Monday, November 23, 2009

Drizzly day recipe

Hello? I know it's been ages since I've posted, but I promise I'll be back to a regular schedule soon. It won't be until after the holidays, but things will pick up a bit. I've been working on a rather energy-intensive DIY project -- a baby! -- but now that I'm past the first couple of months, I'm finally able to get through the day without collapsing by 7 p.m.

This weekend, the weather was cool and drizzly, a standard Texas November. Feeling tired after working all week, and in need of something comforting for my unreasonable moodiness, I put on a pot of pinto beans when I got home from work Saturday afternoon before indulging in a nap. Nothing comforts a Texas soul like pinto beans and cornbread, and when the weather turns cool and wet, you can bet we'll be making either a pot of beans or a pot of chili. My mom talks about coming home from school to smell beans cooking, knowing it meant her mother was home for the afternoon. Mom's pinto beans are the second best, but no one makes them like Mama, her mother. Saturday, I was pleased to make the very first batch I'd proudly serve to Mama. They weren't as good as hers, or as my mom's, but they were a great step in the right direction.

Pinto beans are deceptively easy -- cover them with 2-3 inches of water, add a ham hock (or an onion and bay leaf if you're vegetarian) and cook slowly all day. Don't let the water cook out or they'll burn, and don't salt them until 20 minutes or so before they're done. I salted mine when I put the cornbread in the oven. Serve with chopped onion, jalapenos or even salsa -- or just plain with a little salt and pepper.

This cornbread was a concoction of my mom's. It's a hearty, crunchy whole grain cornbread with lots of flavor, and tastes as good for breakfast with a little butter and honey as it does the night before with dinner.

Whole wheat cornbread

1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup stone ground cournmeal
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 tsp salt
2 eggs, plus 1 egg yolk
2 tsp baking soda
1 1/4 cup milk

Pour vegetable oil into a large cast iron skillet and place in oven. Preheat oven (with pan and oil) to 400 degrees. Pour all other ingredients in a bowl and mix with fork until blended. Pour hot oil into batter and stir, then pour batter into the heated pan. Place pan in oven and cook 25-30 minutes until fully baked. Top of cornbread will be slightly brown and firm to the touch.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Dulce et decorum est

Today -- Veterans' Day, or Armistice or Remembrance Day -- is a good day to think about the horrors of war, to thank not only those who sacrificed their lives and loved ones, but those who sacrificed their innocence and happiness. If you know a veteran, thank them, especially an older veteran. Thank the World War II vets who saw such awful things, but came home to a country ready and anxious to move on. The men and women who saw and had to do things they'll never forget, but had to live as though they had. Thank the Vietnam vets for all they went through, especially when they returned home. Thank them for enduring the awful treatment from their own country's citizens, because their terrible experience taught our country it's possible to oppose a war without punishing the innocents who get sent to fight it. Our current veterans and their families are supported and taken care of, and it's because of the shame we feel over the treatment of our past soldiers.

Don't think of today as just a day to buy a cheap sofa. Instead, the Wounded Warrior Project is a great charity that provides help and support for our injured soldiers, and helping them is a way to help veterans. Find a local organization, a shelter or soup kitchen that cares for homeless vets -- and they're not just Vietnam veterans.

This poem by Wilfred Owen is the antithesis to Rupert Brooke's famous poem "The Soldier" and John McCrae's "In Flanders Fields" and one I read every November 11. Maybe one day we'll learn.

Dulce et decorum est

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks, 
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge, 
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs 
And towards our distant rest began to trudge. 
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots 
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind; 
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots 
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.
Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! –  An ecstasy of fumbling, 
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time; 
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling, 
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime . . . 
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light, 
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight, 
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams you too could pace 
Behind the wagon that we flung him in, 
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face, 
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin; 
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood 
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs, 
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud 
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues, 
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory, 
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est 
Pro patria mori.
8 October 1917 - March, 1918

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Sunday baking

In a perfect world, I'd spend Sunday baking for the week -- muffins and breakfast cookies, bread, maybe even pancakes or waffles. But of course, it's not a perfect world (and I think mine is less perfect than most when it comes to housewifery). But this morning is my favorite morning of the year -- the morning I awake to find Standard Time has given me a whole hour to do with as I please. So I donned my magic apron and pulled out an old cookbook that's just right for the kind of classic I had in mind, and mixed up a dozen blueberry muffins. These baking-powdery muffins are almost like biscuits, and with only a few mods (erm, like using a paring knife to chip lemon zest since my grater is sadly unsuited for the task), they came out perfect for a sunny, cool Sunday morning. Split one open hot from the oven, add butter and enjoy.

Blueberry muffins
from A Taste of Texas; recipe contributed by Mrs. Joseph N. Freeman of Amarillo, TX

1 3/4 cup sifted all-purpose flour (I used 1/2 white whole wheat and 1/2 white)
2 1/2 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. salt
1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp. grated lemon rind
2/3 cup milk (room temp)
1 egg, well beaten
1/4 cup fat (melted butter for me)
1 cup fresh, frozen or well-drained canned blueberries (frozen here)
2 tbs. poppy seed (didn't have any, so didn't use)
Yield: 12 medium muffins

Preaheat oven to 425. Reserve 2 tbs. of the flour to dredge blueberries. Sift together remaining flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. Add lemon rind; stir.
Add milk to beaten egg; beat together well; add melted fat; stir. Add liquid ingredients to dry ingredients. Stir just enough to mix.
Dredge blueberries in reserved flour. Stir quickly into batter. Fill well-buttered muffin pans two-thirds full.
Sprinkle tops with poppy seeds. Bake. Remove at once from muffin pans.
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