Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Vegage du Jour - 19 December 2010

from grandteuton.blogspot.com

As you likely know, I'm not a vegetarian - of course, my sister displayed vegan tendencies by driving a Vega in high school.  Still, I enjoy a good veg as much as the next guy, and make it a protein-bearing grain and/or legume, and I'm all over it - as long as it tastes good.

So, for a Christmas party, I made up a big batch of my quinoa and chick-pea stuff (I guess I need to come up with a decent name for this dish), and it was quite a hit - especially with me.

Four cups of red quinoa was brought to a boil in eight cups of home-made vegetable stock (asparagus, onions, and mushrooms were the base) and then simmered about fifteen minutes.
As that time ended, I drained, rinsed, and dried two cans of chickpeas and tossed them with some ground cumin, some white pepper, and some summer savory.  Into a large skillet of fairly hot olive oil they went, where they got just a bit of crispness.
Next, in went a bunch of sliced scallions (not enough of them, as it eventuated), and once they were nice and a bit browned, in went the quinoa.

All of it then went into a crock pot for transport and serving (and keeping warm, of course).  There you have it - gluten-free, dairy-free, meat-free and yet delicious.  Give it a shot - it's quite tasty.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Carnage du Jour - 17 December 2010

from grandteuton.blogspot.com

Pork chops are a staple around our Cleveland, and it's no wonder, considering how versatile these little guys can be.
This time it was a simple sear and pan-roast operation.  The butterfly chops were liberally salted, peppered and beau monded, then seared quickly in some olive oil.
While they rested on a plate, waiting for the rest of their cooking, into the pan went a large handful of grape tomatoes which popped nicely (although not nearly as dramatically as slow-motion popcorn!) in the pan.  Then some jalapeno stuffed olives, some kalamata olives, and some nice pickled cocktail onions went in, along with just a touch of tomato sauce - which was simply tomatoes from our garden which Heidi had run through the Mouli to keep that lovely garden-fresh flavour.
Back in the pan on top of all that goodness went the chops, along with a drained and rinsed can of cannellini beans.  It was only a few minutes for everything to meld and finish up, then the chops were again removed and some cooked spaghetti was added to the pan and all was finished.

Oh, I forgot to mention the roasted asparagus that accompanied - just simply roasted with a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper - delicious indeed!

So there you have it, or rather, then we had it, and it was a lovely dinner.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

(from grandteuton.blogspot.com)

Well, we made it to the show on the opening weekend, and I wouldn't have missed it.

First, let me list my disappointments, then I'll balance it out with what I really think:
The first disappointment was that there were very few people in the theatre when we arrived - very few indeed.  More folks arrived in dribs and drabs before the feature began, but it was still a largely empty house.  Heidi says they did a bad job of advertising, and too few people knew about it - that may be true, but I had seen the trailer online a long time ago and was receiving regular updates leading up to the release, so I can't really say.

The next disappointment was the alteration of the storyline.  As in the previous installments, I understand that there are cuts and changes that will need to be made in order to present the novel in movie form, but this time it seemed excessive to me.  When cutting scenes, there is likely to be information that needs to be restored somehow, and that necessitates adding something.  I get it.
Still, adding characters and changing the nature of one of the threats seemed jarring to me.

OK, that's it for disappointments.
As always, these films have actors, settings, and effects which simply look the way they did in my head when I read the books.  It's uncanny, but they seem to match Heidi's internal scenery as well.  Perhaps Lewis was just that good, or perhaps these films are good enough to make us realise that, "That's just what that looked like!" at each turn.  I don't know, and I don't really care - it's just wonderful that it works.

The music is great - I don't remember who wrote it, but it worked throughout by supporting the action and not really quite drawing attention to itself.
The effects are actually quite seamless - I think I only once saw anything that took me out of my willing suspension of disbelief, and that was a very quick scene of a faun jumping and landing with his knees going the same way mine do, but it was only a very quick flash.
So, my disappointments really come down to a preference for the original storyline, and the lack of folks in the seats at our showing.  Perhaps we chose exactly the wrong time to see a big audience, as it was at "normal" people's dinner time.
At the same time, the movie really was a joy, and I very much hope to see the rest of the Chronicles hit the silver screen.  (I think it's going to take a bunch of us buying tickets and DVDs to ensure that.)  It will be interesting to see if the original children of the film will be old enough to play themselves as adults when we get to the Last Battle.

To sum up - do yourself a favour and go see this movie.  It's an excellent adaptation of the novel (despite my quibbles), and it's an excellent movie on its own.


Friday, December 10, 2010

I can hardly wait!

(from grandteuton.blogspot.com)

The reason I had pulled out the CDs of the radio dramas based on the C.S. Lewis Narnia books has arrived.
I saw a trailer online for the third installment of the movie series - The Voyage of the Dawn Treader - and it made me want to prepare by reading the books again.  Then I realised that we had the CDs on the shelf, but I'd never listened to them.  Needless to say (if you read my earlier post on the topic) I was exceedingly glad that I did listen when I finally got around to it.

At any rate, the movie opens tonight, and we're planning to go see it, so stay tuned for reactions.  If it's half as good as the trailers and commercials make it seem, it will still be spectacular.


Friday, December 03, 2010

Ah - All Those Potlucks and Other Collaborative Meals!

(from grandteuton.blogspot.com)

'Tis the season and all, and that means there are more and more occasions where we're all carting our particular contribution to a collective meal to a (possibly) distant location.
Don't you hate it when your crock pot dumps part of the food in the back of the car?  I know I do, and how!

Still, what's a cook to do?  How about one of these babies?  A slow cooker with a lid that actually clips on and stays sealed!  How much spiffier could one of these get without just being too out there?

Very cool.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

What to Read Right Now

(from grandteuton.blogspot.com)

Sorry I'm late with this recommendation, but (in case you're like me and don't watch the calendar as well as you ought) it's December, and it's also Advent.

So, I want to recommend that you all go out and get a copy of The Christmas Mystery by Jostein Gaarder.  It's a wonderful book to read leading up to Christmas - we get to watch as Joachim opens his special Advent Calendar each day, and receives an update on the story of a little girl, a lamb, some angels, wise men, kings, oh, the whole nine yards and more.

It's a fun read with relatively short chapters for each day from December first right down through Christmas Eve.  Highly recommended.

To Bethlehem!  To Bethlehem!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Sauce-age du Jour - 25 November 2010

(from grandteuton.blogspot.com)

Well, I've had some commentators tell me that the highlight of the meal from their side of the plate was the gravy.
Frankly, I can't disagree much, as gravy is always one of best parts of Thanksgiving dinner, and I generally make a mean gravy, if I do say so myself.
I think there are two keys to making good gravy, once one is beyond the pan drippings and any extra stock that's going in.
  • It takes more salt than you think, and
  • Never use flour, only use cornstarch.
If you follow those two simple tips, you'll have gravy success too.  Once the drippings / stock hits a boil and you've salted it pretty well, take a small glass with a couple good forks of cornstarch and stir in some cold water.
Stir in that slurry, and watch it thicken the gravy - without any lumps!  It may take a second dose, depending on how much liquid you're trying to thicken, but it's the stuff to use.

There, that's my secret.  That and tasting the gravy as it boils to see if it needs more salt (it probably does).


Sunday, November 28, 2010

Vegage du Jour - 25 November 2010

(from grandteuton.blogspot.com)

Yes, the turkey was great as usual (glazed with a mixture of maple syrup and Bourbon), but this year the cooking highlight was the green bean casserole! (At least it was for me, as it was a dairy- and gluten- free version we made up.)

The normal mushroom soup mode wasn't going to work, so what to do?  I had used a can of mushroom stems and pieces for something a while ago when we had run out of fresh (?!) shrooms, so that was in my head already.  Here's the way it went:
  • Take two cans of mushroom stems and pieces and bring them to a boil in a saucepan - with all that good juice that comes in the cans, nothing else.  OK, it actually took some salt and freshly ground pepper, but those don't really count, right Claire?
  • Now thicken that with a nice slurry of corn starch and cold water.
  • Once it's nice and thick - looking much like the stuff from the can - add in about 2/3 C of Tofutti "sour cream" and stir it all together.
  • That gets added to the drained cans of green beans and cooked for a long time in a crock pot.  (that was largely because we didn't have room in the oven thanks to turkey and dressings).
  • Stirring in some of the french-fried onions adds flavour and texture, and then you can top them with the rest of the can and put it in the oven once the turkey comes out.

That's it - very simple, very easy, very tasty, and good for everyone, not just the lactose-insurgent folks at the table.


Friday, November 19, 2010

Which e-Reader for Christmas?

(from grandteuton.blogspot.com)

This seems to be the year of the e-Reader.  While I'm still a confirmed paper addict, the newest generation of e-Readers is getting close to changing my mind.
I've been reading e-books on my PC and on my Palm (don't laugh) for years now, so I do have some experience with ebooks, but I've never really considered them a good substitute for the real thing.  Still, with some books coming out only as ebooks (also those that are out of print or the stuff at the Gutenberg project), these readers are becoming more valuable, even as their prices decline.  So, here are some of my thoughts on the current options:
  • Kindle has done the most to popularise the category, largely based on Amazon's being the largest single bookseller in the world.  They have done almost everything right with this, from making it very easy to buy books, to updating the hardware regularly and significantly.
  • Sony, Nook, and Kobo seem to be the next level of players, mostly because of the bookstore advantage which Amazon has - even over Border's and Barnes & Noble.  Still, their hardware is basically on a par with the Kindle line.
  • Apple's iPad seems like a reasonable alternative - even sporting a Kindle app - but while it can read lots of ebook formats, the battery life and the reading experience using a backlit LCD panel is a bit sub-optimal.
  • WiFi and USB are more than adequate for getting books into a reader - 3G is probably nice, but shopping on your Kindle seems a lot less convenient than shopping on your PC, which means you can order there and either WiFi it in or USB it in.
So, what's my recommendation for your Christmas shopping this year?
I'd go with the latest Kindle WiFi version.  It has a 6" screen (nice e-ink for reading anywhere paper would have worked), can store more books than my living room shelves (at least I think so, I'll have to count them up when I get home), and has battery life to spare.

If you feel the need for 3G, it's only $50, but I'd rather spend that on some books or a case and light.

There you have it - Enjoy!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Carnage du Jour - 09 November 2010

(from grandteuton.blogspot.com)

A nice taste of the Belgian Provinces tonight: trout braised in beer and herbs!

I had a couple of Trout filets (Ruby Red, as the fishmonger would call them), and it was time to cook them up, so what to try this time?
Aha! Drop them in a baking dish, cover with a bottle of beer (I used a bottle of Ichabod pumpkin ale) add a bay leaf and a few sprigs of fresh thyme from the herb garden and let them marinate until it was obvious that they fish had absorbed a bunch of the beer (and thus the herb flavours as well).
Then, into the oven to bake at 350 for about 20 minutes, as I recall.  At any rate, it was until the fish flaked nicely.  Removing them to a warmed platter, the liquid, with the herbs removed, was poured into a sauce pan to be thickened by boiling and then the addition of some creme fraiche.
An accompaniment of lima beans and a nice rice rounded out a very enjoyable repast.

(By the way, the cookbook on which this was based is A Taste of the Belgian Provinces by Enid Gordon - highly recommended as a fun and useful cookbook.)

Sunday, November 14, 2010

A Great Appliance

(from grandteuton.blogspot.com)

I don't know how many of you remember those old Daisy Seal-A-Meal commercials, but the real thing these days is actually a great addition to the kitchen.  I have a feeling those early ones were kind of a waste of money, but not the ones that are around today.  In fact, this might be a nice gift item for the right person (i.e. the type of person who won't be offended at receiving a utilitarian gift rather than an extravagance - or maybe you should just make it in addition to an extravagance to be safe).

We've had a Food Saver machine for a few years, and it is quite spectacular.  I'm not sure which model it is, but it has held up pretty well over that period, given that it's been sealing lots of food every week for those years.  Fresh food sealed into the custom-fit vacuum bags last vastly longer than in other packaging, and the plastic of the bags is sturdy enough to handle the freezer quite well.
In fact, having no air in the bag when it's dropped into the freezer means freezer burn is basically eliminated from the get-go.  Oh, and the bags are good enough to wash and reuse, so it's not like we're adding tons of plastic to the world's landfills either.

All around, they pay for themselves in short order, and are highly recommended to all and sundry.


Friday, October 29, 2010

A Highly Recommended Book

(from grandteuton.blogspot.com)

I've recently finished reading an excellent book by James P. Hogan.  I had enjoyed much of his fiction, but this is a non-fiction work, based on his experiences with working scientists in a wide variety of fields.
The title is Kicking the Sacred Cow, and it's out of print, but still available in various e-book formats from Baen Books.  You can find used copies of the printed book, but the prices were a bit steep for my taste, and the ebook experience was actually quite good.

The basic premise of the book is that while science accuses religion of excluding non-standard beliefs, the scientific community deals with scientific heresy in much the way.  It's a fascinating survey of alternate theories in everything from physics and cosmology to medicine and biology.

Very highly recommended. 
No, really - go get this book. 
I'm serious.
Go get it now.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Some Current Projects

(from grandteuton.blogspot.com)

  • I'm working on a few things right now.  As I've finally gotten my great-great-grandfather's book published to Amazon (as noted here in a recent post), my thoughts are still largely in the literary vein.
    • First, it's nearly November, and November brings National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)!  So, it's back to my in progress second novel, which I really plan to finish this year (as I have for the past few).  [I'm also wondering about getting my first novel up on Amazon, but that's something to think about later.]
    • Next, apart from that writing, I'm also getting back to the revision of my Mass setting.  I really like much of it, but there are a few movements that just don't quite work yet, and I think I need to revise some of the accompaniment as well.  It's for small mixed  chorus, soloists, and organ.
    • I'm also working on a cookbook - well, actually I'm working on two cookbooks right now:
    1. I'm scanning and transcribing my Grandma's handwritten recipes from the [handmade!] cookbook her brother made for her as a wedding present; and
    2. I'm compiling my favourite  original dishes, along with stories of their creation (or other happy occurrences related to their eating).
      • A tedious (but likely useful) project is upgrading our computers to Windows 7 from XP.  The bad part is that it's not a direct upgrage - I have to back up the documents and reinstall all the applications.  The good part is that they should all be happier and run faster (and the disks will be cleaner, too!).  Microsoft seems to have done a good job with the latest version of Windows, and by offering the family pack - 3 users for less than the price of two - they're likely to get a lot of people going legal. (Not that anyone ever installed the same copy of Windows on more than one machine ....)  Well done Steve and company.
    1. Monday, October 11, 2010

      My new computer

      is almost fully loaded.
      (from grandteuton.blogspot.com)

    2. Oh, it's running just fine, but I haven't had the time to finish loading all the software that I use, and it's still on the road to an upgrade to Windows 7 in the near future.  It's pretty darned nice, though.

      4GB of RAM (DDR3 stuff at that), a Western Digital 1TB HDD, AMD Athlon II X4 (quad core) CPU, Biostar AM3 MB, a nice 24-bit SoundBlaster card, an old (extra) gForce video card, and a fun case with a nice orange accent.

      I have more room on this machine than we had on all the other drives in the house combined - it's amazing how drives have grown over the years.  The first machine I used with a hard drive had a massive 5MB drive.  This one has a 1TB drive, that's 200,000 of those huge 5MB jobs packed into a space that's actually smaller than the old 5.25" Winchesters.

      Pretty cool.  It will keep my techno-lust at bay for a while.
    3. Thursday, October 07, 2010

      Reading List Update #3

      (from grandteuton.blogspot.com)

    4. Well, I've thought of a few more books I'd like to recommend to my loyal readers here.
      As before, I've included the full list from earlier posts so you don't have to go looking through the archives to see what all was on there.

      Here's the original list (including the earlier updates), just in case you haven't finished them all yet:   Read, learn, and enjoy:

    5. The Ten Cannots

      (from grandteuton.blogspot.com)

    6. I just came across a listing of "The Ten Cannots," a pamphlet published in 1916 by an outspoken advocate for liberty, William J. H. Boetcker.  Quite a bit of wisdom and insight here.
      • You cannot bring about prosperity by discouraging thrift. 
      • You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong. 
      • You cannot help the poor man by destroying the rich. 
      • You cannot further the brotherhood of man by inciting class hatred. 
      • You cannot build character and courage by taking away man's initiative and independence. 
      • You cannot help small men by tearing down big men. 
      • You cannot lift the wage earner by pulling down the wage payer. 
      • You cannot keep out of trouble by spending more than your income. 
      • You cannot establish security on borrowed money. 
      • You cannot help men permanently by doing for them what they will not do for themselves.
       Ponder and Enjoy.
    7. Friday, October 01, 2010

      At Last! More Shameless "Self"-Promotion

      (from grandteuton.blogspot.com)

    8. The new edition of my great-great-grandfather's book is available at Amazon.  This is pretty exciting.
      An Adventure With Guerrillas by Ethelbirt Crouse is the story of his encounter with Conferderate guerrillas toward the end of the Civil War.  It's quite a good read, really.

      [It's also available at my lulu store grandteuton.lulu.com]

      I've just noticed that the title at Amazon is spelled with a single "r" rather than two.  This means searching for it only works if you search for An Adventure with Guerillas - but the links I have here will work for you regardless.
    9. Tuesday, September 28, 2010

      Won't Someone Think Of The Children?!

      (from grandteuton.blogspot.com)

    10. Perhaps it's something to do with the programmes I watch, but I've seen far too many of the commercials for a "teach your infant to read" system in the past several months.  Heidi will attest that I can hardly stop myself decrying the pernicious influence this method would have, were it widely adopted.  My basic question is, "When did our writing become logographic?" (Apparently logographic is now the preferred term for the now-disparaged ideographic.)

      Memorising full words before having learned the sounds represented by the alphabet simply makes no sense.  Some writing systems (e.g. Chinese) are logographic, that is the units of writing (individual logograms) represent words or concepts [yes I know, sometimes sounds as well], while others (e.g. English) are alphabetical where the units of writing (letters) represent sounds.  In either system, its basic units are combined to represent words.
      I will grant you that our current pronunciations often don't match well with the spelling (after all, orthography was mostly set long ago, while pronunciations continued to change with little regard for how the literate folks were spelling things), but without a solid grounding in the sounds of letters and combinations of letters, every new word becomes an exercise in frustration.  I frankly can't imagine wanting to read much of anything under those terms.

      Oh, and folks who've learned to read in this sight/sound/meaning system (which reminds me of parts of the whole language system we were told to embrace some years ago) actually don't want to read much.
      Still, there is only one criterion for judging a solution to a problem these days - it must be new.  It really doesn't matter if we've moved from something that worked to something that doesn't, going back to the (dare I say correct?) method isn't to be considered.  "Don't you have any new ideas to contribute?  Can't you say anything but no?"

      Why can't they be Hooked on Phonics?  Bloody dolts are going to destroy a generation's reading abilities.
    11. Monday, September 20, 2010

      Why Limited Government?

      (from grandteuton.blogspot.com)

    12. I really think this is an important question these days, in spite of its sometimes being asked simply as a pretext for a particular answer.

      Here's my take on the question.  Basically it comes down to original sin and the total depravity of man.  This is just basic Christian doctrine that says (among many other things) that Man Cannot Be Trusted.

      That's pretty much all it takes to understand why the Constitution is set up as it is - to make sure that the federal government cannot have too much power over the States or over the People, and to make sure that each branch is answerable to the other two.  Further, the right of citizens of the United States to move from State to State was an additional protection from despotism.

      The framers had had some recent experience with individuals having relatively unlimited power, and they realised that it was not a terribly good idea.  Even if now and again there might be a monarch, dictator, ruler, leader, or whatever with whom they agreed, more often than not it would be the other way round.

      There's the saying that power corrupts, and that absolute power corrupts absolutely.  I think it works the other way as well - when a corrupt person takes power, he corrupts the power he's taken.  Given the Christian understanding of human nature, the limited nature of federal power is something for which to be grateful.
    13. Thursday, September 16, 2010

      Carnage du Jour - 11 September 2010

      (from grandteuton.blogspot.com)

      Ah ... Family Camping at Albert Sleeper State Park!

      Thanks to the hunting skills of two of our intrepid campers, we had a few nice venison roasts for our annual Saturday night feast, and nice they were indeed.

      The question then was how to prepare venison rump roasts for twenty five to thirty folks while camping (with all the comforts of home, such as electricity (that's hydro to our Canadian readers) and water - running water came from the sky, potable water from the tap down the road.

      The appliance part of the answer was an electric roaster.  The cooking part of the answer was as follows.
      A dry rub of salt, cocoa powder, and chipotle powder was applied to the roasts, and they were seared at the highest setting on that roaster (450F, I believe).  The temperature was dropped to more like 275F and they were slow roasted for a couple hours.  Part of the way through, a bit of vegetable stock and red wine were added, along with some diced onions, sliced mushrooms, and carrots, so I suppose it was more of a braise than a strict roast at that point.  A bit later, some fresh chorizo was added, making that sauce all the better with its spicy goodness.

      I had never actually cooked venison before, although I had eaten it several times, and had an idea of what flavours would match well.  Further, knowing that it was a very lean protein meant that I knew it had to be cooked slowly to avoid drying it out too much.  All in all, a very successful entrĂ©e for the crowd.

      Of course, that was far from the only dish at the feast - cheesy mashed potatoes, Greek peasant salad, bulgur and couscous salad, pasta with Alfredo sauce, jambalaya, I'd better stop before it looks like an exhaustive list, as there's no way I'll remember them all, and I don't want to offend any of the other cooks.  Suffice it to say that no one had any excuse to leave the table hungry.

      The food was tasty good, and the fellowship was excellent.

      Wednesday, September 08, 2010

      Slowly I turn ...

      (from grandteuton.blogspot.com)

      That's right, I was just at Niagara Falls, and I have something very odd to report.

      There are strange electrical phenomena there in the land of Tesla, that's for sure.

      Those of you who know me personally will be shocked - shocked, I say! - to discover that my hair was forced to stand on end by the relentless electrostatic pressure of that mighty cataract.
      (Heidi's hair was similarly affected, but clearly it's less difficult to believe - or picture - in her case.)

      Not only was our hair affected, but the batteries in our camera were drained beyond reason, and our mobile phones lost 3G connexion - and thus picture messaging functions - while near the falls.

      Clearly there is something extraordinary going on at Niagara Falls, something that neither government seems willing even to acknowledge!  Signs are plenteous along the Falls, warning of strange men climbing over the walls and fences to attack (or perhaps warning tourists not to climb over those walls, they were a bit ambiguous, really), but there were no High Voltage warning signs to be found.

      This is likely a bigger cover-up than Area 51, but with some help from others out here on the interwebs, we're hoping to blow it wide open.

      Wednesday, September 01, 2010

      Carnage du Jour - 31 August 2010

      Well, it was pork chops again, and that's always a good thing.

      This time, however, I was looking for a way to make it a bit lighter - not a lot of rice or pasta or potatoes to go with the pork.  Besides, it was too hot to do much cooking.  So ....

      A bit of onion, sweated in some olive oil.  Removed from the pan, where the chops were then cooked in that nice onion-flavoured oil.  They had been dusted with kosher salt, some beau monde, and some chipotle powder on one side.  At the turn (of the chops), some orzo was added to a pot of boiling water - it finished up shortly after the chops were removed to rest on a platter.
      But perhaps the tastiest part was when the onions went back in the pan, and cucumber slices were added to the mix.
      If you've never cooked cucumber, you ought to try it.  They didn't soften and dissolve as one might have expected (I didn't), but rather held up quite nicely, with the browning adding a nice sweetness to their flavour.  As they were finishing up, I added some chopped tomato to the pan and gave it a quick stir.  A small amount of chicken stock was added, and then in went the (well drained) orzo.

      Quite a nice dinner, and very quick and simple.