Friday, December 28, 2012

German Mushroom Soup

Here is a decent recipe to produce with your pounds and pounds of dried mushrooms.

Saute 8 oz baby bella mushrooms and 8 oz white crimini mushrooms in 3 tbsp butter and a squirt of olive oil for 10 min, add 2/3 cup Tawny Port (the only beverage alive which tastes like Christmas and actually produces Christmas inside you if you are drunk on it), and 32 oz vegetable stock, or water with vegetable pulp in it (such as carrot, cucumber, and pepper pulp from a juicer).  Simmer for 10 more minutes, then let cool long enough to put into a processor or blender.  Once creamy, return to pot along with 1 cup dried mushroom mix (or fresh).  I used Oyster, Ivory Portabellas, Shiitaki, Brazilian, Morels, and Porcini, because those are what I have.  Lots of.  Still, after 3 years.  Some mushrooms are an acquired taste.  Season with garlic powder, onion or onion powder, 1 red chile diced (dry or fresh), green chives, and 1 tsp all spice.  Zest 1/2 of a carrot through a fine cheese grater.  Add 16 fl oz water, and boil for 30 min.  Remove from heat, add 16 oz creme.  Stir and serve.

Its not a revolutionary mushroom soup, but it has 7 kinds of fungi, a good blend of seasonings, a nice undertone of sweet liquor, and its easy.  Better hot than cold.

Easily spruce it up with some gratuitous German Bratwist slices.  You know, if you can't eat a thing unless it has meat in it.



Saturday, December 15, 2012

Meet The Squash Family

Its time at last for me to survey the squash field.

Actually, its 5 days too late according to my new Mondays schedule, but I lost my photo for this post and that took away my thunder.  I was planning to number 11 different squashes and review each with a recipe, but now I have to do something shorter.

So I will offer some recipes and answer some questions because squashes or winter melons daunt a lot of people.

Question 1 and 2: Is there such a thing as a decorative squash?  If so, why can't I eat them?

Yes, there are squashes grown just to sell as decoration.  For most Americans, this is every kind of squash, but for the culinary minded, it is small colorfully patterned squashes that look like tiny flat pumpkins.  These are grown to sit in the middle of a Thanksgiving Feast, not to be part of it, meaning that even at a local market, you ought to ask if they were sprayed with dangerous chemicals, and get as much info as you can.  That said, I tried 4 varieties of decorative squashes this past month and found 3 of them to be pretty darn adequate and edible.  The last one, I chucked.  The main difference with these is that the "flesh" is a little tougher or has a stringy quality, that maybe they take longer to cook, and they are more "hole" than "doughnut".  The cavity inside is big and there isn't much to cook. But the seeds of any squash can be roasted, with or without seasoning.  And are usually delicious.  So don't just pitch a squash when Thanksgiving is over.

Question 3: How do I cook a squash?

Any squash can be halved, set on a baking tray, and baked in a small amount of water.  The water helps the squash from drying out and to cook evenly.  Most can also be boiled.  This will mean you get less good stuff, if you are dumping out the water before eating.  I boil a butternut if I am making soup, or a spaghetti squash usually because its easier when I am substituting it for pasta.  Others I now roast. In an oven, I bake at 350 for 30 minutes- 45 minutes, depending on how large the squash is.  You can cook it less time if you want it firmer.  Halving a squash to bake or boil it means you simply scoop out the guts once they are soft.  Always scrape away the stringy gummy layer around the hole before cooking, just as if you were cleaning out a pumpkin to make a jack-o-lantern.  A decorative squash will have a thick layer that you don't want to eat.  The acorn squash on the other hand, as example, is almost all good and ready to cook.  A butternut is the hardest thing on earth to peel if you try to do it before boiling or baking.  I would never try again, unless it was to train some Ninja boy in Karate Kid 11, who lacked patience.  Cut it into pieces that fit in the pot, boil or bake, then peel, then return to pot, mash, or put through a blender/processor for soup.  Or eat it right out of the rind.  Halved acorn squashes are the ideal side dish as they come in their own "bowl".  But any squash can be eaten straight from the hard rind.

Question 4: How do I roast these delicious seeds you speak of?

Halve your squash, pull the seeds out and separate from the goop and slimy crud.  Dispose of that crud.  Without washing the seeds, throw them on a tray, preferably in a small toaster oven, put the heat to 300 and watch them.  Small seeds will take as little as 15 minutes and should be flipped after 10.  Pumpkin seeds are the biggest and will take 30 minutes usually.  Flip at 15 minutes.  Season if desired before roasting, when they are still wet. They taste much more flavorful without a rinse.  I season, if at all, always with seasoned salt/garlic salt.  But more often, I just let them go.  Sometimes I burn the seeds on purpose because they are extra crunchy.  I have had a steady supply of seeds all winter thus far because the only seeds I consider inedible come from the kabotcha, which I have mistakenly called a "kubutchen" previously.  Those are chalky and puffy and gross.  Throw them away.  For a seed recipe, see "Mohican Chowder."

Question 5: How do I pick a good eating pumpkin?

Talk to the farmer.  Ask about which pesticides were used, if any.  And try to find a variety other than the pie pumpkin meant to be eaten, or which is an heirloom/vintage variety.  The store pumpkins are grown to be carved and are not featured for their taste, quality, or texture.  I find they fall apart into unpleasant strings.  If you can't cube the "flesh" of your pumpkin wall, then its not an eating variety.  Older pumpkins were grown not for size or shape or color, but to be delicious and healthy.  I stopped buying super size pumpkins because the rind tends to be stretched thin and they may burst open and start leaking while being roasted.  Not ideal if you have some turkey soup or chili in there.

Question 6: How do I know if a squash is ripe?

An acorn squash should be mostly green, showing some orange flecks.  Orange means its a bit past ripe, but will keep.  Same goes for a kabotcha.  A pumpkin is ripe if orange and not on a vine, basically.  The decorative kinds are much harder to tell because they give you no signs.  Butternuts don't change color either.  Nor spaghetti squash.  For those, soft spots will mean rot, so avoid those.  Make sure the rind is not cracked, and don't worry about peak freshness.  Squashes or winter melons were a useful crop because of how long they keep, not the peak of freshness like an orange has.

Question 7: What the heck are these 30 lb squashes?  And what are they used for?

The banana squash is similar to a butternut as a harder squash, but a little more peppery.  Yes these are edible, and the farmer I spoke with says his family will slice off a pound or so every few days, cook it, serve it, and then go back for more.  They keep these monsters in the garage where they stay cool and last all winter.  However, you will need to cut away the exposed section each time.  So you basically eat every other slice, with the waste slices thinner, hopefully.  Alternatively, serve it as the side dish at a big feast or party.

Okay, that seems like enough of that section.  A few favorite recipes:

Acorn Squash

My favorite way to eat this is to split it in half, scoop away the gunk, roast the seeds quickly and then bake upside down in water for 30 minutes.  Pull from the heat, add a pat of butter, a spoonful of brown sugar and of raisins, stir, and its delicious, and in its own bowl.


I bake it upside down and halved.  Seeds are thrown out.  This one I like the flavor on so much that I add no seasonings at all.  Eat it from the "bowl" rind if hungry enough, though it is a larger squash and will feed at least 2, and probably 4.  Be sure to liberally scoop away the gloop or the final product when mashed up will be very unpleasant in the mouth.  My first attempt I tried to save too much "flesh" and threw most of it away.  It was like eating soft thistles.  I would chew and chew and couldn't keep from gagging.

Spaghetti Squash

Detailed on this blog before.  It replaces spaghetti with a sweet pleasant flavor very well enhanced by a good tomato sauce.  I like to cover it then with edamame, and goat cheese, or with feta and olives and pistachios, or all those and peppers.  About anything works.  Very low calorie and very low carb for you dieters.  Bake or boil.


I cook things inside a pumpkin generally, and usually chili.  See older posts.  Watch the labels "chili" or for a title with "pumpkin."  You can also bake one without food in it, and if its large, start the pumpkin "on empty".  They can take over an hour to cook at 450.  I have also started cutting away the back wall on a jack-o-lantern and roasting it in slices, then freezing the slices.  They will come out mushy and be harder to chop but can then be added to soups as "cubed" pumpkin.  Pie pumpkin, canned pumpkin, and dwarf pumpkin all disentegrate into soup.  Canned pumpkin is great in pancakes with a little whipped topping or a buttermilk syrup and of course in cookies and my oat bars.  See older posts for "Oat the Door Bars".

Butternut Squash

This one I make into soup once a year, though it has yet to come out great.  Hard to produce a desired consistency and I have never found the right spices to make it taste delicious like it does in gourmet organic markets where I've had it.  I usually add fat noodles, and do not like celery in this soup.  Other than that, I'm open to your advice.  Really I am.  However, try this: boil 2 cup dry lentils and 1 butternut squash separately, then scoop out your squash and add to your lentils.  Stir in a couple teaspoons of Red Curry Paste and add some cashews and raisins, and you have a great little spicy dish.

Yellow Squash

This one is a yellow acorn squash.  But its not an acorn squash, just has the exact same shape.  Its not sweet at all, and tastes just like the summer squash you get in some frozen vegetable mixes.  It may be the same thing, but I don't think it is.  That summer squash I believe looks like a cucumber.  Well this one I bake and then scoop out/mash and my favorite spice blend is Lemon Lime Paprika and Roasted Fries Spice Mix (both in tall glass bottles by "The Gourmet Collection"- I find them at TJ Maxx and there is no easy way to fabricate them which is why I bought them; but see the previous post for the Fry Spice ingredients).  A pinch of cinnamon and a dash of brown sugar is optional.  I have never known butter to hurt anything.  You can sweeten this with brown sugar and cinnamon and nutmeg, but I do that with other squashes which can't be made spicy.  So I try different spice blends with this one.  I like to crank it towards hot usually.

Banana Squash

I've only ever used this in stir fry, but I do like it there.  Chop it and start it with plenty of oil so it will soften and start it ahead of "soft" veggies like sugar snap peas, with carrots if you use them.  It also fits in curry.  Great stir fry is yours for the having with a little mix of wok oil and stir fry sauce.  I am sure you know where to find both in your grocery store.  Curry is simpler yet with Curry paste and coconut milk.  Watch for dented cans to save money.  If you are going to throw a few cans of coconut milk and then check back in the damaged goods cart at the back of the store the next morning, you will want to be make sure you know where the cameras are.  I have NEVER done that.  That anyone knows of.  And you shouldn't either.  Its naughty.

I was once told by a young man from Chinese heritage with restauranteur parents that I made the best non-Chinese Chinese food he'd ever eaten.  I'm pretty sure that is a compliment.  Kind of like telling someone "white men can jump". 

Well I hope that helps.  Hopefully my next post will be about how to can applesauce, since I still have not done that.  And "Canaan Pie" is coming.  I have revolutionized the pecan pie, in my head.  But its just a theory.  This month I will try the recipe I invented.

Your unsolicited musical advice: Annette Hanshaw!  I feel I've mentioned her before, but can't find where or when I did.  I think most of her very best and most charming songs are on the "Sita Sings the Blues" soundtrack.  That costs $9.99 and is only available as MP3 download.  So I'd look into that if you got this far.


Monday, December 3, 2012

This Isn't A Party

Your weekly recipe, plus so much more. But not a squash review.  I got burned out on squashes, so that will come next week sometime when I try the last 3 varieties.

The Mrs and I attempted to host a cookie party this weekend, on December 1.  As a Saturday, that seemed like the perfect day to invite all our many few friends over to get Christmas cookies out of the way and ready to give away.  We thought his was an inspired idea, but apparently not because out of 12 invites, I had 0 come, and only 3 tell me no in a timely fashion.  Teresa invited about 400 people indirectly through Facebook after getting 5 direct no answers, and wound up with 5 friends coming.  One was a 9 year old who seized control of the apartment, and especially the kitchen, all cookie cutters and dough and would not even let me roll it out for him.  But the enthusiasm was welcome, actually.  Then he got bored, and was ready to go before anyone else had even touched a cutter, and sneered in that cute 9 year old way, "this isn't a party, no one is here."  I think he meant there were no kids, and no clowns, and no inflatable bounce castle, but I knew what he meant.  We gave people 2 weeks notice and still it was like we were suggesting to people that they come for a free dental inspection.  Does Utah hate cookies?  Perhaps, because I have yet to see a box of "Jingles" on sale here, and it took 3 years of living here before I ever crossed paths with a pack of molasses cookies.

Well, at least I got practice making cookie dough from scratch.  Whipped up 2 large batches of gingerbread and one double batch of spiced "sugar" cookies, which actually I would personally call "Dutch butter" cookies, because I put a BOX of butter into them following the recipe.  I was pretty sure this was written down wrong.  I'd personally have to say that this is a waste of money.  Sure butter is delicious, but a box of butter is like eating a whole pizza at once.  This does not in any way enhance the flavor of the first slice.  They are good, but so are regular sugar cookies and they don't destroy your heart while also working over your teeth.  I think one or the other sort of damage should be enough.

This all produced approximately 200 cookies of palm size.  And I will tell you from refusing to use a provided electric mixer (I don't own one) that there is no better forearm and abdominal workout than baking gingerbread.  Any kind of kneading and rolling is nice exercise, but gingerbread is a hearty dough, and I woke up Sunday morning with a shredded stomach and no memory of working out.  Then I realized it was the full body pressing and rolling that did it.  I had to roll everyone's because they thought they would break the table or hurt the dough or something by leaning into it.  Plus 9 year olds are not as staunch and buff as you and I were, to be sure.  I had the dough ready for guests who by some accident of rudeness came early (who does that?) and not fashionably late, and also, The Mrs showed up 11 seconds before her friends, so all the grunt work was mine. 

So it was fun anyway.  And yes people could eat cookies before electricity.  I have proved this, which even a few several 60+ year olds were trying to argue with me when I suggested I would just stir the dough by hand and knead it instead of mixing.  The Mrs suggested this would somehow break the whole baking process and the cookies would not work.  Not true.  Carpal tunnel syndrome knows no better cure than a good kneading either.  And yes, in those pictures above you do see a gingerbread Eiffel Tower, a gingerbread hand-cut teapot, a gingerbread Batman symbol, an authentically frosted Poke-ball (there was a 9 year old here remember), the Liberty Bell with 2 pigment frosted crack, Mario's face, and Salvador Dali as a purple-mustached toddler hippo in overalls.  I think Dali would approve of that particular rendition of his person.  And all from scratch, except for the frosting.  Though we did color it ourselves from white.

I am sure you have recipes for cookies, so I am not offering them, but I do suggest adding nutmeg and extra ginger to your gingerbread.  I made mine extra strong and have received no end of compliments on it.  The best compliment is watching people pig on it.  And for original cookie shapes, I suggest a Viennese, or teardrop spatula, which I have to find a task it is ill-suited to.  They are surprisingly hard to find though.

Teresa and I made burgers that evening, with some organic grass-fed beef I found on super clearance.  They were tremendous.  Here are 2 recipes for burgers, one of which I offered before:

1. My favorite
1 lb ground beef
1/8 cup raisins
1/8 cup Italian seasoned bread crumbs
1 tsp Onion powder
1 tbsp Urban Accents Mongolian Ginger BBQ mix (mustard powder, sugar, sea salt, minced garlic, orange peel, ginger, spinach powder, pepper, wasabi powder- if you can't find it, you may be able to simulate it off that with a pinch of everything.  Or get lazy and just use mustard and ginger.  Probably close.)

2. A new great one
1 lb ground beef
1/8 cup craisins
1 tsp onion powder
1 tbsp Herbs de Provence

Herbs de Provence is a delicious aromatic mix similar to Italian seasonings great on pizza, potatoes, and apparently, in hamburgers.  The Mrs is wild for them.  To pick out a good bottle of Herbs de Provence, look for a glass bottle you can see through and count your lavender flowers.  This (and fennel seed) is really what separates the mix from Italian seasoning, and a cheaper mix will have only a few crushed purple bulbs, while a good mix will be rife with them. 

Because I, like Homer Simpson, and early East Coast Native Americans, cannot resist cheap pork, I have a freezer full of meat again.  I digress here but I read one story during the King Philip's War, where some colonists were able to lure many "savage" warriors to their deaths by offering a pork feast.  Not with promises of truce or friendship or under a white flag.  They simply put down their muskets and cooked some pork up.  The Natives all came trooping in, had a good meal, and then calmly went about being stabbed to death, seemingly considering it a good bargain.  Well, we even wound up with some turkey drumsticks, though poultry scares me, as I've mentioned.  These were huge too, and probably genetically enhanced and hopped up on drugs.  I hope the bird had a nice life, and they were semi-local, meaning from within the state, or so I think.  After a raucous Thanksgiving which reminded me what an odd and bastardized celebration it has become, Teresa and I made Jamaican Jerk smoked turkey legs which I thought were great.  She felt they were too smokey, though in my limited experience, smoked anythings are for men, Germans, and especially, German men.  That includes smoked beer, which is interesting, if not inspired.  Along with our turkey we made Patriot Potatoes once again, and I offer the basic ingredients below.

1 red potato, 1 purple potatoes, 1 yukon gold potato
1/4 stick of butter
A little milk
Herbs de Provence or "The Gourmet Collection Roast Vegetable and Fry Mix" (salt, onion powder, paprika, red pepper, sugar, mustard powder, garlic, celery seed, black pepper, coriander, oregano, cumin, sage- again, you may be able to fabricate this if you can't find the real thing or something close, though I expect with this one you can)
1/8 cup Bread Crumbs
Kerry Gold Dubliner Cheese or a well aged cheddar if you can't find that one
Green peas, corn, black beans, or kidney beans (all optional)

Boil your potatoes, then drain some of the water off, mash down, add milk and butter until right consistency is reached.  Then season.  Stop there, or: mix in desired vegetables/legumes, slice a little cheese and throw it on top, and then top with bread crumbs.

I usually eat the potatoes plain the first go around and then to warm leftovers in a toaster oven, I top with some thin cheese and bake the bread crumbs on top.  To each his own.

Now why is Thanksgiving so odd?  Well, like many holiday get togethers with friends or family I end up at, mostly people just sighed about how tired they were and how thankful they were it would all be over soon.  Also, no one needs a feast, vast amounts of food were left over which no one seemed to want, certain people started getting on other certain people's nerves, no one remembers even the phony history we made up to justify the holiday and make our ancestors look good (which is a sweet lie for the children, by the way, and maybe helps them start off as better people), and everyone spent 80 % of the party saying they really had to be somewhere else and that they were going to get their coats and go (I hate long goodbyes.  If you are at my place and say you need to go, you'd better get out faster than I can pull off a band-aid, or I will kick you out, be all here or don't be here at all), and the most resounding thing I heard all day was "we've never been able to shop as a family on Black Friday before, so we're all really excited to spend some time together tomorrow."  Um, can I even add commentary to that?

Your unsolicited musical advice for this week:  Arvo Part's Fratres is a serial composition which is very beautiful.  You can find it on Amazon under just that title by the label Naxos for not very much money, or perhaps your local library.  The story behind the piece is even better: in an occupied/domineered USSR nation, some of Stalin's henchmen were always about meddling and threatening composers, which they masked as compliments and suggestions from the great man, such as "Comrade Stalin advises against getting lost in serial compositions, re-exploring already-completed works.  Just get it right the first time."  Which in Russian translates to, "do you want to end up in a gulag or a dumpster?"  Arvo Part then began serializing his little piece Fratres right after.  So the music is both stirring, and the chamber hall equivalent of a pair of raised middle fingers to a dictator.  Way to go Arvo, who I believe is still composing.


Monday, November 26, 2012

Mohican Chowder

A fabulous fall chowder of my own invention.  (P.S. Maybe the above picture doesn't help, but its very good, I promise).


1 qt (32 oz) vegetable stock or broth (or replace with water and save a buck)
1 qt (32 oz) water
1 pt (8 oz) half and half
2 cans cream style corn
1/2 can red kidney beans
1/2 can black beans
2 purple potatoes
2 red potatoes
3 carrots
1 stalk celery
1/2 cup green peas
1/2 cup green beans
1 red sweet anaheim chile
1.5 cups 13 bean soup mix (or any mixed bean soup mix you can find)
1/8 cup dry pearl barley
1/2 cup canned pumpkin or 1/2 baked acorn squash or kubutchen squash
1/2 cup chopped/cubed roast pumpkin or banana squash or butternut squash
1/4 of an onion (or use onion powder- I did)
2 bay leaves, thyme, cinnamon, fresh tri-color peppercorns (or white pepper, red cayenne pepper, and black pepper), a touch of brown sugar, green chives, and a touch of garlic (optional)- all in equal amounts; about 1/4 tspn; 1/2 tspn for cinnamon
Seeds of the sunflower, pumpkin, and any smaller squash
1/4 cup Mixed mushrooms, 1/8 cup craisins, 1/4 cup diced roasted chestnuts (all optional)  I leave out the mushrooms, but they fit with the forage theme very well.  Chestnuts are hard to find.  Craisins add some sweetness along with your cinnamon.

1. Get your vegetable stock or broth and water heating if you are using it, otherwise, add extra vegetables and get boiling for an extra half hour.  I started with broth.  While this heats to boiling, clean and chop your carrots, celery, chile, and potatoes, then add them with the pearl barley, dry bean soup mix and your anaheim chile.
(I should note that you need to follow the instructions on whatever mix of beans you buy; some require overnight or 2 hour soaks, or pre-boils.  My mix did not luckily.)
2. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a high simmer and give one hour.  Chop your pumpkin and or squashes if you had them pre-cooked.  If you did not, then bake in a toaster oven enough squash and pumpkin.  My next week's post will be a detailed survey of over 10 variety of squashes, so I will go into more detail in that on how to prepare different kinds of squash, but basically, if its a pumpkin, it should be from a local farm, and ideally, be organic.  Store bought pumpkins are not eating varieties any more and when cut, fall into "strands".  A good eating pumpkin should be sweet when cooked and solid "flesh", so that when you cut a slice off the pumpkin and away from the rind, it can be chopped like a potato can.  A dwarf pumpkin is "strandy", but not the way a sphagetti squash is.  This will boil away and blend into the broth.
3. Add the rest of your ingredients, EXCEPT for the half and half and the seeds.  Return to a boil.  Then reduce to a high simmer again for 30 minutes.
4. Check.  If the soup smells and looks delicious, and the vegetables are as soft as you like them, then turn off the heat but keep the pot lidded and let sit for another 30 minutes.  (This is the method/time I used on mine, and I considered it perfect.  The veggies were soft, but not gummy/mushy and retained some of their own individual flavors when bitten.)
5. Remove from heat and stir in half and half.  (You could also leave this out to make the chowder more authentic as something the Natives and Pilgrims may have shared on the first Thanksgiving, but it will not be a familiar modern-style chowder.  It will be a darker soup, probably less sweet, but still very good.)  Add Craisins and chestnuts.
6. If the soup is not your desired thickness, stir in a little corn starch or flour to thicken.  I did not do this and if you use this amount of water and broth and half and half, I don't think you'll need to.  But this will not make a modern chowder, which is thicker than some hams I've eaten.
7. Spritz each bowl lightly with your seed mix, then ladle the soup over them.  This is another optional step.  I thought "chewing" my soup was fabulous as I like texture when eating and that was part of the intent with this recipe.  Natives would have probably added seeds to a soup, but this is not a familiar idea to most, meaning it is also not a welcome one.  
8. Suggested accompaniments are venison, turkey, duck, pheasant, buffalo, or any other game meat.  I'd recommend not putting meat in the soup, and also, I will say that of my 5 trial subjects, none wanted meat in it, including Teresa's parents.  (The first time I served my split pea soup as a dinner, the question asked by her father was "What the hell is this?", and her mother is such a carnivore she will apologize for serving you chocolate chip cookies without a side of bacon, so saying no one wanted meat in the soup does mean something, with my trial field.  However, I think the game meats are appropriate to the concept and delicious with a little chowder drizzled over as gravy.  The buffalo would be a little out of place, probably.

Hope you enjoy that one.  It came out perfect I think.  Its colorful as well, full of textures, and very healthy.  This probably will make you 20 bowls.  I have not finished the pot yet, but 10 bowls later, I still have what I would estimate as half left in the fridge.  A new annual tradition.  And a cheap one.  Assuming you already have the spices laying around, this rings in at about $8.50- 10.00 for 20 bowls of chowder, depending on what you pay for broth or stock.  If you have a little garden, it might be significantly lower than that.  Vegetarians and single people ought to be the rich ones.  But they get taxed higher.

Coming soon: My review of over 10 varieties of winter squash, or, as they say in Russia, winter melons.  Possibly a turkey drumstick sample platter.  And a Latino Corn Chowder inspired by South American cooking.


Monday, November 19, 2012

Colorado Vs The Pacific Northwest: This time its Personal

Andrew at long last gets to those beer reviews he's been promising from his summer travels.

Colorado and Washington are two of America's most touted microbrew hotbeds, and having traveled to each this year, and as a man who in his lifetime can claim 425+ beer "notches" on his belt, and because I, unlike 3 or 4 of our oldest citizens, have a personal blog, I am uniquely qualified to compare these two regions and decide once and for all: who makes the best beer west of the Mississippi?

Now, before we begin, I should note that I am lumping Washington and Oregon together to form a Pacific Northwest tag team, which may seem unfair.  However, as Portland is the center of Oregon brewing and beer culture, and Seattle, the heart and hub of Washington is only 2 hours away, and since you can find plenty of Washington beers in Oregon and plenty of Oregon beers in Washington, I think this is sensible.  Besides, to treat them both separately, I would need to set up a bracket tournament, where Portland, Seattle, Denver, Fort Collins, Boulder, Olympia, and a few other cities battled it out for a final champion.  Maybe I will do that inane idea one day, including California cities and East Coast brewers, but for now, its Colorado, verses the Pacific Northwest.  This blog is free, so if you don't agree, leave now and write your own.  I'm sure it will be much better.

So, first, let's do a very informal "feel" comparison.

The Market:
In any grocery store in Washington you can find a whole aisle of chilled microbrews, most available in packs or as singles, of various sizes, prices, and up to 100 varieties.  This is not a specialty store, just any run-of-the-mill grocery.  Gas stations offer a whole rack of single serves and a surprising variety of cases/packs.  Colorado grocery stores offer mostly pedestrian options, mostly in cases, with a few singles. 

Edge: Pacific Northwest

The Culture:
In Washington and Oregon I found many restaurants with thoughtful and long beer menus, loaded with locals, and it was quite natural to sit indoors or out of doors sipping a beer, enjoying atmosphere, music, talking with people, without any pressure (social or from the establishment) to get drunk.  In Denver, every corner has a liquor store, many of them seedy and run-down in appearance, they specialize in hard booze, not beers, and I never once saw a beer specialty store despite being lost a lot, as the roads are appallingly laid out, probably by some high person since the state is so into legalizing marijuana.  When I went with the girlfriend downtown, we came across a band concert with very stoned people, and drug dealers so plentifully packed, the pigeons were intimidated, and a fight was likely to break out any moment.  No cops to be seen.  Menus in my experience were tragically short, with mostly national shit beers only.  In Washington, I attended a beer tasting without looking for one.  In Colorado?  I think anyone slowly savoring a beer would be considered an asshole, or a worse word. 

Extremely sharp edge: Pacific Northwest

The Captains:
Now, let's take the 3 top brewers from each region, based on (my) ease and frequency of finding them, without really trying when perusing beer shelves in Utah, Washington, Colorado, Montana, Wyoming, Illinois, Arizona, Virginia, and New Mexico.  Yeah I just put my "luggage" on the table, as the saying goes.  That's credentials.  This is a fair assessment.  So my 3 Pacific Northwest team breweries are: Deschutes of Portland, Rogue of Ashland, and Pyramid of Seattle.  My top 3 for Colorado are: Breckenridge, Left Hand, and New Belgium.  All 6 of those breweries offer several varieties and ship national.  Pyramid and New Belgium are essentially everywhere.  I think I would take note of them only in absence: that is, should a store not carry their "crafts" (and I use the term lightly), I would notice, but when they are available, I look right past the bottles.  Rogue is the blue jeans of beer: generic mostly, but in a wide variety of somewhat redundant flavors/shades/options, only good for certain occassions, and completely conformist, but still promoting itself as a statement of individuality.  Kids who want to stand out buy blue jeans to blend in, but hope their pair proves they are a rebel.  Rogue is a large national brewer still pretending to be the little guy they once began as, but whom they sold out.  However, some of their beers are good.  Or is that all of them, but that most of them taste the same?  Breckenridge makes a wide variety of beers, with a few I have liked, and a few of which are good.  Of all these brewers, none names a beer as cleverly as Breckenridge.  Deschutes is of all of these probably the best, if you consider the primary function of a beer to be taste and drinkability, but that is like saying an orange with a little fungus is less rotten than one that spent a year behind a dumpster.  Left Hand wins some points for putting the most consistent effort into their labels, but its really more of an apology than an artistic statement.  Kind of like: hey sorry you are actually going to drink this, but if you do just pour it down the sink, you can at least add this little cartoon-covered bottle to your collection of empties to impress people with.  As home decor, I approve of Left Hand Beers.  Now, that leaves me only to comment on New Belgium, a hugely popular and acclaimed brewery with a signature draft: the red ale, Fat Tire.  This is one of college culture's most treasured gems.  Many an underclassmen will, while dusting off his Hawaiian-style dress shirt collar while his date is in the bathroom, explain to you how Fat Tire introduces culture and even class to a whole generation who know better than to drink Miller Light.  He says this with the superior air of an Ivy Leaguer or a proud papa at a dance recital.  There is only one problem with it: Fat Tire is a terrible beer.  It is undrinkable swill.  It is trash.  The only worse beer I've ever had (note: I have never lowered myself to taste a product by Miller, Coors, or Budweiser in my life and will not I hope) is called 2 Below, a winter ale, sold by...wait for it...New Belgium.  Actually, New Belgium cleaned up at my Worst Beers in the Worlds Award post last year.  There was only one rival.  New Belgium also tipped me off to the word "style" as evidence of danger.  Its like a skull and a cross bones on a beer label.  For instance, Belgium "style" ale, translates approximately to: trash swill made with cheap ingredients for poor losers who don't know better and are already drunk anyway, have 20 pothead friends over, and can't take pride in their prowess with women or on the field and so consider themselves beer snobs.  

Edge: Neither top 3 is impressive and perhaps I should not declare a winner, but I'm going with the Pacific Northwest.

So clearly, the Pacific Northwest is my winner. Colorado also houses a Budweiser, Coors, and Miller plant, basically the big 3 of evil, bad beers produced solely to get jerks drunk.  I'd say that should count against them, when assessing microbrew culture.  But now I will get more scientific.  Here are some specific beer reviews that I recommend from the top brewers I have found in each region.

Let's start with Elysian of Seattle.  This is a very inventive, passionate, and dedicated beer snob's beer snob's brewery.  I wrote about the amazing and inspired "12 Beers of the Apocalypse" before: a 2012 feature where they released a limited edition brew with unique, wide-ranging ingredients each month of the year, all with labels drawn by a famed graphic novelist.  The original kernel of thought was: what would people make beer from if society largely collapsed. Here are the 11 releases thus far:

Torrent Pale Beet Bock
Dragon's Tooth 
Ruin Rosemary Agave
Nibiru Yerba Mate Tripel
Rapture Heather Ale 
Peste Chocolate Chili Ale
Fallout Green Cardamom Pale 
Maelstrom Blood Orange Ale
Wasteland Elderflower Saison
Blight Pumpkin Ale
Mortis Sour Persimmon Ale

That list alone makes them a top American brewer in my book.  Of these I tried the Elderflower, which I do not remember a thing about and so will simply give a passing grade to, and the Beet Bock, which was brick red, earthy, tangy, strong, and very unique.  It certainly felt like something you'd not want to brew with ideally, but it was drinkable, and I thought, very good.  I covet the rest of these and hope to find a 12 pack end of the year release, which does not cost $200.  

I tried 2 other Elysian brews: Dragonstooth Stout, a serviceable, even a fine, stout, but not a life-changer, and Avatar Jasmine IPA, which claimed to be the perfect companion for "food".  Not a certain kind, just all food.  I tried it with curry, I tried it with pasta, I tried it alone, and with crepes.  It is perfect with foods.  Flowery, and aromatic with a refreshing mystique, a satisfying almost sweet aftertaste which lasts a long time, this should also pass for the alcoholic's mouthwash each morning.  Don't let your friends know you have a problem.  Interventions are not fun.

Elysian offers only large bottles, but they go for around $6 each and are worth it.  I've not had a bad beer yet.  I wish Utah carried their beers rather than Epic's wine-size bottles of meh and whatever.

Flyer's Porter: Classy label, classy beer, steep price at $7.  If you want the bottle to save buy this, otherwise remember that no style of beer is harder to screw up than the porter.  Every brewer in the country besides New Belgium probably offers a good porter.

Widmer Brothers: Wild Berry Gossamer- a thin, red sweet ale without much distinction, but nothing to gripe about either.  A bit of a man's man's chick beer.  I'd recommend this over their Brewmaster Limited Edition labels though.  The most expensive beer I ever paid for was a Chocolate Raspberry 2012 summer Stout, which was not even worth 1/3 its price.  Steer clear of expensive beers from mediocre brewers, this is my advice to you.

Breckenridge Vanilla Porter: The optimist in me remembers my first experience with this beer when I found it a very unique take on one of the least experimental styles of beer.  The pessimist in me, who tried it again, thought it did not live up to nostalgia, was a little rotten, thin, and that if you were a poor brewer who had even screwed up a porter, that adding vanilla might be a good way to hide the thinness of body, flavor, and chocolate undertones that make people call for a porter.  Decide for yourself.  A better idea than looking for this one might be to find your favorite porter, pour a little into a glass, add some vanilla, see what you think, and then evaluate your options from there regarding the rest of your beer.

I hope this inspires some of you to find some good beers, and to plan vacations.  As far as beer culture goes, Washington is tops, Oregon is good too, and Colorado stinks in my opinion.  For scenery, and specifically mountains, I'd say Utah has better skiing than Colorado, and the Cascades kick the ruckus out of the tuck-us of Rockies.  Better climbing, flowers, views, hiking, and forests.  Less pine beetles too.  Colorado is the trailer park of the wild west.  Only Easterners and rednecks believe its many tourist claims.  However, Denver and Colorado Springs do have spectacular museums, zoos, and an aquarium.  Let's be fair and give credit where its due.


Saturday, October 6, 2012

Veggie Burgers and Press-n-seal: the Return of Camila

Hi there! My name's Camila. You might remember me as the person who used to post to this blog and who then fell off the face of the planet. I'm back, and from my intergalactic voyages, I have a message for you:

Every vegetarian should have an awesome veggie pattie recipe in their repertoire. In fact, I will go farther: EVERYONE should have an awesome veggie patty recipe ready to go at all times.

You're probably not convinced. Most people that I've met don't make their own veggie patties: either they don't eat veggie burgers, or they consider the prospect of making them akin to baking their own bread, or making their own yogurt, or other kitchen absurdities that only crazy food-obsessed people attempt.

But here's the thing: veggie patties are totally NOT a crazy thing to make. Whipping up a batch of burgers is no more difficult than making a meatloaf. It's downright easy: one food processor, one bowl, one spoon, two hands. And on top of being easy:

  • veggie burgers are cheap cheap cheap
  • they are healthy (instead of eggs, use just the egg whites to make them even healthier)
  • they freeze beautifully
  • they scale up easily (take an hour, make a dozen meals)
  • they can be cooked in a multitude of ways
  • you can flavor them pretty much however you want, with great success
    and above all:
  • store-bought veggie patties SUCK.

Seriously, every single store-bought vegetarian burger substitute is pretty much awful. Some are better than others: the ones with vegetables in them are miles better than the "fake-meat" ones. But even the best ones have a terrible, dry texture and an awful blandness. Fresh off the grill, slightly charred, loaded up with onions and mustard and ketchup, they're great. Because anything* fresh off the grill, slightly charred, and loaded up with onions and mustard and ketchup will pretty much be delicious.

But would you ever cook one of those burgers on your stovetop and have it for a quick weekday dinner? Probably not. Would you break it into bite-sized pieces and eat it, plain, standing in front of your grill as you turn over your asparagus? Heck no. Would you offer one of those patties to your meat-eating friends and say "no, I'm serious, you have GOT to try this?" Not if you like your friendships, you won't.

This is why, my friends**, you need to step away from the over-priced, under-flavored veggie burgers in your local freezer section, and stock your own freezer with some homemade veggie patty tastiness.

The basic equation is simple:

Mashed or pureed beans (or lentils, or occasionally a vegetable) +
Bread crumbs as filler +
Egg as binder +
Delicious additions =
grill-ready tastiness.

What kind of additions, you ask? Depends. Veggie patties can be delicious in almost any flavor. Black bean veggie patties, spiced with chili powder and some adobo***, with guacamole instead of ketchup: brilliant. Lentil veggie patties, spiced with curry powder, topped with yogurt and parsley: a delight. Red kidney bean patties loaded up with your favorite spicy pepper: pass me that plate, man. Mark Bittman has a recipe for zucchini and corn veggie patties that will truly blow your mind.

What kind of veggie patty you stock your freezer with will depend on your favorite bean and your favorite spice. It just so happens that I have a deep and enduring love for garbanzo beans and cumin is the only spice I've ever considered building an altar to, and my default recipe reflects that.

Here 'tis:

  • 1 can garbanzo beans, mashed (use a potato masher and patience if you don't have a food processor)
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • Bread crumbs (about a cup, or 4 slices of bread)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 a red bell pepper, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup ground walnuts (optional, if you're trying to make this as cheap as possible, but it does wonderful things to the texture)
  • A teaspoon or so of salt, two teaspoons of cumin, a teaspoon of coriander, a teaspoon of hot red pepper powder (these are estimates: unless I'm baking, I'm a dumper of spices, not a measurer.)

The process, simply put, is: mash all that together, shape into burgers, and apply heat however you fancy.

If you want more detail, and you have a food processor, here's how it goes:

  • Put 1 can garbanzo beans, 1 small onion (chopped into quarters), half a red bell pepper and three cloves of garlic into the food processor. Process until there are no more big chunks, but stop before it gets totally soupy. Dump that mixture into a bowl. 
  • Put four pieces of stale or slightly toasted bread and a heaping 1/4 cup of walnuts into the food processor. Process until everything is finely ground.
  • Add half your bread-crumb mixture and all your spices to the bean mixture. Then break in two eggs and mix well. Add the rest of your bread crumbs.
  • I like my burgers on the moist side: they're a little messy to make, but it's worth it. If you'd like a firmer mixture, though, add up to 1/4 cup of flour after you've added the bread crumbs. Be sure to mix very well.
  • Take this mixture and form into burgers, with about 1/2 a cup of mixture per burger. 
    • If it's too wet to hold its shape, add another 1/4 cup of bread crumbs (or flour, if you haven't added flour). If it's too dry, add another egg, or a tiny bit of water..


  • Let the burgers sit for about 5-10 minutes, so they can think about their life, and decide that they do really want nothing better than to be cooked and delicious. It helps them hold together if you let them have this moment to themselves.
  • Carefully transfer to any of the following:
    • A grill. Let the bottom char a little before you flip it, to reduce the chance of the burger falling apart.
    • A hot skillet, with a little oil in it if it's not non-stick. Turn the heat down to medium-high and let it cook for a few minutes before you flip it: let both sides get golden brown before you turn the heat up to get a nice dark outside (on a stovetop, if you start out with the heat on high, the middle won't cook through).
    • A cookie sheet or broiler pan. Put beneath a broiler on high and flip when the top starts to char.
    • If you have any trouble transferring the burger - if it gets misshapen or a little bit falls off - just use your spatula to squish it back together. Everything will be fine. Deep breath.
  • Serve:
    • on a burger bun, with traditional toppings
    • on a bed of rice, quinoa or pilaf, with a salad
    • on a slice of french bread, with fresh greens and a lemon-yogurt sauce
    • on a bed of sauteed kale, with melted cheddar cheese on top
    • between two slices of whole-wheat bread, with goat cheese and some chutney
    • crumbled up on a warm salad
    • OR HOWEVER ELSE YOU WANT IT, because you choose the course of your own life. Mm-hmm. Own that veggie burger.

Mealtime success. Done.

Freezing is great not only because you get to have an instantly delicious meal on hand, but also because it makes veggie patties much easier to work with: the hardest part is getting the soft patties onto the grill or pan, and if they're frozen, that's not an issue at all. So even if you're not usually a big food-freezer, consider freezing your veggie patties.

  • Lay each of the patties on some GLAD Press-n-seal, with the sticky/sealing side up. Place them about an inch and a half apart, and at least an inch from the outside edge.
  • Once you've laid down each of the patties, fold the GLAD Press-n-seal over top of the patties and press it down between each individual patty and around the outside.
  • Put the patties in the freezer. It's not necessary to flash-freeze them by spreading them out or anything like that. You can fold the Press-n-sealed rectangle o' patties in half, thirds or quarters, stacking the patties on top of each other so they take up less room.
  • When you're ready to cook, remove only as many patties as you want: the rest will remain individually sealed. Cook using any of the methods listed above - you don't need to thaw the patties, just give them some extra time on/under the heat.

I suppose it's possible to freeze veggie patties without GLAD Press-n-seal. You could try wrapping them in regular plastic wrap, or flash-freezing them (place on a cookie sheet, freeze overnight, pry off cookie sheet, place in plastic bag, return to freezer). But I don't know why you would bother when there is GLAD Press-n-seal in the world.

I should note that GLAD is not paying me any money to say this. But GLAD, if you are listening: I will totally take money in exchange for hawking your product.

This is what my pitch would be:

"You know plastic wrap? You know how it says it will stick to itself, and not to your food? And how it says it will seal to your containers, too, sticking to your glass or plastic or metal bowls so that they can be covered?

You know how it NEVER does that, how it always turns into a giant ball of stuck-togetherness that will never stick to anything else, or how it clings to the side of your bowl for two seconds before falling off, or how it looks at the plastic wrap on the bottom of your container, where you're trying to get it to seal together, and decides that it just doesn't feel like doing that today, and you always end up wrapping everything in like three layers of plastic wrap that all threatens to float off at the slightest provocation and vanish in the wind, and you wind up attaching it with a rubber band anyway?

GLAD Press-n-seal works. That's it. It doesn't really do the magical things it says it will do, like turn into a lid for your bowls that is so strong you can stack other bowls on top of it. But it WILL stick to itself, and when it sticks, it won't unstick until you peel it off, and it WON'T mess up your food, and it WILL stick to your containers, and it WON'T blow off or spontaneously crumple. And isn't it just so freaking comforting when SOMETHING in this disastrous monstrosity of a messed-up world, and particularly the stressful segment of the world that is Your Kitchen, just DOES what it's SUPPOSED to?

Buy GLAD Press-n-seal, and move on with your life."

So, basically, you wrap your burgers up in your Press-n-seal, throw them in the freezer, and they're there for you. Waiting, ready. Eager to be cooked. Absolutely delicious.

I freaking love veggie burgers.

*Okay, not literally anything. But darn close.
**Including any strangers on the internet who are currently reading this.
***Not adobo like the Filipino dish: adobo like the spice blend of salt, garlic, oregano, pepper and turmeric. If you want to cook any Mexican or Latin American food at all, you need this in your life. I know, I know, you're thinking, "but I already have salt, garlic, oregano, pepper and turmeric in my spice cabinet! Can't I just add them all separately?" Well, maybe you can. I can't. It's just not the same.


Friday, August 24, 2012

B and E Dinner Parties Presents:

Double decker lasagnas and 10 stack at the Wirth home.

A B and E Dinner Party is shorthand for a Breaking and Entering Dinner Party.  This is done when you show up at the front door of a friend around dinner time, ring the bell, or just walk in, with arms full of ingredients, ransack the kitchen for pans, push your friends out to go relax, and forcibly cook them a delicious meal and make them enjoy it.  That is the ideal.  If the friends live 45 minutes away, then probably call first, and ask if its allright if you stop by to hang out, and oh by the way, since you are inviting yourself, you will cook.  The idea was loved by Teresa and my friends, the Wirths, Misty and Jonathan.  We texted them at gunpoint, that we were going to Cabela's, the world's funniest store, to buy me some bear pepper spray, and that since they live across the "street" (3 mile wide 12 lane freeway), we wanted to make the drive worth it by coming over.  I would prepare a lasagna, I promised.  Almost immediately, the love began, and enthusiasm.  Some fake kicking and screaming is always nice when arranging a B and E Dinner Party, but its hard to get most people to throw a fit when you offer to come to their home and pamper them.  Unless you are not fun to be around.  And when I am not in wild bear mode, I am damn charming and funny- when I want to be.  My favorite backhanded compliment ever received and a very poignant one was: "You're a LOT of fun to be around...when you want to be."  Which was this person's way of saying, "when your lip descends into that sulk-face scowl and you start getting shy, oh my god, I wish I had never been born and you are either a pain or terrifying to even be in a room with.  A real madman."  But I was in a great mood this night.  Plus I can cook.

Cabela's is the funniest store in the world for many reasons.  For 1, they have stuffed animals everywhere (the shot with a rifle kind) and fake trees, whose leaves change color with the seasons.  Approximately 1 mile of floorspace is dedicated to racks of expensive luxury guns with all kinds of bells and whistles.  Another 1 mile is dedicated to camouflage; underwear, fluffy pajamas, socks, beanies, gloves, face paint, ponchos, umbrellas, and anything else you can think of that hunters did not need until 1961 when Cabela's got a bold idea: lets invent a huge warehouse sized store with a whole lot of yuppie shit in it to target an untapped demographic that the gods of materialism and capitolism themselves could not extort: independent tough guy hunters.  Let's soften them up, butter them up, and break them down until they cannot live without our 2XL tee shirts that read: "You don't get to be a big fat fisherman without catching a lot of big fat fish!" and "You know what they say about skinny hunters: they're the ones who can't shoot and have to run after a lot of missed game!"  I made up one of those tee shirts by the way.  Okay, I made up both.  But if I pitched them to Cabela's, both would be best sellers by next Friday.  Clothes run large at Cabela's, and so do the bags of candy, the socks that go mid-thigh high for men (the butch equivalent of fishnet stockings?), the wading boots, fishing nets, travel sheds, meat processors, jerkey smokehouses, beer fridges, and everything else, especially the tabs.  As most items in Cabela's cost $350 or more, most people there will spend thousands of dollars.  Or wish they could.  Many men just spend entire weekends there, dreaming of all the crap they can buy to shoot elks with.  Like hunting chairs, which are hung in a tree, screwed in really, thus killing the tree, or starting its process of infection and rot, so a hunter can sit still scratching his ass and nose all day and then shoot anything that comes under his tree to lick a drop of honey.  Sounds like the sport of kings to me.  Country music plays endlessly, and for all or anyone else can tell, it might just be a single country song on a loop.  Who can say?  Not even Toby Keith knows if he's written more than one song or not, I reckon.

Well, I needed a laugh and some bear pepper spray, so it was time for another Cabela's run.  Also I need more thick socks, as my brown winter boots slip a lot since they are too big.  Socks were not quite easy to find, but there was a great selection and I have some pairs that should work, though I passed on the $21 pair of Smartwool merino socks.  Honestly, $21?!  I paid $16 for 2 pairs I've used on approximately 500 hikes and still smart from it.  They're only socks.  I got 2 other pairs for $20.  Here is to hoping they work.  I do not believe merino wool claims that the same fabric will keep me cool in summer and warm in winter by the way.  Wool is not a summer fabric, but I just need my feet to not slip and slide.  Bear pepper spray turned out even easier to find.  At REI it is hidden behind counters so children can't pry open the package with their trusty pen knife, accidentally flick off the large safety catch, and then shoot themselves or anyone else with glowing orange super-strong pepper spray from 30 feet away.  At Cabela's, its pretty much under a spotlight and the rack takes up an eighth of a mile.  But Cabela's carries the good brand: UDAP, which comes in a better can with a smaller safety catch, a free shoulder holster for spraying without removing it (held against the chest, it basically self aims so all one need do is flick off the latch) and costs only $35 for 7.9 ounces.  The REI brand of choice is Counter Assault, basically the same formula, spray, and can sizes, but it costs more and you have to buy a holster separate which really adds up.  Also I dislike the safety latch.  Mace is at Sports Authority and is also the same basic formula, bottle and price, but the safety latch is comically large and will be difficult not to trigger.  The holster is sold separate and costs more than it is worth as it was cheap to even look at.  Any brand is probably comparable, but I feel more comfortable going to Cabela's, laughing like crazy, and so forth.  Back to our story.

What sounded good was a lasagna with zucchini and eggplant, but I had to add ground pork sausage as the Wirths are meat people.  And anyway, I came home at 178 lbs and I want to be 190 by Tuesday or Wednesday when I may leave for the next 3 week mountain trip and will lose weight by the second.  I am only up to 181.5 lbs, but you know what they say: "you don't get fat on salad."  I made 2 batches, one "Boring", and one "The Works."  "The Works" had shredded zucchini (cheese grater), diced olive, eggplant slices, pork sausage, tomatoes, onion powder, minced garlic, fresh basil, noodles, tomato sauce, mushrooms, green pepper and balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and crushed red pepper in the sauce, plus ricotta, parmesan, and mozzarella cheese.  "The Boring" left out the mushrooms, peppers, eggplant, balsamic vinegar, and crushed red pepper.  Strangely, "The Boring" was better.  This bell pepper was so strong it drowned out the basil especially, but all the flavors.  Well, there were 2 dishes, and after an hour of easy jolly prepping, joking, with plenty of assistance from all, and 30 minutes baking, the 4 of us ate most of both dishes.  2 of 14 pieces were left over.  Our sides were provided by the hosts: blackberry fusion jello with whipped cream: excellent.  A delicious cantelope, and a too salty "everything" french bread with a lot of stuff on it.  Everyone but me LOVED that bread.  We drank berry sodas and played 10 stack too.  10 stack is played with 4 decks of cards, with different backs.  Each player plays a small game of solitaire, feeding aces into the middle for pool scoring.  You get one point for each card you pile into the middle: only a 2 of spades can go on an ace of spades, and so on up to Kings.  You also have 2 draw piles: one is a hidden stack of 10 cards that you lose 2 points for each one you fail to clear before the round ends, when one player calls out "clear" when their 10 stack is gone.  It got violent, and by violent, I mean, that my rival for the night, phenom player Misty, and pseduo-inventor of the game, both threw down 3 of clubs, with hers just eclipsing mine, though she paid for it with a gash across her hand from my thumb nail.  "Come to the middle hard or don't come at all," I proclaimed, only a little guilty for severely wounding her and weakening her play from there on out due to blood loss.  When that got old, we did some "Who would win?" card game, where you play one event card, 2 characters, and then debate who would win.  The point is to debate and have fun.  Its a simple game and one I think I improved by the following trick: reveal one character first and start taking bets, then the other, and then the event card.  This way you get some cool matchups: Stephen Hawking verses Spider Man.  Obviously as Spiderman is brainy, Stephen Hawking can only win in a single category: physics.  So I started asking odds from everyone.  Who will give me 5 to 1 to take Hawking on the off chance there is a physics seminar as the event card about to be turned over?  (I lost badly)  But you also get some matchups like Barbie verses Santa Clause, Frankenstein's Monster verses Lance Armstrong (added later: extra funny after his Oprah interview a year later!).  Popeye verses Bill Cosby was a good one.  I took the odds offered me on Cosby and won because it was a crossword puzzle for the event.  Brains over brawn baby!



Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Drizzle: Gourmet Heaven

Fairhaven District in Bellingham, WA is the best eating I've ever had (other than my own cooking). 

My trip to Washington was about mountains and hiking.  I loved the idea of a several week trip out there for months because I could look forward to beaches, mountains, forests, basically everything.  What I did not expect when heading to the Cascades though, was accidentally finding a gourmet mecca.  Fairhaven District is a 3 square block historical zone inside the town of Bellingham at the end of the comically-named Chuckanut Highway (not worth driving).  I headed there because a sign for "Colophon Cafe" on the freeway (I-5) caught my eye when I was hungry.  Immediately as I drove into this little downtown, I was a bit overwhelmed.  I threw on the nicest clothes I had (or at least the ones not covered with mud and mountain sweat) and decided to make an afternoon of things before heading into the Cascades National Park.

Once I found Colophon Cafe I got down to real business.  The menu grabbed me when I noticed a 3 soup sampler.  I was able to get a bowl of African Peanut (their specialty), Greek Lemon Chicken (their soup of the day), and the obligatory Clam Chowder, Northwest style.  I like that in Washington Chowder is Northwest Chowder, while in Oregon and California, they call it Boston Chowder.  Take some pride, Fairhaven!  

All 3 soups were great.  The chowder was very fresh with potatoes, carrots, and greens, not fishy at all or stale like canned varieties or what you find away from the shore.  The Greek soup was good, very lemony though not tart, with lots of herbs and rice.  The best though was this African Peanut soup.  Its marvelous.  Here is a link to the pdf of the recipe, which Colophon provides free on their website along with others:

And here is the main website link:

I am in shock that this recipe is readily available. I was scribbling down the ingredients off the menu, and trying to be sneaky about it.  It is probably too much work for most, especially when one is local and a bowl costs $3.95, and perhaps, when it fails at home, that drives more customers back, not less?  Well, let me say, the turkey is not necessary.  You could easily make this as a vegan option by starting with vegetable stock and I think it would still be amazing, maybe more so, as more could enjoy it.  The turkey is "gravy".  It was not bad or out of place, but it did not add anything for me. 

The cafe also serves great old fashioned ice creams and other desserts, and is connected to a gift shop and a fine local book store. Also attached to Colophon Cafe in back is one of the most remarkable businesses on earth: a tasting bar...for gourmet Balsamic Vinegars and Olive Oils!

Now I was full, but had to see what this was all about, so I wandered back to "The Drizzle."  My first sip of black cherry balsamic vinegar from a paper cup filled from a huge stainless steel drum later, I was dizzy with excitement.  It was amazing!  Fig blend was sold out (though I've since adored it at home), but apricot was another winner.  White apple was a bore. Champignon olive oil could be made at home cheaper.  And easily.  Just add mushrooms to your olive oil.  But there were also walnut oils, truffle oils, dark chocolate balsamic (meh), espresso balsamic (yeck), and one that nearly made me puke.  I think it was pineapple balsamic vinegar, which triggers my gag instinct right off, but I can't quite be sure of that.  Might have been mango balsamic.  Tropical, anyway.

The idea is simple: find what you like, grab one of the toadies to fill a bottle for you ($10, $15, or $20 sizes) and head home.  

Your other option for gourmet balsamic vinegars is to try this website, which is basically the same store but with an economy size option (100 ml for $5.95) and without the dark chocolate balscamic:

Or try infusing your own.  Apricot and black cherry were my favorites, and I was told fig balsamic is the very best seller.  At "The Drizzle" the toadies suggest olive oils and meals to pair with your choices.  I'd say if all else fails, put it on a salad, eat in on toast, or drink it straight like kalua.  They are good!

The entire town of Fairhaven in Washington is a foodie paradise.  Here is a picture of a macadamia nut mousse I had for dessert after eating 2 dinners (hey I hiked for a week and was hungry!)

Fairhaven is possibly my favorite place on Earth that the mark of human civilization has touched.  So far.  A charming town with an outdoor theatre, live music all summer, old-fashioned shoppes, hotels, no fast food or chain stores, ocean access, tons of options for amazing food, and it is right at the doorway to the Northern Cascades, a wild place to hike and climb.  Go there someday. It is technically part of the city of Bellingham.

If you do get to Washington, but not Fairhaven, some great soups can be had at any Safeway.  I enjoyed the uber-fattening "Beef Stroganoff Soup" (960 calories in one sitting), a great tomato and bell pepper bisque (always good: 540 calories) and a Coconut and Red Curry Chicken Bisque (720 calories) with rice and vegetables.  Many other flavors are available, not all disgustingly salty and bad for you, though if you want to hike 160 miles in 15 days like me, you will be eating these in under 3 minutes and still losing weight, like I did, and still being dehydrated and salt deprvied.  And you'll be going through whole jars of peanut butter every day too.  Exercise and eat what you like, that's what I say.  And then hit the wine or beer aisle of the nearest grocery.  So many options. 


Saturday, June 16, 2012

Cauliflower Soup

After having a mediocre Cream of Cauliflower soup in a restaurant chain in Utah, I made this better Cream of Cauliflower soup:
Wash and steam 1 head of cauliflower, put through a food processor or blender.  Add water, a little olive oil, 1/4 cup barley or wild rice and 1-2 chopped carrots and 1-2 purple/blue/red potatoes.  Go with what you can find.  Bring to a boil and keep boiling 15-20 minutes.  While doing that, dice/shred either: 2 large kale leaves or 1/2 head of broccoli.  Prepare 1/4 black beans and 1/4 cup kidney beans.  I used canned and washed off that salty syrup.  Dice some bell pepper, pick out your seasonings, then reduce your boil to a simmer and add everything in.  Simmer 1 hour.  Reduce heat to low simmer.  Add milk (optional), and some shredded cheddar cheese (optional).  The milk will make your soup more smooth in texture, and the cheese improves flavor maybe a little, but can also be added to each bowl individually to keep the thing vegan.

Add any other additions you like.  Healthy, mostly delicious and full of character.  And I don't get my cauliflower in normally because I don't enjoy eating it.


Thursday, April 5, 2012

Have you ever seen an ugly orca?

Andrew explains that nutrition does not exist.

When I shop at Costco I am treated to an endless parade of noodle-armed men and hefty women buying "Muscle Milk" protein powder, "Weight Watchers" shakes, and even now, seawood block snacks. I used to take protein powder, when I was a sucker, and a teenager. And I could see drinking a weight control shake, if it were not made entirely of corn products and had less than 1000 ingredients. Or if it worked, but you would think all these people would notice after a bit that their expensive products were not working. As for seaweed, I am quite willing to believe in its healthful properties- for porpoises. If you are a narwhal, then by all means, gobble up seaweed as fast as you can, or if you are Japanese and eating seaweed because your country lacks space for farmland and it is tradition, go nuts. But if you are a puny or a doughy American, then why not eat things you like instead?

Mostly, I have decided nutrition is silly. For one, what do we need all this nutrition for? Olympic athletes should watch every bite, but you can probably keep up with your nonsensical noise of instant unfiltered newsvertising, and your hectic schedule of driving anytime you need to travel more than 70 feet, with a less than optimum diet. The trouble with nutrition is its an industry (what isn't anymore). And you don't move products with proclamations like: "Vitamin C: still good for you. Stay the course!" So I end up with a roomate who has seaweed blocks he will never eat, edamame taking up half our freezer that he does not eat, and 72 large cans of coconut water, which Doctor Oz told him can maintain fluid balance and hydration. How one gets so dehydrated watching TV all day every day, I don't know. I had never even heard of such a thing as Coconut Water. It sounds like a waste product to me. As in, "hey the runoff from our coconut plantation was just re-classified as pollution, so we can't let it drain into the bay anymore without paying a fine- do you think we can sell it to fat Americans with eating disorders?" "Hmm, I don't know... Call the agent to Doctor Oz, and ask how much a 5 minute spot on his show runs for!"

Doctor Oz is hard to interpret. I mean this: Does coconut water show up in stores 1 week after Doctor Oz mentions it because fat women and my roomate have unhealthy crushes on him and would jump off a bridge if he said to without thinking? So stores instantly seek out suppliers to snare their share of the loot? Or does Doctor Oz mention coconut water because the industry paid him to as an in-show advertising spot, which is what savvy firms are doing now (I think) because people don't even notice ads anymore they are so prevalent (its like noticing a leaf in the forest as opposed to leaves)- BUT people still trust the content of shows. That is after all the traditional deal. The station offers you something you want which is (rarely) good, in exchange for making you watch things you don't want which are bad in small doses (ever larger). But there is nothing holy to that. So I don't trust these daytime shows. Any spot they do is probably paid for by the featured product/person. Its hidden advertisement, and the paid ones are still there so no one suspects a thing.  When Doctor Oz talks strawberries at the beginning of their "in" season, is this because his programmer planned out the year in a logical order, or because California phoned with their credit card number ready?

As for coconut water and seaweed- well its a wonder, they are so healthful- that the human species scraped along long enough without access to them on North America to invent and perfect intercontinental oceanic shipping that allows us to get our miracle tropical products. My roomie is also a big believer in coconut oil as a replacement for butter when frying foods. I finally put it together why my eggs periodically scorch instantly on bottom long before they are cooked- no I'm not an idiot, which had been my working hypothesis- his coconut oil residue does not come off with one washing, and is not intended, despite what the jar or Doctor Oz say, to be used to fry eggs with. So now I have to wash my pan before and after I cook with it, or I get black eggs. But at least my roomate is getting slightly more nutritious eggs than I am. Just imagine how many more miles I could hike with ease than him than I already can if I would just stop eating all the things he tells me are no good for me. And then I wouldn't get sick for 4 hours per year, as opposed to the 25 days he was sick in a row this winter. All that time we breathed the same air and he coughed and sniffled and moaned seeking sympathy (if you want someone to care you have a fever, get a girlfriend/boyfriend- not a roomate- that's my tip of the week), and not once did he stop looking at me like a fool for eating butter on my toast, or make the connection that he was the sick one and I never caught it. He's just waiting for me to drop dead someday mid-motion while spreading butter with the knife, and thinks I'm a real cow for weighing more than him. Then again, my girlfriend weighs more than him too. Muscle weighs more than fat, and a lot more than hot air, which is what people are mostly composed of.

Another adorable trait I love and discussed with Camila and my friend William jestingly years back is how if you put a proper noun before any food term, it will sell faster, and for twice as much. Madagascan Vanilla. Black Forest Ham. Greek Yogurt. Do you know what makes Greek yogurt Greek? Well in Greece, it is goat milk yogurt, not sweetened. That is about the only difference. In America, where Greek Yogurt, thanks to that demon saint Doctor Oz, is big business now, there is no difference. It is cow milk yogurt sweetened with fruit and sucrose. Yet people have to have it. After all, Doctor Oz says Greek yogurt is healthier (because it is not sweetened as artificially and has less sugar) so it must be.

Variety too is a fraud. I have slowly worked past this chimera, and it is the last one that held me. We are trained we must get different grains, vegetables, and so on. Well, do you know what the nutritional difference between barley and oats is? On a long enough time line, barley is slightly better for you. So over 40 years, say eaten 1 bowl per day, barleymeal would provide you with say an extra pound of muscle and 8 oz less bodyfat. But for that, you would have paid 4 times as much money per bowl. And day to day, there is no difference. None at all. Not one significant anyway. The Irish did quite well on potatoes and milk with ham once a year. The only flaw with their plan is they uniformly decided one sort of potato was best. The Scots did just fine on oats and milk. There were athletes into the 1940s who ate nothing but red meat and beer. My rule of thumb has become: eat 5 things daily. Preferably, foods. As in, not a tube of icing- that does not count on your 5. But spinach is 1, potato, 2, yogurt, 3, and so on. 5 per day is plenty of variety. Forget the 9 grain bread. Getting 2 grams each of 9 grains is not going to make a difference from 9 grams each of 2 grains. With fruits and vegetables, the story changes, and you may want to use more varieties, and variety. Try new colors of potatoes, mix in some radishes, buy an heirloom tomato rather than a Roma. But don't go crazy.

Of course you can't sell any of these ideas. Or you can, but only once. It never ceases to amaze and terrify me that people can actually exist on a level where they are influenced by advertisements and trends. They hear about coconut water, and take it for granted for some reason than a television entertainer is only on television out of the goodness of his heart for their benefit, because he seems so nice. It can't be his fat salary, and he would never say anything just to fill up a show or because he was paid to or the last poll showed he was a little too conventional. But I've never been able to sell anything to anyone about nutrition. All my friends have ever wanted is confirmation. They are nodding as they ask you, "I should do blank, right?" Nodding to let me know what the answer should be, so I don't embarress myself. Its like having a softball lobbed at you when you're a kid.

Here is another rule of thumb: your grandpa probably could have kicked your butt at the same age you are now, or at any age you will ever be- so if he never ate it, you don't need it. Maybe, you should try to be more like your ancestors who were tougher and fitter, and less like weenies who are doing everything right according to a textbook or a scientist, who is also a weenie. As reader Tom reminded me once, many cultures just eat what they feel like. For tradition, or pleasure, or any other reason, other than nutrition. And I think that pleasure can be nutritious. Maybe more than nutrients can. That is, you're probably better off eating lettuce and liking it, than spinach, because it has more Vitamin A, and hating it. You get a chemical response to food and that has to be accounted for in any accurate nutritional system. There remains a lot we cannot measure. Vegetables were dissed in the early 20th century as empty, because they had few calories. That was the rule for a lot of years. Baby formula was going to be better than mother's milk. What audacity it is to say really. I don't know how any person can be religious and think they can outdo "God"/"Nature"- same thing, just one has a face that is more easily marketable, or any woman can be religious and use baby formula under any terms...but that is an opinion. But the fact is, formula is not better. It never will be, I expect. In a microscope, and a bomb calorimeter, it tests and shows that it should be better. In a baby, it isn't. Seaweed might help whales look trim even when 50% of their body mass is blubber, but that doesn't make it better for you than a bag of peanuts if you like peanuts.

And now for a new subject: in my last post, where I suggested you all type the phone book, my friend Maried Marie who is quitting next week (probably) added that you will need to sit in the most uncomfortable chair you can find, and cover your keyboard with grime first, and preferably use one where at least one key sticks and is hard to press down, and also, have someone sneak up behind you and say things every few minutes to simulate all the announcements we get over an intercom, and have a partner screw with the thermostat to make it 80 degrees for 5 minutes and then to kick on the AC to simulate the strange fan system in our building. Then you'll have the idea.

The best story from the book "How Carrots Won the Trojan War" by Rebecca Rupp was one I came across today. A true delight. The tomato is a fruit, botanically, but so are most vegetables- as pointed out by the Supreme Court, when they ruled on the status of tomatoes (vegetables paid a tariff and fruits did not), in 1896. So they decided that vegetables were simply a vernacular term used by the people to signify garden produce eaten with the meal rather than after, as dessert, as fruit was eaten, at that time. The man who had refused to pay a tariff on his tomato shipment, owned up that this was quite well spoken and reasonable and paid. Of course, his other option was to go to jail, so perhaps he still disagreed. Anyway, the tomato is a legal vegetable, and always will be. Not explained is why the United States had a tariff only on vegetables. I would presume it was because some fruits which could not be grown in America were wanted, but that vegetables, which could and can be grown locally, should be. So tomatoes had a tariff on imports, because they grow just fine everywhere and why support Spain's farmers and not our own? And risk bringing bugs in and fungi? Smart people, our ancestors. And they didn't even have a reliable supply of coconut water.


Monday, April 2, 2012

Butternut Squashes and Books

Recipes from Butternut Squash Days.

On March 1 I realized I still had 4 farmer's market butternut squashes. How many did I buy in September you ask? Well, 4. Though I am rounding. I do not really like butternut squashes. But I know I should. And I have had some great soups in organic markets (also bell pepper bisque! Need to try making that soon, when Butternut Squash Days ends soon). So I vowed to learn this winter how to properly prepare these little fruits, and then put off doing it until I ate everything else and became afraid they were going bad.

So, I prepared a decent butternut squash soup and think I have identified my error in 3 straight winters: cloves. I do not like cloves, but they cost so much, I keep using them as a gourmet spice. I have now decided cloves are antagonists to butternut squashes. Next I tried a chili, fearing it even as it smelled delicious and even as I tasted it. And it was...delicious. Very pleased and am making it again this week with my last squash. Also, it may be the only chili I ever make again, and was very filling. Even meat obsessives I know agreed (the kind of people who apologize shamefully when they serve a meal without meat) Another good recipe is curried lentils and butternut squash chunks. Both recipes are included below:

Butternut Squash Chili

Peel your squash and then dice up into large 3/4 inch or so chunks. Boil with some Anasazi beans or any other dried beans you desire for 1 hour or so. Then add: 1 can diced tomatoes (or fresh if available), 1 can pinto beans, 1 can butter beans, 1 can black beans, 1 can kidney beans, 1/2 small can tomato paste, 1/3 bell pepper diced, 1/2 jalapeno diced, 1/2 anaheim pepper diced, ground white pepper, touch of black pepper, 1/8 cup or less brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, black olives, corn kernels (1/8 cup or so), olive oil, touch of red wine vinegar, 1 clove garlic minced, 1/4 cup dry quinoa. Simmer for 45 minutes to 1 more hour, until quinoa has burst open.

Curried Lentils And More

Wash and boil 2 cups lentils with 1 peeled and diced butternut squash about 45 minutes, then add 1 cup blackeyed peas (if frozen; if canned or precooked then add later so they do not dissolve into mash) and go another 45 minutes at a simmer. Add 1/2 cup kidney beans (from can; if using dried, then start with the lentils and squash), and mix in red curry paste to taste. 2 teaspoons may do it. I think I used 4 and it was pretty spicy. Top with cashews when serving. This last touch adds fat to the meal you will want to stay full and also really puts the flavor over the top. If you add while cooking they will get soggy.

As for books, well briefly as promised once in an old post, I will tell you of Samuel Pepys. He eats a lot, and his diary is interesting periodically. For instance where he whines for sympathy about his wrist so sore he can barely write. Why is it sore? Why from beating the chamberboy until the switch broke and his wrist near fell off of course. Not that it did the little hellian any good. Pepys is sure he practically enjoyed his hiding out of sheer malignancy. And also, he has a lot of affairs. And he sometimes needs consolation from friends for beating his wife so bad he fears her looks will suffer for it and other men will think less of him for having an ugly wife.

A better book is the Essays of Montaigne, often simply for their folklore. Girls who play hopscotch too aggressively are in danger of shaking loose their inner boy parts which will fall out of their mmhmmhummhuh, and then they will be boys. Its science. But he is a good man for his age, one of consideration, balance, merit, and intelligence. Always witty and entertaining, he is said to have invented the essay because he did not like any of the more stylized and formal rhetorical forms.

Better still is the exquisite, and adorable "How Carrots Won the Trojan War" a book I have been milking for fear of the day when I finish it, for now several months. The introduction is if not plagarism from Micheal Polin, than clearly influenced by him, but no matter. The meat of the book is fine stuff. While the title story is silly and pretty much just a sentence (and who would call a sentence a story: other than Hemingway's famous and incredible 6 word short story- look it up), but the book mixes science with anecdote, humor, history, and everything else. Learn how peas nearly swung world history in 1775, and how growers produce massive pumpkins, what vegetables Jefferson the president was taunted over by his neighbor, which vegetables were considered aphrodisiacs and fed to French kings by their mistresses (hint: remember that for a long time medicine trusted in similarity as remedy) and get this sort of satirical but also doting quotation: (on a cucumber brine) "According to the Athenians, consumption of it explained the Spartans' legendary bravery in battle; black broth was so awful anyone compelled to eat it was willing to die." and "Whatever one's personal opinion of the potato, almost everyone agreed that it was a good idea to feed them to somebody else." Highly recommended, and with cute illustrations.


Friday, February 17, 2012

Halloween 2: Feburary 10 (approximately)

Because you just can't get enough of a good thing. And some other holidays are just too scary.

The missus and I threw a Halloween 2 party for our and mostly my friends. It was our and mostly my idea, because Valentine's Day is silly, a scam, offensive, fraudulent, and way too pink for a man as butch as I am. So we picked a Friday night because I have to work Saturday nights, invited all the people we thought would come and then some we hoped might. Although we forgot about her cousins- darn. And I made it a pot luck so we and mostly I would not have to cook everything. The day before we whipped up a half order (75 cookies) of gingerbread hippos, dinosaurs, and elephants with my cute cutter shapes, then decorated them with sprinkles and Teresa's fine from-scratch frosting. They were cute. Then we put together a spooky haunted house gingerbread kit I bought on clearance in November and tucked away for a rainy day because you never know when a Halloween might attack you suddenly- just look how many sequels there are by that very name.

For our dinner contribution, I made my famous Chinese slow pork which normally goes on tostadas or fresh-fried tortillas from scratch, but was just a stand alone. Chinese aromatic spices, brown sugar and green diced chiles. It was as usual a big hit and provided left-overs. Goes great in a salad, an omelette, or over pasta or rice. Teresa boiled a box of "Mother In Law's Tongue" pasta I bought at a World Market store- $6.98 a pound- but fun. It was so pricey that I had saved it for 3 years. The best by date was a 2010. Whoops. But it was still fresh. It is dried after all. And a popular hit. Pictured above.

We had 10 total come, and no one else dressed up, but I made them wish they had with my magnificent full-body spandex that only complete confidence can carry off. I told them before changing that I was going to shame them into wishing they were more fun and had worn costumes, despite being so heavily outnumbered. And I did it. Just like I had at work for the 2 day costume contest when I went as hairy, angry, loner with a heart of gold and a high sense of honor, and much baggage of all sorts who has bad dreams, X-Man Wolverine on Day 1 and then a hooded Ninja on day 2 with kitana and the line of my underwear very visible from the tightness of the body suit. And few others dressed up. But I did get a new fake work girlfriend out of it. This one is married with 4 children and has a perfect attitude. She asked me why my friends weren't around much anymore so I said, "well I wasn't going to tell you, and they haven't said anything to me, but they all think we're having an affair and want to be left alone." So she worried for about 5 seconds and then got annoyed for 5 more, then said, "we should egg this on! It'll be fun." With me going on a 2 week vacation we both knew people would really start to talk and wonder so we started inventing stories, and were even finishing one another's sentences: tell everyone I made a pass at you after talking you into carpooling one day...and then I slapped you...yeah!...and you slashed my tires...what a jerk I am!...I know! So you were fired...bummer!...No I'll be the desperate one. I begged you to run away with I used all my vacation time to get away from you and hope it all was better when I came back...that's believable!

Ah good times. She's much better at coping with social attention than my under-aged fake work girlfriend was.

Teresa was a Bandito, though she failed to look menacing with her toy water pistol, tiny guitar that has only one string short enough to pluck and tune (it snapped by the way when she tried to play a one note song), and bright smile. But she pulled off the Guy Fawkes mustache pretty darn sexily, if I dare admit.

Everyone did bring food, good for them. Even if it was mostly all from Walmart. The Twilight Cupcakes were at least in the spirit of the slightly appalled but triumphantly exuberant nature of Halloween 2, which stands boldly in the face of its enemies and such and such. Traditional Halloween 2 decorations can also include a tiny holiday pine tree, preferably fake, and decorated with your favorite ornaments. We put out a big pile of chocolate wrapped in Halloween foil I still had, and still have, and one girl brought a good clam dip and some no bake cookies. Then we watched Looney Tunes mocking Cupids and romance, pitting ducks and bunnies against inferior witches and vampires, and talked pleasantly for 3 hours with a Charlie Chaplin film playing, there when anyone wanted it and in those few moments of awkward silence. The film seemed to confuse most, who did not get that it took place in 1929 so the millionaire was ruined and saved every couple of hours and would change moods accordingly, the flower girl crush was blind and apparently approximately deaf and without any sense of smell, until the final scene, when the whole party stopped and everyone was horrified. Now that is an "anti-Valentine's Halloween 2 movie ending!" I said triumphantly to a few boos and some applause. The other option was "A Brief Encounter" which ends with 2 scenes of the two leads crying after not having an affair because they are already married to good people and have children waiting for them at home. But a silent movie is just more perfectly suited to parties.

Sadly Married Marie from work could not come, as she had to work, along with a lot of my other friends. But a new tradition was started maybe, and it was still better than Valentine's Day.