Saturday, December 27, 2008

Mr. Rodale Goes to Washington


You know that big white mansion the president lives in? The one on Pennsylvania Avenue, with the columns and the fountain and the armed guards? You own that mansion. It's yours, roughly one three hundred millionth of it anyway, and as such your taxes fund its upkeep. When it needs a new roof, you pay for it. When the presidential plumber comes to fix a plugged up toilet (Oh Karl, not again!), it's deducted from your paycheck. When the paint starts to peel, when the floors need waxing, when the furnace craps out... all of that goes on your tab. And mine. We pay for that house. We decide who gets to live in it. Seems to me, we should have a say in what goes on in the yard as well.

Daniel Bowman Simon and Casey Gustowarow have come up with what I think is a pretty good idea: Rather that pay somebody to spend hours mowing that gigantic lawn, why not pay somebody to grow organic produce on it? They're driving around the country in a biodiesel fueled school bus they've converted into what can best be described as an inverted double decker rolling garden to promote their idea. And it's not as crazy an idea as it might sound. There's already a garden on the White House roof (which, per Laura's mandate, is entirely organic). Why not bring it down to ground level where there's room to expand? The fruits and vegetables grown could be sold at the Adams Morgan Farmers' Market. Or they could end up in local school lunches. Or fuel the people who do the difficult and unenviable work of running our nation's Executive Branch. I don't care. I just want to see an organic garden on the White House lawn, so I've added my name to their petition. Roger Doiron, over at Kitchen Gardeners International, also has a petition on behalf of this idea, which he's calling "Eat the View." If you're like me and want to see less grass and more food surrounding that big white house of ours, I invite you to add your voice to these efforts.

This came to my attention by way of last Wednesday's All Things Considered. A lively debate ensued in the comments section on the article's webpage, by the way, in which supporters of organic agriculture did battle with a shill from the Ag lobby. Check it out, along with the story here. Interesting stuff.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Monday, December 22, 2008

Carol Chomsky, 1930-2008


Retired Harvard linguist Carol Chomsky, best known professionally as a leading authority on the acquisition of language in young children, and publicly as the wife of MIT Professor and foreign policy analyst Noam Chomsky, died in her home from cancer this past Friday. My condolences go out to the Chomsky family and their friends and associates (and my apologies to Mrs. Chomsky for any typos or grammatical errors that may appear in this post).

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Dirty South Trad Meets Napa Valley Edge...


A seemingly normal fried chicken leg, right? Not much to look at when it comes right down to it, but this fried chicken is different. It's not overcooked as fried chicken can often be, and is in fact possessed of an unusually soft texture and weirdly "chickeny" flavor. How? Sous vide, my friends, sous vide...

Despite what fancy pants chefs - with their immersion circulators and physics lab vacuum rigs - may tell you, sous vide is basically boil in the bag, glorified. Except that you don't boil, you cook the meat for an extended period of time at whatever temperature is desired for "doneness." It's a technique that's been common in Europe for decades, but is only recently making inroads in North America. It's easy, if time consuming. Here's how it works with chicken:

Put said chicken into a plastic bag. It's worth noting here that the bag should, if possible, be free of PVC and plasticizers. I added 2 lemon slices, 2 Tbsp of butter, a couple bay leaves, a few sprigs of thyme, some chopped onion and several cloves of garlic. Next, use a straw to suck out all of the air, then double knot the bag for an airtight seal. Place all of this into another bag and again suck air and double knot:


I used Glad oven bags, which worked fine. I would advise against Ziploc bags, though, as they're far from airtight. Once your chicken is bagged (and yes, you should probably put each piece in its own separate bag set-up), place it into a stock pot of heated water. You won't get 100% of the air out of those bags, by the way, which means they'll float. You also don't want them to make contact with the bottom of the pot. I put a ramekin in the bottom of the pot, placed a small colander on it, put the chicken in the colander, and kept it submerged with a brick, keeping the top of the bag above water:


The temperature of the water will depend on whether you're using dark or white meat. For dark, you want to keep the temperature right around 170F, while white meat needs to be kept at 145-150F. If you're using white and dark meat, well sorry, but you're gonna need separate pots. Let the chicken hang out and be sure to check on the temperature frequently. Once it's been in there for about four hours, fish it out, remove it from its bag, rinse off the lemon and aromatics and dry it as completely as possible with paper towels. Heat up a couple Tbsp of butter and oil in a saute pan until almost smoking, and place the chicken in for just long enough to brown the skin. Again, remove and pat dry. Now you're ready to dredge it:


When it comes to cooking, I'm not one to subscribe to orthodoxy. But in the case of southern food, I'm generally willing to make an exception and acquiesce to tradition, which manifested itself here in a couple of ways. First, a girl from "Hotlanta" (everything they say about girls from the south is true, btw) recently told me that real fried chicken is done bone-in (!!!) and with the skin on. Okay, I'll buy that. Second, I used a pretty conventional dredge: dip the chicken in buttermilk, then coat it with seasoned flour (3 C flour and 1 tsp each of cayenne, paprika, salt and ground pepper). Do this two or three times, knocking off any excess flour and allowing the chicken to dry on some sort of rack for about 15 minutes after each dredging:


Next, we fry. Put enough oil of your choice (I used a combination of canola and peanut) to submerge the chicken halfway into a skillet and heat to about 350F. Fry the chicken parts just until a golden crust forms, a couple minutes on each side. Keep in mind here that the chicken is already cooked. You're only forming crust and heating the chicken up:


And that's about it. So was the extra effort of going the sous vide route worth it? Probably not. This was better than fried chicken I've had in the past, but only by a matter of degree. Sous vide is really a technique best suited to those tougher cuts of beef and pork which would otherwise require a braise. Of course, the journey being the destination and all, this was definitely worth a try.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Molecular Gastronomy Chowder... Sorta.


The "kernel," if you will, for this idea came to me when I was perusing Carol Blymire's blog, Alinea at Home, in which Carol charts her way through Detroit homeboy Grant Achatz' cookbook. She recently tried her hand at Grant's liquified version of caramel popcorn, and her description of the recipe immediately struck me as an interesting base for chowder (minus the caramel foam, of course). After sifting through a few chowder recipes online, I cobbled together a pretty good formula, which I present to you now...

Ingredients:
1/2 C popcorn
5 C milk
2 C cream
1 - 1 lb. salmon fillet, skin removed and coarsely chopped
1 large leek (white part only), chopped and rinsed
1/2 celery root, diced
1 small fennel bulb (or half a large one), chopped
1 large yellow potato, peeled and diced
1/4 lb. bacon, chopped
2 bay leaves
4 or 5 sprigs of thyme
Juice of half a lemon
1 Tbsp. salt
1 tsp. fresh ground pepper
Peanut oil for frying

Heat about 2 Tbsp. of oil in a large saucepan over medium high heat, until the oil begins to ripple, and add the popcorn:


Put the lid on the pot and let the popcorn do its thing. When this slows to a few pops per minute, remove from the heat. This is what you'll end up with:


Transfer the popcorn to a stockpot, and add the milk and the cream (henceforth referred to simply as "dairy"):


Heat on high until the dairy just begins to foam, back down the heat to low, and simmer for 20 minutes. While this is happening, heat 1 Tbsp of oil in a large saute pan over medium high. Add the bacon and fry until a good amount of the fat has rendered out. Remove the bacon, let it cool, and feed it to your dog. Add the leek, celery root and fennel to the oil and rendered fat and saute until just caramelized (I have to interject here to proclaim that leek, celery root and fennel are the new holy trinity. This combination of vegetables is nothing short of amazing):


Cover the pan, and kill the heat. While the vegetables continue to cook via residual heat, parboil the potato in another saucepan for ten minutes, or until just fork tender. Meanwhile, puree the popcorn/dairy mixture in a blender or food processor, or with a stick blender, and strain out the pulp through a cheesecloth lined strainer. Add the leek, celery root and fennel, along with the bay leaves and thyme, to the strained dairy, bring just back to the boil (beginning to foam), back heat down to low and simmer for 30 minutes. Remove from heat, fish out the herbs, and puree. Bring the dairy and vegetables back to medium, and add the potato, salmon, salt, pepper and lemon juice. Cook until the salmon is done, about five to seven minutes. Plate and eat.

So, how was it, you ask... Fantastic! The popcorn lent a nice subtle roasted corn flavor, as well as a lot of body from all that starch. It didn't have the briny quality of a typical New England clam chowder, and it was HELLA thick. I liked it this way, but replacing a cup or two of the milk with clam juice or shellfish stock to begin with would thin down the consistency a bit, and bring the flavor a little closer to a traditional East Coast chowder. So play with it, and tell me how it turns out...

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Still the Best Viral Internet Phenomenon Ever!


WAY better than two girls, one... uh, never mind... Those of you who've been following this blog for any length of time will no doubt remember that I posted this Matt Harding video about six months ago. So why am I posting it again? Because I just put it up on my Facebook page, and it got such a good response that I figured it might be worth a re-post over here (a first in MacShall's history, mind you). So enjoy. And if you're anything like me, you'll find yourself watching it over, and over, and over...

Monday, December 1, 2008

Run for Your Lives! Tommy's Making Stock!!!


Continuing with the soup kick I've been on the past couple weeks, I whipped up a batch of chicken stock yesterday. I usually try and do turkey stock this time of year, but this Thanksgiving's dinner was catered, and there was no carcass to get my hands on afterward, so chicken it is (anybody here in Portland who's planning on cooking a turkey for Christmas, I'd be happy to take the carcass off your hands; feel free to e-mail me).

Stock is, of course, one of the foundations of pretty much all western cuisines, and chicken stock is arguably the most versatile. While a number of pretty good stocks, broths and bases are available commercially nowadays (even Rachel Ray™ has her own brand), you really can't beat stock made, properly, from scratch. I've made more than a few batches of chicken, turkey, and even antelope stock in the past, but I still saw fit to turn to Michael Ruhlman for some guidance, via his excellent reference The Elements of Cooking, which turned up a couple good pointers I'd missed. First, stock doesn't like to be boiled, which we all know, but it shouldn't be simmered either. Bringing it up to about 180F, well below the simmer but still hot enough to extract collagen from the bones, and keeping it there will prevent the sort of turbulence in the pot that stirs up particulate matter and clouds the stock. Second, Ruhlman suggests adding the aromatics in the last hour of cooking, which is long enough to extract their flavor but not so long that the vegetables begin to break down, which can also lead to a cloudy stock.

This whole enterprise begins, of course, with bones. For a stock with a light flavor - sometimes called a blonde stock - you can use raw bones. I like a stock with a little more character, however (otherwise I'd be hitting up Rachel Ray™ for some of hers), so I used bones from a couple of chickens I recently grilled. If you cook chicken on a regular basis, all you realy need to do is throw the bones in the freezer and make your stock once you've got six or seven pounds of them. Sure, you could make a smaller batch with fewer bones, but for the work you're putting into this, you might as well make as large a batch as you can. I had about four pounds on hand, so I got three more pounds of necks and backs, roasted them in the oven at 375F for about an hour or so, and added them to the pot. If you can find chicken feet, those work well too, as they've got a lot of collagen, which is, by the way, the most important consideration when making stock. Gelatin is produced by hydrolizing collagen, bones and connective tissue contain a ton of it, and collagen is what gives a stock the body and mouthfeel that can only otherwise be provided by fat. A word about meat is appropriate here as well: a lot of stock recipes call for bones only, and that's technically what a stock is (if this were made with meat only, then it would be considered a broth), but meat adds flavor, so if there's a little meat left on the bones, as with those necks and backs, that's fine. But enough talk, already. If you're down with making some chicken stock, here's what to do:

Ingredients:

6-7 lbs. chicken bones and meat
Enough water to cover
2 large yellow onions, diced
8 cloves of garlic, minced
5 celery stalks, diced
2 large carrots, diced
2 handfuls of parsley, leaves and stems
6 sprigs of thyme
5 bay leaves
5 cloves
1 Tbsp peppercorns

Put the bones into a large (at least 12 qt) stock pot. Cover the bones by a couple inches with cold water. It's very important that the water be cold at this point, as adding hot water to the bones right away can seal up their pores, thereby preventing collagen extraction and defeating the whole purpose of this endeavor. Slowly bring the temperature up to 180F. You'll definitely want to employ a good thermometer which you can stick on the side of the pot here:


Let the bones hang out at this temperature for about four hours, adding water as necessary to make sure none of the bones are exposed to the air. Adding water will, of course, alter the temperature. If it gets down to 170, turn the heat up a bit. If it gets up to 190, don't panic, just turn it down a bit. Every once in a while, carefully skim off the foam, fat and scum that's risen to the top. That's really about all there is to it at this point. You've got four hours to kill here, so read a book, smoke some dope, do your laundry, whatever, but if you're like me, you probably don't want to leave the house with the stove in use unless someone else is around.

After about three and a half hours, you'll want to get the aromatics ready to add to the mix. I find that caramelizing the vegetables adds a depth of flavor to the stock that you don't get when you throw them in raw. So grab a large saute pan, heat up a little butter and olive oil, and get to work (if you have a smaller saute or fry pan, do this in batches): saute the onions over medium-high heat, and once they've softened, add the celery and carrot. This combination of vegetables, incidentally, is known as a mirepoix. Continue to saute until the veggies just begin to take on a little color, then add the garlic and continue over medium heat for two or three minutes longer. Add the vegetables, along with the parsley, thyme, bay, cloves and peppercorns, to the stock:


Let this cook for about an hour, continuing to skim any residue. It's a good idea, by the way, to employ a colander to keep everything below the surface as it cooks (not just at this point, but throughout the whole process):


After the vegetables and herbs have cooked with the bones for about an hour, take the stock off the heat and remove as much solid matter as you can with some tongs or a slotted spoon. Strain the stock slowly through a strainer lined with two layers of cheesecloth into another stock pot or a couple of large saucepans. Clean out the stockpot, transfer the stock back into it, and chill in an ice water bath. Once it's cooled to below room temperature, put it in the fridge and chill it overnight.

In the morning, you'll find that a layer of chicken fat has formed on the top. This is called schmaltz. Schmaltz figures prominently into Jewish cuisine, and is very useful for frying, even for a gentile like myself, so reserve it for later use, as your grandmother might have done with bacon fat. Once the schmaltz has been skimmed, you'll probably find that the stock has taken on a rather gelatinous consistency (you'll no doubt remember that talk we had earlier about collagen). Heat the stock just to the point where it's liquid again, pour it into whatever containers you're using to store it, and freeze. I like to use ice cube trays:


These trays, which are Rubbermaid brand, have sixteen cubes apiece, each of which is exactly an eighth of a cup. Very useful for measuring purposes. If you go the cube route, remove them once frozen and store, double bagged, in Ziploc bags. And there you have it, an excellent base for soups and sauces to last you through the Winter (or part of it, anyway).

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Roasted Red Pepper and Root Vegetable Soup


This being Fall, now is the time to be busting out soups. This one is basically a combination of a couple soups I've done in the past, one about a year ago, based on a recipe for butternut squash and apple soup from The Inn at Little Washington, the other one a roasted red pepper soup I made last week.

Ingredients:

3 or 4 red bell peppers
1 large russet potato, peeled and diced
1 carrot, diced
1 parsnip, diced
Half of 1 celery root, diced
1 yellow onion, diced
4 cups chicken stock
2 cups heavy cream or half & half
Fresh thyme, tarragon and chives
1/4 tsp smoked paprika
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
Salt and pepper to taste
Butter and olive oil

We start by roasting up the peppers:


Roasting peppers is pretty easy. Pre-heat your oven to 425F, place the peppers in a baking dish or otherwise oven proof container, drizzle them with a little olive oil, and in they go. You'll want to turn them every fifteen minutes or so, until they're evenly charred on all sides. Once they're done, place them in a paper bag and seal tightly. The steam produced will loosen the charred skins and make the peppers much easier to peel. I used two peppers this time around, which ultimately didn't give the soup a very peppery flavor, so I'd suggest roasting three, if not four, of them. Once the peppers have steamed in their bag for fifteen or twenty minutes, peel off the skins, remove the seeds under cold running water and set aside. Next, spread the potato, carrot, parsnip and celery root out on a baking sheet, and drizzle with olive oil:


Roast these at 400F until they've just begun to caramelize (they'll also shrink a bit):


While the vegetables are roasting, heat 1 Tbsp each of oilve oil and butter in a large saute pan over high heat. Once the oil and butter are almost to the point of smoking, add the onion and back the heat down to medium. Saute until the onions are translucent, then transfer to a large sauce pan or stock pot, and add the chicken stock (if you don't have chicken stock on hand, low sodium chicken broth will work; Trader Joe's and Pacific brands are good choices).

Add the root vegetables, along with the peeled and seeded peppers, to the pot and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down to low, and simmer for 30 minutes. In the last five minutes, add the paprika, cayenne and herbs (I used about ten sprigs of thyme and four of tarragon, minus the stems, and an equivalent amount of chives, chopped; reserve some of the chives for garnish):


Puree this in a food processor or blender, or puree it right in the pan with a stick blender (Don't have a stick blender? Get one!). Add the cream - or half & half, if your waistline, like mine, is running away from you - along with the salt and pepper and continue to puree. Serve with some crusty bread, and enjoy!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Hey, Ann... Why the Long Face?


It would seem that the horsey, skeletal right wing bile factory (and probable Andy Kaufmann alter-ego) called Ann Coulter has had its jaw broken and wired shut... Dreams do come true, after all! No comment from either Bob Zmuda or Tony Clifton at this time...

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Mighty Vic Chesnutt at the Doug Fir


It's hard to imagine a better pairing of artist and venue than Vic Chesnutt and the Doug Fir...

First up were Portland's own Hush Records (I knew that was Podington Bear - aka Chad Crouch - I spotted at the merch booth; my friend Jenni and I had dinner with the guy and his wife once at clarklewis... very cool cat) recording artists Run On Sentence:


Run On Sentence is the project of Dustin Hamman. Dustin's a very dynamic singer, and has worked with a number of musicians in the Portland scene, most notably Nick Jaina's band. Last night he surrounded himself with the bassist you see in the photo, a drummer and two trumpeters, top-notch players, the all of them. The trumpeters also sang back up, and at one point one of them broke out a nifty little device that looked like a laptop, but once opened, turned into a mini-xylophone! Anybody know where I can get my hands on one of these? Anyway, Run On Sentence's set was an odd mixed bag. Rootsy, folksy, a little bit old-timey, they evoked artists as varied as Leon Redbone, the Violent Femmes and Neutral Milk Hotel. Sound like a weird description? Well, they're a weird band! But in a good way. The Neutral Milk Hotel comparison, incidentally, has some significance here; Neutral Milk Hotel were part of the Elephant Six collective, as were the next band up, Elf Power:


Elf Power were astounding. My only complaint with this band is that singer Andrew Rieger's voice is just a little too thin to stand up to his own guitar work, as well as the firepower around him. It's a minor complaint, though. Elf Power have moved beyond their psych-pop roots, and were quite a bit noisier last night than their name would suggest. It should also be said that they've got the best rhythm section I've seen in years. Their bassist, in particular, was just crazy good. In addition to playing their own music, Elf Power are serving as Vic Chesnutt's backing band on this tour.

So yes, on to Vic: The last time I saw Vic Chesnutt was about ten years ago, when he was opening for Wilco on their Summerteeth tour, in a relatively large auditorium in Grand Rapids, MI filled with people who clearly did not understand what they were seeing. While I was in awe, much of the rest of the crowd actually booed Vic that night, believe it or not. Now if you're not familiar with Vic Chesnutt, one thing you need to know is that he was in a horrible car accident back in 1983, in which his neck was broken and he was rendered a paraplegic. He gets around in a wheelchair, and has basically no use of his right hand, and not much use of his left hand either. He strums with a pick strapped to his right thumb, and can only barely form chords. So from a technical standpoint, Eddie Van Halen he's not. But as a songwriter, he's unbelievable. Chesnutt's writing is characterized by his ability to build narrative around metaphor, spinning seemingly innocuous pairings of words like "Independence Day" or "Sewing Machine" into tales of loss and regret so raw and honest, so powerful and enigmatic, that they won't just make you cry, they'll make your dog cry. Vic's songs would do George Jones proud. Fortunately, in a live setting he tempers this with self-effacing humor. He prefaced the song "Little Fucker" by mentioning that "it's a song about me."

Vic and Elf Power made their way through a set of songs from their recent collaborative album "Dark Developments" (Vic has a long history of collaboration, having worked over the years with REM, Victoria Williams, Widespread Panic and Lambchop), then he treated us to a bit of his solo work, including "Isadora Duncan" and the aforementioned "Independence Day" (unfortunately, no "Sewing Machine" despite my repeated shouts for it). This was a fantastic show. I hope it won't be ten years before I see him again...

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Wishing You All a Happy Corduroy Day!


We all know that it's inappropriate to wear white shoes after Labor Day, but did you know that today is the beginning of corduroy season? So just what makes today Corduroy Day, you ask? It's 11/11, of course! Read all about it at the Corduroy Appreciation Club, put on your favorite corduroy jacket, or pants, or what have you (I'm wearing a corduroy hat at the moment) and ponder some fascinating trivia about this most distinguished of casual fabrics:

Corduroy was invented in Manchester, the world's first industrial city.

The ridges on corduroy are called "wales." The size of the wales is indicated by number. The higher the number, the narrower the wales.

The word "corduroy" is supposedly derived from the french "corde du roi," which translates roughly as cloth of the king. There is some controversy surrounding this etymological theory however, among both corduroy afficianados and those who speak french.

Corduroy was the preferred fabric of actor, philanthropist and spaghetti sauce magnate Paul Newman.


Spread the word, my friends, and be parallel!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Bring On the Rain... I've Got Jambalaya!


I don't know about the rest of the country, but here in the Pacific Northwest it's November. While it hasn't started raining on a daily basis yet, the clouds are moving in and the temperature is dropping, which means it's time for soups, stews and other forms of substantial sustenance that can be made in one big ol' pot. I've decided to ring in the rainy season with a batch of jambalaya.

Now many of you not familiar with the culinary traditions of the south may assume that jambalaya is a cajun dish, but this is not the case. Cajun cuisine was developed largely in rural Louisiana by Acadian settlers (later to be known as "cajuns") from Canada, themselves descended from settlers from rural France, and is rooted in a provincial style of French cooking. Gumbo is cajun. Jambalaya, on the other hand, belongs to creole cuisine, which is more heavily influenced by classical European technique, particularly French, Spanish and Italian, and evolved in New Orleans, as well as on the surrounding plantations. Think of it this way: Jambalaya, which incorporates rice, is basically an urban Louisiana version of paella or risotto, while gumbo, typically served over rice, can be seen as a rural Louisiana version of bouillabaise. Having said all that, it's worth pointing out that these two styles of cooking grew in parallel and share a number of characteristics, not the least of which is the "holy trinity," a combination of sauteed onion, green pepper and celery. So that's where I start when I do jambalaya.

Chopping onions can be a little hard on the eyes, of course. My cousin Barry up in Seattle, who in addition to being a food genius knows a little something about beer, gave me a tip a while back that's come in pretty handy:


That's right... ski goggles! The sulphenic acids released when onions are chopped will still make their way to your eyes via your sinuses, but at least it's not a direct attack. But before I go any further, let's get to the ingredients:

1 lb smoked sausage, such as andouille or kielbasa
1 lb shrimp, peeled and deveined
3 C rice
4 C chicken stock
2 C water
1 large yellow onion, finely diced
3 stalks celery, finely diced
1 large green bell pepper, finely diced
8 cloves garlic, minced
1 28 oz can of tomatoes, diced or pureed (reserve liquid)
1 tsp cayenne pepper (more if you like it really spicy)
1 Tbsp dried thyme
5 or 6 bay leaves
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp fresh ground pepper
oil and butter for sauteeing

Behold the mise en place:



First, you'll want to brown the sausage in a large sautee pan over high heat with about a Tbsp of oil. Once it's got some color, add the shrimp and continue to cook until the shrimp has just started to turn pink. Remove these from the pan, and add about three Tbsp of oil and butter. Saute the onion over medium heat until just translucent. Add the pepper, celery and garlic, and continue to cook until all the vegetables have softened:


Now at this point, I decided to throw a roux into the mix. This is a little bit of a departure, as roux isn't typically used in making jambalaya. I like to add a little extra liquid later on and let the roux thicken things up a bit. If you go this route, melt 3 Tbsp of butter. Add 3 Tbsp of flour and whisk constantly over medium-low to medium heat. This mixture can be added to the vegetables once it's just begun to turn light brown:


Put your vegetables, and roux if you're using it, into a large stock pot or dutch oven. Add the rice, tomatoes and their liquid, stock and water, and bring to a boil. Back the heat down to low, add the cayenne, thyme, bay leaves, salt and pepper and simmer, stirring occasionally:


If you're using white rice, it shouldn't take much more than a half hour before it's cooked through. I used long grain brown rice, because it's a lot more nutritious; it took a little more than an hour. Either way, keep an eye on things, and add some water if it looks like too much of the liquid has evaporated (you want to end up with a less than soupy consistency, but you also want to keep things from drying out, which will cause the rice to burn on the bottom of the pot). Oh, and once it's done, fish out the bay leaves. You really don't want to chomp down on one of these things by mistake.

This recipe should yield just over a gallon of jambalaya; my suggestion would be to get some empty pint containers from your local deli or grocery store and freeze whatever you don't eat right away. And, of course, enjoy!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Ass-Kicker and Name-Taker in Chief...


At this point, it looks like it's pretty close to official, so let's cue George Clinton: "Somebody told me we just got Pennsylvania... Ohio...Virginia... Colorado... CAN YA HEAR ME, CC!"

Hey Ohio, welcome back to the United States of America. We've missed you! Oh, and Texas: kick and scream all you want, but you're comin' with us!

All Right, Which One of You Did This?


Those of you who know me personally, most of you anyway, are aware that I collect snow globes. This dorky hobby began about six years ago when a co-worker of mine at REI brought one back for me from the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City (as an expression of ironic humor, mind you - sadly, that globe was long ago lost in a move). Since then I've accumulated about thirty of them, with only one rule, which is that I'm not allowed to purchase the snow globes myself. They must be given to me by any of my frequently traveling friends.

This afternoon, the fine specimen from San Diego which you can see in the photo showed up in my mailbox, with no indication as to who left it. Who are you, mysterious Southern California traveler? I must know...

In unrelated news, this just in: Obama's got Pennsylvania, according to CNN and MSNBC (no word so far from 538 or NYT). This is important, people, Pennsylvania's critical. Now give us Virginia and Ohio... I think we're in for a landslide here!

Monday, November 3, 2008

When Pundits Fight, Who Loses?



As you can see from the video, a discussion on today's Democracy Now! veered into O'Reilly Factor territory, when drug legalization advocate and executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance Network Ethan Nadelmann squared off with California attorney general and former governor Jerry Brown over California ballot initiative Proposition 5. Prop 5, like our own Measure 57 here in Oregon, calls for treatment for certain drug offenders, and for that reason alone, I would vote for it, were I a Californian. Unfortunately, Nadelmann, who is clearly a smart guy (he's a recipient of both a JD and PhD from Harvard, as well as a masters in International Relations from the London School of Economics), couldn't keep his cool, and early in the debate actually attempted to shout Jerry down, employing that classic O'Reillian rhetorical device, "Shut Up!" Despite host Amy Goodman's attempts to restore some civility to the discussion, Nadelmann's demeanor didn't improve much from there.

While I agree with nearly all of Nadelmann's positions regarding drug policy, I'm terribly disappointed in his utter failure to express his ideas in anything resembling a diplomatic and rational discourse. The "war on drugs" has, of course, been a disaster, filling our prison system with non-violent offenders while denying addicts the treatment they so desperatley need (to say nothing of the state of dysfunction in our education system which creates this problem in the first place), but for Nadelmann to behave in this manner can only serve to discredit all the rest of us who demand of our leaders a sane and rational approach to drug policy. It also discredits those in the alternative media who offer a venue for these views. I can only hope that this will be the last time Goodman invites Nadelmann onto her show.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Frightened Rabbit at Holocene


I headed over to Holocene last night to catch Glasgow's Frightened Rabbit. These guys have been getting a lot of press lately, so much so that it would seem they might just be the biggest thing to come out of Scotland since Franz Ferdinand. What with Holocene being just a few blocks from my house, there was no excuse to not have a look. I got there just in time to catch the last few songs of the opening act, Portland's own Blue Skies for Black Hearts.

I'm a little behind the eight ball with regard to BSFBH, so it was good to finally catch 'em live. They served up some good intelligent indie pop... Imagine Elliott Smith shoving Elvis Costello into John Lennon's swimming pool, disrupting a water polo match between the Shins and the Kinks (if you can work out what they sound like from an analogy as messy as that, I'll be really impressed). Having only caught the last few songs of their set, I may have to keep an eye out for 'em at some point in the future. Frightened Rabbit were up next.

When I first heard FR, I picked up on a sort of forced earnestness that I found a little off-putting. Something I couldn't quite put my finger on, but it brought to mind all those britpop bands I could never devote more than five minutes to. But after a few listens to their latest, The Midnight Organ Fight (for those of you not up on your scottish slang, "midnight organ fight" is a euphamism for, shall we say, the physical expression of love), I started to warm up to 'em. And at Holocene last night, they really sold their schtick. They were clearly having fun, and didn't miss an opportunity to "take the piss" out of the crowd, as they say over there. The funniest thing about the evening, though, had to do with being the night before Halloween. There were two girls at the front of the crowd wearing homemade backpack-mounted giraffe costumes:


Imagine yourself at the back of the room, looking out over the crowd toward the band onstage, with two giraffes bobbing around up front. You can't help but laugh at that, nor could frontman Scott Hutchison, seen here working the crowd solo (sans microphone!) toward the end of the set:


For all the talk these days about Frightened Rabbit, they weren't headlining the show. That role was filled by Delaware's Spinto Band. I didn't stick around to see them, as I was operating on four hours of sleep, but Frightened Rabbit made for a worthwhile, if short, evening. Now I don't feel so bad about missing the Jesus and Mary Chain show at the Wonder a few weeks back.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Does Satan Wear a Suit and Tie?



My friend Kevin is in town this weekend on business. Kevin, whom I used to work with at REI, now works in the Denver office of Columbia Sportswear, which is headquartered right here in Portland, so he gets to come back to town a couple times a year on the company dime. This time around he added a couple days to his trip so he could round up a bunch of us to see Martin Sexton at the Aladdin Theater last night. I hadn't seen Martin before, but have long been a fan and have downloaded a few of his live shows from The Internet Archive, so I knew to expect a good performance. Martin did not let us down. Nor did his opener, fellow Massachusetts singer/songwriter Ryan Montbleau:


Ryan's got a band back in Cambridge, but is touring with Martin as a solo act. This was not a disappointment, however, as it allowed him to fully showcase his amazing guitar work. He looks all of 19, but he's clearly been playing for a while, and can sing as well (his range is pretty impressive). His sound is somewhere between David Gray and Jason Mraz, with a little Stevie Wonder breaking through in places. Great stuff. Next up was Martin:


Now that's an awfully blurry photo, I realize, and here's why that is, apart from the fact that I don't have a very fast lens: After I got the above shot of Ryan, the gestapo, I mean ushers, at the Aladdin threatened to make me erase my memory card if they caught me taking any more pictures. Apparently, it's just fine to take all the photos you want with a cell phone, but if you bring in a real camera, you're breaking some sort of WTO copyright agreement or some such... So long story short, I kept my eye on the ushers, and when they were both downstairs, and the lights were dark enough that they wouldn't see me, I snuck up to the balcony and ripped out a few illicit shots. None of which turned out very well, so if you want to know what Martin really looks like (and sounds like), check out the video at the top of the post.

If you're not familiar with Martin Sexton - and odds are you're not - all you really need to know about him is that he's just unbelievably good. He's eclectic to say the least, a little bluesey, a little jazzy, soulful and improvisational. While his recorded ouptut is great, a live setting is where he really shines, and last night was no exception. He opened with "Candy," and halfway through the song, busted out his trademark talk-box solo, which he repeated a few times through the set. In addition to his newer material, he offered up a number of crowd favorites like "Diner," "The Beast in Me," "Freedom of the Road" and "Hallelujah" (there's no way he could get out of the building without doing that one). Being a Massachusetts boy, he went into a couple of political diatribes, which some folks might find a little off-putting, but here in Portland we've come to not only expect but welcome this sort of thing. One highlight of the show was a rendition of "America the Beautiful" which was entirely appropriate given our current political scenario. He pulled it off with a perfect balance of earnestness and angry irony, a little reminiscent of Jimi Hendrix' famous version of the Star Spangled Banner.

He wrapped up with two encores, one of which was a duet with Ryan Montbleau on a song I wasn't familiar with. At any rate, fantastic show, check these guys out if they come to your town. You might also want to have a look at this funny Scrubs montage set to "Diner."

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Meet the Sextuplets!


Many of you know that from June of 2007 to June of 2008, I did some work as a volunteer with the Eastside Egg Co-op. We harvested eggs from a flock of 50 barred rock hens who lived in a coop at Zenger Farm, and sold them at the Lents farmers' market, and to Pok Pok as well. I gave up my Thursday night shift after a year, but have remained involved with the co-op on an adjunct/pinch hitter basis. The barred rocks are almost three years old now, which means that while there are still a few miles left in the girls, their egg production is dropping. So Patrick and Holly, the chief instigators in this project, ordered up fifty chicks to serve as an eventual replacement flock. And as Patrick and Holly have their hands full with Anastasia, their recently adopted newborn Seattlite, they've farmed out the raising of these birds out to us volunteers. I took a half dozen of the four day old chicks off their hands this afternoon.

These chicks are a different breed from the hens currently out at the farm; they're called black australorps. You no doubt noticed from the photo above that they're not the yellow chicks we've all seen, but rather are mostly black. Hence the name. Once they've grown up, this is what they'll look like, as contrasted with the barred rocks we've been working with for the past year or so (black australorp on the left, barred rock on the right):


They really won't look very different from what we already have, actually. They shouldn't act much different, either. Both breeds are fairly docile and are a good choice for egg production. Here are a couple more photos of the chicks:




So I suppose the question that hangs in the air is, "What's going to happen to the current hens when they're replaced?" Some of them will make their way to backyard hobbyists, while others could conceivably end up on dinner plates; if that happens, they'll make for some tasty fricasee or cacciatore to be sure. These girls have eaten well and are as free-range as they come!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Desperately Soliciting Captions!


"As the candidates took to their respective podiums, Senator McCain briefly mistook Senator Obama for Kiichi Miyazawa."

You remember Kiichi Miyazawa, he's the Japanese Prime Minister that got puked on by Bush the first... Anyway, that's my caption. Think you can do better? Great! Add your own in the comments. Now, I watched the third debate and while I can recall a number of interesting moments, I don't remember this one.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Some Good News Re: the Economy... Finally!


A couple of welcome developments after last week, which was pretty damn harrowing: Neo-Keynesian economist Paul Krugman won the Nobel prize in economics today; in other news, the Dow rallied 11% today. Coincidence? I think not!

Okay, so it was coincidence... At any rate, you can read the good news here and here. I, for one, am looking forward to seeing the Dow pass 10,000 once again in my lifetime. Funny how it took the Europeans to do what Paulson couldn't... Could it be that we have something to learn from them?

Update: Check out this very funny Onion-esque piece by Andy Borowitz!

They're Really Just Trying to Break Into the Movie Business...



The Portland Mercury and Guilty Carnivore beat me to the punch on this one, but no matter. You'll get a kick out of it, even if I am serving up the dish a bit cold... And is it me, or does that monkey bear a striking resemblance to Michael Hebb?

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Enormous Gravel at the Doug Fir


So I headed out last night to catch Giant Sand at Portland's favorite space age log cabin of rock, the Doug Fir. Jenni was down from Olympia for the weekend, so we met up with a couple of "the Johns", in this case Jon the architect and John the Irishman. Here we see the architect and Jenni:


They sorta look like they should be on that "Stuff White People Like" website, don't they? The first band to go on was Tracker:


Tracker is the recording and performing project of local producer John Askew. They had a good sound, a little rootsy, a little twangy, with just enough punch to keep things interesting. And although we couldn't be 100% sure, the Irishman and I were convinced that they had Amanda and Paul from Point Juncture, WA ("it's a band, not a town") sitting in with them. If that wasn't who they were, they sure looked like 'em. And really, how many people in Portland play the vibraphone? Next up was Calgary, Alberta's Chad VanGaalen:


VanGaalen's recorded output is best characterized by dense and unconventional instrumentation (an inveterate basement tinkerer, VanGaalen is, like Askew, a record producer), as well as a quirky style of singing which brings to mind a yodeling contest between James Mercer and Ben Bridwell, officiated by Jeff Mangum (stop me before I name-check again!). He came to Portland with just a drummer, however, and the two of them made their way through a set of enjoyable, if spare, numbers.

Last up were the evening's headliners, Giant Sand. These guys have been around since 1985. They've put out sixteen records. And somehow they've managed to stay more or less off my radar for most of that time. I'd heard jagged shards of them here and there, but like most people, I'm more familiar with Calexico, an offshoot formed by a previous GS rhythm section. Based in Tucson and anchored by singer/guitarist Howe Gelb, Giant Sand has had a fluid membership over the years, and guest musicians on GS projects read like a who's who of Americana's eccentric garde: M. Ward, Victoria Williams, Vic Chesnutt and most of the members Poi Dog Pondering have all lent their talents to the band at various points in its history. Last night's performance was delivered by the current line-up of Gelb, slide guitarist Anders Pedersen, bassist Th√łger Lund (I guess there are more Scandinavians in Tucson than one might imagine) and drummer Peter Dombernowsky. Here's a shot of Gelb in action:


Gelb keeps chickens in his backyard, by the way, so he's not wearing that feed cap purely out of irony... I was really impressed with their set, as were Jenni and the architect. Giant Sand's sound is all swirling dust and hot wind and prickly pear, uniquely evocative of their Southern Arizona surroundings. Appropriately for a man who's spent a good deal of his adult life with too much sun and too little water, Gelb's vocals provide a dry, spiny delivery for his elliptical peyote-esque lyrics, not unlike Chester the Cheetah channeling Lou Reed channeling the beat poets of 1950s North Beach, with a little Leonard Cohen thrown in for good measure (the Lou Reed comparison is not lost on Gelb, incidentally, as the band encored with "Satellite of Love"). Both he and Pedersen make heavy yet judicious use of signal processing, building then tumbling juxtapositions of sound which turn any given song from one mood to the next on the proverbial dime, all the while backed up by a rhythm section at once firmly grounded and subtly improvisational. As a songwriter, Gelb comes out of a place just a few blocks down the way from Townes Van Zandt or James McMurtry. A place a bit more mercurial and abstruse, but within the same zip code.

The Irishman took a little while to warm up to Giant Sand. I think he was a little put off by Gelb and Pedersen's reliance on their effects pedals, while I thought they were used to good... well... effect. But he eventually got behind 'em, if reluctantly. At any rate, if you get the chance to see these guys, consider them highly recommended.