Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Snow in San Anselmo

Readers of this blog know that I'm a huge Van Morrison fan. Last weekend I was tuned into the Loft on XM Satellite radio and DJ Meg Griffin played a track of his I'd never heard before - Snow in San Anselmo (c. 1973).

Wow. Awesome lyrics and a huge sense of being in the moment. Great tune to warm the winter months.


Monday, December 27, 2010

Behold the humble bean (perfected)

I love beans.

Beans with garlic.

Beans with cheese.

Beans with rice. And cheese.

Hoppin' John (a New Year's Eve favorite).

Minestrone soup.

Lately I've been trying to cook dried beans into delicious dishes and my efforts have often fallen flat. Beans have been dry, undercooked, or broken and mushy.

Last night I saw on PBS an episode of "America's Test Kitchen" where they address the problems with cooking beans.

They first started by soaking the dry beans in brine (salt water), which they say, leads to softer skins. This is because the sodium allows more water to penetrate the skin, leading to a "softer texture." Because the water only penetrates the skin, this method does not affect the inside of the bean.

On the show, they made one of my favorite soups, Tuscan bean.

After soaking the dry cannellini beans overnight in brine (I used great northern, because that's what I had on hand), they cooked pancetta (I had bacon), and then sauteed onion, celery, and carrots, and, later, eight cloves of garlic for one minute, in the bacon and drippings. Then they poured in the soaked beans and bay leaves and brought to a simmer. They did not at any time allow the beans to boil, because this leads to rupture and loss of creamy texture. They then put the pot into a very slow oven (250 degrees) for 45 minutes.

Then they added kale (I had spinach) and a can of diced tomatoes and cooked for another 30 or so minutes.

Assuring that the beans were done (only achieved by tasting), they added salt, pepper, and rosemary (or other seasonings.)

The keys here are soaking the beans in brine, slow simmering in a warm oven, and adding the seasoning after the beans are done. I think these techniques can be applied to any bean dish.

In the new year I'm looking forward to many delicious, healthy bean dishes!

To access recipes on the America's Test Kitchen site you have to sign up.

I am happy that I did.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Baby surrendered to firefighters

Men sometimes get a bad rap.

Sometimes they are called distant. Sometimes they seem angry.

I was just thinking of this as I read a CNN story about a woman who surrendered her newborn baby to firefighters, who I believe to be males, at a Los Angeles fire station. They named the baby "Noel" and made sure she got to a hospital and received medical attention.

Across our country, loving and brave men man our fire stations. They stand ready to rescue the elderly from flames, respond to accidents, and take in the most vulnerable - newborn infants.

Raise up your holiday toasts to the brave people who man fire stations around our nation.

These folks are doing great work. We rely on them in crisis and we trust them with the most vulnerable among us.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

DADT & 8 Republicans

Good for the eight Republicans - Collins, Murkowski, Kirk, et al. - who voted to rescind Don't Ask Don't Tell, the odious bill that made gay/lesbian military members the subject of witch hunts. Thousands of these patriots have been rooted out and sent home as a result of one of the worst pieces of legislation to come out of the Clinton years.

Although he was only keeping up with the zeitgeist of the era and the legislation was a major policy evolution, it still was lamentable as it forced people to lie about who they were.

Thank God things have changed.

As more openness has made society realize that the gay community is made up of our friends, neighbors, brothers, and sisters our culture has become much more accepting and tolerant. In 1980, gay "union" ceremonies were spoken of in whispers. In 2010, they are a cause for celebration at a neighbors' house.

The bill also suggests that, despite all the lying and partisan histrionics that characterize Washington, we are moving to an era of bipartisanship, although many more Repubs should have signed onto this legislation.

Obama, the ultimate pragmatist, seems to be working in itty bitty increments to bring people together to enact significant changes for our society.

I am very sorry that he had to adopt continued tax cuts for billionaires in exchange for an extension of unemployment benefits and other aids for the lower and middle classes. But, he didn't have the votes to fight this compromise. Although we would have loved to see him stand up and fight, we know what the outcome still would have been.

I say F*(k the billionaires. Yeah some of them they may have worked their asses off for that money. But, we live in a society where those who have must help those who have not.

Sometimes government is the engine that keeps that idea working. Many folks find that unacceptable, but it is really what keeps us strong as a united democracy.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Cat in Cold Weather

We've been hit with blizzard conditions—blowing snow and temperatures hovering around the zero mark. We keep the thermostat at about 59 degrees. This means that the kitchen, with cold air pouring in around the foundation, stays at about 45 and the bathroom, which has an insulation problem, hovers around 41. We keep a pencil stream of water flowing in both rooms. We also keep the sink cabinet doors open and fans blowing (slightly) warmer air in.

The sparrows, doves, blue jays, cardinals, juncos, and flickers are starving. I created a pen around a table to feed them on. I don't want the big white cat, Blaze, to have easy pickings. He kills enough without help.

But today something weird happened. The black Labs, Banjo and Meisha, went outside and, when I called them in, found them, hackles up, hovering around the cat door at the side of the porch. I thought the stray black kittie must have visited again.

But, I worried when I called Blaze and he didn't come. I thought he should have been quite cold by now.

I went out 30 minutes later and called. No blaze.

When darkness fell, I took a flashlight and shone it beneath the porch. Here comes poor, scared Blaze. He came in, skipped his food bowl, and went right to his basket by the fire. He looked scared and uncomfortable. I picked him up and petted him. He then curled up more peacefully.

I think some animal, lured by the birdseed, must have scared him.

This is a dangerous time of year as everyone tries to survive.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

The Republicans

OK, let's understand this.

The Republicans swept into Congress in November 2010 on a platform of limited government, fiscal responsibility, and deficit reduction.

In their first major negotiation with the Obama administration they wrangle continued tax cuts for billionaires and a limited tax rate for the wealthiest Americans who inherit estates from their elders in exchange for 13 months worth of continued unemployment payments to citizens who have been looking for work for over 99 weeks.

This deal will add billions to the deficit. We need to extend the unemployment benefits because we have been unable to stimulate the economy. All of that money will be spent and will help jobs and the economy. Billionaires, however, have not proven that over the past ten years that they have used their tax cuts to stimulate the economy or create jobs. Has anyone looked at the unemployment rate recently?

Billionaires will sock this money away.

I don't know that the $250,000 cut off for married couples really works. People in that income range spend lots of their money and probably do help create jobs. Big difference between $250,000 and one million in terms of income levels.

Perhaps we could continue the tax cuts for those making under one million. I could accept an argument that that would help create jobs.

Over one million, however, I am less convinced. This only adds to the deficit and continues to press a burden on future generations.

Republicans are amazing in their ability to speak from both sides of their mouths. They insist we must reduce the deficit but at the same time advocate for deficit-increasing tax cuts for billionaires.