Monday, February 28, 2005

Step by step

Dr. Oliver Sacks has written about psychological conditions for years, stressing the fact that having a condition doesn't make you unaware of other conditions, it just means that you can't see the forest for the trees. To wit: compulsive hand washers and compulsive counters. Put them in the same waiting room, and eventually one of them will wander over to the doctor and say "Doc, I don't want to complain, but half the people in here are wackadoos. The guy over there has washed his hands one two three four five six seven eight times..."

My obsessiveness comes out in supermarkets. I will spend $6.50 on lunch at a food court without a thought. But I will linger over bags of Unico rice and No-Name rice questioning the $.20 difference and considering the difference in quality between bags of long-grain (not parboiled) rice. I will walk 3 blocks further to get red peppers at $2.99 a pound (which is still outrageous) instead of $3.99 a pound, saving a total of $.47 on the 1 pepper I need for a stir fry.

Sunday's adventure at a No-Frills in North York, under the impression that I can stuff my freezers with healthy, economical food, and if I make 3 or 4 dishes I won't die of monotony. A bolognese w/extra peppers, a potato + leek soup w/bacon and spinach, a Hungarian Goulash w/extra peppers and dumplings. Or spetzle, or whatever they're called depending on which side of Europe you ever ate your Goulash.

Peppers are a priority. Anti-carcinogen, and why not stack the deck?

The place is a zoo, not unusual. I could drive 4 blocks west and probably spend an additional $10.00 for the same groceries without the abuse but it wouldn't feel as earned, somehow. And you get weird specials at No-Frills. 3 months worth of dry pasta for $5.00 on one occasion. Enough paper towels to wallpaper an apartment for $3.50. This is how the mental process works:

Meat- stewing beef or flank steak? Read the prices, consider the texture, level of fat and flavour, and price. Why am I paying extra for somebody else to cut flank steak or chuck into cubes and call it stewing beef? I buy 2 good sized flanks, I'll marinade them in wine and a little tobasco before cutting small for the goulash.

Beef and pork. After years of craving the Bolognese I found in Italian restaurants, I figured out that they tend to use veal or pork along with ground beef. Both are found easily in the meat section.

Frozen Gyoza- one of the only pre-made foods I'll eat, since I can read the ingredients (which are not full of chemicals or MSG) and because I don't have the patience to make my own. Two packages, $1.99 apiece, to be fried with green onion and soy and carrot some evening, some rice, a bowl of miso.

Tomatoes- a controlled substance, apparently. Only ground tomatoes available in cans. That's fine, it makes for a thick red sauce, but are unsuitable for goulash. Two cans, will use the tomato juice in my freezer (saved from when I only need tomatoes for a dish) to cut the consistency. Back to the veggie section for fresh plum tomatoes for the goulash. The Bolognese doesn't get fresh because the meat overwhelms the tomato- veggie based red sauces get fresh tomatoes because they become the main attraction.

Now, the real reason for No-Frills, cheap veggies and a shorter trip than hitting Kensington Market. Leeks, fat and bunched into 3's fr $.99 ($2.99 uptown). Peppers, $.99 for green, $1.99 for red and orange. Half a dozen peppers into the basket. Fat cooking onions and potatoes (baking, which for some reason make the best potato leek soup). Parsley and lemons and limes, citric acid, fight off the dreaded flu for a few days more. A quick run for Cranberry and Grapefruit juice, not from concentrate (probably irrational, but seems to taste better) and whole wheat rolls. I get out for under $50.00 and will eat like a king for a week or so.

Who cares? Nobody, other than those who like to cook who probably have their own rhythym. A weird comfort in grocery stores, kind of equal footing across the economic and social strata. Everyone's gotta eat.

I can't still set foot in a Dominon at Yonge and Sheppard, although the coffee beans are good and cheap and the produce is Turkey heavy (which I love) and well priced. I wandered that particular grocery with my mother as my father lay dying, offering to make them anything in large batches that could be frozen, maybe a nutritious chicken soup, clear, not too rich, but something. Or my mother looking at frozen cream puffs, wanting to buy them because they were small and fatty and maybe he'd gain some wait "They're little. Maybe he could just eat one. It wouldn't feel like so much..."

Carpe groceries. To be fair, I have set foot in the place since, but not alone, only with my mother or my wife for some much needed provisions. But my skin crawled and I won't go in again alone until I can just see it as a grocery store for corn's sake, not a haven of 2002. But there are ties created, even with something as simple as food. My clear chicken soup with lots of carrots (beta carotine) and chili flakes and onion and parsley might have been tasty but would not have prevented or cured my father's Cancer. The rational brain knows that. The irrational brain still makes batches with something in mind, with a restraint. No garlic, it nauseates people on Chemotherapy. Lots of carrot- fibre, nutriton. White meat, dark would be too fatty, nausea again. Lemon- citric acid, cut the richness of the chicken. And rice, a little, some bulk. Canned or instant chicken soup is just as good in nutritional basis. But if I made soup it would be something, maybe something to help.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Veritas in Terra.

February 21, 2005

Statement released by Hunter S. Thompson's wife, Anita, and son, Juan, to the Aspen Daily News:

"On Feb. 20, Dr. Hunter S. Thompson took his life with a gunshot to the head at his fortified compound in Woody Creek, Colorado. The family will provide more information about memorial service and media contacts shortly. Hunter prized his privacy and we ask that his friends and admirers respect that privacy as well as that of his family. He stomped terra."

Wednesday, February 16, 2005


For reasons that are both too varied and banal to recount, I felt a sudden great need to be domestic. Fill the freezer with nutritious food. Flashing back to my mother's time planning menus for a soup kitchen affiliated with her church- most food value in terms of nutrition, least amount of cash outlaid.

Started with a simple soup-

1 cup dried chick peas, white beans, brown lentils.

Start with dried, but canned would work. Dried seem to taste better, even after the soup has been frozen and thawed- something to do with the bite. Leave the damn things to soak overnight or stick them in a pot and bring to a boil for 10 minutes, then let simmer for an hour or so until they're soft enough to fit in a soup.

Scour the freezer. Find around 2 cups of tomato juice salvaged from cans of plum tomatoes (the red sauce I make is too watery with the juice from a can, so I drain the tomatoes and save the juice, just in case...). Take it out and put it aside.

Chop up some fat carrots. 2 of those big ones found in the frightening mutant veggie section of your local dealer should do fine. 4 or 5 of regular sized, if not.

No celery. As fine a veggie as it is, this soup does not require such things.

Zucchini. 2 good sized, cut thin and diced small.

2 large cooking onions cut however you please.

Garlic? Of course. 5 cloves. Or 6. Or 7. Use a garlic press if you want (and use it unrepentantly, Anthony Bordain be damned), or just dice it.

Parsley. A whole bunch. Yes, a WHOLE bunch. And 3 peppers. Your choice, but 2 red and one orange or green is a damn fine thing. And of course, one bunch of green onion, or 3 or 4 shallots.

Dry sausage- think of a length of dry pepperoini, or 2 lengths of pepperocini, or Calabrese if it's dry, dry Portuguese chorizo would do just fine as well. A good sized hunk, but the trick is to dice, dice, oh, and dice.

So- here's what you do. Take the diced sausage and toss it into a large pot. Enough olive oil to make it look good as well, and warm until the dry sausage looks warm and soft. Then toss in the onion and garlic. Fragrent, no? A little black pepper would'nt hurt anything, or dried pepper flakes. Got some large red pepper pods from asian cooking? Toss 'em in, just remember to fish them OUT at some point.

Once the garlic and onion look soft, add the carrot. Cook for around 5 minutes so that the oil and flavour has worked its way in. Then the zucchini. This is going to look like a crowded pot, even without the beans and water. Not a problem.

Now, add the cooked beans. A little more oil, just enough to make it all seem slippery. Cook for 5 mins or so. Hazard a taste- it should be flavourful. Needs salt? Add some.

Now the water. 10 or 12 cups, but play it by ear. Enough so that it looks as thick as you want it, remember that the veggies are going to give off a fair amount of liquid. And that tomato juice- drop it in.

Looking like soup? Leave it alone. An hour and a half is good. 2hrs is better.

Got all that? Taste. If it needs something, add it. Too thick with veggies? Add more water or tomato juice if there is any handy. Too watery? Not my problem, you should have been more careful. But let it cook a bit longer, steam off some liquid.

At the last minute, add all the chopped parsley, and a bunch of choppped green onion. The result should be a flavourful broth, you'll be aware of the chopped sausage even though there is, compared to the other ingredients, very little meat. The last minute onion and parsley should make it taste fresh. Lots of protien in the beans as well, and minerals from the veggies. All in all, good for you.

Freeze the leftovers. Toss in a pan when hungry. Cheap and good for you. Want wine? Make it red. Or white. Or steal some, because stolen wine is the most savory.

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