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Blogging Themes…Or Lack Thereof

I envy people who seem to know what direction their life should take.  That certainly hasn’t been me.  I’ve always sort of gone where the wind has taken me.  The path of least resistance.  Maybe because I’ve had so little self-confidence most of the time.  And a good amount of shame.  Not being able to be vulnerable.

My brother-in-law posted this Ted Talk on facebook and it told me many things about myself I already knew, but I believe I’m trying to come to grips with.  Vulnerability, as my wife can tell you, is not my strong suit.  I have always believed I had to be strong…perfect even.  No weakness.  No chink in the armor.  I am a man, and a real man is all of those things.  It didn’t help that my first wife positively preyed on those feelings, but, in the end, we are all responsible for ourselves.

I believe that my issues with vulnerability, self-confidence, shame, fear…are the reasons for this blog.  I felt like God was leading me to write this.  And so I wrote, having no idea what I was going to write about and what purpose it was to serve.  I’ve written about food and politics mostly.  Those things I am most passionate about.  But I’m beginning to believe I’m somehow missing the boat.  The words and topics are not coming to me like they were in the beginning.

In the beginning, I talked about me.  Not food, not politics, not my opinions, not what I had for dinner.  But about me.  And I believe that is what I’m supposed to write about.  Once again, to what end and exactly what I’m supposed to write I don’t know.  But I’m trying very hard to follow where He is leading.

My job sucks, our finances suck, my health sucks (I’m going in to have my gall bladder removed next week.  It’s supposed to be simple, laparoscopic surgery, but there is a chance, with the surgeries I’ve had before, they will have to do it the old-fashioned way.  And my history has not been one to support simple solutions.), and I’m sitting here writing this blog.  Because this what I feel I’m supposed to be doing about it.

That certainly doesn’t compute for me.  First of all, I never let people in.  My inner circle is so small, even I don’t know who’s in it.  For me to “air it out” like this to everybody is the antithesis of everything I’m about.  Second, I am a doer.  If your job sucks you go get another one.  You don’t sit in front of your computer typing some crap about your life.  But here I am.

I have some gifts.  I can cook.  I can write.  I can interact with people…all kinds of people, from high-powered executives to laborers, to artists.  I have a good memory.  I’m not saying I’m the best at any of those things, but I have some level of talent for them.  And I’ve never known what to do with them.  Somehow, someway, I feel I’m supposed to find that in the pages of this blog.

I’ve been watching the stats to see how my readership is.  The answer to that is, what readership?  But I am realizing that’s not the point.  The point is not for me to market myself, use the right keywords, hit other blogs and comment so they will track back to me.  The point is, I need to write.  I need to write about myself.  My struggles, my successes, my feelings.  Blech.  I feel like Hank Hill right now.  I wanna go puke.

At least, that’s what I think today.  Maybe it’ll be different tomorrow.  I don’t know.  But I’m trying to find peace.  And right now this feels peaceful.  I may still write about food or politics, if that’s what’s going on with me.  I don’t know.  I’m living my life and I’m going to try to let you in on it.  For some purpose known only to God.  I’m gonna be a little like Charles Bronson’s character in The Dirty Dozen.  A psychiatrist was testing him by showing him Rorschach inkblots and asking him what he saw.  Every single answer had to do with baseball because “That’s what I was thinking about”.

Its a scary thought.

Broiled Swordfish With Horseradish Sauce

We found some swordfish steaks at the store the other day, so this is what I came up with for them.

We had some herb butter left over from something or other so I used that to brush onto the steaks.

Swordfish and metled herb butter
Herb butter…

For the sauce, I started with about 1 1/2 – 2 cups of heavy cream.

Sauce mise en place

Heated it without boiling.  Meanwhile I made a beurre manie.  Beurre manie is supposed to consist of equal amounts, by weight, of butter and flour, but this recipe called for a very small amount of butter compared to the flour.  I assume this is due to the high amount of fat in the cream.  Because of that I made the beurre manie very dry.

Beurre manie
Kneading the butter and flour together

After the cream was hot, I began adding the butter and flour mixture slowly, whisking it in as I went.

Thickening the sauce

When I felt I had enough, I seasoned the sauce with salt and white pepper and allowed it to cook on medium until it came to a boil.  As it turned out, I had used a bit too much flour so I just thinned it a little with milk as it cooked.  I allowed the sauce to cook for probably 15-20 minutes to try to make sure it had no raw flour taste remaining.  I adjusted the seasoning and added about a tablespoon of prepared horseradish shortly before serving.

After brushing the steaks with butter and seasoning, I broiled them.  My broiler is junk, so they never browned very much.

Swordfish steaks!

Served it with rice and peas.

Mmmmmmm…
A little sweet tea, and we’re ready to eat!

The fish was excellent, as was the sauce.  The gluten-free flour makes a great beurre manie.  It smooths out nicely and doesn’t take a lot of cooking to get rid of the raw flour taste.  The flavor of the sauce was fantastic.  It could have used a little more horseradish, but not too much.  It complimented the fish nicely without overpowering it, but the swordfish has a bold flavor so a little extra horseradish would have been fine.  Also, thinning out the sauce a little more would have made for a better presentation, but as you can see, the sauce was really smooth and had a nice sheen from the beurre manie.

Great meal!

The Politics Of Food

A very wise man once said

…unfortunately, thanks to people (pronounced “the government”) who are in my business every day about one thing or other, you can’t talk about anything anymore without politics entering into it.

And here we go again.  I haven’t read this blog, so I don’t know what he is advocating or advising.  But I don’t have to.  He apparently has an opinion on the best way to manage diabetes.  I have an opinion on the best way to manage, well, most anything.  Does that make either of us criminals?  Apparently it does in North Carolina.

The site Diabetes-Warrior.Net is being investigated by the State of North Carolina for…wait for it…giving free advice.  I’m here to tell you, that when that statute is passed in the state of Texas, I will be serving a life sentence.  Apparently in that enlightened state, you must have a license to give dietary advice.  Even for free.  If, unbeknownst to me, Texas indeed does have such a regulation, might this blog also be in violation?

If I were to advocate, as I surely do believe, that it is better for you to eat real butter than a partially-hydrogenated spread, would the food nazis come for me?  And on what basis?

First of all, if I were advocating low-fat via such synthetic spreadable plastics, no one would hassle me at all.  I’d be towing the line.  All the do-gooders would be satisfied that I didn’t need re-education and my kids didn’t need to be taken away.  But when you advocate outside of those prescribed and accepted standards, the full power of the government and the media-entertainment complex may be brought to bear on you.  I would imagine this is the case for the Diabetes Warrior.

Second, exactly who benefits from the necessity of dieticians, or even those who play one on a blog, being licensed?  Why, the dieticians of course.  All licensing programs are lobbied for on behalf of those already established in whatever business they are in.  Who was it in my own state that was pushing for the state government to force people who practice “eyebrow threading” (an ancient art of shaping eyebrows by pulling the hairs with a couple strings) to obtain a cosmetology license?  The cosmetologists, of course.  It provides a barrier to entry, you see.

It is reaching the heights of absurdity.  If you don’t want to eat butter and want to eat some plastic spread, then write me a nasty comment which I won’t approve and will never publish and go get some spread.  No harm no foul.  If you decide, based on what you read here, to eat nothing but butter from here on, like chicken nugget girl, and then, um, expire, I’m sorry.  But the fact is, there are all sorts of claims and studies out there that are absolutely bogus.  And many of them by licensed, accredited, acclaimed and otherwise upstanding people.  They’re just idiots.  With a podium.

I have my opinions, and there are innumerable variations all over the web.  Read, learn, cull, sift, retain, regurgitate.  But shutting people up, or down, is not the answer.

Is There A Place For Throwbacks Like Me?

I’m a throwback to another time.  I realize it and I embrace it.  Not to the point of rejecting anything modern, like my brother (love ya man!), but I don’t worry about being hip and cool and up on the latest fads and fashions.  Especially where food is concerned.

When I bought my pan the other day on Amazon, there was a little promotional video from Cuisinart on the page where the salesperson talked about how great the cookware was for cooking “classic as well as more modern” fare.  I wondered what that meant.  What is modern cooking, and what would cookware designed specifically for it look like?

I suppose “modern” cooking would encompass all the “right” approaches to cooking and eating.  No saturated fats.  High Omega-3’s.  Low carb.  Fresh fruits and vegetables.  And, at the height of modern enlightenment, no meat.  Now, beyond the first item, on which classic cooking has to be cut a break as the classic cooks had no idea what saturated fats were, and the last, which I’ll discuss henceforth, where is it that classic cooking differs so much?

I think by “classic” most people would mean classic French cooking.  But that cooking certainly uses its share of fish and fresh fruits and veggies.  High in fat, to be sure, but as I heard a cook on Bourdain’s show last night say, that’s where the flavor is.  And, in classic Paula Deen style, they were cooks not doctors.

Now, you might say, in light of all this new enlightenment, we should take it into account and change the way we cook and eat.  Fine.  But to what extent?  And following exactly what?  I have heard so many studies in my years that have come to be contradicted later that I can’t keep up with them all.  As I said previously, yes, I’m a cynic.  And to what extent must we change?  Is it ok if I add more fish to my diet overall, or do I need to do away with red meat entirely or become a vegetarian?

Thanks to the blog awaitingplace (thanks for following!), I learned what a pescetarian is.  Someone who eats dairy and fish, but otherwise doesn’t eat the flesh of animals.  Now I will admit to not understanding that philosophy, or its cousin, vegetarianism, but maybe through these writings I will learn.  To me, it just seems like so much of those choices are driven by guilt.

Our modern society is big on guilt.  You should feel guilty for driving an SUV, for smoking, for eating fatty foods, for eating animals at all, for not “paying your fair share”, for being male, for being a throwback Neanderthal.  Well, personally, I’ll have the ribeye, medium rare, and a baked potato loaded up, hold the guilt.

As I said, I don’t reject everything modern.  And as I also said previously, I’m quite sure there are issues in the production of food animals.  If you want to try to initiate change to make that stuff better, fine.  Just don’t try to make me feel guilty about supporting it.  I don’t participate.  I look at the other side as well.  We have an agricultural industry that feeds the world at such an efficient rate, that even the poor in this country eat like kings.  We are so affluent, so bountiful, that we have time to worry about all kinds of threats, both real and phantom, from Alar to ethical zookeeping.  To only focus on the problems and not the overall good, is to skew the reality, most of the time to promote an agenda through guilt.

I have thought of trying to make a living somehow through my love of food and cooking.  I have dreamed of opening a restaurant that would be completely gluten-free, but would appeal to “regular” people too.  But I wonder how my interpretations would be received by the g-free community.  So co-opted are many of them by the “modern” sensibilities that I wonder if they could sit down and enjoy a good g-free chicken fried steak with cream gravy.  Or meatloaf.  Or barbecued brisket.  Are there throwbacks out there like me who are forced to eat gluten-free, but still want to eat classic foods?  Who have not so given in to the correctness of the day that they can’t enjoy a classic Eggs Benedict?

And don’t misunderstand.  I know that eating that stuff all the time is not good for you.  I realize that there have been real gains in our collective understanding of nutrition and healthy cooking and eating.  I don’t reject those things at all.  I just believe that so much of it goes overboard to the point of taking all the joy out of food.  And I don’t want to lose that.  I want to have some balance and be able to eat and cook sensibly without completely giving up everything I love so much.  And I’m afraid the do-gooders and the fear mongers are doing just that to a lot of people.

I worry that my take on eating and cooking gluten-free, were I to actually try to bring it to the masses, would be savaged by the food nannys to the point of being vilified and costing my success.  I worry about this especially within the gluten-free community as it seems to be more sensitive to these issues than the population at large (as ubiquitous as it is).  Then again, maybe there are more out there like me.  Keeping our head down, not attracting attention by saying the wrong things at parties.  Sneaking a Philly Cheese Steak without the bun for lunch when no one else is around.  I hope so.  It’s lonely out here.  In this cave.  With my burgers on the grill.  The smell of caramelizing ground beef kissed by the flames of a charcoal fire.  The Wife cutting up the veggies and toasting my g-free bread.

Never mind.  It’s good to be a Neanderthal.  And if you want to join me, keep your head up, and just maybe you’ll be able to follow your nose one day to the smoke of a distant fire that is The Metal Spoon.

I’m Ahead Of My Time!

So, I write this post, basically extolling the virtues of all different kinds of food, and saying there’s nothing wrong with McDonald’s, or anything else, as long as that’s not all you eat.  Then I see this article about a girl who is killing herself eating nothing but Chicken McNuggets.

Now, beyond what I wrote the other day, this story begs at least one other comment.  The story says that she hasn’t eaten anything other than chicken nuggets since she was a toddler and that her mother gave up trying to get her to eat anything else years ago.  This may not quite qualify as child abuse, but this woman is certifiable.  A toddler says she wants chicken nuggets and you can’t say “no”?  How ridiculous.  If my kids see this they’ll accuse me of abuse in comparison.  They’re 16 and one of them can’t eat anything, but I force him to, and have for years.  The Wife and I still laugh about making him try a mushroom and him cutting it into pieces the size of minced garlic to be able to choke it down.  And the whole process taking about an hour.  For one lousy mushroom.

It saddens me to see people that won’t enjoy the bounty that God has provided.  Whether it be through some hang-up about not “liking” anything, not wanting to kill things, fear of bad health, following some fad, or simply being in a rut of eating the same things.  Go to the store and buy something.  Something you’ve never had.  Then google it and find out how to cook it and give it a try.  It’s food.  It’s not going to kill you.  Unless you happen to like it so much you get addicted and can’t eat anything else.  If that happens, just go back to step one.  See?  Problem solved!  Enjoy!

Ghosts In The Kitchen

We woke up the other morning to find this…

WTH????

I had cooked a pan of rice the night before and left the remainder (very little, as usual) on the cooktop.  Burners off.  What happened?

Anyway, since we really only have a couple of good saucepans, today I ordered this.  We have two of their frying pans that we are extremely happy with, so I figured we would go that route for the saucepans.  The one in the photo is a 2 1/2 Qt., the one I ordered is a 3 Qt.  The one we have remaining that the goblins haven’t gotten to yet is a 1 1/2 Qt.  They have been really good pans but I’ll be happy to get rid of the glass lids with my propensity to break things.  We are trying to figure out what to get to round out the pot/pan selection.  With the order I placed today, we have a 1 1/2 Qt., 3 Qt., and a 6 Qt.  I would like to have them all, which would mean buying the 1, 2, 4 and 8.  But I’m thinking that’s probably not necessary.

But then, what do I forego?  I’d really like to have the 1 Qt. because the small saucepan is really nice sometimes.  Without the 2 Qt., we have a gaping hole between the 1 1/2 and the 3.  And sometimes it’d be nice to have a big 4 Qt. with a handle rather than always using the 6 Qt. pot.  And the 8 Qt. is, well, big.  And I love big.  But the problem is, they want money for all this stuff.  Real party poopers that way.

I also bought this.  I don’t own any Victorinox knives, but they have really made a splash recently.  Supposedly excellent knives for the money.  The Amazon ratings are all great.  I want to be able to buy whole fish and chicken and process them myself, but it’s difficult to impossible without a good boning knife.  That’s my plan…we’ll see if I carry it out or go back to buying boneless, skinless chicken breasts and fish filets out of laziness.  But at least I’ll know how to do it!

I’ll cook a big pan of rice in my new pan when it comes in and let you know how it does.  And what do you think of my adding videos to my blog?  That might be cool.  We’ll see where it goes.  In the meantime, I can’t wait for my new utensils!  I’m gonna go get some whole chickens…

Food Is Good

Speaking of Anthony Bourdain earlier got me thinking of something The Wife said about him.  That he enjoys the lower class, street vendor style of food as much as the gourmet fancy stuff.  And it’s true, he does enjoy all of it.  And so do I.  That’s because food is good.  Or, at least, it can be.

Like the meatloaf/crab cake comparison.  Do I like crab cakes more than meatloaf?  Sure.  But a good meatloaf served with some mashed potatoes is some good eats.  But I go further than that.  I have to admit, prior to my celiac diagnosis, I was a fast food fiend.  I loved me some fast food burgers.  McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Whataburger…  I remember (I hate to date myself this way, but…) when we got our first McDonald’s.  Now, I had eaten a Big Mac once before and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on another.  And if that sounds crazy, you have to remember, and if you’re not old enough to remember, take my word, back in the day Big Macs had meat on them.  And special sauce.  And real cheese.  They weren’t always the lettuce burgers they are today.  They were good.  Really good.

I hate it when I hear people run down McDonald’s.  What is wrong with it, really?  I mean, the guy in Super Size Me gorged himself on nothing but McDonald’s food and it wasn’t good for him.  Shocker.  I maintain that if you gorged yourself on nothing but just one thing, anything, it probably wouldn’t be very good for you.  But that isn’t even the point.  McDonald’s is what it is.  It is a place where you can drive up, and a couple minutes and couple bucks later have a meal.  Is it going to be the best thing you ever ate?  Probably not.  Is it going to be the most nutritious thing you could eat?  Nope.  But if you’re short on cash and/or time, it’s satisfying and fills the bill.

But me?  I loved ’em.  I still liked ’em even when they became by-product lettuce burgers.  I missed the real deal, but they still ate.  I appreciate food in all it’s forms and fashions.  From the fancy to the mundane.  I can’t remember how many boxes of Kraft Mac & Cheese I went through.  The powder didn’t bother me.  Until shortly before I was diagnosed…they did something to it that made it taste a little funky…

I’m so suggestible, I hope I’m never hypnotized.  There’s no telling what embarrassing things someone could make me do.  After all this talk of burgers, tonight, it will be burgers.  A mixture of 70/30 and 80/20 (too lean and they’re dry), over a charcoal Weber grill (I gave up on the propane for the more labor and flavor intensive charcoal).  A little salt and pepper, some of my rub, a little Worcestershire.  Some fries cooked up in the oven (I prefer deep-fried natural cut fries, but it’s such a hassle we usually end up with frozen in the oven).  And some Rudi’s gluten-free bread to hold it together.

Another thing I have really learned to enjoy, which is not such a stretch given my love of white rice, is a char-grilled cheeseburger patty with a little mayonnaise with some rice.  I love it.

That is what has helped me in dealing with my illness more than anything.  The realization that food, in and of itself, is good.  I don’t worry about how it’s “supposed” to be eaten, or what is “supposed” to go with what.  I eat what I like.  And I like a lot of things.  And, you can tell by looking at me, I eat a lot of a lot of things.  I’m trying to cut down, but it’s just so good.

Excuse me while I run to the store to get some ground beef.  And some sweet onions and fresh tomatoes and lettuce and…

Home Cooking

“Home cooking” is a funny term.  When I hear it I think of meat loaf.  But why?  I never cook meat loaf.  I didn’t have meat loaf all that much as a kid.  But for some reason, that’s what comes to mind when I think of home cooking.  And something tells me I’m not the only one.  After all, Ralphie’s kid brother Randy didn’t say “Crabcake, smabcake, double bagcake.  I hate crabcake”.

Whatever it means, I love it.  I love meatloaf.  But I also love crab cakes.  One thing I have to say about my being diagnosed with Celiac disease is that it forced something on me that is both a curse and a blessing.  It is something that I learned and accepted early on; that if I was going to eat the things I loved, I was going to have to cook them.  It is a blessing, because I have learned and continue to learn to cook things I would have never otherwise, and it is fun and delicious.  It is a curse because there are times I simply don’t. want. to.

I wonder how people feel about home cooking and how interesting it is that a favorite restaurant campaign is one of “home cooking”.  If you want home cooking, why not, you know, stay home and cook?  Ah, but of course.  Cooking is a lost art.  It hasn’t been that long ago that everyone was in my shoes.  If you wanted the foods you loved, you had to cook it.  Then again, maybe that’s why everyone had meatloaf.

In my opinion, mediocre home cooking is better than above average restaurant food.  I consider myself an above average cook, so of course I would say I would put my cooking up with most any restaurant you could name.  And I guess I also have the advantage of coming from a family of cooks, so maybe my idea of mediocre is someone else’s above average…maybe the typical homemade fare out there is not what I’m used to.  Whatever, there is something about food made by hand with love and attention that is special.  People who would rather have a meal prepared by professionals, even at a high level, are missing out.

Take, for example, my 16-year-old son.  He’s broke.  Of course.  Still looking for his first job and is shocked, shocked! he hasn’t scored one off the couple internet applications he filled out.  So he wanted to have a date and serve his girlfriend dinner that he cooked (pronounced “dad cooked”).  So The Wife and I set up the room upstairs with a table and candles and cooked them a nice “home-cooked” meal.  The Wife even put on her apron from her serving days at The Olive Garden and served them.

Here’s the meal:  I sautéed some chicken cutlets in olive oil.  After all the cutlets were done, I made a pan sauce by adding some white wine to deglaze the pan, reduced, then added cream and salt and pepper.  Done. (they’re 16 y’know…have to make sure there are no UFO’s (unidentified floating objects) in the food).  Mashed potatoes and roasted broccoli with toasted pine nuts.  So very simple, but quite elegant in presentation (Sautéed Chicken Breast In A Peppercorn Cream Sauce With Creamy Mashed Potatoes And Roasted Broccoli With Toasted Pine Nuts…).  And delicious.  Oh, and my cream of tomato soup as an appetizer.

My point is that it’s not that difficult to make home cooking taste as good as restaurant fare.  Which they work so hard to make taste like home cooking.  Or something.

And as proof, my son’s girlfriend scarfed down her food like she’d been fasting for lent.  They’re only 16, so, who knows…but she’d fit in just fine.

More On My Flour

I mentioned Peter & Kelli Bronski previously as the authors of the blend of gluten-free all-purpose flour I use.  This flour works very well for what I use it for, which is primarily, but not only, breading and thickening.  The ingredients are more and more readily available and the method I use to combine them is very easy.  You can find the recipe here.

Thanks to this little gem, making my own flour blend is a very simple process.

Digital Scale

I use these Oxo containers for my flours and grains.  They’re great also.

Oxo Container

I simply place the container on the scale, tare it, and add the prescribed amount of ingredient.  Then I tare it again, and add the next, and so on until it’s complete.  Then I place the lid, and shake like a madman for a while until I’m sure it is completely mixed.

The flour works and tastes great as a thickener.  For cream gravy, just melt 2 TBSP butter in a heavy sauce pan.  When it begins to froth, add 3 TBSP of the flour.  Cook and stir for about 2 minutes, being careful not to let the mixture begin to brown.  Remove from the heat, and slowly whisk in 2 cups of heated milk.  Bring to a boil and cook for 1 minute.

Another thickener I have used, that I found this flour particularly suited for was a Buerre Manie.  You knead equal amounts of butter and flour (by weight) together and drop pea-sized pieces into your simmering sauce until it reaches the desired consistency.  This method also provides a nice sheen to the sauce and can be used as an alternative to a cornstarch slurry.

There are actually a couple advantages I think this flour, and probably most g-free flours, have over wheat flour.  First, this flour doesn’t have the same tendency to bind up in lumps when the roux is added to a sauce.  Sometimes it will lump as it sits, but these are usually quite gelatinous and easily whisked smooth.  Second, it doesn’t need to be cooked as long to get rid of that raw, starchy flour taste.

Give it a try.  I think you’ll like it.

Paula Deen Redux

I can’t help it.  I just have to, as they say, toot my own horn.  I wrote this article right after I heard the news about Deen.  And here comes someone echoing my sentiments, using Anthony Bourdain as the example.  Now, I like Bourdain.  I find him highly entertaining and informative.  But, just as I said in my post, we’re all doing the best we can.  Good luck Tony.