamburger, it's pretty straight-forward, right?  I mean, you can't screw it up; it's a slam-dunk...

It can be cooked in a pan, on a griddle, or even in an oven on sheet pans for hundreds at a time in a commercial catering setting, however, the BEST way of course, is on a grill.  And by 'grill' I mean on a grate with fire underneath scoring lines onto our ground beef burgers.  A charcoal fire, propane gas or wood are all good heat choices, but, it usually comes down to 'what's available...'
It's a simple, American classic meal, but, like America, we all have our own perspective as to what's "just a burger."

"So, can I get just a regular hamburger?  I don't see it on the order form.  You've got these burgers with names on them and ..."  The young student stood there across the griddle from me attempting to make sense of too many choices. The three guys behind him rocked on their heels waiting for Justin to get with the program, so, they could get  their orders in.  Maintanence workers, bus drivers and custodians have a small window for lunch at the Community College.  

"Dude, what do you mean by a regular burger?  I mean, just like meat and a bun?  No LTOP, fries, cheese...? I asked him, "Everbody has their own idea of 'regular.'

Justin, all of 18 years old, proceeded to answer a lightening round of burger accompaniment questions for his order.
"lettuce?"  I asked.
"Yes." he confirmed.
"No, they're disgusting."
"Yeah, but, not too many..."
"On the side, I don't like them to get hot from the burger..."
"Ummm, yeah, cheddar and two strips of bacon, not too crispy."
"Hmmm...yeah.  Where's the ketchup?"
"behind you at the condiment station; pour as much as you like.  It is part of a student's Food Pyramid,"  I concluded.

Justin stepped back from the sneeze guard, grabbed a tray and wandered over to the condiment oasis, filling 2-oz plastic cups with ketchup, ranch dressing and yellow mustard.

The three workers waiting, had their burgers already sparked, since I saw them walking up.  Their baskets lined with checkered paper and buns toasting.  Each flipped their order forms into the clear, plastic receiving bucket and stepped back.

"Kelly, what's up man?  How's Maintanence treating you today?" I asked.  He's an impressive man;  black and shiny as a lump of coal and all of 350 lbs if he's an ounce.  His hair is closely cropped and has a face as round as a cast iron skillet.   Swollen jowls push his thumb sized earlobes out to about 45 degrees from vertical.  He doesn't smile.

"Fine...I can't stand managing people though," he grumbled, "Hey, I heard from one of my guys that you'd do a fried egg on a burger if I ask.  'Zat true?"
I told him hayul yes I'd do a fried egg, but, it's a buck upcharge.  He just nodded to confirm the addition for over-medium with a runny yolk.  Game on.

"First time I had an egg on a burger was 1988 in Corvallis at Squirrel's Bar and Grill.  The Squirrel Burger had a thick slice of ham, LTOP and egg on a burger eyes rolled into the back of my head!"  I mused to Kelly and anyone there listening. The audience nodded in unison and began telling stories of the Best Burger they'd ever had...

"Man, I used to work on a road crew, way back, an there was a place out by Estacada that did a burger with BBQ sauce and a boneless, breakfast pork chop WITH fried egg on a toasted big-ass bun an a pile of fries...don't know how they stayed in business givin that much food away..." Kelly reminisced in a soft voice, slowly shaking his head.

"Dude!  Have you ever been to Killer Burger?  Those guys rock!" another customer called out while watching the process, "they put bacon on EVERY burger and even say so on their chalkboard.  I've had everyone of 'em on the menu; the Jose Mendoza is my favorite."
The fellas all nodded in unison turning to one another to confirm that was the one with Pepper Jack cheese, Roasted New Mexico Green Chilies and bacon with a schmeer of smokey house sauce.

"They got  one called, 'The Bender' which comes with sliced and battered, deep fried Jalapenos and Sriracha red chile sauce with two strips of bacon and Tillamook cheddar...if you're hung over, it's the cure!"  exclaimed a uniform clad driver from the bus line, "I'm just sayin' that's what I've been told..."

The guys started chuckling, knowing we've all been in that state of rescue.

"Funny how we all have different tastes on what should go on a burger," I observered while adding cheese to patties, "the lettuce provides a crunch, the tomatoes keep it juicy, onions provide a mild heat and pickles give a vinegary, acidic zing, keeping everything lively on the palate.  It gets us ready for another bite!"

I called to Justin that his burger was coming up, reaching over to pull a basket of fries out of the oil.  He stepped forward to gather his creation.

"Dude, here's your regular burger: patty, LOP, cheddar and two bacon with fries..." I said while wearing a grin as I passed it over to his hungry hands. He returned the smile.

"Maybe you could like call this like 'The Justin' burger?"

Kelly stood behind him, rolled his eyes and barely broke a smirk.  As the kid walked away, Kelly said.
"that boy has got some livin' and learnin' ta do..."

"Guys, you're all up here..." I said pushing their baskets forward as three large men crowded the window for one.

"Regular burger!," said one, "ain't that the shit?!" as they laughed, thanked me and went back to work.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Corned Beef, Green Glasses and Smiling Eyes...

My cheap reading glassed broke, again, and I decided it was time to step it up and spend over $20 on a real pair.  So, I strode purposefully into the local Bi-Mart to make an investment.  The rotating eyeglass carousels stood sentinel at the end of the pharmacy aisles and no less than Brooke Shields beckoned me to try her Foster Grants.  Wow, if she's advertising reading glasses, I thought, then they must be not only fashionable, but, classically alluring, just like her.  After trying on several pairs, the right fit and magnification were found and I proceeded to the check out stand wondering which checker would greet me; the one with the smoker's cough that calls me "Hun" or the hipster with purple hair and bangs... most discount stores, Bi-Mart prides itself on going over-board with seasonal and holiday kitch, and the approach of St. Patrick's Day was particularly well-proclaimed with all things green.  What other holiday boasts anything similar to stacks of green plastic derbys, light-up over sized eye glasses, bow ties, shirts, red beards, strands of shamrock necklaces and signage with Gaelic greetings?!  Nobody knows where this comes from, I thought, it's origins or meaning, but, we embrace it like Super Bowl Sunday.  You don't even have to be Irish, but, everybody celebrates St. Patrick's Day with a child like spirit and smiling eyes.  Got me to thinking about the Kid's Parade and corned beef for the coming week...

Waking to the aroma of allspice, coriander, bay leaf and mustard seed on the morning of March 17th is like an extra quilt on your bed in winter; comforting, warm and enveloping.  I lay there thinking this is the way to wake every day!   OK, maybe an exaggeration, but, you get the idea; corned beef feeds the body and nourishes the soul.  It's salty, exotically spiced, tender when done right (and we'll get to that...) and a real treat, like roast turkey that we should be preparing more often.  Sure, it's special, but, is it a sin to have corned beef or roast turkey more than one day per year?!  Hay-uhl No!
Let's get on this ASAP, so, we are ready to give our families and friends a "friggin' BRILL-yunt" meal this Friday.
Disclaimer: for practicing Catholics, I know it's Lent, but, either do it the day before or the day after, since Fridays are meatless.  Better yet, see if you can get a dispensation from your parish priest...

Perfect Corned Beef Brisket

I like to use a Brisket for this; it has a great fat content, wonderful grain to the meat and is very forgiving.  Do NOT use a Top's textureless, fatless protein devoid of character that turns into salty sawdust. Just sayin'...
Now, can you ever have too much corned beef?  No way!  All your left-overs (and you want some) will get cooled and placed in quart sized, ziploc freezer bags for hash or reuben sandwiches later on. In supermarkets, they usually have the briskets cut into sections and cryovaced with the spices in a minuscule packet or the spices are already dispersed in the bag.  Either way, if you get one with the miserly spice packet, bump it with 2 Tablespoons of Pickling Spice.  The house will smell GREAT!
Place your brisket in a covered pot, like a turkey roaster or smaller.  Bring the water level up to 1/3 the height of the meat, cover and place in a 250 degree oven at 10:30 at night, right after the late news.  Give it a smile and a peck on the lid as you slide it in for a low 'n slow braise.
The next morning, rain or shine, prepare to be lifted to glorious heights as you stumble down the hall towards the kitchen, following an aroma that intensifies the closer you get.
Remove the brisket from the pan to a cookie sheet to cool for a 1/2 hour.  Slice the meat against the grain; if you see long strands of meat in your slice, rotate the meat 90 degrees and slice again.  Long strands are difficult to chew.
What to serve with this this gorgeous creation?  Steamed red potatoes with Kerrygold Irish butter, cabbage cut into wedges and a spoonful of whole grain mustard with a sprinkle of chopped parsley for color.  Place quartered potatoes and cabbage in a covered pot, add 1/4 the way up with water, bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer on the stovetop.  Steam till fork tender.

Friday, March 17th: I can't wait to see my little Siobhan (Gaelic for Joan), chubby cheeks and smiling Irish eyes, looking through green twinkly glasses at a steaming plate of her Daddy's Corned Beef and Cabbage with 'Preities.'
I may share a sip of Guinness with her, too!

Take care, God bless and remember:
"Food, Faith, Family and Friends,
the Best Things in Life aren't Things!"


Saturday, February 4, 2017

Crummy Food

Crumbs get a bum rap.
When something is lousy it's referred to as 'crummy.'
Instead of cussing, old folks will sometimes say, "Oh, Crumb!"
Meager portions of food, minuscule allotments of affection and miserly generosity all use 'crumb' as a synonym.
Enough already!
There IS a positive connotation to this word and it needs to be shouted from the mountain tops, in every village and hamlet, in every kitchen and cafeteria.  For where would we be without crumbs?

Goodbye Crabcakes...
So long Oven Fried Chicken...
Later dates Mac and Cheese...
Arrivederci Chicken Parmesan...

It could be the culinary version of a post-Apocalyptic world; those with bread crumbs would dine well and culture would survive.
Those without would revert to meat on sticks and no napkins.
Here's an example of the power of crumbs.  The maintaining culture part is still a work in progress...

"Dude, this salmon is off the flippin' HOOK!  Who MADE this?!"  Liam was just in from a late night run and was doing his usual 'dining in three different spots' kitchen routine: beverage station at the Bullet shake blender, veggies in a mixing bowl by the sink and protein-in-a-pan on the stove top. He'll eat one thing for a few bites, then shift to another station, graze, then complete the circuit a couple of more times until everything has been consumed.
"I mean it's so moist, but still crunchy on the outside.  And what's this stuff on top?  It's perfect!  Green onions and lime juice?"  If something is really delicious for him, he'll kind of breathe/groan/growl as he's eating.

"Yeah, Mom made the Salmon with panko bread crumbs," I followed, "and topped it with green onions sauted in butter and finished with fresh lime juice, just a squeeze.  She didn't bake the salmon, it was sauted which crisped-up the crumb coating.  Pretty sweet, huh?"

"Hell yeah!" he replied, pulling his head from under the kitchen sink faucet and wiping his mouth with his arm, "Mom's got skills."
Liam let out a burp and began cleaning up his counter-top debris field.
"Why'zit so good, Dad?  I mean this is so simple, not a lot of fancy ingredients, but, this salmon has it all."

I went on to tell him of our human taste for fats, most peoples love of texture and that a thin line separates success from failure.  Bread crumbs were one of those tools in the magic cook's box that bring a dish from a solid 'B' to an 'A+.'  These wonderfully plain morsels work as a barrier to protect the texture of say, a fish filet, keeping the juices in and eventually satisfying your palate.  Bread crumbs can take on a seasoning profile, too, when added as a condiment, like a topping on a casserole. The lightly browned layer of crumbs on a Mac and Cheese dish tells me I love it already!  And Oven-Fried Chicken?  Other than the birth of our four children and maybe the Sistine Chapel, nothing is more moving than a cookie sheet clustered with chicken thighs, skin coated with toasty, seasoned bread crumbs right out of the oven.  You want to just take in the beauty, like standing at the rim of the Grand Canyon, but, this art was meant to be eaten with passion and in good company. 

And for those souls that watch their fat intake, but, still love 'fried foods,' bread crumbs have zero oil! Oven-baking requires no oil and these little, mini-sponges absorb all the liquid from the chicken, fish or vegetables that you've coated; a cardigan of flavor!  (Wait, that sounded kinda weird...I don't even get that...sounds like a Jim Gaffigan comment...I should delete that...).  OK, I'm going to conclude...

Now, I suggest either getting Panko Japanese bread crumbs that you can season to your delight or buy a cylinder of Progresso Seasoned bread crumbs.  The Panko is more coarse and completely plain, while the Progresso is very fine and blended with dried herbs and what-not.  Hell, get 'em both and do a side-by-side!  That'd be kinda neat actually...present them to family and get feed back; who likes which and why?
Be sure that the food you are coating is damp enough to have the crumbs stick to them; I like a little egg/milk mixture for good adhesion (1/2 cup milk with 2 eggs, beaten).  Put the crumbs in a mixing bowl and pat the crumbs onto the protein or veggies after dipping them in the milk/egg mixture.

When I hear an older person say something is crummy and frown, I can't help but close my eyes and smile; the aroma of crispy chicken thighs filling my memory, resting on a pan with two boys, one old and one young, pointing to which they'll eat first and why!

Make some Crummy Food today and create a memory for the week!

Take care, God bless and remember:

"Food, Faith, Family and Friends; 
the Best Things in Life aren't Things!"