Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Just don't say he's innocent . . .

I've been stewing about George Zimmerman this week.  His is the O.J. trial de jure, and if you've managed to escape all news for the past three weeks, his trial for second degree murder and manslaughter just concluded in Florida.  He was charged with stalking an unarmed black kid, and then killing him at point blank range when the kid got the better of him.  Verdict:  not guilty.

I love "not guilty."  It's not at all like saying "innocent."  And for good reason.  First, and what seems to have been forgotten in all the hooded-sweatshirt protests is that criminal defendants come to the courtroom clothed in innocence.  I understand that the killing of an unarmed black kid hearkens back to our painful history of race murders, but George Zimmerman, the person, as opposed to George Zimmerman the symbol of White Oppression, deserves more than MSNBC justice.  Thus, a criminal verdict never proclaims "innocence."  If the government fails to meet its burden, the most that be said about any defendant is that he's "not guilty."

Sort of.  If there's one thing this trial did show, it's that for George Zimmerman, "not guilty" is about as good as it gets.  He thought that without any training he could go out and play cop.  Stupid idiot.  He stalked this young kid just as it was getting dark, and then is caught flat-footed when the kid ultimately jumps him.  I mean, really, what was Zimmerman doing out of his car anyway? Stupid idiot. And then when this kid starts to beat the crap out of him as only a scared teenager high on Skittles and testosterone can, Zimmerman is like freaked-out scared, and he does what anyone of us would do if we were that scared and had the poor sense to carry a loaded firearm--he blew the kid away.  Indeed, the lesson lost in all this mess is that nothing turns bad judgment into a tragedy faster than a loaded gun. Stupid, stupid idiot. 

And of course I could be wrong; who knows what the hell happened on that pavement?  Maybe George Zimmerman hunted this poor child down and killed him because he was black.  But if it happened that way, the government didn't prove it, and there's the rub.  There are only two people who know for sure. One didn't testify and the other one is dead.  It's called reasonable doubt. Either way,the jury made the right call.

As for George Zimmerman, he may not be guilty, but the only thing this acquittal means is that he's not a convicted murderer.  He's still a stupid idiot--although I doubt whether that's even the smallest morsel of comfort for Trayvon Martin's family.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

My Fantasy Octogenarian

The happy-er-couple
I read with some interest that 86-year-old Hugh Hefner recently married his 26-year-old girl friend.  I will confess that my first reaction was much like my children's whenever they catch me and my husband kissing.   But then I got to thinking--what's the big deal?  People marry for all kinds of reasons, most of which have nothing to do with love or attraction.  Jackie Kennedy's nuptials with Ari Onassis proved that in spades.  Indeed, it's only a recent historical phenomenon for love to even be part of the equation.  In times gone past marriage was for good useful stuff like bringing territory into the kingdom, bucking up a failing estate a la Downton Abbey, or for the more pedestrian folk--securing a good milking goat.

Still. 86?  I'm almost twice the age of the bride, which got me thinking again--what kind of octogenarian would do it for me?

For starters, definitely not Hugh Hefner.  I know he is filthy rich, and probably quite charming.  The man has about 50 years of partying experience under his bathrobe belt, so I'm sure he knows how to show a girl a good time.  But really.  How much champagne can you drink in a hot tub?

Joe Biden is kind of cute, but at 70, he's too young to qualify.

Tony Bennett is a possibility.

He looks mighty fine in a dinner jacket, and I would absolutely


never, ever

get tired of listening to that voice.

And then.  Then there is Jacques Pepin, French chef extraordinaire.  Jacques--my fantasy octogenarian, hosts PBS's Fast Food, My Way.  It's a show that takes on the likes of Stouffer's and McDonald's by demonstrating how to make amazing food with minimal effort.  Totally my kind of guy.  Now technically he is only 77, but if I was going to marry the guy, it would be nice to have him around for awhile.  (And yes, I'm fully aware that he's already happily married, but then, so am I.  This is a fantasy, remember?)  Aside from his guaranteed-to-make-you-swoon French accent, that man can cook.  And let's face it, as this stage of my life, with my sell-by-date close to expiring anyway, hanging out with a charming Frenchman who makes me amazing food, even if it makes me fat, would be an OK match.  Who knows--maybe we'll even invite the Hefner's over for dinner.

Apple or Pear Tart
By Jacques Pepin

1.  Take one large flour tortilla and lightly coat it on both sides with melted butter.  Place it on a cookie sheet.  

2.  Slice two apples or two pears or one of each as thin as thin as you possibly can.  This is as difficult as this recipe gets.

3.  Arrange them decoratively on the tortilla and sprinkle generously with about two tablespoons of granulated or brown sugar and about a teaspoon of cinnamon.  I have never exactly measured them out, because, you know, being a master chef and all, Jacques doesn't either.  Like all good T.V. chefs he just creates amazing food and fills air time in the process without giving you pesky details like exact measurements: "And zen you jus pooot on a leeetle suhgar and cinnamohn, like zees, and voila--your tart is ready for ze oven."  

4.  Bake, uncovered, at 425 degrees for 20 minutes.   Or, as Jacques would say "Zees ees Faz Fuhd, MY WAY."  Oh Baby.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Taking it all off in the kitchen

Stripper tomatoes
I was recently confronted with about 10 pounds of over ripe tomatoes.  Now there are only two things to do with that many tomatoes--make a huge vat of salsa, crank up a margarita machine, and have a party or make a batch of spaghetti sauce.  Because I married an introvert, I was compelled to choose the latter.

The sauce is a no brainer.  Same recipe that I gave you ages ago, but substitute fresh tomatoes for the canned.  (February 2011;

Using fresh tomatoes, however, is definitely not as easy as opening up a can and dumping it into a pot.  Fresh tomatoes require that you remove the stem, seeds, any rotten spots,  and the skin.  The first three are easily taken care of with a good paring knife.  But there's a trick to taking off the skin.   If you don't know what you are doing, you'll be fumbling around making a mess of the situation like a teen-aged boy in the back seat of a car.  Do it right and you'll find that the skin will slide off that tomato like a dress falls off an eager woman.  The process finally and fully explains what is meant by the expression "she's one hot tomato."  Indeed, tomatoes aren't the only hussies of the kitchen.  Onions respond in much the same way.

The technique is simple.  Slice a shallow X through the skin of either the tomato or onion at the base, and then quickly submerge them in boiling water for 10 seconds.  Remove with a slotted spoon, and let them cool just long enough so that you won't burn yourself.  The skins will slip right off.
Onions Gone Wild

Photo by A. Gibbons

Garlic usually plays a little harder to get, so the best way to get it out of its sheath is to play a little rough.  Trim off both ends of the clove, and then smack it hard with the base of a heavy knife.  If you want it minced, go ahead and put your upper body into the maneuver.  Use less force if you need the clove intact.  Either way, that papery garlic casing will fall right off.  

And now that your produce is fully prepped, you can finally get down to business--cooking, that is.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Por favor, quiero unos zapatos con mi carne.

Last month I traveled to the Dominican Republic.  To my great surprise, I discovered that my dust-covered, moth-eaten, high school Spanish actually enabled me to converse with the locals--albeit at the most rudimentary level.  Not surprisingly, my greatest success crossing the linguistic divide centered around dining.  Donde esta  la mantiquilla?  Where is the butter?  Necessito una agua, por favor.  I need some water, please.  Queremos vin blanc.  We would like some white wine.  To my gringo companions, I was a rock star.   I could ask for more beer--mas cerveza; a spoon--una cuchara; hielo--ice.  With each passing day, more espanol kicked in, and I became increasingly emboldened.  I felt like a United Nations translator--you know, just doing my little part to bring the world a little closer together.

It seemed to me that it was no coincidence that my almost-defunct Spanish would resurrect itself around the dinner table.  I convinced myself that some things in this world are universal:  a mother's love, a lover's touch, and the absolute communal experience that is food.   Food binds us to family, to friends, and now, as I had discovered on some sort of primal level--other cultures.  So it was absolutely with no compunction I asked for some potatoes to accompany the all-you-can-eat-meat extravaganza of a Brazilian steakhouse.  You've been to these places before.  The waiters walk around with spits of meat that they carve off into your plate in a carnivorous orgy:  huge skewers of steak, pork, chicken, and lamb.  Slice after slice after slice of pure unadulterated meat.  But on this particular evening, the guy who was supposed to be carrying around the side dishes of potatoes and vegetables was no where to be found.  Not to worry.  Hablo espanol.  I speak Spanish.  Senor, por favor.  Sir, please. Quiero unos zapatos con mi carne.  I would like some potatoes with my meat.  Somehow I failed to register the waiter's look of confusion.  Smile big and act confident--'cause you know I've got this Spanish thing nailed. QUIERO UNOS ZAPATOS CON ME CARNE!  If you say it louder and more emphatically, you'll be understood.  And so I was:

I would like some SHOES with my my meat.

Most kindly, and perhaps because they weren't the most fluent in English, the wait staff didn't ask if those would be manolo blahniks or christian louboutin.  Instead they just laughed, and pointed to my feet.  And because, in the end, pointing is truly the universal language, I discovered my error and laughed right along with  them--knowing full well that this was one of those times in life when people weren't laughing with you, they were laughing AT you.

And damn.  I never did get those zapatos; I mean papas.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

I can't believe I have to eat the whole thing

If you read my last blog, you pretty much had to figure that there would be another zucchini recipe this week.  I harvested over 10 pounds of the stuff from my little shared garden last week, and that massive sumo wrestler of a zucchini is still enthroned on the counter like some kind of vegetative version of Jabba-the-Hutt.    He mocks me--practically screaming out every day "Hey, you wanna piece of me.?"  Yeah right--like I haven't had a piece of him every day for the past week.  So far this week we've had zucchini fritatta, sauteed zucchini, and zucchini bread.  I've shared zucchini with friends and neighbors.  No one tells you that when you eat local seasonal produce (and what's more local than a garden just down the street?) that you'll be eating the same freaking thing every day in a row.  Compound this by the fact that the only green thing that my children will eat are Jolly Ranchers, and you can a pretty good idea of the dimension of the problem.  Instead of the ubiquitous refrain of "what do you want for dinner tonight?" in my house, it's "how do you want me to fix the zucchini tonight"?  Ugh.   It's no easy feat getting all of it into recipes, and then getting it all down your throat. 

Tonight, however, I prevailed.  My zucchini piece de resistance--zucchini fries.  These are good.   Really good.  Not good enough for the kids to eat them, but whatever.  More for me.

Zucchini Fries
Another shamelessly plagiarized recipe.  This one from

1.  Cut off a hunk of zucchini from the monster, and cut it into long skinny strips.  We're making something called "zucchini fries" so let McDonald's be your guide here.

2.  Mix together 1/4 cup of milk and 1 egg white.  Feel free to use 1/4 cup of egg beaters; it worked fine.

3.  In another bowl mix together 1/2 cup seasoned bread crumbs and 1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese.  A note here on the Parmesan cheese.  I religiously keep two kinds on hand at all times:  the cheap stuff that comes in a green can and the hunk of outrageously expensive imported Parmesan-Reggiano.  The cheap stuff is great to throw on some popcorn or toss into a meat loaf, and the expensive stuff has the perfect flavor to season a risotto or grate onto pasta.  The shredded stuff that comes in the clear plastic container?  All the expense of the imported hunk with about as much flavor as the stuff that comes in the green can.  Don't buy it.  Except for this recipe.  For some reason the little shreds of cheese crisp up beautifully in the oven and give these "fries" their crisp without all the evils of real frying.  The fake stuff won't work, and the real stuff is a pain to properly shred.  

4. Coat the zucchini strips into the egg mixture, and then toss them in the bread crumb mixture.  Lay them out on a well-sprayed cookie sheet.

5.  Bake at 425 degrees for about 20-30 minutes until golden brown and crisp.  Look at the remaining 3 pounds of zucchini and wonder what you're going to do with it tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

You can hide, but you can't run

I am not a gardener.  I may have two opposable thumbs, but they are most certainly not green.  In short, if I plant it, it will die.  Just take a look at my typical handiwork:

The Azalea Corpse

The Half-Dead Magnolia

The Decapitated Juniper
It's a horticultural chamber of horrors.  

Indeed, I'm convinced that the plant world is on to me.  Over the years it's conspired to ensure that nothing green or flowering or edible will ever truly take hold in my yard. The plants somehow know that I am botanical butcher, and the smart ones steer clear.  This year, however, I tricked them.  This year I planted a garden in someone else's yard, and although the tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant managed to escape me, it appears that the zucchini didn't get the memo.  They tried to elude me.  They hunkered down beneath those big umbrella-like leaves and hid.  Thought those prickly vines would protect them. Thought they could take advantage of my inexperience by blending in with the rest of the foliage and eluding capture.  They nearly succeeded in simply rotting away on the vine--but  HAH.  They may have grown to close to 5 pounds each, but I was not to be denied. Ultimately I found my prey: nuclear-sized hulks of zucchini that likely lost any and all flavor about 2 weeks ago.  Of course, they didn't count on me making zucchini bread.  Add just about  anything to flour and sugar and it will taste good.

You should've see the one that got away.

Do you think a taxidermist could stuff and mount it?

Zucchini Bread
Zucchini Fate.
  • Cooking Light Magazine, July 2005

  • 1.   Preheat oven to 350°.

  • 2.  Lightly spoon 3 cups all purpose flour into a dry measuring cup .  Level with a knife.  Combine with1 tsp baking powder, 1 tsp ground cinnamon, and 1/2 tsp salt in a large bowl.

  • 3.  Combine 1/2  cup egg substitute and 1/3 cup canola oil, 1 tsp grated lemon rind, and 2 tsps vanilla extract, and 1 large egg lightly beaten in another large bowl.

  • 4.  Add 1 and 1/2 cups sugar until combined.   Add 3 cups of shredded zucchini.  Add flour mixture.

  • 5.  Add 1/4 cup chopped walnuts, toasted.  

  • 6.  Divide batter evenly between 4 (8 x 4-inch) loaf pans coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350° for 1 hour or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes in pans on a wire rack; remove from pans. Cool completely on wire rack.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Independence Day

Nothing says the 4th of July quite like Korean Barbecue.   It's simple really.  You take one Korean-American, marry her off to an Italian boy from Long Island, then plant them in a cul-de-sac with a bunch of Germans, Poles, Irish, and Jews.  Check your politics at the door.  Mix generously with alcohol--preferably from the Napa Valley.  Serve the children--dozens of them--hot dogs, macaroni and cheese, and watermelon slices.  Then feed the grown-ups chilled cucumber soup, chim-chi,  pickled radishes, and huge steaming plates of grilled beef and chicken seasoned with spices that Thomas Jefferson only read about in books.  

I'm not sure that 236 years ago the Founding Fathers ever expected that we'd be celebrating their little experiment in self-governance this way, but no matter.  This was a party worthy of America.     

Kalbi – BBQ short rib
By Alana Piccolo

1.    Go to an Asian market and buy two and a half pounds of LA style-cut beef short ribs.   If you've never been, shopping at an Asian market is about as close as an experience as you'll ever get to being beamed onto another planet like the Star Trek gang.   One minute you're standing in the parking lot of a suburban strip mall, and the next, you're smack dab in the middle of a busy South Korean market standing next to a particularly pungent vat of fermenting cabbage.  Not speaking Korean is a distinct disadvantage, but you'll survive. Just be mindful that these aren't Texas-style ribs.  LA style ribs are thinly cut across the bone, so that each piece is a long, thin, strip with 3 bone sections in it.  

2.  Rinse the ribs in cold water and pat dry with paper towels.  Place ribs in a large bowl or roasting pan.  Peel one kiwi and puree in a food processor with 1 tbsp of cold water.    Add kiwi puree to ribs and massage the meat with the kiwi mixture. 

3.  Mix together the following ingredients in smaller bowl and pour over meat:  6 Tbsp soy sauce, 1 Tbsp sesame oil, one spring onion cut on the diagonal, 1 Tsp toasted sesame sees, one tsp sugar, fresh black pepper.  Marinate for 3-4 hours.

4.  Cook over a hot grill 5-7 minutes on 1 side and 4 minutes on other.  Serve hot with rice, steamed veggies, or Korean side salads which can also be purchased at your local Asian markets.  But bring this picture with you so you can point to it as you ask in your best Korean:  "DO. YOU. HAVE. THIS?"