Friday, March 13, 2009

Black beans and rice, Cuban-style

The wonderful thing about rice and beans is that it has enough innocence to take on any combination of flavors one can come up with. Wanting to shake things up a bit and move away from the Tex-Mex and Mexican cuisine so popular here in the Sonoran desert last night I thought I'd try my hand at this delectable dish from my sister-in-law. Working as a manager and caterer of the society elite here in Tucson at the Dakota restaurant she is exposed to the culinary creations of the chef that prepares food in a variety of inventions. It came out wonderful! Sadly there are no leftovers because I prepared only half of the recipe since it says it is enough for 16. I should have known better raising two sons and a husband. I would suggest making the whole recipe and freezing the leftovers because at this point I can only imagine that it would become better as the flavor meld over time. Another thing I would like to recommend is to be aware of the amount of water in the beans as they simmer. Because most professional chefs cook over a gas flame, with electric burners the beans will take longer to cook and because they take more time to cook, keep an eye on the amount of liquid in the beans so they don't become too dry or burn. Adding salt during the last thirty minutes or so will also prevent the beans from becoming tough in texture.

This is a real start from scratch hands on dish so be sure to plan well in advance. Make sure you have all the ingredients on hand the day before; starting in the late morning is a good idea. The house will be filled with wonderful warm smells all days long and soon the neighbors will come over wanting to know when will dinner be ready?

Beans

Ingredients

Spread out dry beans and remove any foreign particles then rinse in cold water In a large put them in cold water; about one inch over the top of the beans. Let them soak overnight.

Oops! Forgot to put them to soak? That's okay you can still parboil them.

Cover the beans with cold water and bring to a rolling boil for two minutes. Remove them from the heat and let them soak for an hour.

Drain the beans, put them in a large pot with 8 cups of water. Bring to a boil reduce the heat and simmer gently about 60-90 minutes, or until tender. Stir them carefully to avoid breaking the skins. Taste for salt.

While the beans are simmering, heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add the onions, bell peppers and garlic. Sauté until the veggies begin to brown, about 10 minutes.

Remove one cup of beans with a slotted spoon and mash them with a fork. (a hand held potato masher works even better). Add these freshly mashed beans to the skillet full of delicious smelling vegetable. Stir this coarse paste into the pot of beans as a thickener.

Add the white wine, vinegar, oregano, black pepper and bay leaf. Simmer until the beans are tender, about 60 minutes, and mixture is thick, stirring often.

Rice

Ingredients

Add rice lemon juice and salt to boiling water and stir. Bring back to a boil, quickly reduce to low heat, cover and cook for 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from heat, fluff with a fork and let it rest for 5 minutes before serving.

For a family style flair you can serve the beans on a large platter with a ring of rice around them. This dish goes well with fresh pineapple, grilled squash and bollito bread. Bollito bread is native to the southwest, but try any crusty bread such as French or Italian as a nice substitute.

You may be wondering why this is called "Cuban" and that's a good question. In many cases, it's the combination of spices that connects a dish to a particular culture or part of the world. Add tomatoes you have Italian, take away the oregano and bay leaf and add tomato it's Tex Mex. Add tomato, substitute green bell peppers with chili peppers and the oregano with cilantro don't add bay leaf it's a southwestern dish.

Savor the flavor! The combination of garlic onion, bell peppers and above all the addition of oregano along with bay leaf makes this Cuban. The transformation of aroma is quite remarkable when these last two spices are added! That's about the time your neighbors show up.


*If you're interested in reducing the amount of fat calories you can reduce the amount of olive oil to 2 tablespoons and sauté the veggies in a non-stick skillet.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Watership Down

Watership Down was originally published by Rex Collins in 1972. The story is a tale about rabbits, however not in the simple sense that humans commonly view them.

It started as a story Richard Adams made up to entertain his children Juliet and Rosamond, during the five hour drive to Stratford-on-Avon. The original story was much different than the version that made it to print, including the rabbits being much more anthropomorphic. Adams in fact wrote the story in its current form only at the insistence of his daughters. Richard Adams intended the novel to be a "children's story that adults could enjoy."

These rabbits are complex creatures with emotions, logic, religion and a social structure. When their home is threatened, a small band of renegades goes against the orders of their chief rabbit in order to start a new life. Richard Adams was inspired by Agamemnon, a Greek tragedy, to give Fiver the line

    "The hills are covered with blood."

The warrens of the rabbits in Watership Down vary greatly. Each one is society set apart with its own form of government and beliefs among its inhabitants.

    "They lived, comfortable and secure, in the best of worlds. Until one of them had a vision; he saw the hillside that was their home covered with blood. Prophesying imminent destruction to all who remained there, he and his brother appealed to their chief. They were dismissed routinely. Obedience - and death - faced them. Or rebellion - and survival, maybe."

My first experience with the novel Watership Down was while in college. It was surprising that to find the book completely engrossing. First as a sort of epic fairy tale, then after a second and third reading as a study of societies and religion.

The lapine creation story is perhaps the most important story within the rabbit world (paraphrased)--

    Before the world existed, there existed Frith. Frith created the world and the stars with his droppings, and upon the world he created the rivers, mountains, plants and animals. At the time of their creation, all animals were the same. Both kestrel and sparrow ate flies and seeds, and the fox and rabbit were friends and ate grass together. The first of the rabbits was named El-ahrairah and he had wives without number. Because of El-ahrairah and his many wives, the earth soon grew so densely populated in rabbits that they ate all the grass, leaving the other animals hungry, and so the animals began to complain to Frith. Frith went to El-ahrairah and warned him that he must keep his people under control, but El-ahrairah said that he multiplied so to show his love of Frith and his people did the same. Frith was angered by El-ahrairah's impudent remark, but decided that the world needed cunning and jest, so instead of killing El-ahrairah, he chose to play a trick on him. So Frith called forth all of the animals one by one in order to bestow upon them a gift, making sure El-ahrairah would arrive last. When the fox and stoat and weasel came, Frith gave them sharp teeth and claws and the desire to hunt and kill all of El-ahrairah's children. When El-ahrairah caught wind of his new enemies, he started to dig a burrow in which to hide, and so when Frith came to him, El-ahrairah was only half out of the ground. Frith asked El-ahrairah to come out so he may bless the rabbit, but El-ahrairah refused so he may keep digging for his life.

    Encouraged by the rabbit's determination even in the face of trial, Frith gave to El-ahrairah strong legs with which to run, and a tail that shone like a star to warn other rabbits as he took flight.

Frith also made this promise to El-ahrairah: And by this, El-ahrairah knew that although Frith would not be mocked, he was still the friend of rabbitkind.

    "...All the world shall be your enemy, Prince with a Thousand Enemies, and whenever they catch you, they will kill you. But first they must catch you, digger, listener, runner, prince with a swift warning. Be cunning and full of tricks and your people shall never be destroyed."

This is the tale that all rabbits have heard. Much like Jehovah's promise to the Jewish people, this is the rabbit's promise that regardless of the trials and hardships that they may face, as long as they remain faithful to Frith, they will never be destroyed completely.

    "As for the moral courage, it's extremely rarely found, until two hours after midnight."

    -- Translation from French citation before Chapter 7

Sources:

Adams, Richard. Watership Down. Avon, Reissue edition (August 1989).

Holy Bible (NIV)

Peuha, Esa. Richard Adams's Watership Down
Accessed August 22, 2003

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Sui generis

    "No one before or since has had such a blend of wildness and vulnerability, such pretty-boy looks crossed with such rawness ... James Dean was sui generis." (Robert DiMatteo, Video Review, December 1990)
Sui generis is an adjective pronounced \soo-eye-JEN-uh-rus or soo-ee-JEN-uh-rus\ .Medieval philosophers were probably the first to coin this word as they attempted to explain God as, sui generi or "without a category." This expression has its roots in the Latin forms of word variations interpreted as birth, race, kind, gender, and class such as "gener-" or "genus." Progeny of these root words incorporate general, generate, generous, generic, degenerate, and gender. However the idiom "sui generis" is truly an in a class of its own; gener- is a descendant that English speakers have used for singular things since the late 1700s.

Dr Dictionary says sui generis is:

    akin to Russian svoi "one's own" and "swami," borrowed from Sanskrit svami "one's own." The dative of this pronoun, sibi "to oneself", is related to Russian sebya "oneself" and English "self." It is also the origin of the sol in "solo, solitary, soliloquy, desolate."
The earliest known written use of this term dates back to 1787 as a derivative from Latin, literally meaning, "of one's own kind". At one point in time the word was used specifically from a scientific perspective to indicate "substances, principles, diseases, and rocks that were unique or that seemed to be the only representative of their class or group." The expression describes a person, place, or thing constituting a class alone as in something unique or peculiar; a special phenomena of nature like our sensations of color and taste.

By the onset of the 20th century sui generis had extended past the science world and into more general usage for anything that is only one of a kind, unique; unparalleled; having no equal; as in "Due to revolutionary political changes, the economic situation in Eastern Europe is sui generis."

Sources:

Communique

Merriam-Webster OnLine

Online Etymology

yourdictionary

Monday, March 09, 2009

New England Boiled Dinner

Originally made with salted beef, today this American East Coast one-pot meal traditionally contains corned beef, ham or salt pork and is tasty and easy to prepare. Additional items such as chicken, cabbage, potatoes,turnips parsnips, onions, carrots and seasonings are added at various times and simmered slowly together. This is a traditional recipe from Maine. My grandmother would prepare this hearty meal on cold wintery afternoons.

2 pounds well-trimmed Corned Beef
1 small Onion, cut into fourths
1 clove Garlic, crushed
1 small head green Cabbage, cut into 6 wedges
6 small Onions
6 medium Carrots
3 Potatoes
and if desired 3 Turnips, cut into cubes

Pour enough cold water on corned beef in a 5 quart Dutch Oven just to cover. Add onion and garlic. Heat to boiling; reduce heat. Cover and simmer until beef is tender, about 1½ hours
Skim fat from broth. Add 6 small onions, 6 medium carrots, 3 potatoes and the cabbage. Cover and simmer 20 minutes. Remove beef to warm platter; keep warm. Add cabbage. Heat to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer uncovered until vegetables are tender, about 15 minutes.
Slice the beef and arrange with the vegetables on a large, deep platter, along with a generous amount of the cooking liquid. Serve mustard and horseradish on the side. This is a great meat and potatoes dinner that gets even better as leftovers.

Enjoy!

New England Boiled Dinner

Originally made with salted beef, today this American East Coast one-pot meal traditionally contains corned beef, ham or salt pork and is tasty and easy to prepare. Additional items such as chicken, cabbage, potatoes,turnips parsnips, onions, carrots and seasonings are added at various times and simmered slowly together. This is a traditional recipe from Maine. My grandmother would prepare this hearty meal on cold wintery afternoons.

2 pounds well-trimmed Corned Beef
1 small Onion, cut into fourths
1 clove Garlic, crushed
1 small head green Cabbage, cut into 6 wedges
6 small Onions
6 medium Carrots
3 Potatoes
and if desired 3 Turnips, cut into cubes

Pour enough cold water on corned beef in a 5 quart Dutch Oven just to cover. Add onion and garlic. Heat to boiling; reduce heat. Cover and simmer until beef is tender, about 1½ hours
Skim fat from broth. Add 6 small onions, 6 medium carrots, 3 potatoes and the cabbage. Cover and simmer 20 minutes. Remove beef to warm platter; keep warm. Add cabbage. Heat to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer uncovered until vegetables are tender, about 15 minutes.
Slice the beef and arrange with the vegetables on a large, deep platter, along with a generous amount of the cooking liquid. Serve mustard and horseradish on the side. This is a great meat and potatoes dinner that gets even better as leftovers.

Enjoy!

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Whitening Instructions *

Ingredients:


Since the "made-in-China" lead paint scare has set fire to an investigation by the U.S. Senate and ignited many toy recalls it got me to thinking about this recipe I wrote for our family cookbook. It is in my grandmother's handwriting on a fragile piece of paper and was found in an old trunk that belonged to her. When she passed away my cousin Peggy inherited the trunk. Along with Grandmother's wedding dress there were love letters from my grandfather as well as letters to her friend Aletha which Peggy has published and are quite revealing of what the culture and community was like during that era.

Born near the end of the War of Northern Aggression her mother died shortly after giving birth. Her father remarried and moved his family from Tennessee to Texas in hopes of a brighter future. Long before the "tan looks healthier" hype Grandmother had been raised to admire Magnolia-white skin from the previous generation. I'm sure she was fetching enough for Grandfather as it went well with her strawberry blond hair and blue gray eyes. It was the fall of 1900 and she had just returned from a short trip to Galveston, Texas to see the deadly destruction left behind by the hurricane that reshaped the Gulf Coast forever. Grandfather showed up at her door in Democrat, Texas collecting funds to help the victims of the storm rebuild their city. She was quite taken by his dark brown eyes and thick black hair so she sent a few anonymous postcards to his home. This had him getting into all kinds of trouble throughout the small faming community of Lometa, Texas asking numerous girls who could have sent them. Peggy explains that the origins of Grandmother Nollie's recipe for whitening instructions:

    "I believe the above instructions for 'whitening' are written by the hand of my grandmother, Nollie. I am not sure if this whitening would have been used for skin or for clothing. Living in the Texas sun, Nollie always wore a bonnet outdoors in order to protect her skin from the darkening effects of the sun. She may have used this formula to further lighten her skin. Living on a farm with a hard-working husband and nine hard-working and hard-playing children, she doubtless had need of whitening for their clothes, also." -The Godwin Archives, Volume IV: NEIGHBORLY NOTES, Schoolwork, and Miscellaneous, (2007).

This liquid composition was used as a whitening for things and "as a wash for making the skin fair." Since there is just a list of ingredients and no directions about applications I decided to take a look at the ingredients and do some guesswork as to why they are a part of this recipe. According to the Grolier Encyclopedia bay rum, ...a popular face lotion for men, is made from a combination of bay oil, citrus and spice oils, alcohol, and water. It was first made in the West Indies, where it was prepared by boiling the leaves of the West Indian Bay (tree) in white rum and collecting the distillate. No doubt the bay rum was added to make whatever was being whitened to smell good.

"Glycerine" is a spelling variant of glycerin and comes from the word glycerol which means 'a colorless, sweet, viscous liquid formed as a by-product in soap manufacture, used as an emollient and laxative.' Rose water still enjoys an excellent reputation today as a traditional facial cleanser, because it works as an astringent, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, and has a lovely scent. Both of these ingredients would soften the face, help to clear the skin of blemishes and leave it feeling rather tingly.

Now here is the really scary part. Flake white is a basic lead carbonate. One web tale explains how it was probably made:

    "Strips of lead were carefully folded to have spaces running through them. They were called buckles because they sort of looked like them... They were fitted to clay pots which had holes in the bottom. Those pots fit into other pots that held the acetic acid or vinegar. Those pots were set side-by-side on beds of fresh manure and tanbark. (Tanbark is bark rich in tannin; bruised and cut in pieces to use for tanning) That was also stuffed between the pots. The sheds were closed and filled up with acidic fumes and heat. (This) made actual flakes of lead grow on the buckle. The process is called efflorescence ...You can also see those flakes if you take a storage battery apart. Those are sulphur (sic) compounds and not nearly so white as Flake white. Sometimes they build up and cause a short circuit between the plates."

The buckles were harvested, the flakes scraped off and washed in water before drying. The resulting pigment is very special because the color is warm, and has a beautiful sheen similar to pearls. Flake white is a type of lead paint that is commonly used in oil paintings today; however, it is slowly being replaced by titanium white and zinc white because of the health related concerns of lead. I have asked my father if it was possible that his parents made Flake white and he said they did tan hides and had a smoke house just east of the kitchen where they might have made it.

Grandmother kept a ledger and noted what work they did each day. There are a number of entries where she simply wrote "ditching." Shortly before they ran off to get married, she, along with neighbors and friends helped Grandfather build a barn and plant their first crops. Soon after they married they ordered blueprints from the Sears and Roebucks catalog and built their home. Four years after my grandparents wed there was a picture of Grandfather's family home taken and to the north of the house in the background is a large tank which caught rain off the roof. Rainwater harvesting comes down to us from ancient times and to get rainwater to their new home, they dug a ditch up to my grandfather's parents' home, laid some pipes and installed a pump to share rainwater for washing hair and rinsing clothes as a softener. The Texas Water Development Board notes that, "rainwater has long been valued for its purity and softness. It has a nearly neutral pH, and is free from disinfection by-products, salts, minerals, and other natural and man-made contaminants."

More than 80 percent of homes built before 1978 contain lead paint and lead poisoning in kids can cause IQ deficiencies, reading and learning disabilities, hearing loss, difficulties in staying focused on tasks, poor impulse control and other behavior problems. A developing fetus can experience serious developmental problems from pregnant mothers poisoned by lead. Paint containing more than 0.06% lead was banned for residential use in the United States in 1978 by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

*Disclaimer: Please do not concoct this recipe as the inherent dangers of using it is unknown. Any and all consequences to the use of the product will be your sole responsibility.



Sources:

The Godwin Archives, Volume IV: NEIGHBORLY NOTES, Schoolwork, and Miscellaneous, (2007).

Godwin Family Reunion Cookbook 2007
Used by permission

Lead and Paint
Accessed August 31, 2007.

A Rum Site
Accessed August 31, 2007.

Texas Water Development Board: Rainwater Harvesting FAQs
Accessed January 21, 2007.