Hallow E’en

Last night we all went out to meet up with some friends and see the local New Orleans Halloween parade, “Krewe of Boo“. The parade was great and the weather was perfect! Throws included Krewe cups, magnets, bags of chips and pralines. There was a great headless horseman walking along handing out candy to children along the route and some of our favorite dancing troupes, including the Muffa-lottas and the 610 Stompers (Ordinary men, extraordinary moves!)

On the way home I bought some candy for tonight’s trick-or-treaters, although I’m not sure I will get many. Trick-or-treating seems to be on the decline in recent years. Some people seem to fear it will vanish forever – but this lull is part of a larger cycle in which the practice recedes and returns, transformed.

The origins of trick-or-treating are lost in prehistory, as is the origin of Halloween itself. However, there is a great deal of information that has been unearthed about it (in some cases, literally). The customs we follow in America today are relics from various peoples who lived in the northern part of Europe. Halloween signaled the end of the harvest season and the beginning of the colder months. Now it was time to conserve energy and stay warm and fed to survive the winter.

It also seems to be commonly believed that the mysterious other world was easily reached on this day – that one could communicate more clearly with the dead, and that fairies, goblins, and all manner of inhuman creature could come out to create mischief. People burnt giant wicker men for reasons that are not quite clear. At one time, it seems, they burned actual people.

These widely held beliefs led to some commonly held practices. Lighting bonfires is still common, both for practical reasons (lighting and warmth) as well as superstitious reasons (to keep away frightening things). Masking is an acknowledgement of the belief that the fairies and the dead are among us tonight. Scarecrows are a creepy reminder of barbaric ancient practices.

Going door to door itself comes from the larger tradition of “wassailing” – in which groups of people would drink to the health of their trees, their animals, and their crops around the time of the New Year. Wassailing became most strongly a Christmas caroling tradition that lasted through Twelfth Night, but a part of it exists as the Halloween trick-or-treat tradition as well. In the times when feudal lords reigned, underlings would go to the castle lords with their wassailing bowls and sing – the expectation was that they would be provided with wine, perhaps cake. It was a community event, and something to do to brighten up the winter months.

Sometimes things got out of hand. In later urban times, moral panics would sometimes arise about the lawlessness of wassailers; their vandalism and drunkenness. There is a certain inevitability that groups of adolescent boys will misbehave while running around unsupervised at night on a holiday – especially if they are drinking. Outraged citizens mobilized to ban wassailing, just as in the modern age there are calls to curb the behavior of older boys who take trick-or-treating too far.

November 5th – now known as Guy Fawkes Day or Bonfire Night in England – is really just another modern extension of the old Halloween celebrations. November 5 was in some regions the day on which Halloween traditions were followed. Bonfires and burning an effigy have little to do with the actual history of a terrorist several hundred years dead. One could almost feel he was an excuse to keep the old traditions going.

In America – while it was still a British colony – raucous celebrations were held in Boston on November 5th, which included putting giant effigies dressed like a Pope and the devil in carts at the North and South end of Boston, pulling them toward the center of town and having a sort of drunken mock battle with each other on the Boston Commons. This ended with the effigies being burnt. Similarly to concerns about “rowdy” wassailers, various Puritan leaders sought to stop “Pope’s Day” celebrations – however, they were unsuccessful in this until after the American Revolution.

It does seem we need a communal holiday about this time of year; for it returns despite the many attempts to ban it. If trick-or-treating as it exists now goes away, something else will take its place. What are you doing for Halloween this year?

Homemade Hummus

I’ve been making homemade hummus fairly often lately. This requires a blender – but the result is so much tastier and cheaper than store-bought hummus, and only takes a few minutes!

To make homemade hummus you will need:

1 blender (a heavy duty one is recommended); 1 can of chick-peas (if you want to stay away from canned chick peas, you can always cook them from dried – but that’s too much work for me) ; 1/2 cup water; 2 tbsp. tahini – this is the secret ingredient flavoring to hummus that you can’t do without! if you can’t find it at a local supermarket, order some online, it keeps for a very long time; 1 tbsp lemon juice; 2 tbsp oil; 1 tsp cumin; 1 tsp minced garlic; 1 tsp salt.

Drain the chick peas after opening, then add all of these ingredients into your blender one at a time. The amount of water you add will determine how thick your hummus is – but I have had weaker blenders have some difficulty mixing thick hummus. If you have a mixer and a bowl this can work in a large mixing bowl as well. Run the blender (or mixer) for about one minute and – well, this is done!

Taste the finished product. At this point, you can flavor your hummus accordingly. Some people prefer a more lemon-y hummus, or spicier, or hummus with olives, or whichever. It really is up to you. Hummus is a very versatile food! It can be eaten on pita or with artichoke hearts and olives and stuffed grape leaves, or as a side with salads or chicken or simply used as a fairly healthy chip dip.

Enjoy!

Happy New Year 5775

Rosh Hashanah began at sundown yesterday evening, coinciding closely with the beginning of fall this year and starting of the Jewish High Holy Days. Like many Jewish holidays, food is important to Rosh Hashanah, and my partner requested I make this very complicated but delicious sounding recipe for Apple Honey Challah. Definitely not Cooking 101, haha!

I am pleased to report it came out wonderfully.

challah, apple honey challah, rosh hashanah

Apple Honey Challah

Happy New Year and/or Happy autumn, everyone!

OMGWTFBBQ Sauce

I wish I had known years ago how easy it was to make a delicious, tasty barbeque sauce at home. Since I’ve learned how to do this I have sworn to never buy commercial barbeque sauce again!

This recipe takes only about 15-20 minutes to prepare.

Equipment needed: medium saucepan; a sharp knife, stirring spoon.

Ingredients: 1-2 tbsp vegetable oil; half an onion; a tbsp minced garlic or 2-3 garlic cloves; 1 cup ketchup; 3 tbsp white or apple cider vinegar; 1/2 tsp salt; 1/3 cup molasses or cane syrup; 1/3 cup brown sugar; a dash of red pepper, black pepper, chili powder or cumin.

Step one: chop the onion and the garlic cloves (if you aren’t using pre-minced garlic). Put these into the saucepan with the oil and cook them on medium heat until they are just starting to turn light brown.

Step two: add 1 cup ketchup, 3 tbsp vinegar, 1/3 cup molasses, 1/3 cup brown sugar, 1/2 tsp salt, and peppery spices until it reaches your preferred level of spiciness.

Step three: stir for a few minutes at a low to medium heat until it thickens slightly.  Do not boil.

This makes a delicious barbeque sauce sufficient for whatever recipe you need, or for a dipping sauce. I like using it on chicken.

 

Nanna Banana Bread

It’s been a long lazy summer around here, and I’ve been slow with the updates. Sorry! But the cooking has continued!

As I add more recipes I think I’m going to organize the blog into “super easy beginner cook recipes” and then slightly more difficult recipes for people who already know simple basics. The next set of recipes I’m going to start putting out are some that are intended for people who already have either mastered the essentials listed in earlier posts, or who already knew how to boil water.

Today’s recipe is banana bread. I’ve been making a lot of that lately. End of summer banana bread is a real treat, because banana bread is made best when the bananas are just past the point of too ripe to eat (for most people) and in the South Louisiana climate that happens to a bunch of bananas with alarming speed.

In honor of my favorite World of Warcraft character’s nickname, this is called “Nanna Banana bread”.

Equipment needed: one medium baking dish or loaf pan; one small mixing bowl; one large mixing bowl; one small microwave safe bowl or very small saucepan; a fork; a large stirring spoon; measuring cups and spoons; a potato masher; and your oven.

Ingredients needed: 3 overripe bananas; 1/2 cup butter; 1 cup sugar; 2 eggs; a dash of salt; 1 tsp. baking soda; 2 cups flours; a dash of cinnamon.

Step one: Using either the small bowl or the small saucepan,melt the butter in your microwave or on your stove top until it is melted but not boiling. Measure the sugar into the LARGE mixing bowl and add the butter. Stir them together until they form a creamy, lump free mixture.

Step two: Add the eggs one at a time. Mix them in vigorously until they are also blended uniformly.

Step three: In the smaller bowl, mix together 2 cups flour, the dash of cinnamon, the dash of salt, and the 1 tsp. baking soda. Stir with a fork. Slowly add this dry mixture to the large bowl, stirring it in a bit at a time to avoid lumps from forming.

Step four: peel the bananas and put them in the small bowl that held he dry mixture. Mash them very thoroughly with your potato masher.  If you don’t have one, just use the fork. Once they are a mushy paste, ass them to the rest of the batter and stir.

Optional step five: Some people like to add nuts to banana bread – I do not. However, if you do, this is the point where you add walnuts – say, half a cup to a cup – to the batter and mix them in. Another option, if you like really rich and sweet banana bread, is to add some flavored chips, like chocolate chips or white chocolate chips. There are probably other options as well that I hadn’t considered, but as long as it would taste good in banana bread this is the point at which you would add it.

Step six: Turn your oven to 250 degrees. Oil or spray the inside of your baking dish and pour your batter into it, then carefully put the dish in the oven. This will take an hour or more to cook – after an hour check on it about every ten minutes. Banana bread is done when the top is golden brown and a knife stuck in the center comes out clean. Do not overcook or it becomes rubbery. When done, remove and allow to cool before eating, and enjoy!

Quick & Hearty Rice & Beans

Here is a quick and fairly easy meal that’s a variation on dirty rice. It takes under half an hour to prepare.

Equipment needed: One large skillet; One large microwave-safe dish or saucepan; a stirring spoon; a spatula; a can opener.

Ingredients: One pound ground meat, thawed; 1-2 cans unflavored cooked beans – black, white or red; One can whole kernel corn; 2 cups minute rice; 2 cups water; salt, pepper, red pepper to taste.

Start by frying the ground meat in a large skillet until it is thoroughly cooked. While this is frying, you can save time by cooking the rice, either on the stove or in the microwave. About 2 cups of water are added to about 2 cups of rice – if you prefer more rice, you can add more water in proportion to the amount of rice added. Minute rice cooks in about 5 minutes either on the stove top or in the microwave.

When the meat and rice are both done, add the rice to the meat and stir them together until well blended. If the mix seems a bit dry (possible if you are using a low-fat ground meat), add a small amount of water or oil to keep it from sticking. Mix in a small amount of pepper, red pepper, and salt to keep the rice from being too bland.

Open your canned beans and corn and mix these in – turn off the heat. If the dish is not spicy enough, you could add hot sauce to give it more of a southwestern feel, or simply add more pepper or even garlic. Otherwise, this is done already! Serves 2-4, depending on how hungry they are.

Variations: canned tomatoes or tomato sauce will add an interesting tang to this recipe, as do mushrooms.

The Easiest Shepherd’s Pie-like Dish You’ll Ever Make

I went to a restaurant once and ordered the shpherd’s pie. What I got back from the kitchen was something unlike anything I’d ever seen before described as “Shepherd’s Pie”. I was given to understand the dish I ate was closer to the “authentic”, original British or Irish dish. If you are looking for a dish like that, this isn’t going to be it. If you are looking for a filling, super quick supper to make for several people (or just for yourself, with a few days worth of leftovers), this is more appropriate.

I don’t know how the idea of the lamb stew-like meal I ate in the restaurant turned into the casserole I grew up eating. I suspect the factors of separation from the motherland combined with cooking in isolation and poverty caused the drift in the recipe, just as language slowly drifts from a mother tongue. At an rate, here is Raven’s Stars super Easy Shepherd’s Pie recipe:

Equipment you will need: large casserole dish; large skillet; large saucepan; large serving spoon, spatula; and can opener.

Food ingredients: A large box of potato flakes; STICK butter (not spread from a container) or vegetable oil; milk; salt; 1 pound ground hamburger or turkey; 2 15-16 oz. cans of vegetables of your choice from the following list: corn; peas; peas and carrots; carrots; mixed vegetables; peas and onions; and a bag of shredded cheese or a package of sliced cheese.

First you will need to thoroughly cook the meat in the frying pan. How the ground meat cooks depends on several factors. If it is thawed, it is usually best to thaw it first. Frozen ground meat can be slowly cooked in a pan, but this is a painstaking and difficult process which usually ends up with some of the meat being dried and burnt unless you are very patient and careful. Most microwaves have a defrost option. If the meat is already thawed, great! Put it in the pan and begin frying at about half heat, breaking it up into many small pieces to assure that it cooks evenly. You can, if you want, at this time add flavoring like a bit of onion or garlic to the meat, but it will be fine either way. If the meat has a very low fat content, cook it at a low temperature to be sure it doesn’t burn, and add a little water to the pan or some non-stick cooking spray before you start.

Once the meat is done, remove it from heat and mix your mashed potatoes according to the instructions on the box. You want 4-5 cups of water and the corresponding amount of water, milk, butter, and flakes to go with it. Some mashed potato mixes have these already mixed in and only require that you add water – those are fine too, in which case butter, milk and salt will not be needed in this recipe.

Open the two cans of vegetables and drain them.

In your large casserole dish now layer: a thin layer of potato mix on the bottom; the cooked meat on top of that; the vegetables on top of the meat; and the rest of the potatoes on top. Finish by sprinkling or layering the top liberally with cheese.

Put this in the oven at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes, or until the cheese is bubbly hot.

Remove carefully and serve with a large serving spoon. Enjoy!

Super Easy Chicken-Corn-Egg Drop Soup

I haven’t posted a recipe for a while, and for this I apologize. But today you get to learn the easiest way ever to make a huge pot of delicious soup!

Chicken corn soup is an Amish, or Pennsylvania Dutch dish, that I grew up eating whenever I would spend time up north with my grandmother. One side of my family has roots not far from Lancaster county, which today is one of the biggest centers of the remaining Amish population in America.

Egg drop soup, on the other hand, is a recipe originating from China. Chinese immigrants, like other American immigrants, brought their traditional foods here and they became Americanized over time. Chinese restaurant food is nothing like the food most people eat in China, I am given to understand – but I have never been to China.

At any rate, both chicken corn soup and egg drop soup require a chicken broth base, which is where I got the idea of combining them. The ingredients you will need for this taste sensation are:

Equipment:  1 large pot, 1 stirring spoon, 1 soup ladle, 1 smaller bowl, 1 large fork

Food ingredients: 10-12 cups water; 3-4 chicken bouillon cubes (check the brand’s directions for proper proportions – some brands are stronger than others); 1 12 oz can pre-cooked chicken; 1 can yellow corn (whole or creamed); 4 large eggs; dried onion powder or minced onion (optional)

Measure out the water into a large pot and put it on the stove to boil. While the water is heating, open up the bouillon cubes. Crush them as much as possible into the small bowl with a fork, then put them into the water. Don’t worry if they won’t crush at all – as the water gets hot and boils, they will mostly separate of their won accord. Crushing them just hastens the process.

Add a half teaspoon to teaspoon of onion flavoring at this time. This is optional – you can also substitute garlic, black pepper, or red pepper depending on what types of flavoring you like or what you have available. The great thing about chicken is that it’s so versatile!

While waiting for the water to boil is a great time to open the other cans you have waiting. Drain the extra water from the chicken. Only drain the water from the corn if you are not using creamed corn. Crack all four eggs into the bowl and stir them vigorously with a fork until they are a smooth, yellow mixture.

Once the water is boiling, stir carefully to be sure all the bouillon cubes have dissolved. Taste a tiny amount of the broth, letting it cool first, to see if the flavor is right. If it seems too bland, you may want to consider adding another cube. If it is way too salty, add more water, one cup at a time. Once your soup base tastes like a basic chicken broth, you are ready for the next step.

Add the canned chicken and the corn to the soup base and stir them in, allowing the water to return to a boil. Once it does, pick up your bowl of egg mixture with one hand and stir the soul slowly with the other. Very, very slowly, pour the egg mixture into the boiling soup base while you are stirring. Make sure to break up the stream of liquid egg as soon as it touches the boiling soup mixture – this will break it up into the long strands of eggs that are characteristic of egg drop soup, rather than congealing in one big lump of poached egg right in the middle.

When you are finished pouring the eggs in, the soup is done (although very hot). Turn off the heat immediately and allow the soup to cool.

Enjoy with crackers or bread!

The Politics of Food

In an earlier post, when I discussed the type of cooking recipes I would and would not be offering, I declined to offer recipes that rely on vegan, vegetarian, low-fat, gluten free, or other popular options so frequently found on cooking blogs or recipe websites. While I haven’t wanted to make this a political blog, it’s difficult to honestly talk about food choices while ignoring the politics beneath them.

Most popular recipe blogs – like most of the internet – seem aimed at middle class to upper class white Americans. It is assumed that those reading have the time, money, and resources available to purchase expensive ingredients and cooking tools; to drive to a full service grocery or supermarket and pick up high quality ingredients; and to plan meals hours, if not days, in advance. To do anything less is seen as a moral failing and a lack of discipline. Most of the people writing for such blogs have difficulty truly imagining a lifestyle in which there could be any other reason for not obtaining the best possible quality of food.

America, as a nation, has deeply failed to have any meaningful discussion regarding class issues. What little discussion we have is quickly shunted into a soundbite style war or relegated into a different type of struggle. The poverty of many people of color, for example, is blamed almost entirely on racism by those who work for social justice. Meanwhile, the poverty of white people is nearly ignored – considered due to their own laziness or intransigence. Worse, it is co-opted by middle class white Americans who imagine themselves to be poor, like the angry Occupy protesters who were really just college graduates temporarily down on their luck. The face of American poverty doesn’t look like an Occupy camp. People suffering from real poverty weren’t at Occupy. They couldn’t even afford to get there. They were working two jobs to try to keep their bills paid.

But how is this relevant to food?

For better or worse, America is no longer a land that has one strongly unified religious core. While most people are nominally Christian or at least believers in some version of monotheism, few agree on that version and many are not devout. Despite the near absence of any religious consensus, Americans strongly believe in the cult of self-improvement. But now, instead of trying to do better in the areas of sin and morality, we have transferred our efforts to attaining the perfect diet.

It seems impossible to go even a day without hearing someone refer to some type of food as “forbidden” or “sinful” in ways that were once reserved for sex. Overeating is the new sin, and being fat is the glaring sign of one’s ongoing state of apostasy. That many Americans are fat seems to brook no mercy from those thin evangelists who would preach the new gospel of self-abnegation through denial of food – in fact, the bulging waistlines of Americans is proof of our approaching judgement day. Fitness mavens, like heralds of an oncoming fat apocalypse, warn us of approaching doom if we do not all repent through dieting today.

There is a strong link between the foods declared most healthy and their corresponding cost. Pasta, flour, white bread, white rice, higher fat meats, sugary snacks, canned vegetables and many processed foods are made readily available at high volumes and a low cost. Those who buy them are shamed for their poor food choices and assumed to care little for their health. Those making such judgements over other people’s shopping carts seem unable to either truly grasp the economic situations involved in such decisions or to mind their own business.

The poor do now what the poor have always done – make the best economic choices available to them regarding food; use food as a bonding ritual and a tool for comfort in a world that offers them few other comforts; and focus on taste and variety rather than food snobbery in making their food choices. The poor have always traditionally used all food sources available to them, because they haven’t had the option to be picky. Soul food, Appalachian cooking, Southern country style cooking, Mexican food are all traditional North American and Central American forms of food that are based on using the ingredients that were available to populations with limited resources and mobility. These recipes were created by resourceful people during hard times, and thus were based on including whatever food sources were locally available or easily grown. Face the facts – excluding entire groups of food from your diet makes you a privileged and picky eater, not someone who is improving your health.

Despite many popular notions as veganism, gluten-free diets, paleo diets, organic diets, and other diets based on excluding entire food groups or even entire groups of macro nutrients; few overall health benefits have been shown to result from adhering to any of these long term. Most people who believe they have gluten sensitivity are, in fact, hypochondriacs. Paleo came in 32nd out of 32 popular diets ranked by doctors. Organic food is a scam, more expensive and with little to no improved health benefits. And over half of all vegetarian women are just trying to disguise an eating disorder. None of this is particularly healthy.

Why do middle class and upper class people who make all the right food choices live longer? Because they are wealthy. “…socioeconomic status is a fundamental cause of health.” In other words, a poor person can try to mimic a richer person’s lifestyle – but they are still likely to die younger simply because they are poor.

Trying to shame poorer people for the food choices they make when that is all they can afford is a shameful hobby I see upper class people engaging in time and time again – even those who consider themselves “liberal”. I have no real hope that any of them will stop, as every time I point out their shameful behavior, they attempt to rationalize it away. However, knowing that they will not listen is no reason for me to stop talking about it.

If you think people should eat better food, work for a more just society. If you aren’t willing to do that, mind your own business.

Warlords of Draenor Beta Test So Far

Right now the beta is in its very early stages – when I started, it was still in alpha, actually – and initially they have the level cap at 92. Because of this, I haven’t seen a lot of the new world yet. The “new world” is, of course, actually old Draenor. I’ve been to the area around the Dark Portal (which is jungle) and then was transported to the earlier version of Blade’s Edge Mountains, which are covered in snow.

Mainly right now I’ve been working on the new garrison quests, which is one of the first areas you are sent to after doing the initial quest line. The garrison has been rather buggy so far but they are working out the details as we go along. As it is a work in progress, I’m not sure what I can say about it that will still be true when it all goes live, but for now it basically seems to work like this: you build your garrison, which is a small town; you then quest around the area, doing favors for NPCs across the zone, and they then join you as “followers”; you go back to your garrison, and can send those followers out to do “quests” for you that earn you a small amount of XP and some other resources.

Also your garrison earns “resources”, to the tune of 1 per minute. I think that’s only while you are logged into the game. This is a throwback to Warcraft 3. The resources are used to add buildings to your garrison.

The look and feel of the game are subtly different. Instead of loot sparkles, objects subtly glow as a way of indicating that you should interact with them. NPCs also have a glow around them when you mouse over them. This can be toggled on or off in the system menu. I found this to be the most difficult mental adjustment initially, but soon I grew to enjoy the new look.

Playing a protection pally seems to be functionally the same so far. Avenger’s wrath has been removed for protection spec as part of the ever increasing move toward simplifying game play. I am not a hardcore raider, but at ilevel 504, I’ve had no trouble tearing through the first two levels of mobs, only dying due to lag, or falling from cliffs.

Professions – at least for now – are not being learned directly from a trainer, but via the method of lucky drops from NPCs. After killing about 50 mobs during questing, I received a scroll that allowed me to learn mining to level 700. The same happened with fishing. But I do not yet know how to smelt the ore I have been mining. I suspect this comes with further garrison building.

My favorite part of the expansion so far is a funny little addition to the game called the “toybox”. It’s an extra bag of sorts, like the one for pets and mounts, that allows you to keep all those neat little items you get from things like archaeology and a few other places – you know, the ones that do neat things like change you into a wisp, or the romantic picnic basket from the Love is in the Air event. Now you don’t need to throw them away to save bag space – learn them and you have them available in your toy box.

Sometimes, it’s the little things.