Saturday, September 25, 2010

Have a Nice Day!

I was roasting jalapeños and tomatillos from the garden this morning and was greeted by this.================>>>>

I am taking this as a good omen.  However, I might have ruined any good kharma by throwing his smiling face along with his compadres into the blender, thence to the frying pan and finally into our breakfast.

I thought today to discuss one of my recent departures from vegetarianism.  A couple weekends ago, Denise decided she could go for a good hot dog.  With that Monday night being the start of the Chargers football season I suggested we do a tailgating dinner and watch the game.

So Monday, night it was kraut dogs with mustard (and habanero sauce, in my case), garlic fries, jalapeño poppers and wedge salads with bleu cheese dressing.  Decadent! And somewhat disgusting, but enjoyable nonetheless.

The good news is that these dogs were from Henry's, all natural beef, with no artificial additives or preservatives.  The bad news is that they were uncured; the package did not mention the diagnosis.  I guess if they had found a cure, the cow would still be out grazing.

The dogs got me started on a train of philosophical thought, pondering some of life's deep mysteries, like why are hot dogs sold in packages of eight while buns are sold in packages of six.  You have to serve 24 dogs just to get the numbers to work out.

And on the subject of dog mysteries, the following morning I was listening to NPR's Susan Stamberg interviewing Patti LuPone and she used the phrase "work like a dog."  I considered the phrase and realized I have no idea what it means.  Seriously, I could not think of a scenario where a dog was "working like a dog."  Take my dog; sleeps about 80% of the time. With the remainder of his day he naps, drools, begs for cheese and periodically scares himself.   Sled dogs?  They aren't working, they are psychotically addicted to running.  Any dogs classified as "working dogs" don't really seem to be working at all; they are engaging in productively applied play.   After considerable thought I arrived at seeing-eye-dogs, who probably have the most difficult job of any dog; suppressing their natural doggieness and focusing on guiding their masters.

That evening I watched Castaway.  There is a scene where Tom Hanks has marked one of those figure-eight thingies that plot the seasonal track of the sun.  I was trying to think of what those are called, for some reason the term astrolabe coming to mind.  I was pretty sure that was wrong, an astrolabe being some kind of astronomical instrument, so I Googled something like "astronomy figure eight thing" and the first hit was analemma.  Bingo!

So I drilled into the Wikipedia definition of analemma, maybe to brush up on my astronomy.  I could barely get past the pronunciation.  Clicking the pronunciation link, I was directed to the Wikipedia IPA page, IPA for International Phonetic Alphabet not, unfortunately, India Pale Ale.  Making neither heads nor tails of IPA, I returned to analemma, linking out to topics like obliquity (axial tilt), eccentricity and the angle between the apse line and the line of solstices, all of which go into determining size and shape of the analemma.  At some point I came across something called the "right hand grip rule" and the following sentence.  "In a two-body problem with inverse-square-law force, every orbit is of conic section shape, or part of a straight line."   ?!?

Ouch, all this deep thinking makes my head hurt.  I believe I will return to my IPA.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Vegies? Veggies?

My wife informs me that I am in error when using the term "vegies."  She feels the correct term is "veggies".

Either term is intended as a slang contraction of the word vegetables.  With vegetables having only one gee, vegies must therefore be the correct spelling. Vegetables, one gee, vegies, one gee.  Q.E.D.

My Blogger editor begs to differ, highlighting vegies as misspelled and suggesting veggies in its place.

Google too seems to be lobbying for veggies; as a search for vegies results in "Did you mean: veggies?".  Bastards!  They do actually bring up a lot of hits for vegies though.

The online dictionaries I've checked all state something like "Veggie; also vegie", so apparently a double-gee is preferred, even if nonsensical.

For now, I believe I will use the slang less traveled and stick with vegie.

If someone has a compelling argument for "gg," please help me out.

And while you're helping, I could use some help with punctuation and quotation marks.  As my opening paragraph demonstrates, I don't know if the punctuation goes in- or outside the quotes.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Working Weekend in the Gardein

A little work in the yard this weekend, tending the garden, a little landscaping and installing a drain line in the back yard where if floods every rainy season.  The drain line is has been procrastinated over for about forever.  Every winter I think, Damn, I should have put in a drain line before the rain started.  Once the yard is flooded it's nearly impossible to work in the soggy clay that passes for dirt.  In the summer, with no hint of rain and the clay hardened to the consistency of stone there's not much urgency around starting to trench.

The only reason that the drain is finally being installed is because we have hired Jake's buddy JD as a day laborer.  He's going to school at Palomar and playing on the baseball team and trying to earn a little spending money in his spare time.  Since I had a willing day laborer I figured that now was as good a time as any.  Of course, JD was probably less willing when he found out how hard that ground is, but he struggled through and the drain went in today.  Now he has some work to do filling the trenches back in.

Anyway, I managed to do enough manual labor to work up an appetite.  I decided to try a few new things this weekend.  Saturday night I decided to try a recipe for Mushroom-Spinach Puff Pastries.  Lacking any spinach and having some leftover ricotta I converted the recipe into Mushroom-Ricotta Puff Pastries.  Used some slightly stale baguette, grape tomatoes and basil from the garden, a little fresh mozarella and some of our basil-olive oil with a few other odds and ends and made a panzanella (bread salad) as a side.  Not too bad, all things considered.

This morning it was time to use up some of our haul of tomatillos.  This is one of the few items doing really well in the garden this year.  Well, the tomatillos and the grape tomatoes.  Anyway, I have kind of a glut of the tomatillos, so I decided on a Three Chile Dry-Roasted Tomatillo Salsa.  Actually, I didn't have the right chiles.  It called for serrano, jalapeño and pequin, but all I had from the garden was jalapeños, red jalapeños and a couple Thai and cayennes.  So I made do with those and also tweaked the recipe with a little smoked salt.  You start out roasting all the vegies in a cast iron pan.
Pan-roasting the vegies
Then it's everybody into the whirlpool.
Blend 'em all up.
Once I had the salsa I decided to use it as green enchilada sauce.  Whipped up a little brunch of Potato and Black Bean Enchilada Casserole.  I had intended to make it vegan, just to practice for the next time Tee comes to visit.  Turns out, vegan cheese does not keep as well as the real thing.  My vegan cheddar was making a break for Roquefort, pretty little green spots breaking out all over it.  So it was regular cheddar and Cotija instead.
Potato-Black Bean Enchiladas with Roasted Tomatillo Salsa

Actually, I can't really say that vegan cheese does not keep as well as real dairy cheese.  Real cheese doesn't last long enough in my fridge to have a chance to go bad.  Between me and Leo it doesn't stand a chance.

Finally, tonight I tried another new acquisiton; Gardein Beefless Tips.  These are actually good fake meat products, none of the oatmeal/tube sock stuff previously mentioned.

Nick and I first became acquainted with Gardein about a month ago, courtesy of a trip to the Tilted Kilt in Temecula.  The Tilted Kilt is a relatively new bar, essentially what a Hooters would be if you transported one to Scotland.  Like Hooters, they feature lots of beers on tap, waitresses with huge - breas, er, beers, and clientèle who are probably less than completely discriminating about the food.  Still, the beer was good as was the entertainment, which consisted of the four guys at the end of the bar hitting on a very attractive bartender by shouting a Schwazenegger-esque "Sarah Conner!"  Apparently they thought she looked like the Linda Hamilton of 1984.  Personally I didn't see the resemblance.  As it turned out, the bartender was seriously insulted and apparently PISSED.  She was like "Linda Hamilton!?  She's so OLD!."  Apparently she couldn't grasp the concept of being compared to someone as she looked 26 years ago.

So, to the Gardein.  The guys left, so the entertainment was over and Nick and I decided to move on to greener pastures, which is to say the Yardhouse.  The Yardhouse has always had very good food, but was a little short on vegetarian cuisine.  On this trip we discovered that the Yardhouse updated their menu and now offer twenty-some-odd items that can be made with Gardein.  We decided to experiment and ordered the Gardein Sliders, made with a sort of pulled pork.  They were delicious.  We have subsequently had several other items.  Their Thai Chicken Pizza with Gardein instead of chicken is excellent.

After a little research I discovered that some Gardein products are available in the freezer case at our local Albertsons.  I picked up, among other things, the beefless tips, which tonight went into a Not-Beef with Broccoli stir fry, with a little Asian Carrot-Daikon Slaw on the side.

The stir fry was very good, but pescetarian as it turns out, because I used oyster sauce in the recipe.  The beefless-tips are tasty and have a pretty nice texture, but they are more like little meat balls than beef tips.  I think in the future I'm going to try them in pasta sauces or maybe even in a little albondigas.  Denise suggested stroganoff.  I think I will give that a try.

The slaw was not a great hit, but at least I used up the daikon for which I was trying to figure some use other than composting.  It was just shredded carrots and shredded daikon with chopped parsley and a dressing of 1/8 cup rice wine vinegar, 1 tsp tamari and 1 tsp sesame oil.  I also threw in some roasted sesame seeds.  It was supposed to be served on top of spinach, but I had no spinach so I served it neat.  Though it wasn't great, I think the recipe has potential; maybe a little cilantro instead of parsley and definitely include the spinach.

At least the Gardein was a success.  Next up their Chick'n Scallopini.

Damn, I nearly forgot.  Dessert!  I found a little something that's been hiding in the pantry for about nine months and decided to offer it up as a sort of tribute to the start of the Christmas shopping season, which surely must be happening any day now.  Enjoy!
Santa S'more Pie!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

A Floridian A**hole, a Half-Billion Illiterates and Chili's

WTF!  Today I spent a considerable amount of time behind the wheel, in front of NPR, listening to the latest Koran burning bullsheet.  This is driving me to drink; the media falling all over themselves discussing whether or not the media should be falling all over themselves over some jackass exercising his constitutional right to be a jackass.  I always assumed that Christianity implied "Christ-like", but apparently not so much.  Somehow I can't see Jesus burning Korans.

In the other corner, we have a few million illiterate Muslims, happily manipulated into rioting and burning in effigy the president of these United Koran Burning States of America, because, after all, it's what we do.  Who needs oil with all those Korans to stoke the furnaces of the American infidels.

There is just this weird juxtaposition.  Over here, a couple dozen psychopaths flew planes full of perfectly innocent people into buildings full of perfectly innocent people and most of the US (including Dub-Ya, I might add) argued, correctly, that this was the work of crazy people and in no way representative of decent Islamic people everywhere.  (Although hate crimes against anyone looking Muslim(?) in the US went up something like 1700% in the aftermath of 9/11.  It's not like we don't have our share of freaking idiots.)

On the other hand, one CLOWN, announces plans to burn the Koran and half the Muslims in the world decide that this is now American policy.  It's our stimulus plan for the publishing industry; print 'em and burn 'em, keep those printers at work.

Aaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhh!!!! Primal scream.  Now I feel better.

I had to stop listening and eat lunch.  Chili's, as it happens.

Black Bean Burger

Chili's is not much of a vegetarian Mecca (sorry, probably an inappropriate metaphor given the above rant), but they do have a vegetarian black bean burger patty that I have always liked.  Back in the day, my meat-eating days, I would order the Bandito Black Bean Vegetarian Burger just 'cuz I liked it.  Sadly, Chili's dropped it from their menu.  For years I could go into Chili's restaurants and order it; the kitchen staff  knew what I was talking about, even though the wait staff thought I was crazy.  As I recall, the Bandito burger consisted of the black bean patty (BBP), some sort of black-beanie-sauce, jalapeños, cheese (maybe pepper-jack), lettuce, etc.  It was excellent.

Today, you can order any of the Chili's burgers and substitute the BBP, but somehow it's not quite the same as the Bandito.  None the less, I forged ahead.  Ordered an Avocado Burger with Swiss, minus beef, plus BBP.  Very nice!
Photo does not do it justice - it's my cheesy camera phone's fault.
Margarita's, Mariachi's and Middle-Eastern Comedians

After 12-1/2 hours at work I thought it would be nice to dine out with my spouse.  Drove to Temecula and met Denise at La Casita (used to be La Casita Nueva, but apparently they dropped that now that they are La Casita Vieja).  Friday nights are Mariachi night, although the Mariachis are usually gone by 8:00PM.  We arrived around 8:30, but they were still going strong.
I am the fat one in the foreground.
Avoided the siren song of the Carnitas and settled for the Vegetarian Burrito.   And a couple Margarita's.  The mariachis, as it turned out, did not know "Watching the Detectives", but they did play "Guacamole" which was pretty entertaining.
Met her at the Mercado 
She was buying avacados 
Man... she really turned me on 
She reached for my pepper 
I grabbed her tomatoes 
And I knew, it wouldn’t be very long...
Etcetera.  If you want more than that you'll have to Google it.
Back at home, we (well, I mostly, Denise fell predictably asleep) watched "Maz Jobrani: Brown and Friendly". Jobrani is a Middle-Eastern comedian (actually American of Persian ancestry) who I first heard on the Axis of Evil Comedy Tour.  Hilarious!  And a perfect antidote for a day of A-holes vs. Illiterates.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Post-Labor-Day Blues (Bleus?)

I was able to pretty scrupulously avoid labor this Labor Day Weekend, finding new and creative ways to appear busy whenever Denise wandered through the room.  Don't want her sensing idleness and suggesting that I might want to work on any of the myriad projects in their various stages of incompletion.

Sunday was Play Day

We scheduled a Sunday morning hike with Jackie, Mike and Abbie down by Dixon Lake in Escondido.  The sort of activity requiring a substantial breakfast, a breakfast to sustain us if lost in a whiteout, stranded in a real Man vs. Wild scenario.  Something substantial like breakfast burritos.

These were pretty standard burritos (potatoes, salsa, eggs, cheese, cilantro) except for the fake meat.
Denise had recently purchased a package of Tofurky Breakfast Links.  "Gourmet, Meatless and Delicious!"  Well, if this were baseball they'd be batting a respectable .333.  I'll take their word for the meatless part.  Like most meat wanna-bes, these have a signature meatless aroma.  Close your eyes.  Picture a damp, slightly used tube sock stuffed with overcooked multi-grain cereal.  Imagine your nose in the sock.  Inhale.  There, now you have a sense of the meatless sausage experience.

Actually, smothered in Pico Pica the sausages were mostly undetectable and the burritos more than acceptable.

The hiking was fun and the weather cool, enough so that Leo (and Denise) survived the trip.  Being giant and black, Leo does not normally do well on a hot hike.  We were hiking at Daley Ranch, the trails were nice with a fair amount of available shade and a  nice breeze helping to keep us cool.  The fact that I was spraying Leo down with water at every break probably helped.  After the hike I rewarded the dogs with kipper snacks from the emergency ration stash in my daypack.

We rewarded ourselves with lunch at Rubios, partly because they serve a good grilled vegie burrito, partly because they have little palapas outside were we could eat with the dogs and partly (mostly) because they serve beer.

Dinner Sunday was my take on a Poblano White Chili recipe from Vegetarian Times, minus the poblanos because the only ripe chiles in the garden were Anaheims and green bell peppers.   I would post a link to the recipe, but it's from their October issue and not available online yet.  Actually, I think I can modify this to an easy, one-dish recipe for the boys.  I will have to post my modifications on the recipe blog.

So Why the Blues?

To add a sort of tropical vacation feel to the weekend I mixed up a couple Mai Tai's.  That's probably as close as I'm going to get to a vacation anytime soon.  In the process I used up my last little traces of Orgeat syrup and Orange Curaçao.  I made a note to update the bar stock.   Got to be prepared when the Mai Tai bug next strikes.  Semper paratus!  Or maybe semper sitiens!

Anyway, Tuesday evening Denise texted.
"Need anything from the store?"
"What store?"
"Bleu cheese."  I was planning to make Red Onion and Gorgonzola Flatbread for dinner.
"What about booze?"  Henry's is blessedly located in the same shopping center as BevMo.
At this point I thought it best to abandon texting.  I did not want any confusion over things like, "IDK? JD?"   So I called Denise.
"Should I get Orgeat?"
"Yes."  Good girl,  remembered the important things.
"How about Blue Curaçao?"
"No, Orange."
"Anything else?"
"Maybe some Jack Daniel's."  Never know when the neighbors may come over.
So at this point I rushed home and got the semolina dough rising for the flatbreads.  (This is really quick and easy, you should definitely try the recipe.)  Denise arrived home with the groceries, extracting a bottle of BLUE Curaçao.
"I thought you said 'Not Orange.'"  
As a little background, I already have a nearly full bottle of the blue Curaçao, from an earlier misbegotten shopping expedition.  It's been in the bar cabinet for years because I have no idea what to do with it.
"So where's my Jack Daniel's?"
"Jack Daniel's!?  You didn't say Jack Daniel's!"
Semper Gumby, with two bottles of blue Curaçao and nought of old No. 7, I embraced the blue.  First, a Blue Marlin (white rum, lime juice and blue Curaçao, not bad actually, kind of Margarita-like) and moved on to an Evil Blue Thing (white rum, white creme de cacao and blue Curaçao - vile - evil - terrible - sickeningly sweet.  I fed it to Denise.)

So there we sat, nursing our post holiday blues (drinks) and munching our flatbreads with very blue cheese.  More blues to come, I have over a bottle and a half left to go.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

The Best Pizza I Ever Made

I may get some argument on this, because I've made a lot of pizzas and people may have their personal favorites, but this one was pretty damn good.

I was in the mood for pizza and am not a fan of the typical vegetarian pizza one can purchase at any local pizzeria. My first instinct was to just make a nice traditional Italian sausage or maybe my Southwestern Chicken pizza, but I decided to be good and do a vegetarian thing.


1 package Trader Joe's pizza dough
Basil Olive Oil from the Temecula Olive Oil Company
Grated Mozzarella cheese
Fresh baby spinach
1 whole head of garlic, roasted (about 12 to 15 cloves I think)
canned artichoke hearts (in water), quartered
canned black olives (plain old California olives, none of those fancy kalamatas or whatever)
fresh grated Parmesan cheese
drizzle of additional olive oil

The Dough
I do a couple variations on pizza dough, but normally I make a focaccia recipe and use that to make a pretty thick crust pizza. Sometimes I roll that out to make thinner crust pizza. Lately I've also been experimenting with a recipe for semolina flatbread. It's a lot quicker to make (no kneading, only one rise) and it has a nice flatbread texture. In a pinch I go with Trader Joe's, fresh from the refrigerator case. Much better in an evening when you don't have time for all that yeast to rise. (HOLY CRAP! There's yeast in this! I guess this isn't vegetarian after all.)

Anyway, this night I hand tossed the pizza dough, which in our kitchen is kind of a challenge. I'm 6-2 and with the dropped ceiling in our kitchen I've got about 12 inches to work. Simple solution, I tossed it in the living room which has a 9 foot ceiling. The ceiling fan creates a bit of an obstacle, but I managed to avoid it.

After tossing I threw it on about a 15" pizza screen and started topping. I brushed the whole thing with basil olive oil, then applied a thin layer of grated Mozzarella. Next the baby spinach leaves. These went on in a single layer, pretty much covering the entire pizza (it shrinks quite a bit during cooking, so it needs a lot, but don't layer it or it gets too wet.) On top of the spinach came the garlic, artichokes and olives. I kind of tear these up to avoid giant chunks and so I can distribute them evenly (and heavily) over the entire pizza. A little sprinkle of salt and fresh ground black pepper and then the grated parmessan. Finally, a light drizzle of olive oil over the whole thing and onto the top rack of a 450-degree oven for about 12 - 15 minutes.

I served mine with a liberal (Democratic) sprinkle of crushed red pepper.

It was in a word, a perfect combination of a thin crispy crust, light toppings and flavors that tasted fantastic, if I do say so myself. I guess that was more than a word, but anyway you get the point. The hand-tossing really seemed to make a difference in the texture of the crust. I'm going to have to work on my own dough recipe; can't continue using Joe as a crutch.

Actually, I don't think Denise was so impressed. But then she didn't have the crushed red. Go figure.

Food, That's What I'm On About!

I was thinking I should start blogging again if for no other reason than it's easier to record online the crap that passes through my tiny brain than it is to write it down somewhere or, God forbid, actually try to remember anything. At least online the crap is searchable.

Anyway, lacking any ability to focus on any one topic for too long I've decided to rant generally about food, but any other thought that wanders aimlessly across my synaptic spaces is fair game as well. Flexibility is the key.

So, to the title of this here blog.

As a little background, I have become a vegetarian. Not a strict vegetarian; the kind of vegetarian who eats meat. As it turns out there is actually a term for this; flexitarian (aka semi-vegetarian). I like that. Flexible. Read indecisive. Non-committal. That's perfect for me.

So, a flexible vegetarian. And when you're talking flexible you are talking Gumby.

Et voilà, Gumbitarian!

Of course, when talking flexible one could also be talking Pokey, but pokeytarian might imply a diet of horsemeat and Pokemons.)

As a short aside, I was once on a mountain search and rescue training session at Joshua Tree. This was a joint session with the short-lived Idyllwild Mountain Rescue Team and members of the USMC from the nearby Twenty-Nine Palms Marine base. A few of us had just finished rigging some kind rappel anchor and one of the leaders asked us to move it to another location. One of the Marines immediately replied, "OK, Semper Gumby. Always Flexible." Semper gumby has been a part of my vocabulary ever since.

So, flexitarian. As I looked into this I discovered there are actually more "-tarians" than you can shake carrot stick at. Vegetarian, ovo vegetarian, lacto vegetarian, ovo-lacto vegtarian, pescatarin, vegan. Pollotarian?! Frutiarian?!!!

Flexitarian is as good a term as any for me. Because of all the vegetarian lunches I've ordered, co-workers occasionally ask, "Are you a vegetarian?" I usually tell them that I am eating a largely vegetarian diet, which in my case includes dairy, eggs, seafood and occasionally (often spectacularly), MEAT. Now I can simply say, "No, I am a Flexitarian!" Followed of course by, "A flexitarian is someone who eats a largely vegetarian diet, which in my case includes dairy, eggs, seafood and occasional meat." So I guess it won't actually save any time.

Flexitarian is apparently a better term than "semi-vegetarian" or "vegetarian who occasionally eats meat" because, like pregnancy, vegetarianism is sort of all or nothin'. True vegetarians apparently get pissy about terms like semi-vegetarian. The pissiness might be due to a protein deficiency.

Now then, why Flex?

Why am I consuming more vegetarian stuff? Good question.
  • Health Benefits? I do need to try to keep my cholesterol down and at my age could probably use the fiber, but since I've mostly substituted cheese in place of the meat, I'm not sure I'm getting the full benefit here. And I've been drinking a little heavily to console myself over the loss of my beloved carne asada, etc., so just about the time my arteries clear out my liver will fail.

  • Weight Loss? This might work. If I blog about everything I eat, the writer's cramp will be a powerful disincentive to eating so damn much.

  • Economy? Meat is expensive, so a largely vegetarian-based diet should save a fair amount of money. The flaw in this theory becomes apparent when you try meat substitutes; fake meat is pricier than the real thing. And Vegan Cheese! How can something be free of animal products when an arm and leg goes into the purchase?

  • Environment? Smaller Carbon Footprint? Well, maybe. I've read The Omnivore's Dilemma after all. But I think it might be better for the environment to just buy meat and dairy products from local providers to maintain at least a little open space in southern California. I will tell you one thing; I'm not offsetting any cow flatulence through vegetarianism. Those lentils are killers.

  • Family Bonding? Both of the boys have become vegetarian (college will do that to you) and Nick's girlfriend is vegan. Denise has jumped pretty much onto their bandwagon. I figure if I follow suit maybe my family will still love me.

  • Pure Challenge? This is getting close. Who doesn't love a challenge? Well, me actually. But I do like to try new things in the kitchen and vegetarian meals are certainly new to me.

Anyway, I am off on a new tangent. We will see where this one leads. Next up, THE BEST PIZZA I EVER MADE.