Tuesday, August 03, 2010

La cosecha

This evening I chased the sparrows out of the peach tree (they sneak in under the netting then get caught in it) and harvested Elberta peaches, Thompson seedless grapes, and Santa Rosa plums. There are some peaches still left on the Elberta. I left the ones the birds have started so they can finish them. The Red Haven peaches look lovely but are hard as rocks right now.

So here is the bulk of the 2010 harvest. I can testify that they taste good.

--the BB

32 military suicides in just one month

Bob Herbert had some choice words to utter yesterday:

As if there is not enough that has gone tragically wrong in this era of endless warfare, the military is facing an epidemic of suicides. In the year that ended Sept. 30, 2009, 160 active duty soldiers took their own lives — a record for the Army. The Marines set their own tragic record in 2009 with 52 suicides. And this past June, another record was set — 32 military suicides in just one month.

War is a meat grinder for service members and their families. It grinds people up without mercy, killing them and inflicting the worst kinds of wounds imaginable, physical and psychological. The Pentagon is trying to cope with the surge in suicides, but it is holding a bad hand: the desperate shortage of troops has forced military officials to lower the bar for enlistment, thus letting in people whose drug and alcohol abuse or other behavioral problems would previously have kept them out. And the multiple deployments (four, five and six tours in the war zones) have jacked up stress levels to the point where many just can’t take it.

The G.I.’s have fought valiantly in Iraq and Afghanistan. Thousands have died and many, many more have suffered. But the wars have been conducted as if their leaders had been reading from a lunatic’s manual. This is not Germany or Japan or the old Soviet Union that we’re fighting. But after nearly a decade, neither war has been won and there is no prospect of winning.

Go, read the whole thing here.

--the BB

Sunday, August 01, 2010


I ran myself ragged cooking this weekend. Another Sunday dinner (I've been on a roll). Tonight's guests insisted on a photo of me with the peach pie. First pie I have made in about forty years. The crust is made with Crisco shortening the way my mother made it (recipe from Fanny Farmer Cook Book). The peaches were picked from my Elberta peach tree this morning.

This was one labor-intensive meal. I had to drop the peaches in boiling water, then ice water, then peel them. I had to cut off the area the birds had attacked (on about a third of them).

Well that was dessert (except I had H-D vanilla bean ice cream and peach sherbet in the freezer to serve with the pie - sort of a peaches and cream theme, but I forgot them).

For antipasto we had salame, slices of fresh mozzarella, shreds of string cheese, crackers, sesame bread sticks, pickled giardiniera, olives, and (non-Italian) salted peanuts. We started with Italian grapefruit soda over ice to stay hydrated on a summer day.

The main course was lasagne with garlic bread and salad. I assembled it all yesterday. Homemade egg noodles, of course, as playing with my pasta attachment is the source of my weekend meal inspiration.

There was a story to the noodles though. Harris' Law: "Nothing Is Ever Easy." I measured out the flour and made a well in it. Fortunately I did not try cracking the eggs into the well as I usually do. Grabbed some eggs from the fridge that I thought had a use-by date of July 2010. Hmm, probably July 2009. When I cracked them open they were half dry, having shrunk away from the shell. Tossed those.

So I got the other eggs in the fridge, the ones from hens raised by a friend at church. Made the dough and it just fell apart when I tried to run it through the rollers - not as dough usually pulls apart on the first few runs. Way too dry a dough. The were not supermarket size "large" eggs, presupposed by my recipe. Scrapped that batch of dough.

To the supermarket for fresh LARGE eggs. This time the egg and flour dough behaved as it ought. So I made the long broad noodles. Then I cooked them in boiling salted water, cooled them in ice water, dried them with a towel, and layered them in the pan with sauce and cheeses.

Harris' Law strikes again but without consequences. I thought I had bought more ricotta cheese. I am still certain I did. But I could not find it yesterday. Anyway, what I had worked.

For the sauce I sauteed a large onion and some minced garlic in olive oil. To that I added three cans each of diced tomatoes and tomato sauce (OK, here I was not using tomatoes out of my yard; had to cut myself slack at some point). I had a package of hot Italian sausage and a package of ground beef (no added hormones or antibiotics). I squeezed the sausage out of its casings and using the meat grinder attachment I reground these together, partly to blend them and mostly to help them break up when browning. I browned these and added them to the tomato sauce along with basil and ground fennel and anise seeds. I love a hint of licorice in my tomato sauces, something I learned from "Mama" Lipscomb on Christmas Eve, Paris 1967. Her people were from Naples. All of that was before the noodles were made as the sauce needed to simmer for something like four hours.

Noodles, sauce, ricotta, mozzarella, repeat. Grated parmigiana on top. Damn. The result was spectacular if I say so myself. It was a roasting pan full, so it will serve as dinner on Wednesday at Bill's house when we visit with friends from Los Angeles who are in New Mexico this week.

A nice Montepulciano DOCG to go with it all. And good friends to share it.

I am doing this for multiple reasons: I love cooking but hate doing it for myself so this allows me to cook; I enjoy the satisfaction of doing things from scratch (it feels honest and you know what's in it); this motivates me to clean my kitchen and the downstairs in general and maintain a semi-civilized atmosphere in my digs; and it allows me to do something nice for friends.

So the kitchen, dining room, living room, and entry all got vacuumed today. The kitchen was mopped. I have run the dishwasher twice and it is almost ready to run again. The stovetop was cleaned and the counters all sanitized. I practiced making pie dough (and obviously need more work at that). I harvested peaches from my tree. (Next: a plum tart.) I planned and executed an elaborate meal. Immense feeling of satisfaction tonight.

Amid all this I managed to wash, dry, and hang up a load of shirts; have dinner with friends last night; and attend church this morning.

Tired. Very tired. And dehydrated. But happy.

I hope y'all had a good weekend. Healing vibes to all who need them tonight!

--the BB