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Archive for August, 2011|Monthly archive page

Curry favor

In Recipies on August 31, 2011 at 3:24 pm

I am not sure why curry dishes did not catch on in America.  A curry dish can be mild, pungent, hot, sweet, and anything in between.  Although curries are often thought of as staples of Indian (South Asian) food, curries are popular throughout the Near East and Middle Eastern regions.

A friend in the Scottish Highlands says her husband, a stout Yorkshireman, prefers a curry to almost everything except a good “bit of roasted beef”.  That she has no trouble finding curry powders of every description in shops dotting the North Sea coast testifies that curried foods appeal to a wide variety of palates.

One of my favorite curry blends is from Iraq, where the perfume-like aroma of cardamom adds a flowery tone.  Curries are popular in Lebanon and Israel as well and the bright yellow tones given to the dish by hefty amounts of turmeric in them imparts a sunny, Mediterranean ambiance to the food.

Curry powders abound!  Rogan josh, balti from Pakistan, garam masala from Punjab, sate from Indonesia, and vindaloo from Goa can be purchased from any good spice store or home chefs can make up their own versions.

A fun addition to any kitchen is an authentic Indian or Pakistani spice box.

World Market offers authentic spice boxes.

These covered boxes are made of sheet tin and look like small jewel boxes.  Inside, are nested 5-10 smaller covered tins.  I keep several curry powders in the smaller tins, just like the cooks who live in the areas where they are made.  Pulling the box from its cupboard adds a sense of the exotic when cooking some of the easily prepared curry dishes.

Curried vegetables make up one of our favorite vegetarian meals.  Served over aromatic basmati rice, curried vegetables are so good that carnivores will forget the absence of meat in the meal before them.

Which curry is “best”?  Visit a spice shop and follow your nose!  After you have experimented with the pre-mixed blends, work a little of your own alchemy and try your hand at blending small amounts of your own recipe.  Households in the “curry belt” often have their own, special (and top secret) curry blends.

Here we go!

1 green pepper, coarsely chopped

1 sweet red pepper, coarsely chopped

2 Roma tomatoes, diced

1 sweet onion, coarsely chopped

2 TBS olive oil

4 large cloves of garlic, minced

2 C broccoli florets

2 C cauliflower florets

1 C chopped mushrooms

1 C Asian corn (may use canned)

1 TBS curry powder

½ tsp cardamom (optional) OR ½ tsp cinnamon

1 C vegetable stock or water

2 tsp corn starch

½ C dried apricots, figs, or, pineapple (go with figs!), chopped

½ tsp cayenne pepper (optional)

kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat the olive oil in a large, deep skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the onion, red and green peppers, broccoli, and cauliflower.  Sauté until onion just begins to soften.  No not allow to brown.  Add garlic and stir well for about 1 minute.  Reduce heat to low-medium and add mushrooms, corn, fruit (if using).  Stir in the curry powder and cinnamon (or cardamom).  Cover and reduce heat to low.  When the broccoli and cauliflower is “fork tender” add the cornstarch to the water or broth and mix it into the curried vegetables.  Return heat to high until liquid thickens.  Remove from heat and add tomatoes, salt, and pepper.

Serve over basmati or white, long-grain rice.  Bowls of fresh melon are a nice accompaniment, as are small glasses of sweet, cardamom-infused tea.

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I say “fritatta” and you say “frittata”

In Recipies on August 22, 2011 at 4:54 pm

I love chick flicks.

They give me an opportunity to do as I please while Mrs. Phyne Dyner gawps at the screen and dabs at her misty eyes in delight.

I suffered through the Harrison Ford flick, Morning Glory, until it got to the “good part”.

Never mind that a television journalist of the caliber of Ford’s character would never submit to the effects of vats of estrogen and spontaneously burst into song as he provides soft news and fluff for a morning “news” show.

My five-minute long version of Morning Glory ended with Ford’s character saying, “Here’s the number for my lawyers.  See ya!”

Melting Nazis was believable.  Stick to melting Nazis, Mr. Ford…or flying with Wookies.

At least his character mentioned fritatta (var. frittata).

Now we’re talkin’ peasant food!

Fritatta is an ancient Roman concoction of eggs, cheese, and whatever a Centurian could scrounge from his troops or the people the legions were subjugating.  Despite Ford’s character’s attempts to make fritatta appear “exotic”, the meal is easy to prepare and forms a the traditional afternoon meal for many Italian workers.

It had been years since I last made a fritatta.  My cast-iron fritatta pans remain packed away with the rest of my kitchen.

The pans are modest 6-inch cast skillets with deep sides.  They lend themselves to personal-size fritatta with individualized ingredients…

…and, they stand up to broiler heat!

Last Saturday evening, I looked forlornly in my refrigerator and saw a lone zucchini and hoped I would purpose it before it shriveled.  My potted basil was overtaking my deck and the pot of oregano was gaining on the basil.  My cheese drawer was full.  This could only mean:

Fritatta!

I checked my other supplies and a dinner was born.

1 small zucchini, small dice

4 large cloves garlic, minced

6 extra large eggs

1/3 C white flour

¼ cup (packed) chopped (FRESH) oregano

½ cup (packed) chopped (FRESH) basil

½ cup feta cheese, crumbled

2 oz pecorino Romano cheese

1 TBS olive oil

8 oz uncooked spaghetti

kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Cook the spaghetti in lightly salted water to al dente.  Drain and rinse once before drizzling a bit of olive oil over it.  Set aside to cool.

Heat 1 tbs olive oil over low-medium heat in a large skillet.  Add the zucchini and cook until soft, but not browned (about 7 minutes).  Stir in the garlic, reduce the heat to low, and cook for one more minute.  Remove zucchini and garlic from the pan and set aside.

Preheat an oven to 400F.

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs until they are frothy.  Whisk in the flour, feta, basil, and oregano.  Arrange the spaghetti to uniform thickness in the skillet you cooked the zucchini in and pour the egg mixture over the spaghetti.  Place the skillet on medium-low to medium heat until the center just begins set (about 5-8 minutes).  Generously sprinkle with kosher salt and ground pepper.  Grate the pecorino Romano on top of the egg mixture using a fine MicroPlane.  Place in the oven for 8-12 minutes and remove when well set.

Pre-heat broiler.

Slide the fritatta pan under the broiler for 4-6 minutes (until the Romano cheese just begins to turn golden), watching carefully to avoid burning.  Remove carefully (!! the handle will be HOT !!) and allow to cool for about 10-15 minutes.  Slide the fritatta onto a pizza pan for cutting and serving.  Sprinkle lightly with more freshly ground pepper just before serving.

This serves well with a small lettuce salad and a crisp white wine.  Best of all, the leftover fritatta makes a substantial Morning Glory-esque breakfast with toasted Italian bread and cups of espresso.  Or, go Italian peasant and schlep the leftovers to work for a fast lunch.

HINT:  Anything in combination can be used for great fritatta.  I have seen them with pulled rotisserie chicken, proscutto, fish (!), and virtually every combination of vegetables.  Let your imagination run wild.  Not every fritatta contains spaghetti.  But, most of mine do.  It differentiates them from being called “crustless quiche”.

Bring back the baked potato!

In Tips and Hints on August 22, 2011 at 4:38 pm

One of the worst and best things to happen to the home kitchen was the inexpensive microwave oven.

Since “nuking” food came into being, baked potatoes have not been the same.  I have been one of the guiltiest parties in the hastening the all but entire disappearance of the real baked potato.

There is nothing to beat one of those gianormous baking potatoes slathered with butter (HeartSmart faux butter or olive oil), topped with garlic-chives, and a bit of salt and freshly ground pepper.

It has been many (many!) years since I ate a baked potato with sour cream.

Ahhhhhhh!

I understand why the “real” baked potato slipped from its place of prominence alongside fried chicken and grilled steaks…it takes up to an hour to bake a potato in the oven…a bit longer if you bury them in the coals of your charcoal grill.

Charcoal grills have given way to gas-fired mega-monstrosities and microwave ovens can accomplish a barely passable baked ‘tater in about 5-10 minutes.

But there has been a trade.  They just do not taste as good.

Phyne Dyning to the rescue!

Here is a tip on how to make your next baked potatoes soar.  The potatoes can be baked traditionally in an oven or in the hot coals, or in a microwave oven and finished on your gas grill.

Here we go…

1 large russet baking potato per person (the HUGE potatoes)

1-2 tbs margarine, butter, or a healthy substitute per potato

½ tsp dried rosemary per potato

dash of hickory or mesquite “liquid smoke” per potato

1 square heavy-duty aluminum foil per potato (large enough to fully wrap the ‘tater)

kosher salt

In a microwave oven, bake the potatoes until they are just short of being fully baked.  Some people cut the ends from the potatoes to prevent intra-oven explosions, I poke MANY holes around the potato using a paring knife…which actually helps the other flavorings penetrate into the potato in the finishing step.

Allow the potatoes to cool sufficiently to handle safely.  Schmear about 1-2 tbs of butter (or similar) onto the potatoes, using your hands.  Thoroughly work the butter into the skin of the potato.  Place the potato in the center of a square of aluminum foil and sprinkle it with ½ tsp dried rosemary, some kosher salt, and a dash of liquid smoke.  Wrap the potato in the foil, making it as leak resistant as possible.

Place the potato on the overhead rack of your gas grill (or in an area of indirect heat) with the lid closed for about 30 minutes, or place in a 300-degree oven for the same amount of time.  If you are using charcoal, lay the wrapped potatoes around the periphery of the coals for 15 minutes, rotate them 180 degrees, and bake for another 15 minutes.

Potatoes are forgiving, so go ahead and grill those steaks.  The potatoes will be waiting patiently for you.

The piney-woodsy flavors of rosemary and smoke in the flesh of the potatoes will compliment your steaks to the point of being obsequious.

Knife sharpening and knife care

In Tips and Hints on August 17, 2011 at 2:34 pm

The straw polls are over and Iowa’s never-ending campaign season is in full bloom.  Aside from their uncanny ability not to be embarrassed by anything they do (or have done), I wondered what other abilities are essential for professional politicians…

 

 

 

I have not had much time for cooking over the past week or so…and less time for writing.  Being one hound “short” drove us back to the reality that, when the other old hound catches his bus, we will become official short-timers in Iowa.  We have begun sorting out future dumpster ballast from future yard sale chotchke that will be destined to be someone else’s dumpster ballast.  With nothing tasty on my mind, readers will have to endure a tip from Phyne Dyning on how to keep those knives sharp.

Visitors to the Phyne Dyner’s kitchen are frequently put to work.  Provided they are still sober, they are often given a knife and something to chop or slice.

It is not so much that I need their help with chopping and slicing as it is that I enjoy seeing their faces when, for probably the first time ever, they are given a truly sharp knife with which to chop or slice.

The sad fact is, most home kitchens have knives as sharp as Miss America contestants.

“And after I build houses for every homeless person, as Miss America I will try to bring about world peace, cure cancer, and market painless Brazilian waxes.”

Many of my kitchen visitors try to assuage their guilt over keeping dull cutlery by claiming that dull knives are less likely to result in accidental cuts.

While this is not only false, it also makes no sense to keep a “safe”, dull knife that cannot be used to cut the stuff you actually want to cut.

Among country boys, knife sharpness is a coveted man-skill on par with the ability to belch the tune to Dixie while keeping time with passed gas.  After years of fumbling with my own knives, I finally asked some good-ole-boys in West Texas about knife sharpening and care.

So, how does the home chef keep kitchen cutlery surgically sharp?  (Readers who even considered using a good kitchen knife to tighten an eyeglass screw are now excused.)

Anatomy of a sharp knife

Most knives (American and European) are sharpened at 20-22 degrees of angle from the blade. Knives that are extremely sharp, such as surgical scalpels, are sharpened at 10 degrees of edge angle. (Phun Phyne Dyning Phact to Know and Tell:  Many Asian knives are given 18-degree edge angles.)  Some high-end manufacturers deliberately sell minimally sharpened blades (“rough-sharpened”), knowing that the professional purchaser will have the blade professionally (“fine”) sharpened and honed before it is put into service.  However, it is most common to find newly purchased blades in kitchen supply stores to already be carefully honed and ready for use.

In addition to a honed edge, good cutting blades have “teeth”.  Think of these as “mini-serrations” like those found on inexpensive kitchen cutlery.

The teeth are actually striations placed on a sharpened edge.  The most common way teeth are “set” on a knife blade is by using a “steel”.  A steel is a long, rod-like appliance having striations on its surface running parallel to the long axis of the rod.  The steel used in a steel is harder than the steel used in the knife blades they are used upon.

Finally, the sharpened teeth are polished through stropping.

A “strop” is a long piece of harness leather, looking every bit like a 1970s women’s trouser belt, used to remove microscopic burrs left behind during the previous sharpening steps.

The result is a blade with a chisel-shaped edge, covered with teeth, and finely polished.

Sharpening

Sharpening is the step where the knife edge is given its 20-22 degree bevel (“edge angle”).  While it may be tempting to strive for a surgical blade edge having a 10 degree edge angle, it is almost impossible to accomplish that kind of accuracy without special equipment.

The bevel can be created by hand or mechanical grinding.

There is a Catch-22 with sharpening.

Either by hand or by machine, a novice can quickly ruin an excellent knife to the point where it must be professionally re-sharpened.  However, the only way for a novice to become an expert is by sharpening a lot of knives.  In the meantime, the novice finds him/herself using mediocre blades until he/she achieves competence in knife sharpening.

Isn’t this fun?

The only way to learn is to dive in.  Remember, if you end up with a hopelessly dull blade, despite your best efforts, you can always have a professional fix your mistake.

I am betting that many readers will end up with poor first-time results.  It takes a fair amount of practice to accurately sharpen a blade.

So, you have “ruined” the factory edge with your efforts…what now?

Professional sharpening can be had at many hardware stores or kitchen supply shops.  I always had reservations about entrusting $1200 worth of knives to the kid at the hardware store, so I resorted to “other means”.

My local butcher (in small-town West Texas) was willing to call me when the itinerant “knife guy” came to town.  For the price of a case of cold beer, my butcher tossed my knives in with his for the visiting pro to work his magic upon.  Best of all, I was only without my knives for an afternoon or a morning.

There is also Knife Sharpening for Dummies.

One can find hand-sharpening apparatus with all manner of jigs to hold the blade properly while the dummy holding the knife handle sharpens it.  Some use Arkansas stones and others use very hard steel rods or ceramic-coated (or diamond) rods.  These cost $20-100 and, with reasonable care, deliver a pretty nice edge.

Mechanical sharpeners are Satan’s spawn if they are improperly used.

The worst of these use a dry, stone wheel turning at a high RPM.  The wheel may have a bevel of 20 degrees or the sharpener may have a jig to hold the blade as it is guided against the spinning wheel.  Prices range from $25 to $150.

A natural consequence of applying a dry, rapidly spinning sharpening wheel against a steel blade is heat generation.  Failure to move the blade at a steady rate can result in over-ground areas or extreme heat generation that can remove the temper from a good blade in very short order.

Many fine knives have been ruined by amateurs using dry wheel mechanical sharpeners.

Most professional knife sharpeners use a mechanical, wet spinning stone.

These sharpeners have a continuous flow of water (or slurry) over the blade where it touches the spinning stone.  The water or slurry cools the blade, making heat generation less likely, but not impossible.  The higher end versions of these sharpeners move the blade at a constant speed across the sharpening surface.  A simple sharpener with a water bath can cost $250 to $500.  A sharpener with a water bath and the ability to move a blade mechanically across the stone at a constant speed can cost $1000 to $10,000.  Machines capable of sharpening multiple blades simultaneously can be purchased for about the price of a luxury sedan.

Visit with a professional knife sharpener at his shop.  It is easy to see why a possible $10 to $25 per knife charge is money well earned.  A good shop can also repair and replace handles on damaged knives, re-haft, and straighten bent blades.

Hone Sweet Hone

Some folks use “sharpen” and “hone” interchangeably.  “Honing”, for our discussion, will refer to the intermediate step in the process where “teeth” are added to the edge angle through the use of a “steel”.

Most home chefs are familiar with the steel and associate its use with flamboyance and daring-do while the chef waves a clattering knife over its surface.

While it is possible for an experienced chef to accurately hone a knife in this manner, it is nearly impossible for an amateur to maintain the correct edge angle while waving the knife and steel through the air.  Remember, the knife edge is best when precisely sharpened at 20-22 degrees…not 13 to 45 degrees…varying over the entire edge length!

I have been sharpening my own knives for about ten years and I am first to admit that I cannot accurately hold the proper angle unless one of the implements is anchored to terra firma.

Here is my process:

Grab a cutting board.  Grasp the steel by its handle and poke the end of the rod into the cutting board perpendicular to the cutting board surface.

Now, gently hold the knife blade against the steel at a 90-degree angle (perpendicular to the steel).  Roll the back edge of the knife upwards, creating a 45-degree angle.  Now, roll the back edge of the knife one-half of the way up, creating a 22.5-degree angle.  Finally, with practice, you will be able to very slightly roll the back edge upward to create a perfect 20 to 22 degree angle between the blade and the steel.

Here is where the process gets critical.

The proper way to move the blade against the steel is to move as though you are attempting to shave off a thin slice of the steel using the knife blade.  Your wrist must remain rigid and keep the knife edge parallel to the cutting board while maintaining the 20 to 22 degree edge angle.  Consequently, your arm moves straight down as your elbow moves toward the wall behind you.  At the same time, keep gentle pressure on the blade to keep it in contact with the steel during the entire movement.

Properly done, it is much like patting your head while rubbing your stomach.

When you reach the bottom of the steel, move the blade away from the steel and return it to the starting position.  Before making another stroke, be sure to re-establish the proper blade edge angle.

Complete 3 to 10 strokes and then move the blade to the opposite side of the steel.  Complete 3 sets of 3-10 strokes per side and then test the blade for sharpness.  If at the end of three sets per side, the blade is not sharp, you may need to return to the sharpening steps.

Take heart!  It is almost (!) impossible to ruin a good knife edge with a steel.  The steel does not remove metal from the edge.  It merely “scratches” teeth into the edge.  I did say almost impossible.  I doubt any of Phyne Dyning’s readers are so ham-handed that they can (or will) achieve the impossible.

Strop the world, I want to get off

“To strop, or not to strop…”

In my not so humble opinion, stropping is optional for most home chefs.  However, for the “belt AND suspender” readers, I will cover stropping.

Fasten one end of the stropping leather to a solid bench, wall, or heavy sous chef.  Pull the leather strop taut…and strop.

The stropping motion involves holding the blade approximate to the edge angle and pulling the back edge of the knife away (or towards) you.  The blade, in stropping, is moved opposite to the cutting (or sharpening) direction.  A dozen strokes is sufficient to remove burrs and loose metal shavings from the sharpening and honing process.

But, is it sharp?

Carefully examine the knife edge under bright light.  Nicks and gouges will show up as “flares” of light along the edge.  Examine the edge from the side.  You should see a fine “line” of the sharpened edge.  The line should be of uniform thickness and will appear lighter than the surrounding blade material.

I never test a knife by using my own skin.  I never “test-cut” a piece of paper with a blade.

Test a blade by cutting something you will be using the knife to cut.  A ripe tomato, a ripe grape, or a thin “sheet” of onion works well.

Test the knife by slowly cutting the item using the full length of the blade.  The movement should be effortless and requiring virtually no downward pressure to make the cut.  If the knife jerks or bites as the cut is made, this suggests there are minute nicks in the edge which need removal through re-honing or further stropping.  If the nick is very deep, the sharpening process will need to be repeated.

“Wow!  They’re sharp.  Now what?”

Do not simply toss your newly sharpened knives into a kitchen drawer.  The reason against this should be obvious.  If your home kitchen is frequented by crumb-crunchers (kids) a secure drawer may be the safest place for your knives.  I do not recommend storing knives on overhead shelves because you cannot see the edge as you grab around to find the knife you want.

Knives should be stored in a knife block, a magnetic knife rack, or in a padded case (best).  Field-expedient cases may be manufactured out of folded cardboard fashioned into a scabbard.  The open side is carefully taped (not stapled) together and the knife is slid into the scabbard for storage.

Keep your knives clean.

Most home chefs prefer stainless steel knives for their rustproof characteristic.  While stainless knives do not “rust”, the steel can be pitted by some substances if they are left in contact with the blade.  Consequently, all of my knives are washed immediately after they are used.

I never wash my knives in the dishwasher and safe practice dictates that a knife never be tossed into a sink or dish pan full of soapy water.  You want to be able to see the edge of any knife before you grab it.

Pros who use carbon steel blades seldom apply rust preventatives to the blades unless the knife is to be stored for a long (more than a week) time.  A kitchen rag dipped in vegetable oil is a fair choice.  However, vegetable oils can become gummy over time and can attract and retain dust and other crud.  Organic oils can become rancid and give cut foods an “icky” taste.

I use a rust preventative intended for coating firearms bores during storage.  Most of this gunk is not approved for use around food, so my long-term storage knives always get a careful scrubbing before use.

I have a few carbon steel knives that are nearly forty years old.  The blades have developed a rich patina, but remain sharp and useable.  Most of my high-end blades are stainless steel.  I store them carefully on a magnetic rack and transport them in cardboard scabbards inside of a (locked) briefcase.  Few of my knives have been through the entire sharpening/honing/stropping process more than a half-dozen times during their lives.

Your kitchen knives probably represent a significant portion of your kitchen equipment budget.  With care and proper handling, your knives are likely to become treasured heirlooms to be passed between generations.

Catching up

In General Information on August 10, 2011 at 12:24 pm

Thanks…

…For the many kind words of sympathy sent via email, snail-mail, telephone, and texts.  Abe was a very sweet dog who became sweeter over the passing years.  Abe showed us that humans are not the only beings who have the capacity to help others to see things clearly.

After a week sitting shiva in his memory (and with Tisha b’Av thrown in for good measure) we are quite behind in our acknowledgements and social calls.

We know you understand.

In related, but other news

Hy Vee, our local mass food retailer, houses pharmacies under their roofs.  As a last ditch effort to keep our other old hound Jack more comfortable, we began adjuncting his pain medications with gabapentin.  In his final month, Abe also benefited from this medication.

With our monthly expenses for canine pharmaceuticals reaching about $250/month, we welcomed a break from high drug costs by paying only $4 per month for gabapentin.

Today, I refilled Jack’s gabapentin order.

“That will be $13.97”, chirped the smiling Hy Vee pharmacist.

“Isn’t it on the $4 per month formulary?” I asked.

The young pharmacist almost cowered in fear behind the counter, as she said, “No, they took it off.  They do that sometimes.  Some days, we come in and they’ve taken a lot of drugs off of the four-dollar formulary.  We never know.”

“Gee, a little warning would be nice.  It’s not like I can’t afford a 250% price increase from four bucks, but what about people on more expensive drugs?”

I peeled off the greenbacks for the medicine.

The pharmacist looked genuinely pained.  “I know.  People budget for medicine.  It’s so hard to look at them when we quote the new, full price when they had no way to plan for it.”

I mentally pictured an elderly customer pushing one of those mini-carts containing a few days of groceries, waiting patiently in line for a four-buck prescription, only to be given an unpleasant surprise that will see the groceries left behind…or the needed medicine abandoned at the counter.

Suddenly changing a medicine price (in this case by 250%) without warning smacks of a company making the most out of the advantage of surprise.

A better plan would be to warn patients that their next refill could be at a much higher price, giving them a chance to budget for the change.  Patients with new prescriptions seldom know the price of the drug when it is first purchased and would be unaffected.

Which is exactly what I told Hy Vee in my email to them.

Comments verboten!

When Rekha Basu discontinued anonymous comments on her articles, it seemed like a good idea.

After all, shouldn’t a person stand by what they say or write?

At first blush, the answer would be yes.  Now, the Des Moines Register has made it the policy for the entire paper.

I have rethought my earlier position, based on comments by Natan Sharansky in his book, A Case for Democracy.

Sharansky observed that, in a truly free society, a person may say anything in the public forum without fear of retaliation by the government or by his fellow citizens.

We do not live in a free society.

We live in a nation of government watch lists and private black lists…not to mention among some pretty unstable fellow citizens.

Having to publish one’s true identity under an unpopular opinion, or one counter to those of the many budding J. Edgar Hoovers and Tailgunner Joes in government, can be hazardous to one’s business and social standing.  Additionally, it facilitates stalking by the looser wingnuts across the entire political spectrum.

The consequence will be stifled opinion and bland reader commentary…in the finest tradition of uber-polite (but not nice) Iowa.

Running a public comment board is a huge amount of work.  Democracy and freedom are not pursuits for lazy people.

The Register took the lazy man’s way out by not manning the comment boards with moderators to remove vulgar, threatening, and libelous commentary.

But, it is Gannett’s newspaper to run into the ground as they please…and they’ve been doing a fine job of that for the past three years.

In related news

Shortly before Abe’s death, Phyne Dyning shut down comments to our blog.

I simply do not have time to moderate comments.

While it is my libertarian mindset to let people comment at will, a beery comment made a few days earlier by a reader caused me to change my mind.

The comment came from a nice person who, judging by the syntax, spelling, and the hour the comment was made, was either sleep-deprived…or well-toasted.

Who the comment came from (and what the comment was) will go to my grave.  It is the “right” thing to do.

Readers may still communicate with Phyne Dyning at phynedyning@gmail.com .  I cannot guarantee a response and it is doubtful I will take the time to publish even sober comments.  But, your correspondence will be read.

In related, related news

It is dismaying to see how little the main-stream media devotes to candidate issues in favor of stirring a pot full of feces.

The kinder, gentler Des Moines Register recently made candidate Michele Bachmann’s gaffe into a Chutzpahgate.

Before yellow-dog Democrats assert I have favoritism toward Bachmann or yellower-dog Republicans think I have jumped on their Lipton-Lite Express…let me assert that I have more at odds with Bachmann’s platform than I do in line with it.  In fact, while Mr. Obama is far from my own political leanings…Bachmann seems to be further away.  Obammunists should not read any hope out of that statement.

But, for the Register to attempt to make hay out of Bachmann’s mangled pronunciation of  “chutzpah” when Iowans (and people living in the United States) are clamoring for economic, social, and global answers…indicates the width of the disconnect between today’s media and media consumers.

Bachmann pronounced “chutzpah” as CHOOTS-pah.

Oh-the-friggin-horror!

It has the same effect on my opinion of her as assertions coming from tighty-righty “birthers” or folks hooting and pointing to President Obama’s gaffe that he visited “all 56 states”.

London is burning, America’s MasterCard is maxed, boys and girls are dying in (another and another) senseless and imperialistic war, and we will all soon be empowered to wipe our butts with $20 bills.

Given the state of composition skills in today’s newspaper newsrooms, the phrase “glass houses” comes to mind.  And you can bet your dangling participle that all of us say/write “stupid”.

No wonder Americans are apathetic about voting for agency-polished candidates!

In related, related, related news

Phyne Dyning’s Facebook page will go to black.  I kept the page running for family members who are Facebook addicts, a few people they knew, and a few folks I met along the way.

The blog is doing nicely without the necessity of prodding people to it, as witnessed by stats that tell me more people visit my blog per week than used to visit in a month.  Whether they are reading for recipes, tips, curmudgeonry, or simply out of morbid curiosity is unimportant to me.  Phyne Dyning seems to have appeal and I see no need to prod or goad people into reading my blather.

The back story to my decision: I would get “friend” requests…and would have absolutely no idea who the person is.  There was no note or email from them in the way of introduction and, well, it was just plain creepy.

I have no psychological need to show off my latest battery-operated toilet plunger, my new underwear, or even that I’ve since washed the pair that I’ve worn since last Yom Kippur.

Plus, I’m not much on mindless palaver…no offense to readers who reflexively must “like” (or “LOL” at) everything posted on everyone else’s “wall”.

A few of my flesh and blood friends are playing about with Google Plus (which seems to have more features to appeal to compulsive narcissists).  But, it seems to serve in same genre of “social” media for the socially inept, budding stalkers, and people who work calculus problems while sitting on the toilet.

That I am opting out should be seen only in the context that I like only 12 of Baskin-Robbins’ many flavors of ice cream.

To each, his/her own.

Trouble in Old Blighty

I have long been an anglophile.  I long favored British roadsters (while I could still fit in one) and my lungs were contaminated by many packs of Dunhill (red box) cigarettes.

Photo: ABC News

Therefore, it saddens me to see the violence in London.

I pray to be wrong, but methinks it is a harbinger of things to come in other civilized nations.

The gulf between super-rich and very poor has become light-years wide.

While reading comments to the news of rioting published in The (UK) Guardian (You don’t think I would depend on Duh Register, do you?), I stumbled on this:

“The world has become a tinder-dry forest and there is a coming storm.  Only the rich fail to hear the thunder or see the lightning.”

Thanks for reading…

…the cooking will continue shortly!

Saying “Goodbye” to an old friend

In General Information on August 3, 2011 at 8:00 am

Last night, we said “goodbye” to Abe for the last time.

We always thought the historically frail “Jack” would be the next of our original pack of greyhounds to make a last run into the undiscovered country.

But then, Abe had a history of dancing to a tune he made up as it was played.

There is no need for a post-mortem of the hopelessness of his medical condition.  It is enough to say that, although his eyes remained bright right to the end, the effort required for living was becoming a burden for him.  In the end there was one final act of kindness we could do for Abe.

The scene was sad and it is one we have played out many times over our thirty years with our dogs.

Amidst the sadness of the moment, there was the joy in knowing we had given Abe fourteen years of happy living that he may not have otherwise enjoyed.

He was now at the end of his time with us.

We knelt beside him and rubbed his scarred ears.  The scars were medals he earned on a day, many years ago, when he and Jack had a serious disagreement over a matter of pack leadership.

Jack keeps a reminder of that day in a curling scar on his neck, a memento to the fierceness of their dispute.

Over the next ten years, they kept a distant friendship.  They were like the two Koreas, peering suspiciously at each other across miles of barbed wire and minefields.  It was an uneasy, but enduring cease-fire.

The cease-fire became a permanent armistice on Saturday when we discovered Jack lying next to Abe, Abe’s old, white head lying on Jack’s bony back.  Over the next few days, Jack stood vigil next to his old adversary, glancing concernedly if Abe whimpered or seemed uncomfortable.

On wobbly legs, Abe would totter over to take a sniff of Jack’s ears.

A year ago, similar intrusions on canine personal space would have resulted in a muttered warning through grey, and almost toothless, muzzles…geriatric saber rattling.

Then, in the last few days, the original affront to their canine honor became forgotten lore.  Peace was to be pursued before the opportunity to make peace would be lost forever.

At last, it was time for Abe to catch his bus.  Although the moment was bitter, tears would have to come later.  We spoke confidently (I am not sure it was convincingly) to Abe that we would be fine and that it was okay for him to leave us.

As our vet injected the lethal medicine into Abe’s too-prominent veins, we quietly chanted the ha-motzi Blessing as Abe’s eyes began to dim.  Despite the free flowing of dog treats and cookies in our home, getting a bite of Shabbat bread was the high point of the week for Abe.  All of our pack had a Pavlovian response to the opening Brachot for Shabbat.  But Abe actually became part of our Shabbat ritual, dancing around the table like an entranced chasid, tail wagging, and those scarred ears flopping about until he was given a piece of the cherished bread.  Although it was only Tuesday, I doubt G-d would be upset by our usurping of a Shabbat ritual as a mechanism to craft Abe’s final memory.

The original "Three Amigos" (L to R Jack, Adam, & Abe)

I also doubt G-d was offended by our quiet recitation of Kaddish, said in thanks to the Source of a life that, while not human, touched our human lives so deeply.