Saturday, December 20, 2014

Ah, the First Joys of Christmas

Well, we had a lovely night last night, taking the whole family plus a couple of friends of Madeleina's to the Cleburne Park where there were a million light everywhere, a real fairy land, unless you know that the prisoners at the county jail are the ones who risked their neck climbing high into the trees to put those lights up in exchange for getting a couple of days out of county. Still, the lights are beautiful and having the whole family enjoying something together, no arguments, nothing but laughter for a couple of hours, was great. Followed up by my twice a year pizza--four large pies, eat all you can, and then Madeleina's friends stayed over for a slumber party so the world is good.
   Today, friends went home took Madeleina out to get a tree and some stocking stuffers and food. I was thinking of shrimp or fish, something light. At the same time I wanted something warm because it's been chilly and damp out here. Got a few hundred bucks of stuff that will be fun for a couple of days, got a tree Madeleina said was way too small but one that looks like a beauty to me, dealt with the lines, made it home.
  For food I picked out a half-loin roast of pork. Gonna make it by tying it up, searing it, putting a couple of orange slices--without the skin, too acidic--on it after it's been well peppered, and sit it on a bed of celery stalks, sliced onion, and granny smith apples. Gonna put that in the oven at 325. Gonna par boil baby carrots and red potatoes, then put those into the baking dish to absorb some juice during the last 45 minutes of the 90 minute cooking time. At the same time I do that I'm going to put in a generous portion of sauerkraut with the juice to bake along with the potatoes, carrots and the rest.
    Gonna make a nice pan gravy and augment it with good organic vegetable stock if need be.
    I'm looking forward most to the sauerkraut.
    I asked Madeleina to cut me two heads--about 24 teeth--of garlic. She's refusing. "I'm putting my foot down, dad. I'm not doing garlic tonight. I already have to go through the stocking gifts for the girls and I'm exhausted from the sleepover..."
    Doesn't matter. It's Christmas and everybody is allowed to be tired--except dad. And since I'm dad, I'm gonna make her a great dinner and she'll be laughing before long. If I forget to tell you all, I hope you have a Merry Christmas, no matter how you express that. Great Solstice, whatever. I hope you get to have a nice night with friends and family, I hope you're all safe and warm and well fed and I hope that if you have left overs you remember to invite someone who's not warm or well fed. Love to all.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Someone Just Quit the Upcoming January 2015 Jungle Jaunt

So I've got my regular January trip coming up. And one person managed to secure some others, making my job--considering that I don't advertise other than to mention the trips here or on Facebook now and then--considerably easier.
   But when I sent out my second of three missives I send prior to the trip--regarding everything from how to get good airfare to what to bring, to trip rules and such--I had one of the guests write. He said he was disappointed that there were names on the email that he didn't recognize. He though the trip would only involve his friend, who'd organized some guests. And since I'd added people, he thought the trip would be too much of a group thing and so he decided to cancel--but in his cancelation he asked me what I thought made my trip special. This is what I wrote:

Hello, Gorman here. Yes, if K. had been able to put together a group that would have paid for itself, that would have been ideal. As it was, including you and your son, and K., there were six. Six people means a $7,000-$8,000 loss for me on a trip. I already lost $4800 in June and July and simply cannot pay for people to come on the trips by borrowing money. So yes, several people have been added. Two have been on previous trips and will act as assistants as much as guests. Two others are friends of mine. Another is a doctor--and I almost never turn down doctors, despite having a great med kit. They come in handy. Two others are friends of the friends who are coming and it's hard to say no to them.
   So at the extreme--though it will not happen--there might be 14. In real life, figure 11 or maybe 12. Without you and your son, figure 9-10.
    What's on offer traveling with me is the jungle, something no one else in Iquitos can offer. There used to be Carlos Grande and Moises Torres Vienna who could offer the real jungle but neither is working any longer. If people want a retreat with tiled bathrooms and showers, I'm certainly not the right guy. I'm the dirt under your fingernails guy. I might have suffered a few setbacks in the last couple of years--my intestines ruptured, for instance, and then last year I lost a large piece of my right calf to some nasty flesh eating bacteria--but I can still do what I need to do, and my team can certainly do what they need to do. My team includes 9-11 members of my late teacher Julio's family as well as some indigenous Matses. I've already told you about the private hike to the colpe that's available for you and your son. And sapo and nu-nu, the Matses medicines, are very special and served directly by the Matses to my guests. Nobody else can do that and they both work fantastically with the medicine. 
    I don't really know what to say. I don't want to sell you on something you don't want. I do think that the way I do things makes everyone feel like they're the only one, and there are enough options to be alone that no one is stuck with a group. And the crowd that's planning on coming, though only 7 have actually paid so far, are K.'s friends, former clients, friends and two friends of friends. It's the same sort of circumstance in which I initiated my kids to the medicine. 
    If it's any comfort, we don't sit in circle the day after ceremony and discuss things. We never wrap our arms together for group hugs. We don't have a talking stick. I was never good at those sort of group things and they never came up when I drank medicine, so I don't use them. Someone wants to talk to me at 3 AM, I'm available. Just them and me and a cup of coffee or tea. That's how most guests interact with me: one on one.
    What options do you have to go it alone? You could come early or late and connect with my team. They speak enough English to get by and could take you on a good trip. What you would miss are some of the things that I do that they can't: Organizing night canoeing in search of frogs or majas: Frogs for medicine, majas for food. You'd miss wild food collecting with Julio's daughter Lady: An hour with her and the jungle will come alive with a cornucopia of things to eat. You might miss the wama swamp, a very frightening place were black caiman, anaconda and jaguar live-and no one will go there unless I insist.
    So that's that. If you're already feeling claustrophobic, no sweat. I do have to tell you that I've already spent $1,000 for each person who sent a $400 deposit, figuring they'd come, so there is not much I can do to make you whole on that count. I've got hotel rooms, riverboat cabins, stuff sent upriver and so forth. I've bought my plane tickets and booked my room in Iquitos and hired the staff based on a dozen people. So I'm stuck on that one. But I will certainly help you find what you're looking for if I can. I want people happy/thrilled. This is never done for money, it's done because I'm obligated to the spirits and that's the damned deal, whether I like it or not. 

Saturday, December 13, 2014

I Might Be Going to Hell for This....OR, If I Choke on Dinner, I Won't Be Surprised...

So I was at the store, looking for a nice piece of chuck steak. I like to cook them like regular steaks if they're properly marbled, and chuck cuts generally are wonderfully marbled. But there were none to be had. Darn, I was in the mood for meat. I bought a rack of ribs in case the girls came over tonight; I bought hamburger meat and buns in case they came over without warning and I still had to serve them. I bought a beef heart to marinate to make heart on a stick--grilled heart, slices thin, marinated in garlic, a bit of oil and white vinegar--for tomorrow because I'm writing a new story and that came up in the story recently. I also bought Boots, the blind wonderdog, a package of chicken necks and backs--currently in the oven at 330 degrees, lightly sea-salted and crack-black-peppered. But then I noticed some rib eyes in the meat case. Gorgeous rib eyes. They were $7.99 a pound, just a couple of bucks more than the chopped meat, and they were grassfed, organic, free range. I couldn't believe it. I had to ask the meat counter guy if that was the right price. That's normally $21 buck a pound meat and I've never had it. (When I was chef'ing restaurants in New York there was no such label as organic, grass fed, free range beef.) 
       The meat guy said "yup, that's the price. I didn't believe it myself but they told me to put it out for that so get 'em while you can because someone's gonna realize they made a big mistake in the morning."
       I ordered three and he cut them for me. Full inch or better thick. Gorgeous, if you eat meat. I'm hoping, of course, that the cows all had fantastic lives and volunteered to die--something along the lines of knowing they were getting old and their knees were giving out and rather than suffer for a year and then die naturally, volunteered to take themselves out while they were still relatively healthy....Oh shit, I'm going hell just for that. But it gets worse.
      When I went to pay the woman said "$38,92". 
      I said, "That can't be right. It should be more than that."
      "You think I made a mistake? I didn't miss anything."
      "I'm sorry, I'm not saying you did, it just seems awfully low considering how much meat I bought..."
      "Yes, $3 for a beef heart; $1.81 for chicken necks; $4.59 for ribs on sale, couple of mushrooms, spinach, a tomato..."
      "But then the prime was expensive..."
      "You want me to check it, I will but I didn't miss anything..."
      And then she gave me the receipt and I walked out and didn't look at the receipt till I got to my truck and put the groceries away. Sure enough, no prime ribs. I thought about going back inside but rethought--or simply justified not going back inside--by thinking that if I went in there with a pack of ribs and demanded I get charged for it, she might get in trouble. So I didn't. So if I choke on the ribs it's because I killed a cow and didn't even pay for it to clear my conscience. 
      Karma will have me pay, probably 10-fold. I'm not looking forward to it.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Obamacare Woes and Foes

Don't know why, but there seems to be a lot of complaining about Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act, on facebook in the last few days. Must be the time of year when renewal notices go out from the insurance companies and everybody sees that their policies have gone up--just like they have for the past 25 years, annually. But people apparently have this notion that they're not supposed to go up anymore.
    I can't really get through to a lot of people that those raises are often in large part due to their bosses' greed. If everyone in a company has insurance and that insurance goes up $25 bucks a head per month and the boss chooses to pass that whole thing along, well, he can blame it on Obamacare but the real reason might be that he/she just felt like passing the whole thing along.
   Then there are some policies that phase in or out or change their structure and that can cause them to rise pretty markedly. If that happens, people ought to see what new services are included and if they don't want them, change policies.
   Then there are states where only the federal system is set up--as in about 27, I believe--and those states don't have the same robust competition among insurance companies that a lot of the states with state insurance exchanges do, so those policies will go up more than normal.
   But overall, what a lot of people are not seeing is that until the advent of Obamacare, unless you were paying for the best of the best policies--$30 grand a year, more or less--you had annual caps on the amount of insurance a company would pay toward your medical bill. And when you hit that cap you were on your own. Which means you pay from that point on. That makes medical bills the number one reason for personal bankruptcy in the US.
   But if your medical problem is long term, the hospital might just toss you out--then you're broke and dead.
   And once you lose that first policy because of your illness, you can't get another because of that pesky pre-existing condition. So when you need it most, you don't have the insurance to cover those needs.
   Under Obamacare, there are no annual caps, so you won't go bankrupt and lose your home if you have insurance and get sick. You won't get tossed from the hospital and die because you have no care.
   Under Obamacare you can't be turned down for a policy because of a preexisting condition. They got to take you.
   Under Obamacare, your insurance company has to be able to prove that it is spending an actual 80 percent of the monies they take in on actual medical care. Prior to Obamacare I think--could be wrong but close--it was often less than 50 percent.
   So I'm trying to get these people who are complaining about the cost to see the benefit. It's like that half-empty glass thing. The negative ninnies are seeing the glass half-empty, rather than seeing how much more champagne they have left to drink. Mazeltov! Down the hatch!

Monday, December 08, 2014

Calling in the Spirit of My Dad

So Madeleina's growing up. 17 going on 56. She's cut a couple of classes she doesn't like--she swears there is no bullying or sexual innuendo from the teacher, whom I've met--lately and is shooting herself in the foot over a math class that's over her head. I've got her transferred out of that class in Jan, but she's still got to pass the first semester.
   So I called in the big gun. First time ever. That's Tom Gorman, my dad. I made his chicken cacciatore, or something close to it and it smells like him. When Madeleina eats those green and red and yellow bell peppers, when she sucks down those tomatoes, the onion and garlic, when she smells that white wine, well, Tom will work his magic. He was a great dad. He died long before she was born. I've been waiting for the right time to introduce him to Madeleina. Tonight is the night.
   The cacciatore is his spell. His magic comes through the garlic and peppers. She's in for a sweet ride and will wake up tomorrow more clear-headed about things. Thanks dad.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

What to Cook??????

Hello, everybody, I'm sorry I've been away. I've just been swamped with work, finishing up the Sapo book and starting a new book project with an actual company. It feels a little strange after doing the first and nearly finishing the second with my hand-picked teams, but I'll give it a shot this time so that my kids will be able to refute anyone who ever says "Your dad sucked so much he had to print his own books..." which will probably happen a zillion times.
    Anyway, that's why I have not written: Just pooped and idealess.
    But today I was at the store, getting garlic and, I thought, some shrimp, maybe for a quick shrimp stir fry. Madeleina and I had grilled, marinated chicken and veggies on Sunday, then a nice steak--chuck, cooked like a steak and then sliced--on Monday, and then salmon with sesame seeds/sesame oil, scallions, garlic/olive oil/red pepper and chinese cabbage last night, with a side of spinach and a salad. So tonight I was thinking maybe shrimp. Then I got to the store: HEB. On the way to the fish counter I ran into a 2" thick chuck steak that was marbled by an Italian, I swear. I was changing my mind to steak again, but then saw the shrimp: Gorgeous Gulf Shrimp, wild caught, 16-25s, deveigned for $7.95. I got 1.2 pounds, just in case someone like Chepa or Italo or Marco came over. But then, I remembered that we had all that salmon left over from last night: I cooked 7 oz each and we probably ate half of that each. Damn it was good, so good, but so darned filling. So there I am: Steak, shrimp, left-over salmon. I've got good veggies: Spinach, zucchini, yellow squash, scallions, red onions, red and yellow peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes, Chinese cabbage, bok choy, shiitaki shrooms, garlic, shallots and then cilantro and curly parsley and I'm not sure what else.
   What to do? What to do?
   Then I got it: How about a nice white clam sauce on thin spaghetti with a few shrimp and the diced-up left-over salmon. Toss in the bok-choy and Chinese cabbage, the scallions, red pepper, garlic, spinach? Yeah, that's the ticket. So I bought a couple of dozen fresh clams and the spaghetti water is on. Salads are ready, just waiting on the shallot vinagrette.
   So that's where we're going tonight. In the neighborhood? We've got enough to share, always.

Friday, November 07, 2014

Okay, so this is what happens, sometimes....

Okay. So I finished the primary writing for the Sapo book and had several great editors move things around. Then I moved things around. Then, since it's my name on it, I did the best I could and passed it on to the art director and we should have a book pretty soon.
   But then, today, I had to finish an article that was freelance. That means money for Christmas present and you know I was thrilled to get the assignment. I hope I did a good job. But while I was finishing that this morning, an editor who wants a new book--secret project so do not even ask--called to see how it was coming. I had nothing to offer because I've written 17 pieces for publication since Aug 7--an incredible amount of hot air except that I did my homework and some people are going to pay for their lousy ways because of what I dug up with the help fo whistle blowers and so forth.
   So I'm finishing the article and talking with the publisher and then Madeleina called to say that Chepa and I had to be at her school to give her away in some marching band fest. Which was fine except that several people are coming in to my house tonight for three days of feasting and medicine. Which means feast tonight, no food tomorrow. So what to make? What if they're vegetarians, vegans, carnivores? What if nobody comes?
   Doesn't matter. I bought and prepared a spaghetti squash with garlic/red pepper for the vegans, with couscous and a zuccini, yellow squash, tomato, garlic, onion, broccoli and cauliflower medley. For the vegetarians I made a potato and egg salad, homemade hummus, flat bread. For the fish eaters I have salmon with sesame seeds, sesame oil, scallions, ginger, garlic and sliced red pepper with daicon radish. For the carnivores I have chicken, beef ribs and steak with rice, broccoli/spinach.
   How the heck did it come to having six people over for dinner and you have to make four or five different meals? I have no idea. I'm just glad I can still think on my feet.