Monday, March 30, 2015

Why I Wish I Was (Selfishly) Wealthy Sometimes

Okay, I admit it. Sometimes I wish I was wealthy. I've never taken one of those busses that bands use, or the huge RV's where you can pass the wheel to the next person and go take a leak and make a carrot juice. I would love to do that before I did. Just five days. Park where we want, watch the sunrise, sunset, have a couple of mopeds on the back and a canoe or two up top for getting around in the back country, and a larder full of good food.
   Can you imagine that this hippie, after 64 years, 50,000 miles hitchhiking, years in Peru's Amazon and India wants that? I don't want to own one. I just want the $2 grand it would cost to rent one for a week and stock it, plus gas.
   And another reason I feel like I wish I was wealthy sometimes is the yard. I love my yard. I love the acre and a quarter or acre and a half or whatever it is they left me after the eminent domain two years ago. But it's a lot of mowing. And the riding mower doesn't work, so I have to mow it with a regular mower. But it's electric and if you pull the bottom handle, it pushes itself. It's the raking that's a real pain.
   But now it's spring. I tried the mower yesterday, to no avail. Fresh oil and gasoline and a good talking-to and it started right up today. But the "drive" component wasn't working. So I started to tear that down to see why not. The problem is, the mowers with the "drive" function have much larger rear wheels than front wheels, so the weight is in the rear. Which means when the "drive" function isn't happening, you are simply not going to push it: The rear wheels, with the weight, just dig into the wet Spring earth and you're not going anywhere.
   So I was thinking: Imagine if I was wealthy, say, making $60 grand a year to support the five of us, I could call someone to get that fixed, instead of having to stop trying to mow and go and look for tools and start tearing the darned thing down.
   My idea of wealthy isn't really wealthy. I am just thinking of an extra $20 grand a year before taxes. To me, $60 grand is wealthy. To someone else, maybe $600,000 or $6,000,000 is wealthy. I'm just talking $60 grand. So that sometimes I could just call someone to fix shit instead of either living with it or figuring it out myself.
   Selfish, right? Yeah, probably. Sorry, Universe. If I get the extra $20 grand I'll try to remember to open a soup kitchen or put five beds in the big garage to house homeless/helpless, rather than getting the mower fixed. Shit, I'm a disgrace, given my tiny problems when other people have real ones. Sorry everyone.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Here's What Not Being 40 Feels Like

Okay, so after all my physical woes with my leg and whatever, today I woke to the idea that a story that was due on Monday has been put off until the 8th of April, and a story due on the 11th has been put off until the 25th. I've still got one Drug War Follies column to write for Skunk in the next ten days, and hopefully a freelance piece to earn a little gelt, but in other words, the pressure is off. So I woke thinking "Okay, my only jobs today are to get the lawn mower going after winter, get the measurements on the lumber I need--as well as the paint--to repair the back porch fence, sing for those in pain and do some walking.
    What a nice change from being chained to the comfuckingputer. BUTTTTT.....here's the rub: I took the measurements on the back porch, realized I needed a new couch to sleep on since the new border collie pups have torn mine apart, then went to buy the lumber, galvanized screws, paint and the couch.
    I ordered the couch from Pier One. Credit card all the way, a rarity for me. $899; I pushed for a 20 percent discount which I got, and in total, with tax, it's $775 so long as I pick it up from the store. It's a good one, will last five years. BUTTTTT, Madeleina is at district competition today with her acting group from high school for a one-act play: IF they do well, they advance to State--a big deal here in Texas. So I had no time to stop in and buy the lumber/paint and nails before getting home and getting her to school.
   I got that done and drove out to get a few things at the local HEB grocery store, then on to Home Depot for the weather-treated 2x4s I needed and the paint and the galvanized nails. Then I came home and unloaded, then went to get gas and oil for the mower that's not been used since early November, then came home and fed the cat/dogs and started food in case anyone comes over or if Madeleina is hungry when she returns at 10 PM.
   Then I got the electrical extention cord out, got my tools, got the electric saw and the ruler and the pencil and then went to the truck and carried the lumber to the back yard fence and tossed it over and by now it's 5:31 and I'm pooped and I have not started anything yet. I've got pieces in place for tomorrow, but I have not pulled the old fence apart or cut the lumber or painted it. And I'm still pooped. At 40, I'd keep going. At 64, I'm thinking "let's take a little break, have some wine, keep an eye on the chicken in the oven and get an early start tomorrow...".
    That's the difference.
    The hell with that. I'm gonna pull at least one section of the fence apart tonight. Maybe two. I'm getting old but I'm not going to admit to being a loser just yet.


Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Dinner at the Gorman's

Well, I've been asked to contribute to the Fort Worth Weekly Blog, called Blotch! I think the first thing I'll do is put a Gorman recipe up once a week. And you can be sure that I expect all 55,000 readers of the hard copy of the newspaper and the tens of thousands of readers of the internet version to be eating whatever recipes I post before I post the next. Got it? There will be tests. There might be unexpected visits to your homes to check on whether there are leftovers or not. Expect the Gormans.
    Okay, I finished a boatload of work yesterday after several days during which nearly 20 people came to the house in Joshua, most of whom I didn't know. That happens around here. So today I was pooped and not in the mood to shop or cook. Worse, there was FW Weekly staff meeting called for 3 PM. So I got up early, drank lots of good coffee--that's a regular and decaf blend for those keeping score--then read the New York papers via the net until I was forced out of my daze and into the real world. That meant filling my trusty 1998 Ford Ranger--extended cab and bed, of course, plus jacked up just a couple of inches to aid visibility--with bags of garbage to take to the dump. Here in Johnson County recycling doesn't exist. Did that, then got my truck's oil changed, then went to the post office to send off several copies of my new book, Sapo in My Soul, which deals with an obscure but very good jungle medicine from the indigenous Matses tribe, to people who sent me money.
    Then off to the meeting.
    On the way home I stopped for a decent bottle of Lockwood 2010 Cabernet--at $11,57 a treat for a journalist--and then at HEB for some chicken backs and necks to cook for Boots, the wonder dog, who loves crunching bones.
    Home, I wanted to open the wine and look at email. Enough work for a free day, right? No way. I'd washed the dishes from last night's meal, but had not cleaned the stove top, so I decided to do that one job before the wine. I still had no idea what I was going to cook for dinner. I looked in the fridge: Left over chopped chuck, a couple of zuccini, a couple of yellow squash, some broccoli and cauliflower, scallions, two onions, a couple of tomatoes, a bag of baby spinach. I got it. It was in front of me the whole time.
    Well, then I figured I might as well put Boots' chicken in the oven (hey, when you buy necks, stripped backs, and stripped breasts and bake them at home, it comes to $1.50 a day to feed an 85 pound watchdog, much cheaper than canned food). While I was attending those things, I figured I might as well get some rice ready, so I reached for my always-full cup of chopped garlic in olive oil. Damn, it was out of garlic. Which meant I had to chop three heads to fill it up so that I could make the rice, have left over for the dinner, and then more for salad dressing and left-over ready-to-go fantastic garlic for tomorrow.
    So I chopped the garlic, covered it in olive oil, put one tablespoon into the rice pot, seared that to brown, added water and sea salt, brought that to a boil and then added good Basmati rice. To the touch, not measured. While waiting for that to come to a second boil, I put on a small pot, cut some broccoli and cauliflower, small pieces, then a yellow squash and zuccini--cut in quarters, lengthwise, then sliced in roughly 3/16 inch pieces.
   Then I was waiting for two pots to boil, so I figured I might as well get some chopped meat going. Put a thick bottomed saute pan on high, put in a touch of oil, then a pound and a half of good ground meat. The idea for the dinner was starting to come together.
   When the meat was cooked to a rare, I drained it to eliminate the fat, then put the pan back on the stove. I added three tablespoons of garlic and olive oil--Ok, I'm lying, it was four--then added a diced red onion. When the onions were clear, I put the meat back in, cooked a few minutes.
    I put the chopped veggies in the boiling, salted water, covered the rice with a plastic bag from HEB and then a cover and dropped the heat to the minimum. By the time I did that the veggies were par boiled so I pulled them, drained them, and ran cold water over them to keep their color and consistency.
    Veggies and rice ready, I added maybe seven cleaned and diced scallions and three diced roma tomatoes to the meat. Then I added four tiny packages of Goya Sazon (achiote e culantro) to it to turn it red and give it a bite; to that I added maybe three ounces of good white vinegar to give it an extra bite, then coarse sea salt and cracked black pepper--you can never have too much of that--and a can of Goya organic black beans. Oh, I forgot to mention, most of the veggies were organic. When all the kids were living at home that was impossible, but now, with just Madeleina and the 20-odd guests for dinner, it's become affordable to eat without killing my daughter.
    Then I walked away to write this and enjoy a glass or two of that Cabernet. Which I'm doing now.
    Madeleina has rehearsal for a play and won't be home for another half hour. I have the meat and garlic and onion and scallions, tomatoes, and black beans on very low. The rice is on very very low. When she shows up I'll turn the heat up, add the veggies toss and then add rice to it. I'll add more red colorant--maybe achiote from Peru's jungle--and then a bit of organic vegetable stock. When it's all good and fantastic, I'll probably toss in three slices of really nice cheddar cheese and add that till the whole thing is a sort of wonderful muck. It's gonna be great. It's kind of like the kitchen sink of dinners. But how am I going to go wrong with all those veggies, good rice, good beans, good cheese, and good meat. And if you're a vegetarian, make the whole thing without the meat. It'll still be fantastic.
    Let's have a bit more of that wine, shall we?

Someone asked about Sapo/Kambo

Someone on a forum onto which I occasionally post asked the general readership if anyone knew of a reliable source of good quality sapo/kambo sticks. This is what I wrote in response:
  Having a reliable source is not always easy, because even if you know someone who really does know how to collect sapo/kambo, there are some months annually when the frog is difficult to collect. When the water is rising and the females are gestating, the frogs, both male and female tend to climb high up in trees that are too thin-trunked for humans, even indigenous, to reach. This past November, December, January and February were like that in northwest Amazonia. Few reachable frogs and many people who work with sapo/kambo ran low or out of their medicine. Now that the eggs are in their "nest" above the water, into which they will fall as tadpoles, the frogs have come down several meters in the trees and are easier to reach. So for the next few months they will be plentiful--so long as they are not over-milked and collected properly in a way that does not harm them and quickly releases them back onto their favorite trees once they've been milked for a few minutes.
   On the other hand, with the sudden and extreme rise in demand, lots and lots of people are collecting the P. bicolor who have no idea what they are doing and are therefore collecting poor sapo/kambo. Bad collecting begins with touching the frog for even a moment prior to milking it. In that moment of touching, or worse, people collecting them by physically grabbing them from their tree perch, they are frightened and will give off their most potent protective "venom". Which doesn't mean there won't be more juice to milk, but it will mean that the material collected will not be full strength--similarly to the way a venomous snake has more venom than it needs to kill its prey: but the venom it releases in the time immediately after a snake has used venom to kill its prey will not be nearly as strong as that initial burst. Which explains how people survive bites from snakes that would otherwise be deadly--they got bitten after the snake ate and while it's digesting and it's venom was not fully replenished and at full strength.
    So you've got two issues: the time of the year when frogs are difficult to get, and the new breed of collector who is out for the money and has no idea what they are really doing.

Monday, March 23, 2015

What an Amazing Weekend at the Gormans!

What an amazing weekend here at the Gormans. An old friend popped in Wednesday; two more showed up Friday. On Sunday morning a group of 10 appeared--three I knew, the others new--and later in the day another old friend came by along with someone I met once and then another new person. There was food galore, guitar, some bongo playing, a bit of harmonica, a touch of sapo and nu-nu for those who wanted--and which blew my lips up to the size of hips just from moistening the sapo sticks with spit!--and good talk and some wine and just WOW! Madeleina helped fantastically and I was in heaven! I love company. I love meeting new people here at home. Just couldn't have been better. Of course I'm jamming hard today to finish the stories that are due but I'll get 'em done. One's been sent in to the editor, the other is working but I needed a break to say THANK YOU, UNIVERSE! Thanks for letting me wake up this morning. Thanks for the great company. Thanks for giving me the super power of cooking (although I could still use flying or super speed or being Lightning Lad or whatever). Thanks for my friends. Thanks for my family. Thanks for everything!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Another Fine Mess You've Gotten Us Into, Ollie......

Somehow, Madeleina and I get ourselves into these fixes. I've got a story due tomorrow and another Monday AM. So I had a guest come in yesterday and she left today. She's a fantastic person and a medicine woman so she adds to the mix in a very positive way. 
Tomorrow I've got two old friends coming in at different times to stay a few days. Both are fantastic guests, great friends, an I will be enriched by them, as will Madeleina, Chepa, the babies, Italo, Sarah and Marco. Somewhere in there I'll finish the first story. Cross your fingers it's good cause I need the freelance gelt.
Saturday morning Madeleina has a 10 hour clinic, so she'll disappear at 7 AM, and then at 11 or so, six or eight people are showing up for a few hours. By the time they leave, Madeleina will be back with two friends for a sleepover.
Sunday I'll finish the draft of the second story, greet my guests, wake Madeleina, feed all the guests breakfast, then shop for food for the four guests who are coming Sunday afternoon. Might be five if Patrick will get off his ass and come here to play some guitar.
In the meanwhile, the two new border collie pups are pooping all over the living room and playing in the mud under the house, so we've had to rent a carpet cleaner for the deep clean. Madeleina is finishing up the big living room right now. My job was to get all blankets, pillows, pillow cases, throw pillows in the wash--just five huge loads--dried and all beds made, and while I was doing that, make a tomato sauce for the chicken parmesan we're having. While that was happening, I cleaned out the laundryroom: Threw out two huge bags of what I deemed garbage--I didn't touch the fireworks, don't worry--and got two bags of old clothes ready for the clothes collection bin and made that room shine.
We got the bird feeder full, the cat fed, the three dogs fed, and we've got the hummingbird to go.
REALITY CHECK: Madeleina is doing much more than I am. But I am putting new curtains up in the wash room and I did clean that and help a little with the laundry.
I don't think Madeleina and I would be happy if we didn't have some fantastically impossible chores to do in a minimal amount of time. And we will get it done. What's left? I didn't even talk about scrubbing the kitchen, my office, and the second guest bedroom and then the bathroom. Bring on the heat, Mr Universe. The gormans are armed with sponges, hot water, soap and paper towels and we ARE dangerous!

Monday, March 16, 2015

The Dinner Went Well, I Think...

So that dinner I said I was cooking for the copy editor for Sapo in My Soul, who also did the Index, that was yesterday. Now I bought so much stuff you would not have believed it. I mean, I walked in there with the idea of what I was cooking, but with enough ingredients to make 200 variations on any theme if it came up.
   I also walked into Margaret's house with a little anxiety: Several times a year, and sometimes, several times a month, I dream I am called in to cook in an emergency situation. The dream always starts off nicely: Someone calls to say they've got 300 people coming for a wedding and the chef is drunk and since I'm a pro can I step in and do it. Snap, right? I did that stuff for a couple of decades. Or someone calls to say someone important, someone I admire and who is also important, is showing up at their little restaurant and they don't feel comfortable allowing their own chef to do the cooking, so will I come and save the day.
   There are dozens and dozens of variations on that.
   Of course I show. I ask what's needed, get told, calculate quickly what needs to be done and in what order, and then ask where the kitchen is. I get shown. I check things out quickly because, as I noted, it is always an emergency, and often an extreme emergency to get these people fed. Now, in real life, the trick to dealing with a potentially angry wedding or funeral mob, or any big or medium sized group, is to get a drink into their hands and have a backup ready. Nobody complains about waiting a bit for the food if you've given them a couple of stiff scotches or whiskeys or champagnes.
   But in my dream, they're always past that point: The people tend to be on the ornery side of having been served a bit too much without any food having shown up.
   So I go to the kitchen--which is often downstairs and huge and sort of dungeon-like with poor lighting and lots of dark corners--and that's where the dreams go bad. Sometimes there is no food to cook and the people are getting crazier and crazier. Sometimes there is food and people to assist me and we get everything ready only to discover there are no ovens or stoves or anything else to cook on. Sometimes there are no pots. Sometimes no water. Sometimes the lights go out and I have to do it in the dark. Sometimes the food is rotten. Sometimes everything is good but there are no plates on which to serve the food, or no silverware to eat it. Sometimes there are no assistants. Sometimes I cannot cut with the knives I've been provided. Sometimes the floor gets too hot to walk on and my shoes melt and I cannot walk to do the work. Sometimes my arms fall off when I am almost done and I just stand there wondering how they've come up with a new way to make me fail.
   There are a hundred variations on that theme, all of which leave me utterly helpless and a failure.
   It is not like real PTSD, but it is a small cousin and it affects my life.
   So there I was, bringing in saute pans, pots, knives, fruit peelers, my cutting board, and lots and lots of food and I was sort of scared to death I would freeze and discover there was no water.
    Thank god, Madeleina came with me to help out.
    I unpacked the two boxes and one large bag and tried to lay things out in the way I'd need them. I tested the stove for heat--I still blew it with the salmon a bit--and, after a few minutes chat, I started working. First order of business was something to have on the patio, outside, so I could cook in peace. That was a great round of parmesan cheese bread that I warmed in a moist brown paper bag in the oven at 325 for 10 minutes. That was served with warm brie, a few types of olives I'd bought--yes, I cheated on the bread, brie and olives--and then some sun dried tomatoes I'd soaked in olive oil and garlic. It was a good opening salvo.
    We moved on to a caprese salad: Normally mozzarella topped with tomato slice topped with basil leaf, drizzled with olive oil. I made it with fresh, smoked mozzarella, really rich organic Campari tomatoes and organic basil, topped with my house balsamic vinaigrette--good balsamic vinegar, olive oil, minced garlic and shallots; sea salt and cracked black pepper. It was lovely and a good variation on a theme.
    Next up: Slender slices of salmon, seared, dressed with garlic, olive oil, a bit of teriyaki, a touch of sesame oil, some browned sesame seeds--skin almost candied--and served on a bed of organic, local grown Texas spinach, still holding some form when plated. Around the salmon were four very small Danish golden potatoes; served on the side was a melange of organic broccoli tips, cauliflower, zucchini and yellow squash with sliced baby bok choy, ginger, scallions, garlic. Very nice. Very good.
    Next up, a male duck breast, seared, cooked topside, sliced thin, served on a bed of 6 asparagus done just right, with anjou pear and apple slices slices  in a balsamic/red wine sauce.
    Then a scoop of very good strawberry gelato to clear the palate and allow the cook (moi) and my assistant, to clean up the kitchen and go outside where I had a glass of Cabernet and a smoke.
    Last major was sauteed sea scallops. They were sauteed in my trusty garlic and olive oil. When brown but still raw inside, I added thin, not quite julienned, slices of red, yellow and orange peppers with minced shallots. Near the end I added the 3-shrimp-per-portion I'd forgotten to add to the salmon, and then served that on a small mountain of spaghetti squash that had been in the oven for 80 minutes on fairly low 325. It was perfect.
    When the scallops and shrimp and peppers were done, I plated them, then added the juice of 4 limes to the pan, brought it quickly to a boil, then put in about an ounce of really good bleu cheese that quickly melted into the lime juice. That was served over everything. Made your mouth tighten up in 4-5 different spots.
   For dessert: Madeleina made whipped cream with organic sugar and Peruvian vanilla, then whisked into that organic blackberries, raspberries and blueberries. We topped that with a spoonful of great orange marmalade because I burned the chocolate sauce we were going to use.
   I think it was a good feast.
   Nobody got sick yet.
   That's a good sign.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Catering a Meal for an Editor

 Margaret, the copy editor/index maker of my new book, Sapo in My Soul--which is available via Amazon.com at the moment but will be available in some bookstores in the next few weeks and can also be bought with a signature from me at paypal to peterg9 At yahoo.com-- is a great copy editor. She finds mistakes I never would have known were mistakes. Fantastic. 
    Well, when it came time to settle up, she said didn't want to get paid this time out. She wanted instead, cloth from Peru and me and Madeleina to make her and a friend a good meal. I think that's coming up this Sunday and I've started preparing in my own way. Naturally, I'll be in alien territory, won't know her stove, how hot the water runs. I'll have to bring a collander, a couple of saute pans, knives, stirring spoons, and every thing for the meal. I already spent $40 just on mangos, limes, red/yellow/orange peppers, organic broccoli/cauliflower/scallions/zucchini/yellow squash, avocados. Veggies alone I need organic tomatoes, onion or two, spaghetti squash, spinach, asparagus and garlic, fingerling or new potatoes, basil and shallots. Then there is olive oil, sesame oil, teriyaki sauce, sesame seeds, butter, organic chicken stock...
   So: What I'm thinking is maybe a little of my jungle guacamole and a smoked cheese or two with dried rye bread crust on the table with a light wine.
   Then a light Caprese salad--fresh smoked mozzarella, those organic tomatoes and basil with good cracked black pepper. Can be served with my house vinagrette--the one we use for salads here--or olive oil if she prefers. 
    Then a small portion of the salmon that I make: Sort of Chinese style, with a few shrimp, with a little the sesame oil and sesame seeds--with the skin almost candied--on a bed of braised spinach. Side of veggie melange: small portion of thin sliced and quartered zucchini, yellow squash, tomato (again?) broccoli, cauliflower par boiled, then sauteed in  a bit of olive oil with bok choy onion and garlic.
     Then a nice prime rib or duck breast, seared/lightly baked, then thin sliced when black and almost raw. If prime rib, that gets seared with scallions, green beans (par boiled) (Both cut in 1/2 inch lengths), and thin sliced (par boiled) new potatoes, with skin on. Pull the meat, add a bit of balsamic vinegar. Serve the meat over a bed of asparagus in pan juice, with the veggies intermixed with the asparagus.
     If I go with duck breast, I'll substitute the beans, scallions and potato slices for pears and mango pieces, still in the balsamic vinegar.
    Then a couple of spoonfuls of peach gelato to clean the palate while they have some more wine.
    Then, since it's her favorite, sea scallops. I would go with the garlic and olive oil, probably with some minced shallots. When seared, bake with a bit of vegetable stock. When pulled from the oven, I'll set them aside, add lime and thin sliced--and halved--red, yellow, orange--peppers to the pan, then add juice of three limes. When that's bubbly, add good bleu cheese, crumbled or cut tiny. Serve the scallops over a tiny hill of spaghetti squash, pour the sauce, with peppers onto that.
    Finish with a small cup of organic blackberries, blueberries, raspberries in fresh cream with a bit of organic sugar and Peruvian vanilla.
    Tell you the truth, I'm exhausted just writing it out.
   Each dish would only be four or five bites, and she would have left overs for a day or two. 
   Sounds good, though, right? Nothing too heavy except the guacamole, but I can't resist getting my hands into the muck a bit.