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I’ve not cooked okra before. Mind! I grew up in the Midwest ; okra was as alien and exotic as baba ganoosh and just as unavailable. I don’t think I ever heard of okra until my college days. Happily I slowly discovered the haute cuisine of the cajuns and afterwards other lovely flavors of the U.S. South. This summer when I visited Charleston and Savannah I enjoyed several fine dishes, many with okra in them.

An entry on okra is a hazardous endeavor; I feel like a Polynesian writing about icebergs. I don’t know nothing about okra other than it seems never to be served by itself but as an ingredient in other dishes.  However The Board of Directors Here at Spo-Reflections gave it the OK.*
Last August while in I was in Charleston waiting for the boat to take me to Fort Sumpter I tarried a little in the souvenir shop. It had several recipe books promising to capture the urtext of Southern cuisine. I came across a recipe called “Limping Susan”. It met the criteria of authenticity, easy to make – and it had okra.

Yesterday I finally got around to making the dish. I was thwarted by needing to actually purchase some okra. This is not as easy as it sounds as the local Arizona supermarkets are rich in peppers but not in okra. A few places didn’t have any and a few places ‘had never heard of it’.  I finally got some though, happy joy.

Okra pods have a slimy feeling to them. Perhaps I got some bad ones. I gave them a good wash and hoped for the best.

This dish is “Limping Susan”. It is a simple recipe consisting of frying chopped bacon strips with sliced okra. Next you add chicken broth and rice and some cajun spices and cook the concoction for twenty minutes. It is simple, tasty, and quick – like my men. Or my southern men, if I had any.

Susan turned out well, which was a surprise as I do not cook rice well. I was pleased this okra dish seemed ‘legit’; I thought of my August adventure and I felt quite ‘southern’. Almost. The local humidity is high of 10% so I know I am not in Savannah !

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*They didn’t know what okra was. There are invariably suspicious of any vegetable. However an entry on okra was judged better than another post of ‘Walking the dog”. 

ANNOUNCEMENT: I will be getting out my wicked pack of cards on All Hallow”s eve and do a reading.  Spo-fans interested in a read about the ‘upcoming year’ : please leave a yes-please say-so in the comments. I will do them on 31 October. 

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Cookbook

I am near completion of making one of those ‘do-it-yourself’ cookbooks on line, where you enter recipes, divide them into chapters, add a few photos, and hey, presto! you have your own cookbook. Mine doesn’t have any original recipes; it is a gallimaufry  of favorites which are scattered throughout dozens of my cookbooks. I will have them all condensed into one tome, my own Sybillane Book of Spo-recipes. As the project nears completion, I step back from the contents and reflect went into it. It is curious to see how these chosen recipes mirror my being.

The majority of  these recipes are not ‘gourmet” but simple Midwest concoctions (think casseroles and busy day hot dishes) the matrons of the family made to feed as many as possible within a budget. These are the ‘comfort’ dishes; they remind me of Aunt This and Grandmother That.

The chapter on cocktails is rather extensive oh dear. In contrast to the intrepid eats these recipes reflect my zeal to try things new and adventuresome. Of no surprise to me most of these libations have exotic ingredients and they are quite colorful to reflect my fondness for such. After all there are few edibles in life that are bright blue.

There are many recipes for dressings, rubs, and sauces.  There are six recipes just for BBQ. As a boy I hoped to find or make a bona-fide book of magic full mysterious ingredients for potions and fairy dust. Culinary magic is as close as I have come.

There aren’t too many recipes for sweets and such, which correlate to my panache for starches rather. There are several recipes for bread for the intrepid bread machine, my adult version of an easy-bake oven.

Fascinating! In among the time-honored old favorites is one recipe I have never made. It is from the first cookbook I ever had: “Betty Crocker’s Boys and Girls Cookbook” . It is for a topping for ice cream. I’ve been meaning to make this now for over forty years. It’s been carried along on index cards and preliminary cookbooks etc. and I haven’t the heart to abandon it now. Perhaps if I include it in The Cookbook of Spo-eats I might finally make it. The recipe reminds me there is more to cooking than the familiar.

Red Devil Sundae Topping

8 ounce can of crushed pineapple, drained

2 T light corn syrup

1 T red cinnamon candies.

Directions:

Simmer the ingredients over medium heat in a sauce pan, stirring occasionally until the candies have dissolved. Remove from heat and let cool; chill in the refrigerator. This makes about a cup of sauce.

Spo-fans know Urs Truly is working on a cookbook. The tome is not exquisite nor original but pragmatic. It is to be a collection of my favorite recipes, which are presently scattered throughout a my cookbook collection. Some examples: Mother’s gingerbread is located in her church’s women’s cookbook. When Someone makes a pot pie, that recipe is in a  Betty Crocker cookbook. James Beard American cooking Cookbook has my recipe for Jam cake. You get the gist.  It would be nice to have them all in one book for easy reference.

Every year since I was a little boy Mother’s side gathers on the same summer weekend for a family reunion. Everyone brings food of course, and someone always makes a layer salad. This same dish, timeless and unaltered, has graced the buffet table for over 50 years. I want that recipe in my book, although I have never made it myself. “To the research” as my colleague says.

I soon became overwhelmed by the myriad of variations of this recipe. There are 5, 7, and even 9 layer versions. Throw in the recipes titled ‘Layered salad’ and there are enough to make one every night for years without a repeat. Oh the pain. Which one was is closest to the one in my memory? I’ve had it many times but never stopped to consider the ingredients.  Stinko.

Then I came to my senses. Nearly all my Facebook ‘friends’ are relations, so I posted the question which relation on Mother’s side makes this or who has the recipe.[1] It finally got around my mother’s cousin’s wife, Aunt Gail who is the maker of the dish. [2] She sent me the recipe, which I duplicated without editing :

Layered Salad:

1 head chopped lettuce 

3-4 stalks of celery finely chopped

2-3 carrots finely chopped

1 can drained sliced water chestnuts
1 small onion finely chopped
1 small bag frozen peas
(layer these items in pan, then spread top with mixture)
2 cups mayo
2 Tbs. sugar
(cover and let set in refrig. overnight…then add)
3-4 large tomatoes sliced thin
4-5 boiled eggs sliced thin
1 jar bacon bits
shake on Parmesan Cheese

This lovely dish captures the urtext of Midwestern cuisine. I plan to make it as soon as I am off my diet and I plan to eat it all myself. [3]

Meanwhile, other female relations on both side of my family tree sent me their versions of this mercurial entree.  Cousin/Aunt Joy sent me this one:

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What I adore most about this is the nostalgia of the typewrite on an index card, which is stained no doubt from use. I particularly find charming it the dropped letters.  The typist got to the end, made a typewriter boo-boo, and decided it was good enough and not worth typing the card over again.  The typist (probably her mother, my father’s cousin) had to compact the directions for the sake of space, hoping one would intuit the directions. I plan on making this one too; I am curious to see which better floats my boat, as it were. I suspect both will be enjoyable. [4] After all, there is nothing as comforting as food with family history as its main ingredient. It may not be haute cuisine but it made with love. [5]

Spo fans who have fabulous layer salads (7 or otherwise) are invited to share their recipe in the comment section.  I would be blithe to have them. 

 

layered salad

 

[1] A clever-dick Spo-fan from Canada, noticed for his good looks and wit, left the comment in his house 7-layer salad is called lasagna.

[2] I knew this but I had forgotten. Mother keeps in touch with all her cousins of which she has plenty. I used to know them all but now I get them confused. Just hate that.

[3] I will have to eat it all myself for Someone is highly adverse to mayonnaise and I don’t think using sour cream or yogurt will do the dish justice.

[4] I am already conjuring up my own Urspo-layer salad, using the best bits of each and with possible add-ons and higher quality ingredients – no rubbish.

[5] And maybe made with a slightly altered version that has a secret ingredient one keeps to oneself so the others can never make  it quite as good as you. 🙂

I seem to be in a dry period. Nothing important or entertaining leaps to mind at the moment. It’s Sunday and while there is work to be done none of it feels pressing. I sit here at the office computer with nothing to write upon. It is usually about now in mindless typing when a quiet theophany enters my mind and lo! Off and running I go to compose an amazing entry full of laughs and insights.

No such luck.

Perhaps my allergies have something to do with it. It’s been a horrid week for such. I don’t know what is worse: the allergy symptoms or the medications for them. I am choosing the latter. I feel both sleepy and restless from the antihistamine/decongestants but at least I am not sneezing. Allergy sneezes are noteworthy for their hurricane-like velocities. I could blow away small children with them. Being zapped by Zyrtec is important later on for I plan to sit outdoors to and try to sit still and read, if possible.

Speaking of reading, does anyone know 20th century Spanish history? I just finished a read on my kindle. After I concluded  the horrific but fascinating chapter on Franco and the Spanish civil wars, I turned the page only to find the book was done. What? Somehow that mess evolved into the happy land I see in Mitchell is Moving and I want to know how it happened. I feel cheated.  That’s the trouble with Kindle-books: it is hard to see the end of a book sneak up on you.

Between now and evening with its outside reading with its pomegranate julep* I hope to work on some shirts, read blogs, advance my cookbook, and edit a few more blog entries. Night will be here before I know it. There is nothing like indolent past times to make time go quick as boiled asparagus.   I hope Spo-fans have a pleasant enough Sunday.  Come back tomorrow when I have something more substantial, why don’t you.

 

 

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*Pomegranate julep

Bulleit Bourbon (or any good bourbon no rubbish)

Luxardo Maraschino Cherry Liqueur

Pomegranate Molasses or juice

Vernors Ginger Ale.

Using an iced shaker shaped like a penguin add ~ equal parts bourbon and Vernors. Add a few tablespoons of pomegranate juice. Add a swig of the cherry liqueur.  Serve either on the rocks, or in a chilled martini glass. Experiment with the ingredient ratios until you find what suits your people.  Garnish with a Benadryl or Allegra tablet. Enjoy.

The Lovely Neighbor is getting rid of all her things in preparation for her house sale and a move to Virginia. I am sad to see her go. When her mother Merle died last month I knew TLN would not stay alone in that big house when all her kin are back east. If she had her way she would give us her entire household.  “Take something, anything!” she said today as I visited her to see how she was doing.  I told her what I really wanted was a recipe. Merle made an oyster dip which she served at every party and dinner. That is what I wished to take to remember her.

Whenever someone dies or goes away for good I want a souvenir of them. This is never something large or precious, nor is it merely a photograph. What I want is a recipe. Food is my means to recall someone I love and miss. Friends and family get associated with a dish or cookie or even a cocktail. One bite or sip brings them back to me.

I learned today The Lovely Neighbor’s late mother’s recipe is neither complicated nor haute cuisine. It consists of two tins of oysters, diced, combined with some diced tomatoes (also tinned) and a few dashes or tabasco. That’s it. The dip is served with Ritz crackers. It is not ‘gourmet’ but it works. Its aroma and taste brings back Merle. I miss her. I surmise whenever I have oyster dip I will remember her. This beats all the photographs in the album book.

I have many such food-memories associations. Most of them are simple fare. None were consciously set up to do the job; they merely happened. I have a cup of coffee, I think of Lena. One cup of tea and I hear my grandmother. I nibble some edam cheese and I Grandfather is alive again. “I smell olives” conjures loving memories of The Cajun.

I suppose this is another argument for lots of home cooking and haggaes. I don’t care too deeply for inheriting Grandmother’s furniture. Her recipe for Russian Chicken*, handwritten on an index card in large cursive penmanship, is something I really cherish.

Spo-fans are invited to share if they have a dish associated with a loved one.

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*Russian Chicken

10 ounces of preserves: apricot, pineapple, or peach. 

I package of Lipton onion soup mix.

1 bottle of Russian dressing (or make your own).

Mix the three ingredients together and pour over 4-6 chicken breasts.   Cover and bake x 90 minutes at 350F.

For too long dinner has been a clueless procedure of impromptu dishes which are a) not too healthy and b) not too inspiring. At the end of a very long day when I am too tired to cook my knackered mind remembers only 3-4 recipes.  Most of the time I have a ‘why bother” feeling and dinner may not happen at all. A week ago I decided I would plan a weekly menu. I riddled through my extensive cookbook collection and decided on the theme of ‘Midwest cooking’.

What is ‘Midwest cooking” you ask? This is mostly  simple hot dishes consisting of several ingredients put together into a casserole dish and baking it until done. They aren’t high-cuisine nor are they PC-healthy but they have the advantage of being quick to make, hot, and comforting. Like my men.

I made the following:

Asian Chicken with rice bake

Tator tot casserole

Tuna pot pie

Easy chicken 

Campbells Cream of this-that-or-another Soup is the base of each dish. I have never known anyone actually eat these as soup. They are the backbone of recipes found in any Midwest cookbooks. Cream of Mushroom reigns supreme, although the mentioned Asian chicken dish called for Golden Mushroom (don’t ask).

A can opener and a casserole dish are vital kitchen tools, for most ingredients come out of a tin (soup. tuna, mushrooms, or vegetables). The Easy Chicken dish called for generous amounts of paprika. Otherwise exotic spices are conspicuously absent.

The tuna pie and the tator-tot dish came out gloppy. Someone didn’t care for them and neither did I.  The Asian chicken is worth repeating. It consisted of putting chicken breasts on top of uncooked rice, adding soup-glob and bake it.

The Easy Chicken dish is pending with thirty minutes still to bake.  I told Someone (away at work) this evening I was having easy chicken and he wondered what sort of sordid app he came from. Actually the recipe is out of The Lutheran Church Women’s cookbook from Oshkosh WI, so the joke is on somebody I am not certain who.

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Gads, what a week. The work week combined with a few theatre evenings left no time for anything else let along read or write blogs. I feel slightly guilty and annoyed by my lack of postings. It helps to remind myself this is a hobby not a job.  

It’s Saturday, which means it’s time to dictate notes and charts. I have a slight stammer. This makes the dictation device dream up some rather amusing interpretations. For example, the medicine “Seroquel” comes out as “Sarah’s quill”. Frequently “Las Vegas” is translated into “Lost Vegas” which I don’t often bother to fix as I think that sounds better.

I recently discovered in a note (too late to revise!) the dastardly dictation device interpreted “medical updates” as ‘medicinal cupcakes’ :

“Dicky Purdy reports since his last appointment he’s had no medicinal cupcakes.”

The mind boggles. What on earth are medicinal cupcakes, I wonder. I did a quick search through my cookbook collection but came up without a recipe for such (although I thought “Chocolate beer cupcakes with whiskey frosting” came close).

A Google search took me to several dubious websites – most of them in Colorado – for nasty brownies and such.

A search for images conjured this:

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I asked a few of the women at work who are known for their cooking if they knew the recipe for medicinal cupcakes. One didn’t know but would ask her mother. Another one summarized all cupcakes are medicinal.

Whether or not cupcakes have salubrious properties remains currently unresolved. I will look into my journals JAMA, The Journal of Psychiatry, and Betty Crocker. I will inform Spo-fans when I am successful. I hope to find a reputable double-blind studies on the efficacy of cupcakes in the treatment of this,that, or the other –  OR the recipe thereof.

If Spo-fans happen to have a marvelous recipe for cupcakes – medicinal or otherwise – please pass it along to me and the other readers. 

I am pleased as punch to consider if one now Googles “medicinal cupcakes” they are likely to end up here at my blog.

Meanwhile I suggest the following:

http://allrecipes.com/recipe/220447/chocolate-beer-cupcakes-with-whiskey-filling-and-irish-cream-icing/

It may not have any proven efficacy but the placebo effect is quite high.

I am watching my food intake and Someone is on a very strict diet. As a consequence the meals at Spo-house are minimum and austere. Nevertheless it is Hallowe’en, my favorite holiday.  Holidays involve food. Which is why I made me some Halloween trail mix.

Each year I put together a pastiche of nibbles to create a holiday trail mix, using ingredients apropos for the season. It is never quite the same.

This year’s ingredients included:

Reese’s pieces

autumn mix

pretzels

raisins (yellow and brown)

Cheez-it crackers

roasted peanuts

and

Count Chocula cereal.

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As you can see, this is a wholesome recipe. It is all-natural low-sodium lo-fat sugar-free organic cage-free low-cholesterol dolphin-safe and kind-to-trees.  Alas, there is no way to make ‘just a nubbin’ (as Father calls a small amount). When conflated the ingredients make for a king-sized titanic unsinkable Molly Brown bowl.

Someone has asked me to keep the wretched stuff in the pantry, hidden away, so he can’t see it; I am to get it out of the house ASAP.  I tried to assure him it is also gluten-free and high-fiber but this comfort was rejected forthright. So, it is off to work with it tomorrow. The women at the clinic are watching their figures. I fear they won’t be so grateful for this loving homemade goodness from the kitchen.

Perhaps I should freeze it for a later date. Alas, no one wants Halloween goodies in January and we don’t have a freezer capacious enough to receive it. I doubt even Sara Lee has such a freezer.

It is beginning to look like I may have to eat it all myself, in a noble sacrifice. To pass the time away I could try disassembling the dish back into its original constituents. I don’t recall ever eating Count Chocula cereal. Perhaps it would be a nice break from my matutinal oatmeal and no doubt just as wholesome.

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I spent some of the day tidying up email folders.  In one of them I found an email from Wayne J. AKA The Cajun.  It is a recipe for a proper martini.  “I smell olives” was one of his favorite expressions. 

Out of whimsy and in memory of the fellow, here it is – 

Ultra fine gin is a unique pleasure for me. My fave for smoothness and price is Bombay Sapphire, but 2 others stand out and can be relatively easy to find. Plymouth is a zippy juniper sensation.  The other two may turn some folks off: Hendircks is “infused” with cucumber and rose oil. (Makes an interesting martini) Magellan is naturally blue and is gaining popularity across the US. (The blue colour is likely the turnoff culprit.) Only the Bombay Sapphire bottle is blue.

All of these gins may be refrigerated since they’re so smooth they do not require water to weaken or reduce sharpness. Some folks freeze the Hendricks, but others insist freezing breaks down the natural flavors of the infusion.

Other gins like Gordon’s, or Seagram’s can make a good martini, should not be refrigerated, need ice to temper the sharpness, and also need a bit more vermouth to smooth it out.

A good martini with the fine gins: On the rocks – 3 to 5 ice cubes in a rocks glass, pour bit of dry vermouth and stir to coat the cubes. Pour remaining vermouth out and fill the glass with 3 oz. of fine gin. Rub the rim with a lemon peel, and add a large olive.  Straight up in a tini glass – pour ice and a little water in the glass to chill, (if you can freeze the glass, all the better) pour the gin into a mixing glass and add 2 or 3 drops of dry vermouth, add a twist of lemon zest and stir slowly. Remove the ice from the tini glass, drop in an olive (whatever size you like) and pour the martini (with the lemon zest) into the tini glass.

Olives? Any stuffed olive will do, but just be aware that those stuffed with onions or garlic introduce their own unique flavours to the mix. I strongly suggest avoiding those stuffed with blue cheese. They tend to leave an ugly oil slick on the surface which is not appealing to many. Some old-timers prefer an olive with a pit, so go fig.

Either way, enjoy.

There I finally did it. Whew!

Wayne.

I spoke with my parents yesterday; they asked me what was new and exciting. Later that night I ran into chums whom I have not seen in ages and they too asked me for all my news and updates. In both encounters I drew a blank coming up with something noteworthy to tell. I work, exercise, read a bit, wash and repeat.

For some time I’ve wanted to write something weighty and numinous. For an equal amount of time I’ve waited for something interesting or recondite to come along to provide me with a topic. Life is an adventureless tale. I wrestle with no inner demons; my main worries in life is getting deadlines met and when are we going to fix the hole in the laundry room ceiling.  There is nothing ‘coming up’ like the annual winter holiday.  It is hardly worth writing about.

I prescribe to some podcasts; two of them are along the line of male self improvement. I suspect their target audience is men younger than I; I don’t need advice on how to establish a career or how to win friends and influence people or (worse) how to pick up the babes. What I want is a podcast for fifty year olds who are trying not to become frumps.

This morning I decided to shake things up a bit and cook something new and adventuresome. I split some superannuated avocados in half, scooped out the pits, cracked open some eggs into their recesses and baked the lot for 15 minutes. I’ve already learned:

a) Next time use less ripe avocados

b) Scoop out a bit of the flesh to make room

c) Discard some of the egg white. Or use smaller eggs

d) Leave the skins on !

e) Don’t presume Someone wants one.

 

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This oatmeal-less breakfast is probably the highlight of my day; the rest is downhill.

As uncle used to say “I lead a dull life”.   🙂

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