Spring is sprung,
The grass iz riz,
I wonder where
The duckies is ...
Spring is sprung,
The grass iz riz,
I wonder where
The duckies is ...
Recently, by economic necessity as well as changing food and health preferences, I have really been cutting down on my meat consumption. So as soon as I got settled in my new digs, I hauled out the pressure cooker and started making with the bean cookery again.
Up until recently I have had mixed feelings about beans in general and my beans in particular. I would make batches of nice healthy beans with all sorts of veggie aromatics and seasonings, and they would taste really great to me. But I would always wind up throwing out the last third uneaten, because I got too bored with them to finish them ... or to even want to save them in the freezer. Finally though, I started getting a lot more inventive about adding small amounts of flavorful meat to the beans, and I think I have finally put an end to boring myself with my beans.
Of course I had known about the classic US Southeastern soul food practice of cooking beans with a ham hock, which I have done and do love ... but alas, even blanched, a ham hock makes beans too salty for my damn finicky ankles. Plus in recent years ham hocks, like so many other traditional poor people's foods, have crept up in price until now they're pretty ridiculous. Ditto the most popular choice for alternative meaty addition to beans, smoked turkey parts. But then I started expanding my imagination regarding meat-aromatics to add to beans, and things started getting fun.
Like this week's success: garbanzo beans first cooked to tenderness via pressure cooker, then simmered with Mexican chorizo, dried shiitake mushrooms, and a whole bulb's worth of garlic cloves. The chorizo, which is skinless, pretty much dissolved into the broth and permeated everything, as did the garlic. I am going to have no trouble at all whipping through this batch to the last drop. In fact I still don't have a photo of this dish to post because every time I serve myself a bowlful, I discover I have eaten half of it before I remember "oh wait, I was going to photograph this stuff ... "
I've had fun pairing beans with other sausages too -- though again, sausages have gotten a bit pricey unless you can find them on sale. The Mexican sausages have the advantages of being super-cheap, and super-spicy, so a little goes a long way. And using just a little meat is not only good sense economically and health-wise, but even cookery-wise as well, I am discovering. It has to be just enough meat so that its flavor accents the beans, but not so much that it completely blots them out. I'm finally learning how to recognize where that "just enough" is. And the results are working for me.
This handy little web form lets you choose your ingredients from lists, then creates a customized recipe containing your ingredients. Its creator cautions that she has not tested every possible combination for tastiness, but it's hard to guess wrong with the choices she has included. Cute simple app! Someone should whip one up for non-vegan meatloaves too.
Stash makes amazing food, with the emphasis on locally-sourced ingredients, and blogs about his creations. I met him online a few years back on a food forum; I wandered off to other online venues but in the meantime Stash has been very busy with his blog. Check it out!
I've been living in my new nest in Eugene, Oregon for a month now, but things have only recently settled down enough for me to check in about them.
First, the big drive from San Diego to here: very beautiful, though very loooooong. I wish I could have afforded the time and funds to spread the trip over more than four days, so that I could have spent more time stopping to smell the roses, and had less grueling sessions on the road. I did get interestingly random glimpses of various towns whenever I stopped to refuel vehicle or driver, such as the funky convenience store in Bandon that sold fishing and gold-panning gear as well as cappucino with your biscuits and gravy. But mostly I was rolling, trying to get to that evening's stop before nightfall ... and sometimes failing, damn those still-shortish February days. (You can see a few photos from my trip here.)
Settling into Eugene: it took a little while for me to adjust to the environment, which was colder and wetter than I recalled -- or perhaps Eugene's spring-transitional weather is even wackier than Seattle's; or maybe it's just that my blood has been overly thinned from a decade in balmy Southern California. Evidently my immune system is not used to the local Eugene bugs either, because the very first thing I did after arriving in town was to catch a nasty cold. And there have been other weirdnesses too -- like the morning after the Spring Equinox, when we woke to an extremely unusual six inches of snow on the ground; or the morning after that, when the melting snow overwhelmed our already rain-sodden yard, resulting in a little flood in the basement room where I am currenty residing. But the flood waters receded and my little nest dried out, so now I am back in it.
And all that precipitation does mean that the Eugene area is lushly green. It's a small town, so it only takes a few minutes' driving in any direction to be in either verdant farmland or mossy woods. I'm looking forward to seeing those fields and forests get more actively springlike. Meanwhile I am being charmed by Eugene's small-town-meets-hippie-mindset funkiness. Since I am currently living in the Whiteaker, the town's acknowledged hippie neighborhood, the funk is front and center in my street and house and everything. But there are splashes of funkitude even in the most non-funky locations, such as the bright-yellow-painted Thai food stand I found nestled among auto dealerships and strip malls the other day.
Still have a lot of exploring to do, but initial phase of relocation can be definitely hailed as a success. Now to just hang out in this new berg and see what kind of trouble I can get myself into.
Just to show I'm not being completely hair-shirt and getting rid of every frill in my life, I wanted to show one of the cuter functional items I am keeping: my vintage Sears Forecast makeup case (which looks like this one here). I got it several years ago partly because it was handy for shlepping stage makeup to choral concerts and community theater shows, partly because I dug its retro look. But it's really well-built for its purpose, sturdy and waterproof and capable of holding a lot of small fiddly things and keeping them sorted. For this trip it will hold toiletries and jewelry and such. And it will make me oddly happy to use it. A touch of style for my low-budget road trip.
T minus eight days and counting until I leave San Diego and start driving up the coast to my new home in Eugene, Oregon. I've hit the point in packing for my move where I'm essentially camping in my own apartment. On this move, it's intensified by the fact that I've been just plain getting rid of a lot of stuff outright instead of packing it up preparatory to shleppage.
It feels really freeing to get rid of that stuff too. I really didn't have all that much left, but it was enough stuff that the glamour of even the books had worn off in the face of the wearying chore of shlepping boxfuls of them--let alone the bother and expense of hiring people to deal with the furniture. I've been joking with friends that from here on I am only going to own belongings I can move totally under my own steam - everything foldable, deflatable, or digitized.
The excitement of the upcoming road trip has yet to fully hit me. I think some lingering anxieties over this trip are blocking the excitement. Some is just basic fretting over getting everything done before my departure date. I also know there's some feelings of fear over uprooting, even if it's the right thing to do. And I also think some concerns over how my bod will hold up are lurking round my brain. I used to adore taking road trips, but in recent years as finances got tighter and my bod got crankier, it began to look like my road warrior days were over.
But as more of my belongings disappear and my nest deconstructs, it's easier to relax and feel the excitement. Everything I'd been fretting over seems to be working itself out according to plan. I've been feeling a lot more physically capable in recent weeks, so I'm beginning to relax on that score too. And the more I read and learn about my destination, the more I feel that I've picked a place that will really suit me.
Damn, it's been too long since the last road trip. It's about time I headed out to see a bigger piece of the world again. And this time it will be with Droid and laptop in tow, so I'll be blogging all about it as I progress.
I have a pet peeve. I go searching for vegetable-centric recipes -- usually on the Web, but even in many cookbooks -- and I keep finding recipes in which the vegetable is a bit player instead of the star, or gussied up with all sorts of other ingredients as if in an attempt to disguise that OMG it's a vegetable!
I'll give you the immediate example as a for-instance. A friend gave me an assortment of gorgeous winter squashes. Of course I can just roast them -- a terrific way of cooking veggies that I have used time and time again -- but that's just the problem. I have been roasting so many veggies recently that I'm beginning to get bored with the technique, and I sure as hell don't want to ruin such an excellent method for myself through overuse.
So ... I get my Google on, and what do I find? Squash soups, where some 1/3 to 1/2 the volume of the soup is broth, dairy, etc. Stews in which the squash shares billing with all sorts of other items. Casseroles, which by definition are assortments of ingredients. Risottos, in which, again by definition, the arborio rice is the main event. Squashes stuffed with everything from meat to nuts. Squash as bits and pieces on pizza. Salads in which squash is a garnish on top of greens. And on and on and on ...
Now mind you, many of the above recipes look absolutely excellent. BUT. NONE of them are what I am looking for. I'm looking for recipes in which my squash will be the star, not a bit player, not even a co-star. Recipes in which the squash will be set off in all its glory, with only those seasonings and aromatics that enhance its glory -- and certainly not glopped up with a bunch of sugar or syrup or sweeteners or other such additions that ignore the fact that winter squash are gloriously sweet all on their own.* And I'm hard-pressed to find such recipes, and for the life of me I can't figure out why.
I have some guesses, of course. At least among many United States eaters, though eating patterns have changed somewhat in recent years, food is still centered around animal protein and vegetables are seen as a side. Even with the recent changes in food patterns to adopt less reliance on meat, the typical meatless entree still either mimics a meat dish ("meat" loaves, veggie burgers, etc.) or consists of an amalgam of different ingredients, such as a stew or soup or tagine or pizza or casserole. I see this pattern even in US vegetarian and vegan cookery. Perhaps, at least to some extent, this is yet another side-effect of modern urban consumer culture, in which we don't have to figure out what the heck to do with a bumper crop of a particular vegetable put out by our farm, but can just buy dribs and drabs of different ingredients as we desire and cobble them together as we please.
But mainly I confess this pattern just fairly shrieks at me a mindset of "OMG you can't have just a naked vegetable as your entree! That's so... so... unsatisfying!"
But I do want to have a vegetable as my entree. Of course I will have some protein and carbs as side-dishes or garnishes -- I do want a nutritionally balanced meal. But why do I have to have those things glommed onto the veg?
There are of course some cuisines that are more simpatico to this preference. Traditional Japanese nihon ryori, for example, has numerous recipes in which a single vegetable is prepared to jewel-like perfection and served on its own little plate with maybe a few sprigs of herbs as garnish. A favorite local Indian vegetarian restaurant of mine focusing on the cuisines of Southern India presents a buffet featuring a variety of all-vegetable curries (supplemented by pilaus, dals, and fresh-made dosas and idlis delivered directly to your table). And every summer I make multiple batches of ratatouille -- yes, a stew, but an all-vegetable stew, in which the zucchini and eggplant strut undisguised. And so on and so on with stir-fries and etc.
And there are also some cookbooks that do at least partly buck this trend. I have a beloved, much-stained and dogeared copy of The Victory Garden Cookbookthat I consult frequently for inspirations. While a lot of the recipes do the kind of things I don't want -- and also use larger quantities of high-fat ingredients than I care to indulge in on a regular basis -- each vegetable-chapter does lead off with some simple tasty preparations for the veggie unadorned and unadulterated. I also have a selection of macrobiotic cookbooks, which are great for technique ... but, alas, maybe a little too unadorned even for my tastes. And I have a few Indian vegetarian cookbooks, which again are great ... though sometimes the intensity of Indian spices presents its own issues of obscuring the flavor of the vegetable ...
I dunno, maybe the preparation of a single vegetable is considered too boring or elementary? Like, "what's the big deal? Just whack it up and either pile it in a steamer or onto a sheet pan and get on with it!" For comparison, though, I suggest an experiment: go Google "steak recipes." There you have it: a single ingredient, whose preparation, while indeed requiring some care, is usually simplicity itself, and look at the bazillions of hits, the majority of which do not attempt to adulterate the steak by making it the bit player to anything else. Because it's a steak, man! Why would you want to hide that it's a steak?
Hmmmm ... maybe I am sensing a niche for a possible cookbook project of my own. Who knows? Could there be a market for a book all about preparing vegetables simply, tastily but un-gussied-up, so that you can actually tell what you are eating and savor it for what it is?
*Well... most but not all varieties of winter squash, I have since discovered. Some of the beautiful squashes my friend gave me were a little lacking in the sweetness department, to put it mildly. But varieties like kabocha and butternut really stand on their own without a ton of sweetners.
Somehow, without deliberately planning it, my adult life has assumed a pattern in which, every decade or so, I pick myself up and relocate to an entirely different region of the country. I spent the 1980s in Boston, the 1990s in Seattle, and since 2002 I have resided in San Diego. And now, at the dawn of 2012, life is arranging itself so that I shall be relocating again, this time to Eugene, Oregon.
Each of these residencies came about through multiple reasons, and involved multiple goals, a number of which did not succeed as I had hoped. But in each place, I went through various processes of self-discovery and transformation, some of which probably could have happened anywhere, but all of which were definitely catalyzed by people and events I could have only encountered by being where I was, when I was.
Just so with my time in San Diego, and decision to leave it. I had come down to San Diego as an escape from the big corporate environment I had succeeded rather too well at getting integrated into by the end of my time in Seattle. I was seized with a feeling of living a life designed for somebody else, with somebody else's values, and desperately wanted and needed to finally do something that I loved.
Well, I came down here ... and some of those plans did not work out as desired. Part of the problem was that I was still dogged by lifelong personal issues that were sapping my strength, the key to which I finally received a couple of years after my father's death in 2003. Some long-held family skeletons were finally let out of the closet in the wake of that death, and suffice it to say I began to fully grasp the nature of the familial monsters that had been living in my head and holding me back. Essentially, I came to realize I had post-traumatic stress disorder from a childhood full of psychological abuse and bullying. This realization, while majorly enlightening, was far from the end of the matter; in dealing with its impact on my life, I have suffered a number of setbacks, and I may well be sorting pieces of this out for many years. But after finding a new resolve last June to do the things I needed to do to heal and get more fully healthy, I feel like I am finally on my way.
And then of course, there has been the recession. At first I thought I was actually in a good position to ride it out--unlike a lot of other people, I had already drastically downsized, was used to living frugally, and had what I thought were skills that would stay in demand. Little did I, or a lot of people, realize just how profoundly unemployment would gouge California, and Southern California, in particular--suddenly the market was flooded with people with my skillset all scrambling for whatever job openings or freelance work was to be found. I finally did get a toehold in some new online work, but it was downright scary for awhile there.
Meanwhile, a friend I had met online kept urging me to get the hell out of expensive, high-unemployment California and join her in Eugene, where the unemployment rate is a little lower, the cost of living a hell of a lot lower, and the culture, frankly, a lot more suited to my leftover hippy leftist values. And the more I looked into doing this move, the more I discovered that the network of friends I had been quietly building online was making its presence, and willingness to help, known to me. I began to feel like I was doing one of those trust exercises, where you fall backwards and trust that others will catch you. I became filled with the conviction that I was being caught, and held, in a way I had so needed a family to catch and hold me. I became convinced that whatever happened on this new leg of my journey up to Eugene, I would not be allowed to fall.
I am also, partly from necessity and partly by choice, taking this latest move as an opportunity to further simplify my life. There was a period a couple of years back in which I had to move my home in San Diego three times in the space of 12 months, and it became a dreaded and expensive chore to get all thesematerial goods packed, hauled, and unpacked. And I didn't even think I had all that much anymore! But it was still more than I could do alone. When I began to look into moving my stuff to Eugene, and saw the astronomical price--way more than the replacement cost of said goods--I decided, enough. Everything must go. Like Thoreau, I was going to simplify my life way the hell down to the barest essentials. If it does not fit in my car, or in a couple of boxes at most of stuff I will ship ahead, it's not going. The books I love but never read, the clothes I've bought that I never have occasion to wear, the boxes of papers there is no earthly reason for keeping anymore--out out out. Even the furniture... functional enough, but furniture can be replaced and thrift stores abound. Away with all of it. Sell it or donate it or shred it, but however it gets done, just get it offa me. Even just talking about it I feel a burden off my shoulders.
So I have no idea what life has in store for me once I get to Eugene. I'm sure there will be more ups and downs, more cases of things not succeeding as I had hoped. But I have the strangest sense of optimism. I feel like I am achieving whole new levels of personal authenticity, of living the way I want to live as opposed to some lifestyle and values designed by and for others. And even if I do find myself in situations where I have to conform to others' values, I feel sufficiently settled in my values within my own head that external forces can no longer sway me. I know where I'm going, and that's a marvelous feeling.