Archive for September, 2011|Monthly archive page

Happy New Year! Now, Lech Lecha!

In Editorial on September 27, 2011 at 9:31 am

At the Phyne Dyner’s home, the High Holy Days mark the high point of the Jewish calendar.  It means we get a fresh start and a (hopefully!) clean slate on which to begin writing our lives for the next year.  A magnet on the refrigerator sums up the sentiments:

“Dear G-d…Thank you for giving me a new day.  Especially since I messed up so badly yesterday.”

Every morning, Mrs. Phyne Dyner and I do some Jewish learning from a variety of sources.  I had been searching for something meaningful to share with my readers, but I did not want to “go all preachy” on them.

This morning, just in time, Mrs. Phyne Dyner shared this with me:

Ecclesiastes, at the end of his religious phase, may well have said to G-d, ‘What more do You want of me?  I have groveled, I have offered unquestioning obedience, I have done everything You asked me to.  Why then have You withheld from me that sense of completeness, that promise of eternity that I was looking for?’  And G-d may have answered, ‘What pleasure do you think I take in your groveling?  Do you really think I am so insecure that I need you to diminish yourself to make Me feel great?  I wish people would stop quoting what I said to the human race in its infancy, and listen to what I am trying to tell them today.  From children, and from spiritual children, I expect obedience.  But from you unquestioning obedience is just another name for the failure to act like an adult and take responsibility for your own life.  Do you want to feel complete?  Do you want to feel as if you have finally learned how to live?  Then stop saying ‘I only did what You told me to,’ and start saying, ‘You may or many not like it, but I have given it a lot of thought and this is what I feel is right.’”

 “True religion should not say to us, ‘Obey!  Conform!  Reproduce the past!’  It should call upon us to grow, to dare, even to choose wrongly at times and learn from our mistakes rather than being repeatedly pulled back from the brink of using our own minds.  For responsible religious adults, G-d is not the authority telling them what to do.  G-d is the divine power urging them to grow, to reach, to dare.  When G-d speaks to such people, He does not say, as one might to a child, ‘I will be watching you to make sure you don’t do anything wrong.’  He says rather, ‘Go forth into an uncharted world where you have never been before, struggle to find your path, but no matter what happens, know that I will be with you.’  Like a father who is genuinely proud when his children achieve success entirely on their own, G-d is mature enough to derive pleasure from our growing up, not from our dependence on Him.”

[Harold Kushner:  When All You’ve Ever Wanted Isn’t Enough (1986)]

This is not some New Agey feel good concept to make G-d more ‘human’ for an anything goes modern man.  G-d said to Abram, “Lech lecha…Go for yourself from your land, from your relatives, and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you.  And I will make of you a great nation; I will bless you, and make your name great, and you shall be a blessing.”  [Bereishit/Genesis 12 v 1-2]

L’shana tova!  May you (go for yourself) and be inscribed for a good year!  Even if (when) you mess up, G-d is still with you.

[Harold Kushner is a rabbi in the Progressive-Conservative movement of Judaism and is the author of a large number of inspirational books that reach out to Jews and non-Jews alike.]


Give new life to old lettuce

In Tips and Hints on September 27, 2011 at 8:40 am

Now that summer is all but a memory in America’s Ukraine (Iowa), we do not seem to use up our salad fixings as quickly as when the weather was warmer.  If you reach for a bag of your Romaine lettuce and find it a bit wilted, bring it back to life with a bit of lemon juice.

One of my favorite kitchen gadgets is my salad spinner.  After tearing up lettuce for a salad and carefully inspecting it for “guests”, I pour in a tablespoon full of lemon juice (Volcano Imported Sicilian Lemon Juice) and then fill the bowl with enough water to cover the lettuce.  After it stands for 15-20 minutes, I pour off the water and give the lettuce a quick spin to remove any clinging water.  The lettuce emerges as crisp as the day it was brought home.

The OXO Salad Spinner retails for about $15.

Faux Pho

In Recipies on September 27, 2011 at 8:21 am

One of America’s best decisions was its embracing of Southeast Asian immigrants.  Iowa, Texas, and Louisiana welcomed displaced persons from Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and Thailand.  Iowa’s Governor Ray was a vanguard in bringing agrarian Southeast Asians to America’s heartland.

The newcomers quickly adapted to farming in the heartland and shrimping along the Gulf Coast.  Contrary to the forecasts of xenophobes, they proved to be hard workers and embraced everything American with a zeal not seen since the Great Potato Famine in Ireland.

The Southeast Asians kept their cultural roots.  Many were Catholic and blended readily into the Catholic society that runs deep roots in Iowa, Texas, and Louisiana.

To our benefit, they brought their foods.

I was introduced to “pho” (rhymes with “duh”) years before the “boat people” arrived in America.  In high school I raced motorcycles (motocross and cross county “enduro”) and my frequent teammate was a young man named “Gavin”.

Gavin was a few years older and had gone to Vietnam to protect America from its then most feared enemy, agrarian Vietnamese.  This was well before American imperial forces were sent to the Near East to protect us from agrarian Muslims.

Gavin came home with a limp and a wife.  The limp was from a twisted knee he got when leaping from a “Huey” helicopter.  The wife, was a young laundry worker who fell for the short French-Canadian.

Her name was something like “Khar-ahn Nguyen”.  We called her “Karen” and her surname, Nguyen (pronounced “Gwin” or “Gewhin”) was shared with about two thirds of her former countrymen.

“In Vietnam, everyone named Nguyen”, she explained.

Karen introduced me to “pho” and “goi cahn” (Vietnamese spring rolls).  To my western nose, her cooking smelled terrible.  The aroma was sort of a blend of strange spices and fish gone bad.

I lost track of Gavin and Karen.  I recently learned Gavin had passed away from lung cancer and there was no trail for Karen.  I pray she is well.

I also lost track of pho and goi cahn.

That is, until I began my internship and subsequent residency in Texas.

My chief resident, Fran, asked me if I ever had pho.  I nodded and Fran broke into a wide grin.  He ushered his intern charges into a van and off we went to Asia Foods.

The place was a poster for the immigrant squalor familiar to the Irish, Jews, Poles, Germans, and others who came years before the Vietnamese.  Filthy rags fluttered in the hot Texas sun and a dank bucket of mop water stood by the front door.  A woman of undeterminable age, with black teeth from decades of chewing betel nuts greeted us with a flurry of excitement and an accent that reminded my of my lost friend Karen.

Her ao dai fluttered in the breeze while a horde of small children giggled in the kitchen door.   She warmly greeted “bac si (doctor) Fran”.

In a very short time, huge bowls of pho took their places at our table.  A platter of bean sprouts, lime slices, jalapeno slices, basil leaves, cilantro leaves, green onion, and mint accompanied the soup.  Little bowls of pungent peanut sauce stood next to the goi cahn and tall glasses filled with ice waited for café sua da.

Café sua da is espresso coffee made with a special infuser, served over several tablespoons of Eagle Brandmilk.  The stuff is beyond refreshing and goes well with stout cigarettes enjoyed by

Cafe sua da

the Vietnamese (think “Camel studs”).

In those days, I did not keep much to kosher and my favorite blend of pho was pho hai san” (seafood pho) filled with shrimp, squid, and other treife.  Bunches of mushrooms and vegetables bumped into the forbidden foods like flotsam.  In the bottom of the enormous bowl was a wad of rice noodles or spaghetti.  Technically, if spaghetti is used, the pho becomes mi thap cahm.

It did not seem possible that a mere human could consume the entire bowl (bucket) of soup in a single sitting.  The omnipresent table of middle-aged Vietnamese men wearing white shirts smoked their Camel studs and politely avoided eye contact with the “mi” (Americans) slurping noisily at their pho.

Oh, the memories.

But, y’all do not read Phyne Dyning for my memories.

How about we make some pho?

Now, a word of disclaimer about the recipe.  You can make real pho hai san using shrimp, clams, and baby squid.  Or, if your Invisible Friend demands you avoid treife, you can make a very passible faux pho by using imitation crab and lobster (read the label for permitted ingredients…some use “lobster flavor” or “crab flavor”).  If you cannot find permitted imitation seafood, use canned chicken breast, cod, and salmon.

Problem solved!

Here is what you’ll need.  Be inventive!  Pho is Vietnamese peasant food.  There are beef, chicken, and fish varieties.

8oz imitation crab

8oz imitation lobster

6-8ox canned chicken breast

½ C finely minced onion

8 cloves garlic, finely minced

1 carrot thin sliced

1 can sliced water chestnuts

½ C baby (Asian) corn

3 TBS Vietnamese nuac mam* (fish sauce)

* or use 3 TBS anchovy paste in 1 C warm water

1 qt chicken broth

1 qt vegetable broth

1 tsp ground coriander

1 tsp lemongrass

2 tsp ground ginger

1 star anise pod

½ to 1 tsp ground cinnamon (to taste)

10 black peppercorns, cracked with mallet

1-2 handfuls fresh spinach, shredded

1 tsp galangal powder (optional)

½ C cilantro leaves

1 TBS “Saigon Sizzle” sauce (optional)

½ tsp cayenne pepper

2 C white button mushrooms, thinly sliced

 Dump all of the above into a large stockpot and heat thoroughly or until carrots are almost soft.  DO NOT overcook!  Pho freezes very well (absent of the noodles) and I make several batches for cold winter nights or when one of us has the “flu”…Vietnamese penicillin!

Ready, set, go!

When you want to serve your pho, prepare the following:

1 pkg spaghetti or 1 pkg rice noodles cooked to package instructions to al dente

Now, prepare the garnish (per person).  Be sure to use FRESH herbs!  Do this by the handful.

Fresh basil leaves

Fresh mint leaves

Fresh cilantro

Fresh bean spouts

Fresh green onion slivers

Sliced jalapeno pepper

Bunch of chives

Lime and lemon slices

Do not forget the sauces!

Tuong Ot Sriracha (Hoy Fong Foods)

Go to an Asian market and ask for “The Rooster”!

Vietnamese peanut sauce (most Asian markets)

  OR mix 1 tbs peanut butter with ½ C “Saigon Sizzle Stir Fry Sauce”

Serve the sauces in small bowls or “family style”.

Place a “glob” of spaghetti or rice noodles in the bottom of a bowl and ladle a bit of the broth with the meats over the noodles.  Drizzle the Sriracha and peanut sauce over the mix and then shred the herbs over the whole mess, squeeze the lime or lemon on it, and toss in some bean sprouts and jalapeno slices.


Kahm ong ba (“Thank you” – feminine) to “Karen” for introducing me to one of my favorite foods.

Coming tomorrow…faux pho!

In General Information on September 26, 2011 at 9:43 pm


One of the best things to happen to America was its embrace of Vietnamese refugees…”Thank you Governor Ray!” The Phyne Dyner believes that the Vietnamese repaid American generosity with their introduction of “pho” to American cuisine!

Tomorrow…on Phyne Dyning!

Special Editorial: To all tenants

In Editorial on September 25, 2011 at 2:03 am

Renters…the lowest echelon of property occupants.  That is how “homeowners” regard those who pay the landlord.

They forget that they, too, are tenants.

“But I own my home!”


Try this on…

…stop paying your property taxes and see what happens.  Your home and land will be confiscated by the state and sold.  Fail to pay the fire protection district and their firemen will stand by and allow your home to burn to ashes.

The state is the essential owner of your property.

This is true whether or not you continue to dutifully make payments to the conglomerate banksters who live coat and hat with the state.

“But aren’t you libertarians in favor of ‘free markets’ and aren’t the banks part of a free market?”

Again, wrong.

A “free market” is a free market.  If a bank or industry manipulates or controls a market, it is no longer a truly free market.  “Free market” does not mean one industry or interest can control the market through aggression.  Despite their praises of the concept, not one recent politician supports truly free markets.

Despite their praises of democracy and free speech, not one politician or media outlet supports democratic voice and free speech.

I offer as an example…”Occupy Wall Street”.

Heard of it?  Probably not.

In America’s Ukraine (Iowa) most people are more concerned with whether or not Shawn Johnson will waddle and strut into some gymnastic event.  Not to be overly mean to mean-spirited Iowa, much of the country has not heard of the protest either.

Probably something to do with an orchestrated media blackout of the protest.

They are too busy to learn that peaceful protesters have been Tasered, Maced, herded, corralled, and beaten by the “heroic” NYPD.

Remember, these are the folks we just held an annual cry-fest for on 11 September.

And this is how we are repaid?

Protesters have had cameras confiscated.  People have been arrested for “wearing a mask (backward!) in public” (an 1845 law that was seldom enforced) and unarmed and noncombative women have been sprayed with police pepper spray.

Bystanders herded behind orange police mesh and sprayed with mace.

Cheered by the protests in Egypt and Libya, Americans have poured into New York’s streets.  Americans, after decades of torpor, have again found their voices.

After decades of selling out to advertising agencies, marketing gurus, and other charlatans they have decided “buying something” is less important than standing up for truth and economic justice.

Despite the intimidation attempts by the protectors of the monied elites (the police), the protest remains strong.  Despite an “accidental blackout” of protest news on Yahoo/AOL the protest grows stronger.

You do not own your home.  You rent.

We may make payments to the banksters…but they do not own our souls.

You do not rent your freedoms.  You own them!

Use them.

Phyne Dyning stands proudly with Occupy Wall Street!

"Heroic" NYPD officer arrests protester for asking a question.

La Vie Boheme

In Lifestyle on September 16, 2011 at 3:42 pm

Bohemian Mona Lisa (Wm. Adolphe Bouguereau)

“…(T)he word bohemian first appeared in the English language in the 19th century to describe the non-traditional lifestyles of marginalized and impoverished artists, writers, journalists, musicians, and actors in major European cities. Bohemians were associated with unorthodox or anti-establishment political or social viewpoints, which were often expressed through free love, frugality, and voluntary poverty.”

                                                            [Wikipedia definition of “bohemian(ism)”]

Wikipedia enjoys its special status of being the bohemian encyclopedia.  One quotes Wikipedia in any truly scholarly work at one’s academic peril.  That said, I find Wikipedia’s summary definition of “bohemian” succinct and vivid.

It is also the definition of Phyne Dyning.

As the Obamonomics economy sputters and fails (and the equally evil Republicans have less of a clue), more and more people are discovering the joys of bohemianism…albeit their discovery is often absent of choice.

There is a whole interior design school based on repurposed home items and furnishings.

For example, taller legs get put on a battered coffee table and the table is repurposed as a sofa table.  Or, legs are put on shelving units or they are hung on walls.  Or (even), the table gets hung on the wall as a shelf!

In short, it is making old stuff new again.

But Phyne Dyning/bohemianism is not limited to décor.  It is an entire lifestyle.  After all, to park one’s late-model yuppiemobile outside of a home that has been scrupulously decorated in the bohemian style is the poser’s betrayal of bohemianism.

You have to “walk the walk”.

My neighbor, who had bought my snow blower, dropped by the other day.  He and his family are discovering bohemianism.  His company decided he was no longer needed and he had been working two subsistence jobs to keep his two leased vehicles and pay the mortgage.

He had finally reached the end of his auto leases and returned the cars in mid-summer.  In return he got…


The poor sod actually believed he would get some money back for the returned, leased cars!  He spent the next two days in a real rented car, plying used car lots.  He settled for a “Bohemia-Vagon”, painted in trademark “primer grey”.

I was in the driveway, working on my own (white and primer) Bohemia-Vagon (the truck known as, “The Yom Kippur Klipper”) when he stopped by.

“Hey” he said, “Do you think you’d be interested in buying that snow blower you sold me?”  It turned out my favorite neighbor was moving out of his home and into a small apartment that would be hundreds cheaper per month.

Coincidentally, I had begun to grouse the day previously about selling the machine and then having circumstances (again!) delay our departure for warmer climes.

“I’ll let you have it for $250 less than I paid.  And, I never even got a chance to use it.”  His face had the look of a child who had awakened to find the lost tooth still under the pillow.

“Deal!” I said.  “I’ll even come by to pick it up.”

He smiled sadly.

Our conversation drifted to cars.  I explained that I was overhauling the “EGR system” on the Klipper.  Then, I would return to sanding off the peeling paint, applying a bit more primer, and the (perhaps) even a new, white topcoat.

“I guess you saw my new ride?” he asked quietly.

“Sure did.  Nice!”

He began to mumble a bit about how he missed the heated seats of his leased car when I stopped him.

“So, how much are your payments?”

He looked puzzled.  My question was as impolite as if I had asked whether or not he washed his hands after using the toilet.

“Um, zero.”  He smiled self-consciously.

I grinned back.  “Pretty cool, huh?”

I wiped my dirty hands on a shop towel and invited him in for a quick (morning) beer.  He looked both shocked and grateful.

We ambled inside for the beers and I laughed out loud as he took in our décor, which can only be described as “Western American/Lebanese Whorehouse”.  Our ancient greyhound “Jack” hobbled to our guest and sniffed his crotch, while the younger hound, “Adi”, loudly thumped her tail on the wall.

Fresh out of beer (I rarely keep the stuff.) I offered my guest a glass of jugged red wine and Mrs. PD set out a baguette and plates of olive oil.

We munched our bread and sipped the wine as I welcomed him to the lifestyle.

Chicken, Mushroom, Barley-Vegetable Soup

In Recipies on September 16, 2011 at 2:24 pm

The “other” season has arrived in Iowa (“America’s Ukraine”)…the cold and damp season.  We just emerged from the other season…”hot and humid”.  Soon the snow will be flying.

This can only mean one thing.

It is time to start making big batches of soups.

As we generally shun air conditioning, I do not prepare soups during Iowa’s “hot and humid” season.  If we want soup, I bring up a frozen container that was prepared during the cold and damp season, when we make use of residual “free” heat generated in the preparation of the gallons of soups destined for freezing.

Today’s soup will be: “Chicken, Mushroom, and Barley-Vegetable”.

It begins with one (or two) of the chicken carcasses I bagged and froze over the summer.  If we were to suddenly die (G-d forbid!), people would puzzle for months over why there were 5-10 frozen chicken carcasses in the freezer.

We save them for soup-making weather!

Okay!  Here we go…

1 chicken carcass (two if your family pretty well picks them over)

1 gallon of water

Dump the water into a 3-gallon stockpot and dump the chicken into the water.  Remember about how high the water level comes in the pot (important!).  Bring to a boil and reduce the heat to low-medium.  Cover, and cook, for three hours or until any remaining meat falls off of the bones and the cartilage is soft.  Allow the broth to cool enough to be safely handled and then remove the large bones with a big, slotted spoon.  Do the same with the meaty pieces, picking the wonderfully sweet meat off of their bones.  Pour the remaining broth through a strainer and remove any small bone fragments.  Return the broth to the stockpot.  If the broth looks too greasy, spoon off some of the floating fat before proceeding…reserving the fat in the fridge for later.

That was easy!  No, we are not done…

We have to add more “stuff”.

1 medium yellow onion, small dice

6 cloves garlic, minced

4 large shallots, minced

3 carrots, diced

1 C frozen peas

1 C frozen corn

½ C frozen limas

2 C (chopped) dried wild mushrooms (or 1 lb coarsely chopped white fresh)

1 C barley

2 TBS olive oil (optional)

2 TBS brandy or cognac

1-3 TBS lemon juice

1-2 tsp dried thyme

1-2 tsp dried tarragon

1-2 tsp dried marjoram

½-1 tsp dried oregano

½-1 tsp dried, rubbed sage

cayenne pepper to taste (optional)

kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Do you remember the approximate water level you started with?  Add in enough cold water to bring the soup volume back to one gallon.

This is not a soup where we dump everything in the pot at one time.  We do not want the veggies to get mushy and it is a sound practice to only add about ½ of the herbs at the beginning of cooking.  Herb flavors come from volatile oils in them.  If you add herbs (or spices) too early, their oils cook off and your dish has only a shadow memory of their wonderful flavors.  Save ½ of the herbs to add in the last 15 minutes of cooking.  Ditto, for the brandy and lemon juice.

Add the onion, garlic, and shallots to the broth.  Cover and cook over medium heat for about an hour, or until the onions are very soft.  Add the vegetables and barley, cover, and cook for another 30 minutes or until the barley is just softened.  NOW, add the remaining herbs, brandy, lemon juice and cayenne.  TASTE!  Add salt and pepper and…TASTE!  Now, LOOK!  Is there a bit of sheen on top of the broth?  There should be a bit of fat floating on the soup.  If not, you can either add back some of the fat you spooned off earlier, or you can add healthier olive oil instead.  Stir the soup again and TASTE.  If the soup seems a bit “flat”, do not add salt!  Add another tablespoon of lemon juice and TASTE.  You do not want a salty soup.  You want a soup with “bright” flavors.  Remember, “Too many cooks add salt when it is not needed and end up with a good, but salty soup!”  Twist in a generous amount of black pepper and add in a bit more cayenne if you like.

Serve with hot, crusty bread and a crisp wine.

Soup’s on!

Is American blood “redder”?

In Editorial on September 14, 2011 at 12:05 am

The Jewish Federation of Greater Des Moines has their tallitot (prayer shawls) in a twist because there was no American flag at the “Common Ground” prayer service commemorating the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks

The Interfaith Alliance of Iowa got it right…no flag.  It was a prayer service and not just another over-the-top homage to all things American…and worshiping its military and police.

For readers whose undies just got intimate with their…errr…nether regions, here is a breakdown of the nationalities of those who perished in the attack:

Argentina   4,   Australia 11, Bangladesh 6, Belarus 1, Belgium 1, Brazil 3, Canada 24, Chile 3, China 3, Cote d’voire 1, Columbia 17, Congo 2, Dominican Republic 47, El Salvador 2, Ecuador 3, Ethiopia 2, France 3, Germany 11, Ghana 2, Guyana 3, Haiti 2, Honduras 1, India 41, Indonesia 1, Ireland 6, Israel 5, Italy 10, Jamaica 16, Japan 24, Jordan 2, Lebanon 3, Lithuania 1, Malaysia 3, Mexico 16, Moldova 1, Netherlands 1, New Zealand 2, Nigeria 1, Pakistan 8, Peru 5, Philippines 16, Portugal 5, Poland 6, Romania 3, Russia 1, South Africa 2, South Korea 28, Spain 1, Sweden 1, Switzerland 2, Republic of China 1, Trinidad and Tobago 15, Ukraine 1, Uzbekistan 1, United Kingdom 68, Bermuda 2, Venezuela 1.

Nearly everyone, Jew and gentile, is familiar with the Talmudic teaching of “Who saves a life, is as though they save an entire world”.  The flip-side is, “Who takes a life is as though they killed an entire world.”  The butcher’s bill for the attack was 2,977.  They are all dead…murdered…and so are the generations the dead would have given rise to.

More important, for Mark Finkelstein (the federation spokesman who left the event “in protest”) to remember is also from the Talmud, “Why is your blood redder? Perhaps the blood of another is redder.”  372 foreign nationals lost their lives on that terrible day.  Who are we to say American blood is “redder” than theirs with the self-absorbed ostentation of a singly displayed American flag?

Jews should understand this concept with perfect clarity.

2977 of our fellow human beings perished in the cowardly attack.  It is irrelevant if they were police, firefighters, EMTs, janitors, cooks, lawyers, or candle-stick makers.  Jews, Christians, non-Christian gentiles, atheists, agnostics, Wiccans, etc. all perished on that day.  Despite the statist, emotional rhetoric, not every victim wore a uniform.  Not every victim was an American.

They were, however, just “people”…like you and me.  They had hopes and fears.  They had payments.  They loved and they were loved.  Many were just looking forward to tomorrow.

It is a “shanda” (shame) that the Jewish Federation of Greater Des Moines failed to see the attack for what it was, a horrific attack on civilized humanity, rather than an attack on United States citizens and its uniformed priesthood.  By fleeing the event “in protest” Finkelstein dishonored the Jewish community that stands firm in its traditional belief that murder is murder.  It makes no difference whose flag the victims lived (and died) under on that awful day.

The Interfaith Alliance of Iowa “got it right”. It was a prayer service dedicated to a terrible day.  It said…

…”May G-d comfort all who mourn.”  That…was the “Common Ground” the alliance was seeking.

Too bad Finkelstein did not understand.

(Green) Beans…(Green) Beans…the non-musical fruit

In Recipies on September 13, 2011 at 10:56 pm

Wow!  I looked away and the weeks flew by.

Providing hospice care to “Abe” in the closing days of his life set me behind on many projects.  I resumed them as best I could and then began dealing with the emerging task of (as my Marine buddies say) “un-assing this (Iowa) AO”.  Our last old hound, “Jack” keeps going on like the Energizer Bunny.  He needs care every other hour and we do it with a song in our heart.  Add to that, the usual fall-time activities (herb drying and auto repair) and you have a sure-fire way to let the other stuff fall by the wayside.

So, what is cooking?

Today, I have a couple of wonderful sides that I have been playing with over the past two weeks.

Green beans!

Green beans go with almost any dish.  They are a favorite in the Near East, particularly in Iraq and Iran and there are almost any number of ways to make them fit in with any main course.  With fresh green beans available much of the year and with flash frozen beans being a pretty fair substitute for fresh, green beans offer up a nice accompaniment to year-round main dishes.

There just does not seem to be any room for canned green beans, except as survival rations.

I was shocked to learn that green beans figure pretty low on toddler food preferences.  Since many youngsters are only introduced to the horrid canned version, it is no wonder they acquire a dislike for something they learned to be “slimy” and “like biting into a caterpillar in full rigor mortis”.

Try giving the kiddoes some fresh (or flash frozen) green beans!

Today, I will offer up (my own) sedate (traditional European) style alongside (my own) zippy Mediterranean version.

Let’s get cooking.

Green Beans with Red pepper and Chickpeas

2 TBS olive oil

12 oz fresh or frozen green beans, cut into 4” lengths with strings removed

1 C canned chickpeas (drained)

½ medium yellow onion thinly sliced

½ sweet red pepper, thinly sliced

2 Roma tomatoes, diced

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 tsp ground coriander

¼ tsp ground turmeric

¼ tsp Aleppo pepper (or 1/8 tsp cayenne)

1 TBS lemon juice

kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Heat the oil in a sauté pan over medium heat.  Add the green beans, onion, and red pepper.  Add in the garlic and cook for 1-2 minutes.  Then, cook for 3-5 more minutes or until the onion becomes translucent.  Add in the remaining ingredients (except lemon juice) and heat chickpeas through.  Splash in the lemon juice and check salt and pepper just before serving.

Green Beans Royale

12-16oz fresh or frozen green beans, 4” length with strings removed

2 C thinly sliced white (cremini) mushrooms

1 small onion, thinly sliced

1 tsp “Bouquet Garni” herb blend*

½ sweet red pepper, thinly sliced

3 TBS butter, faux butter, or olive oil

2 cloves garlic, minced

dash lemon juice

kosher salt and pepper to taste

  • Penzey’s brand or make your own by mixing:  1/8 tsp each of ground savory, ground thyme, ground oregano, ground rosemary, ground basil, and ground tarragon and 1 tsp ground sage.

Heat oil or butter in medium skillet over medium heat.  Add in the green beans, mushrooms, onion, red pepper, and garlic.   Stir in the herbs and sauté 5-6 minute (beans should remain crisp).  Dash in the lemon juice and check seasoning before service.

In both recipes, the beans and red peppers should retain some “crunch”.  Do not over-cook them and let them turn pale green (YECH!).  We love the beans with chickpeas as a side to Israeli-style garlic chicken and the “royale” version goes with any European main course, such as prime rib, roasted chicken, etc.

Buxton, Iowa…a Labor Day story

In Editorial on September 4, 2011 at 8:51 pm

Several months ago, I thoroughly enjoyed a program on Iowa Public Television that told the amazing story of Buxton, Iowa.

Buxton, located near Oskaloosa, enjoyed the reputation of being America’s first fully (and only) racially integrated municipality.  African-Americans and whites enjoyed unprecedented equality in jobs, housing, and lifestyle.  There were “Negro” teachers standing before white students and getting identical pay as their white colleagues.  The happy side of the story tells us that whites and blacks cooperated racially in the best interests of coal production and civic mindedness.

After the mine closed, the population moved along and rejoined mainstream America.  African-American former Buxtonites lamented that they never again enjoyed such equality in America.

It appeared to be a story about a racial “Brigadoon”.

This would not be a Labor Day editorial if it were about the racial “successes” of Buxton, Iowa.

I became quite curious about Buxton and its history.  Even a hundred years later, whites and African-Americans do not enjoy anything anywhere near the storybook-style harmony that once typified Buxton.

What was going on?  There had to be more.

There was!

Buxton was a company town and Consolidated Coal Company (CCC) was its owner.  The late 1800s were the beginning stirrings of labor unrest in the mines and the dark, dirty, and dangerous mining industry was a birthplace of the American labor movement.  Over the passing years, increasing numbers of coal mines were organized by the newly formed United Mine Workers of America (UMWA).  Strikes were becoming common and they disrupted the stream of coal destined to support America’s full swing industrial revolution.

Consolidated Coal Company looked for an expedient and cheap resolution to the potential strikes that loomed just outside their tipples.

White miners were typically new Americans of Welsh, Cornish, or Czech origin.  Back in their homelands, labor and employee-employer relations were still quite Dickensian.  These workers were just beginning to smell labor justice, but they had been conditioned back home to fear retaliatory redundancies that seemed to follow whenever workers began to flex a collective muscle.  Losing a job in those days, in those places, was often a death sentence for a family.

The question facing CCC was, “What can be added to this mix to keep our workers cowed for just a bit longer?”

CCC found the answer it was looking for in America’s Carolinas.  Newly freed African-Americans were shipped north, to Buxton…as strikebreakers.  Far from home and conditioned to be docile and obedient, these workers began to enjoy a standard of living that could hardly be imagined in the shadows of charred plantations.

According to historical accounts, Consolidated ran its company town with a paternalistic, iron fist.  Unmarried men were not hired and the only housing available to married workers were the “company homes” rented to them for a portion of their pay.

If a family “created a disturbance” they were summarily evicted with only five days notice.  There was no city council and the “police” consisted of two CCC “regulators” who kept some form of order.

They also decided who “created a disturbance”.

Workers were encouraged to reflect on “how lucky” they were to have “good jobs” and the company men regularly reminded workers of their precarious ability to keep those jobs under often capricious and arbitrary circumstances.

So, while Buxton Iowa makes for a deeply motivational story of racial harmony, the untold price of harmony was equal oppression of two racial groups of workers, each holding on desperately to what little a company permitted both white…and black…to hold.

Happy Labor Day from Phyne Dyning!