Archive for June, 2011|Monthly archive page

Fourth of July brings musings

In Editorial on June 29, 2011 at 10:39 pm

Good News for an American Icon

Wow!  Monsanto Chemical Corporation’s third quarter profits are up by 77 percent.  Monsanto was a chief supplier of Agent Orange during America’s last war on terror against peasants in Vietnam, Republic of.

Thanks to the efforts of Monsanto, Dow Chemical, et al…our streets have been made safe from agrarian Southeast Asians and their marauding water buffaloes.

Agent Orange contained dioxin, a chemical version of plutonium that rendered Times Beach, Missouri unfit for human habitation on the order of Chernobyl.  It had a cousin, Agent Blue, that was targeted against food crops in Vietnam, forcing rural-to-urban migration of Vietnamese farmers into urban slums where they could be pacified in the name of corporate profits.

 Pork, Be Inspired

Animal rights activists at Mercy for Animals unveiled an undercover video shot at Iowa Select Farms operations in Kamrar, Iowa.  The firm supplies pork products to Costco and Hy-Vee “right here in Iowa”.

No mention has been made about the religious affiliations of the management at Iowa Select Farms, unlike those made about AgriProcessor operations in Postville, Iowa.

Now, for the record, the Phyne Dyner believes AgriProcessor honcho Sholom Rubashkin to be deserving of his prison sentence…and a complimentary ripping out of his own trachea.  However, I am mystified that the religious affiliations of Jewish violators gets assertion in the media, while those of gentile animal abusers remain safely hidden from view.

That said I have some reservations about the motives of Mercy for Animals, since the person filming the “abuses” reveals her agenda to convince people to give up eating meat.

Of course, I am equally mystified that some people will condone the use of dogs as “soldiers” in the Global War on Terror, but will condemn greyhound racing as a sport.

Dogs are regularly killed or injured in both pursuits.  However, the schmucks who overlook the suffering of involuntary dog soldiers when they are shot or blown to pieces simply because they do so “in the service of the empire” and not for “entertainment” need their heads examined.

The Phyne Dyner has participated in many branding and bull-calf cutting operations (directly, and not as a drugstore “professional” rodeo cowboy).  The animal rights extremists would demand a sterile operating suite and an on-duty anesthesiologist for every cut calf.

Ready to pay $75 per pound for hamburger?

These same extremists would demand that fishhooks and bobbers be made illegal.

The Benefits of Home Ownership

We libertarians have long understood the American status of property owners to be a façade.  When a property owner fails to pay his/her property taxes, the state (government entity) is self-authorized to seize the “owned” property in the name of the state.

 Therefore, even if you have a “deed of ownership” you still rent your property from the government.  Stop paying your property taxes and you will be evicted same as any other renter.

 Iowa goes one better!

It makes someone else the agent of the state.  In Iowa, anyone may pay your delinquent property taxes and thereby generate an effective lien against your property.

Seems fair enough.


…tax assessor’s office provides any number of useful links to names of people who owe back property taxes…as well as the names of the true owner(s) of homes claimed to have been sold or purchased without the transaction actually taking place.

Have a delightful Independence Day and, “Next year, may we all be free!”


Body Worlds Vital is a “must see”

In Lifestyle on June 29, 2011 at 11:24 am

For some weeks, Mrs. Phyne Dyner had been pestering me to take her to the Science Center of Iowa to see Gunther von Hagens’: “Body Worlds Vital”.

I was really not surprised that she was interested in seeing the anatomical exhibition.  She has a history of pouring, wide eyed, over the anatomy and surgery texts in my library.

Not out of morbid curiosity.  She has a genuine interest in the stuff under our skin.

For my part, I thought the exhibition would be mildly interesting, and possessing of a healthy dose of P.T. Barnum.

I poked around the Internet to see what von Hagens was about.

Okay, he is a bit of an odd duck.  But one has to be a bit of an odd duck to compulsively turn the flesh of virtually every living thing into plastic so people can look at how it is put together and see how it works.  Von Hagens has preserved specimens of huge animals, such as bears and giraffes, as well as human beings.

“I vonder iff I kan do a skvid?” I pictured von Hagens musing in his lab.

He has done one.  Camels too!

So we piled into the Jew Canoe and off to the exhibit we went.

WARNING:  Gushing imminent!

The exhibit is, well, most awesome.

Von Hagens has been turning flesh into plastic since 1977.  The specimens displayed are bodies of real human beings who volunteered to be part of the Body Worlds show.  A completed donation form is part of the exhibit and there is a mechanism for visitors to contact von Hagens if they wish to consider “plastination” as their final disposition.

Mrs. Phyne Dyner ambled around the exhibit excitedly and I have to admit that I was pretty enthused, once I started looking at the various displays.


First, the tissues are amazingly well preserved.  Real anatomical specimens, temporarily preserved with formaldehyde, take on a jerky-like appearance after just a few weeks.  The anatomical structures in these specimens looked moist and fresh.

Second, the quality of dissection was beyond impressive.  Von Hagens employs a small army of skilled anatomists in his lab and their work is meticulous.  Tiny nerves and blood vessels have been carefully dissected into view and their anatomical relationships to other tissues has been stunningly fixed in place.

Third, this is classical anatomical display at its best.  For a point of reference, look up some anatomy drawings from about at least two hundred years ago.  Anatomists, during the classical period, commonly set the dissected person in familiar poses, rather than supine on a table.  Von Hagens displays his specimens similarly.  A swordsman leans gracefully into his blade and a dancing couple twirl in a perpetual ballet.  And, like classical anatomists, von Hagens reflects (folds back) layers of muscles so the observer can see what lies beneath.  The display is an absolutely beautiful blending of science and art.

Despite the deliberate posing of these bodies, the exhibit has a very dignified and respectful atmosphere.  One gets a sense that, if alive, the people who donated their remains to the exhibit would be pleased, and proud, of how they have been treated.

Prior to visiting the exhibit, I did some research into von Hagens and his exhibit.  Not everyone is approving of the displays and there have been some rather unseemly allegations by the usual religious fanatics.  There have even been some protests in cities where the exhibition has been displayed.

Pity.  There is so much to be learned and so much art to be appreciated in this exhibition.

The bodies are displayed with intact genitals and there is no overt attempt to hide them with strategically placed hands or fig leaves.   This aspect may disturb the hyper-religious or the overly sensitive who fear “gazing at women” leads to all manner of character flaws or that children might be “permanently scarred” by seeing the exhibit.

Actually, I think the exhibit is appropriate for children.  That said, small children would not likely appreciate it and would become bored (rather than frightened or grossed-out).  Kids, ages six and up, appeared to be deeply intrigued.  There were several youngsters mingling with our group and I watched them for their reactions.

The kids attending were enthralled.  They stood goggle-eyed in front of each display and often asked the physicians and medical student “guides” some very good questions.

These physician and medical student guides were a great idea.  There were placards labeling major organs and tissues, but much of the wonder in anatomy is found in the smaller structures.  These guides stood, almost in the shadows, discretely near each displayed specimen.  They did not offer lectures.  Rather, they would step forward to answer a question and then step back to allow the visitor to appreciate the exhibit in his or her own way.  Very cool!

My favorite aspects of the exhibit were the pathology specimens displayed next to “normal” specimens.  There were cancers and malformations of many kinds to be appreciated.  The only “downer” about the pathology specimens, was that they tended to get a bit “preachy” about smoking and other bad behavior choices.

We spent about two hours inside the exhibit.  It was over far too soon.  The non-member admission price is a bit steep ($20) to allow the exhibit to be widely accessible or to encourage return visits.  Still, this is not an inexpensive display to set up and move around.  It costs between $20,000 and $75,000 to produce each specimen.  Despite the fairly high admission price, this is still a far better use of twenty bucks than wandering among throngs of sweaty fat people modeling mullets at the Iowa State Fair.

Body Worlds Vital will be in Des Moines through the summer.

Not your every-day potato salad

In Recipies on June 28, 2011 at 3:02 pm

This potato salad goes well with almost any meat dish.  I recently served it to Shabbat guests with grilled (Greek) marinated chicken breasts and a dollop of skordalia (skorthalia)…a garlicky condiment popular in Greece.  A really nice side-benefit to this potato salad is; you do not need to cook a separate vegetable side-dish!


Many Americans celebrate their Independence Day with a picnic or backyard barbeque. Potato salad typically accompanies barbeque or picnic foods as a cool and refreshing side dish.  And, most of the potato salad served stateside has a mayonnaise dressing.

Mayonnaise-based dressings are terrific with potatoes.  However, they must be carefully handled and transported or stored at 40-degrees (F) or less to prevent bacterial growth that may lead to food poisoning.

Peoples in parts of the world where refrigeration is a luxury or where the average refrigerator is about the size of a couple of all-in-one printer-scanners stacked together, use oil-based dressings.

Give your Independence Day guests a break from the everyday potato salad by trying this delightful potato and green bean salad dressed with a savory olive oil dressing.

Many chefs and cooks prefer to use Yukon Gold potatoes for potato salad.  They impart an inviting color to the salad and many cooks believe these potatoes hold together better than russets.

Phyne Dyners use what is at hand.  If you have Yukon Gold potatoes, go for it!  I have made this salad using enormous baking potatoes, small russets, and red-jacketed potatoes (un-peeled).  Russets and baking potatoes will hold together nicely, so long as you do not over-cook them.  The same can be said of red-jackets.  If you use russets/baking/red-jacket potatoes, monitor them carefully during cooking.  A fork should penetrate them with just a bit of pressure.  I tend to undercook mine, as I like potatoes in my salad to have a bit of firmness to the bite.

Do not peel the potatoes before cooking.  Just scrub them well and cut them in half if they are very large baking ‘taters’.

2 – 2 ½ lbs potatoes

2 small carrots, diced

8 oz fresh (or frozen) green beans

1 C diced red onion

2 cloves garlic, minced

½ C kalamata olives, cut in half and examined for pit fragments

1 C sun-dried tomatoes, cut in strips with oil reserved

3 TBS lemon juice

1/3 to ½ C extra virgin olive oil

2 TBS toasted pine nuts

¼ tsp cayenne pepper

¼ C minced green (Greek, garlic packed) olives

¼ C loosely packed fresh mint, chopped

¼ C loosely packed fresh cilantro, chopped

kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Place the potatoes in 4-6qt cool water and heat to a boil.  Reduce heat to gentle boil and cook, uncovered 15-20 minutes (longer if potato halves are very large).  Remove from heat and drain hot water off and refill pot with cold water (several times).  When the potatoes are cool enough to handle, peel the potatoes and cut them into 1-inch chunks.

While the potatoes are cooling, simmer the green beans for 3-4 minutes in lightly salted water.  Then, add the diced carrot(s) and simmer 1-3 more minutes or until the carrots are tender (but not mushy).  (If you put a teaspoon of olive oil in the vegetable water, the carrots and beans will better retain their bright colors.)  Drain vegetables and place in a large mixing bowl with the potato chunks.

In a small bowl, whisk the olive oil and lemon juice together.  If you are using oil packed sun-dried tomatoes, add their oil to this mixture.  Whisk in the garlic and cayenne pepper and season with salt and black pepper to taste.  Add the onion, sun-dried tomatoes, kalamata olives, green olives, pine nuts, mint, and cilantro to the bowl and toss well.  Pour the finished dressing into the bowl and toss well, until everything is coated with dressing.

This salad may be served warm or at room temperature.  However, it should be stored for longer than service times at or below 40-degrees (F).


“Open the pod-bay door, Hal”

In Lifestyle on June 27, 2011 at 10:35 am

An eerie "Doppleganger" for HAL

As I was subjected to Verizon’s television ad for the umpteenth time in one hour of tee-vee viewing, I wondered if anyone else noticed the similarity of appearance between the new Droid phone and HAL-9000?

Readers may recall, HAL was the malevolent computer on the spaceship Odyssey in Stanley Kubrick’s, “2001: A Space Odyssey“.  Aside from singing Bicycle Built for Two as the sole-surviving human crew member shuts HAL down, the HAL-9000computer is best remembered for saying, “I’m sorry, Dave.  I can’t do that.”

HAL had his own agenda and HAL did as much as “he” could to thwart the crew’s efforts…right down to murdering a few of them while they were in “hyper-sleep”.

It is not important for me to have the latest wireless phone as a penis-substitute.  But, still, it would be so FUN to program HAL’s famous line into the device whenever it drops a call.

Building a pizza

In Recipies on June 27, 2011 at 9:40 am

Once in a while, we enjoy a great pizza.  Now, pizza delivery is hardly economical and picking one up at a pizza joint is even less economical.  And, if you want a fancy-schmancy pizza, ya gotta run down to the fancy-schmancy pizza joint and rub elbows with the pretentious ones.

So, I build my own.  Making an acceptable pizza dough is not that hard.  I have an outstanding recipe for pizza dough that makes delivered pies taste like a tombstone.  But, at our place, pizza is usually a spur of the moment decision and a meal where we are trying desperately to keep from making a mess in the kitchen.  Dragging out all of the dough-making ingredients and the equipment usually ends “the moment”.

The Foundation

Without a passable crust, a pizza is just sauce with vegetables and cheese mixed in.  The key word is “passable”.

We are offered three alternatives:  1) Buy a pre-made cheese pizza at Papa Murphy’s, 2) Buy a pre-made (fresh) cheese pizza at the local mass food retailer, or 3) Buy a frozen or refrigerated crust and put our own sauce and cheese on it.

At our place, only options 1 or 2 are viable.  The frozen or refrigerated pre-made crusts taste like the bottom of a freezer.  I have never gotten one that tastes absolutely fresh.  Option 1, the Papa Murphy plan, usually gives the most satisfying result, at a slightly higher price than Option 2.

The Tools

A pizza stone is an absolute must!  Baking a pizza on aluminum tends to allow the crust to get a bit soggy in the center.  The pans provided with the Papa Murphy pizza do a fairly respectable job, but I have found the already good result is made even better when a pizza stone is used.  Just dust it with a bit of corn meal and a pinch or two of kosher (or sea) salt before laying your foundation.

A hot oven is even more critical.  We throw the “instructions” (Duh!) for baking the pre-made crusts out the window.  Our oven is preheated to 500-degrees (F) for at least 30 minutes.  Then, we actually watch the pie as it bakes.  Putting it on a pizza stone allows us to turn it every few minutes, since most home ovens have “hot” and “cold” spots.  Baking a pizza in a very hot oven requires no brain processes.  Take it out when it looks done.

Just a word or two about pizza stones…

…never cut a pizza on a stone.  First, you will dull your pizza cutter.  Second, you run the risk of “scoring” the stone’s surface and this can result in a rather dramatic failure of the stone (shattering) when it is heated again.  Let the cooked pie cool a bit (to help “set” the cheeses) and slide it onto a real cutting board for cutting and serving.  This also keeps your stone from getting cheese and gunk worked into it.  I have never washed my stone, since it never gets any food on it.

If you a a bit adventuresome, you can get some heat resistant clay tile from the home improvement store and line your middle shelf with them before preheating the oven.  If you go this route, you will need a pizza spatula to place and remove the pie from the oven.  This method also lends itself to baking the best breads too!

The Makin’s

One of my biggest beefs with delivered or chain-store pizzas is their stinginess with toppings.  A really great pizza has a lot of topping ingredients in every bite, not just a mushroom or pepper slice.

So, when I pile it on…I pile it on.  My unbaked pies are almost three inches thick.  Not to worry!  Most of the volume of the ingredients is water and this will cook away, leaving a manageable pie.  And, baking the pie at very high temperatures keeps the volume of toppings from turning the center of the pie into soggy goo.

No matter what I put on the top, I always scatter a lot of fresh, (finely minced) garlic on my pie before putting the veggies on it.  Next, comes a lot of fresh herbs brought in from my patio garden.

I cut the herbs and clean them thoroughly under cold water.  Then, a few spins around my salad spinner.  This dries them off nicely.  Experiment a bit with your herb toppings.  Oregano and mint makes a great Greek pie with lots of fresh spinach, tomatoes, artichokes, and feta!  When using basil, or any large-leaf herb, always chiffonade the leaves.

Prepping the veggies properly helps make a great pie.  Cut them thin, but not paper thin or they will scorch.  The more natural water in the topping (such as tomatoes), the thinner they should be cut.  We prefer sun-dried tomatoes on our pies and we also invest in some good quality olives.  Black olives out of a can or green olives out of a jar are not acceptable.

One exception to thin-slicing is made for mushrooms.  I leave these in fairly large chunks.  They shrink by about 50% during baking and, if they are cut too thin, their mild flavors get lost among the other ingredients.

I will not provide a list of suggested toppings.


The best pies are made on the spur of the moment, using vegetables you have on hand.  I have made outstanding African-themed pizzas with okra and pumpkin!  Eggplant, zucchini, summer squash, and even carrot slices can be used as pizza topping.  You have not lived until you have tried a pie covered in squash blossoms.  And, do not get bogged down with using only tomato sauces.  One of our favorite sauces is a big dollop of commercial spinach dip spread under the cheese!  Sure you can make your own cream sauce.

Other fun toppings include: chopped grape leaves, thinly sliced lox, and even very thin slices of pickled herring!  Try scattering a handful of rinsed capers on top of any pizza.

With a little invention, you can build a pie they would order at Pretentious Pies, Inc. and avoid the mega-price.  If you feel an urgent need to be seen eating a gourmet pie, take your homemade version out on the front porch…or post pictures on Facebook.

Required reading

In Editorial on June 24, 2011 at 11:04 am

BAH! Humbug.

In a few days the Fourth of July, nee “Independence Day” will be upon us.  The deluge of advertising has already begun, trips “to the lake” have been finalized, the hot dogs have been purchased, and the perpetually thirteen year-old fingers of the adult male in the house are itching to set off his coveted stash of fireworks.

The Phyne Dyner’s household will mark the day as it has for about ten years.

There will be grilling, drinking, and sitting about in the (hopefully) hot sun.  An obligatory United States flag will flutter prominently at the front of the house.

The high point of the day will be when we will take turns reading paragraphs from the American Declaration of Independence aloud.

By this point, about half of those who began reading this post reflexively clicked off the page as their eyes began to glaze over.  Reading the Declaration holds as much excitement for them as does a discussion of economics or thermodynamics.

And it is precisely why they fall for nonsense, like “derivatives” and ethanol-blended gasoline.

It is also why they run, lemming-like, to the polls where they dutifully follow the exhortations of Republican and Democratic party bosses and “dutifully” vote for their choice from ranks of equally abysmal candidates.

They may not have read the Declaration since high school and, given the state of education (indoctrination) since the early 1970s, they may not have read it then either.

It is why, when I once brought up the Articles of Confederation, an educated professional (?) in the group commented, “Isn’t it about time the South admits that the North won that war?”

Quick, without looking…

…What are the opening words of the Declaration of Independence?

The opening words...NOT!

“We hold these truths to be self-evident…”

Dead wrong!

“When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another,…”

The first paragraph is among my favorites in the Declaration.


It is devoid of the emotional tugs and appeals that have become the staple manipulation devices used by our national (non) leaders in these latest years.  There are no dire warnings, calls to arms, or angry words.

The first paragraph calmly asserts the right of a people to cast off relations with their lawful government.  The colonists were, after all, British citizens who were lawful subjects of the Crown.

They were no more (or less) expected to remain duty-bound to subjects of the King than contemporary Americans are expected to be “loyal Americans”.  Their King, like our hundreds of mini-kings in Washington, had a legal expectation that the colonists would do exactly as the Crown wished.

They did not do so.  Rather, they issued a document stating their reluctant, but firm defiance of the central state.

“…and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them…”

The “separate and equal station” among the powers is not merely available to all powers (nations formed by “political bands”).  It is an entitlement of all nations provided either by “Nature” or by “God”.

The irony!

For well over one hundred years, the United States has stomped around the globe telling other powers how they must behave.

If the “land of the free and the home of the brave” can be dismissive of the natural rights of entire nations, what expectation do the citizens of such a nation have that the American central state will respect individual rights of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”?

“That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…”

“Just” powers?


The only permitted use of power is as “just” power, granted by the consent of those under that power.  Not only must exerted power be just, it must be power granted with the consent of those it will impact.

Contrast that with how, nowadays, edicts flow downward to the ruled and how those edicts no longer need be “just”.

Our national satraps and potentates now demure responsibility for their edicts by claiming “The Bill was so voluminous that there simply was not time to read every page of it before enacting it.”

Sealing their fates.

Yet, we are expected to abide by every letter of the enacted law.

Is such a condition conducive to, or destructive of, the ends spoken of in the beginning of this, the second paragraph of our Declaration of Independence?

 And, then, is it not also stated that it is not only our “right”…but…our “duty” to abolish or alter such a government?

The only “duties” we hear of these days, are “jury duty” and a non-existent “duty” to vote.  Patriotic “duty” consists solely of signing up to be cannon-fodder in imperial wars no different than those mounted by King George III.

Patriotic “duty” is, in fact, our obligation to hold our leaders accountable, our laws just, and uphold the natural rights of others.  It also includes our duty to abolish or alter any erected government (of ours) when it “…becomes destructive of these ends…”.

Prior to issuing the Declaration the Colonists appealed, lawfully, to Parliament for redress of their grievances.  These grievances were not for the sake of light and transient causes.

Parliament acquiesced to the King and left the Colonists with only violent recourse to their plight.

There is a growing undercurrent of discord today in America.  Fewer than half of eligible voters routinely cast ballots.  Party bosses dismiss this as “apathy”.  However, when you ask non-voters why this is so, their response is typical and predictable:

“It just doesn’t matter.  They (the newly elected and the re-elected) will just do as they please.”

George III initially regarded the Colonists to be “too apathetic to their condition” to rouse themselves.

Apathy gave way to anger, and anger prompted appeals to the Crown.

The appeals were ignored, as they routinely are by “unlawful” governments, and the Colonists were left with the final option.

Today’s America is entering the early “appeal stage” of the same political process.  How then, do we direct our appeal and against what do we appeal?

I hopefully direct readers to digest the Colonial rebel’s list of the Crown’s “injuries and usurpations” and compare them to our current condition.  I will not deign to offer my own comparisons, but will leave the reader to draw his/her own conclusions.

Time for a fais do-do!

In Recipies on June 21, 2011 at 11:48 am

The last few weeks of Iowa weather put me in the mood for Cajun!

Oh sure, the temperatures have been much cooler than on the bayou.  But with regular dewpoints over 74-degrees and daily rainfalls measured in multiple inches, America’s Ukraine magically morphed into the Gulf Coast.  For added reality, for those of us who disdain air conditioning as a sign of personal weakness, putting on one’s clothes in the morning is a lot like putting on someone else’s sweat suit after their workout.

For the record, Cajun (and much of Creole cooking) is one of the Phyne Dyner’s favorite American cuisines.  Cajun food sets off fireworks in my mouth.

There are just so many flavors going on at once!  And, of course, Cajun cuisine can be hot.  Unless a few forkfuls set my scalp to itching, the dish is under-seasoned with heat.

Now, I have to admit that Cajun cuisine presents a bit of a dilemma for me.

A prized cookbook in my library.

We do not bring shellfish, pork, or other such into our home.  This is not to say we have not eaten these things.  Therefore, it is academically honest to say we are Jews who do not keep kosher.

In fact, any Jew who willingly eats (or often drinks) anything in a non-kosher restaurant has to also admit they do not keep kosher…no matter how rigorously they inspect home groceries for the all-important hechsher (a little emblem attesting – a-hem – that the contents are “kosher”).

Eating in a non-kosher restaurant and saying you “keep kosher” is like having adulterous sex and claiming it was not adultery…because a condom was used.

Cajun cookery is a favorite of Jews of the region as well.  It is a little known fact that antebellum New Orleans was a larger center of Jewish life than New York or even today’s Jewish-American Jerusalem…Boca Raton.

Anyway, the best Cajun cuisine is found in that wonderful crescent along America’s northern and western Gulf Coast.  Consequently, it is no surprise that Jews in the area adapted many Cajun recipes to fit in with whatever kosher laws they felt were demanded by their Invisible Sky Friend.  The basis of the recipes was maintained, but the non-kosher ingredients (or practices) were omitted.

The basis for many Cajun dishes is the roux.

 A roux consists of fat or oil in which flour is fried.  The longer a roux fries, the more intense its flavor.  A lightly fried roux is pale golden and has a very delicate flavor that goes well with mild ingredients.  A roux that is fried to dark brown has a strong, nutty flavor that stands up well to more robust ingredients.  My favorite is somewhere in between.

Making a decent roux is a lot of the challenge to making great Cajun food.  The roux must be cooked to the proper depth of color/flavor and the quantity must be correct the first time around.  Unless you are very experienced with Cajun cuisine, it is always best to err on the side of making too much roux and then use the amount you need for your dish.

Too much roux will result in a pasty dish and too little will not thicken the dish sufficiently or add the desired roux-like flavor.

Cajun food also depends on a lot of chopped or minced things.  Consequently, one does not “whip up” Cajun food on short notice.

Okay.  So what is a harried, hurried member of the Phyne Dyning crowd to do when they want a decent jambalaya or gumbo?

Two box brands come to mind.

Cajun Magic is a box brand sold in Texas and Louisiana.  Because it is not sold in Yankeeland, my friends in Texas keep us supplied.  You still add your own meat or fish (or seafood if there are no Invisible Sky Friend Ordinances prohibiting you from using it).  Sometimes, cans of the dreaded cream of mushroom soup are added to the mix.

A word of warning about Cajun Magic:  It makes a butt-load of food.  The packages warn:  Serves 12-18 people, or two hungry Cajuns.  No kidding!  Consider cutting the package recipe by half (or even to a quarter) unless you have invited the entire Thibedeaux clan to a fais do-do in your back yard.

Zatarain’s offers up a decent box-brand that makes far less food.  I prefer this brand because of it.  The Zatarain’s brand also lends itself to the concept of adding your own stuff…especially their gumbo mix which I am featuring today.

Not everything out of a box is bad.

The Zatarain’s New Orleans Style Gumbo Mix with Rice contains a bit of rice (obviously) some of the herbs and spices (barely), and a dehydrated roux.  Making it according to the package instructions yields a fairly decent gumbo with only a very faint hint of that “dehydrated food taste”.

Obviously, any Phyne Dyner would want to improve on it.  At the same time, I wanted to keep the convenience and ease of preparation aspects for home chefs who do not want to invest “from scratch time” into preparing something that came mostly out of a box.  At the same time, I wanted it to be good.

Seriously, this stuff is GOOD!  I sometimes add frozen okra slices for authenticity.  But, many people object to the “snotty” texture of cooked okra so I am omitting it here.  The result is a gumbo you would be willing to pay ten or twelve dollars per large bowl in some pretentious Yankee restaurant, seven or eight dollars in a Cajun-themed chain joint, or two or three dollars in a bayou dive.

Best of all, you can have a pretty authentic tasting gumbo in about thirty minutes.

One ingredient you will need is the Phyne Dyner’s version of a Cajun rub.  I do not recall where I got this recipe, it is scrawled on the back of an Augmentin chewables pad.  It is more than a “rub”.  I have used it to blacken fish or chicken and as a general Cajun-style seasoning.  (NOTE:  Do not prepare blackened anything in the house.  When blackening is properly done, it generates huge volumes of smoke!  You have been warned.)

For the “rub”:

In a clean, glass jar mix:

1 tsp onion powder

1 tsp dried thyme

1 tsp ground white pepper

1 tsp ground black pepper

½ tsp garlic powder

½ tsp celery seed

½ tsp dried oregano

½ tsp cayenne pepper

¼ to ½ tsp salt (optional)

I frequently blend these ingredients using a mortar and pestle before putting them into my jar.  Store in a cool, dark place.

My version also calls for dehydrated jalapeno pepper slices.  I make these up every summer and bag them for later use.  Dehydration really concentrates the pepper flavor without over-concentrating the pepper’s heat (they are still HOT).  I have also used dehydrated banana pepper slices.  The jalapeno version is outstanding.  You can use finely minced (unseeded) jalapenos…but it is not as intensely flavorful.

Here is how to make the very best Zatarain’s gumbo:

1 box Zatarain’s Gumbo Mix with Rice

5 ½ C water

1 8oz can cooked chicken breast (or cook up your own if you have time)

8 oz cod loin cut into 1-inch pieces

1 TBS dehydrated jalapeno slices OR 2 finely minced fresh (with seeds)

1 bay leaf

1 tsp Phyne Dyner’s “Cajun Rub”

In a large, heavy saucepan add the water to the mix and add the bay leaf.  Bring to a boil.  Add raw fish and cook for 10 minutes.  Add the canned chicken with its liquid.  Add the Cajun rub and cook for 5 more minutes.  Reduce heat to simmer, cover, and cook for 10 more minutes (or until rice is tender).

Serve in bowls with crusty French bread, or over rice.

“Zee pay-PAHs ah not in Oh-dah”

In Editorial on June 17, 2011 at 10:26 am

“Pay-pahs, bitte!”

Yesterday, fifteen agents of the state descended upon the Greyhound Bus Station in Des Moines.

Participants included the usual acronym-bedecked Gestapo, and one that must have flown under my radar…VIPR.

Visual Intermodal Protection and Response”, whatever that is?  I guess every paramilitary goon squad needs a really cool acronym to convey its diligence, fortitude, bravery, and ruthlessness.

I bet they have really, really cool shoulder patches to go with Wiley-X wrap-around shades, jump-boots, and BDU-styled trousers that add the needed storm-trooper touch to those ubiquitous polo shirts worn by today’s sturmschutzstaffle.

I know I am being an alarmist and a paranoid.  After all, no white Iowans were accosted and harassed.

The goon squad’s sole focus was on people with Hispanic features.

Actually, I will be relieved when targeted Hispanics are required to sew sombrero-shaped patches on the lower left sleeves of their outer garments.  It will mean that, like the goons of the last century, today’s goons will no longer rely on racial profiling.

The sombrero patch, like the six-pointed star, will be sufficient to convey the concept of untermenschen.

So, maybe the VIPR acronym works?

Vipers are venomous snakes…reptiles.

It works on so many levels.

In a pickle

In Recipies on June 15, 2011 at 10:36 am

The weather may be more Septemberish than June, causing many folks to forget about summertime delicacies like pickled anything.  But once you have enjoyed torshi (AKA torshi lift), you will be craving these pickled turnips and beets even during the dark days of winter.

One of my greatest pleasures I enjoy when eating in the Middle East is the typical, vast array of “pickled things” and “nibbles” cafes and restaurants set out for patrons prior to serving the main course.  There are always bowls of olives, dates, figs, carrot sticks, cucumber slices…all resting in delightfully pungent or sweet sauces.  One finds these treats served on the table of humble street cafes and in the finest eateries.  We counted no fewer than twenty small plates and bowls of these wonderful nibbles at the small, Haifa cafe where we first enjoyed torshi on a hot summer’s afternoon.

The recipe for torshi is delightfully simple.  However, it is not a treat you can prepare on the day you want to serve them.  Torshi is at its best when it is allowed to age a bit.  The pickling process takes place faster at room temperature. But if you are squeamish about leaving food unrefrigerated for several days, they can be left in the fridge for 7-10 days before eating them.  Once pickled, they keep well for up to three more weeks.

I make my torshi by two methods.

If I want to avoid the usual mess that can come with peeling and cutting fresh beets, I simply use a can of sliced beets.  I just reserve a bit of the canned liquid to add to my pickling brine.  I also add a few cloves of sliced garlic, simply because I am a “garlic-o-phile”.  If I want truly authentic torshi, I buy fresh beetroot.  The pickling brine may use either lemon juice or white vinegar.  Both versions are very tasty.

When buying turnips for torshi, select small and firm ones.  Look for turnips with delicate skin, as you will not be peeling them.  I have a particular disdain for turnips that have been waxed and I avoid them altogether.  My favorite turnips (and fresh beets) for torshi come from my local farmer’s market.

I sometimes bother with sterilizing the jar, or not.  These usually disappear so quickly that I have little to fear from possible spoilage.  I have a “special”, old-fashioned spring-top jar that I use for torshi.  The bright ruby-red liquid inside brings a lot of color to the table.

3-4 small to medium turnips, scrubbed well and cut into matchsticks

3-4 small beets, peeled if the skins are thick and tough and cut into matchsticks (or one 14oz can sliced beets)

5-6 cups hot water (or all of the liquid from one can of beets, plus water to make 5-6 cups of brine)

3 TBS kosher salt

2-3 cloves of garlic, whole or in thick slices (optional)

juice of one lemon (or 1/4 C white vinegar)

Prepare the brine.  Dissolve the salt in the hot water, stirring continuously.  Allow to cool to room temperature.  Stir in the garlic and lemon juice (or white vinegar).  Arrange the matchsticks in your jar, in alternating layers.  Pour the brine over the beet and turnip matchsticks (covering them thoroughly), cover or seal the container, and place in a cool place or in the refrigerator for at least one week prior to serving.  Eat these as an accompaniment or use them as a garnish.

Eggplant 88-cents EACH at Hy-Vee!

In Recipies on June 14, 2011 at 3:08 pm

Phyne Dyning just "happens" to have eggplant recipes!


I did a double-take.  “Eggplant 88-cents each”.

Only a couple of months ago, they were selling for upwards of $4/each.

Rather than waste your time, I will give you links to eggplant recipes here on Phyne Dyning.