Sunday, August 13, 2017

The Top 100 Fiction and Non-fiction Books of All Time.
One Southern Man’s Opinion
No. 99
Fiction: The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer
Non-Fiction: Aliens edited by Jim Al-Khalili

As I was going over my list for the top 100 books of all time, I ran into a bit of a problem—I had at least 150 of my favorite books, and I felt all of them deserved a seat at the table. I tried to weed some of them out, but could not. I mean, if I had, neither of these two books would have made my list, and they had to. I dearly love them both. Then it hit me that I was being silly. Very few Top 100 lists of books contain both fiction and non-fiction, so why should mine? I would simply separate the books I was considering into fiction and non-fiction. Problem solved.
And before I tell you why these two books deserve to be on my list, let me be honest—I’ve been keeping lists such as these since I was fifteen, and they never stay the same for long. The books within the list fluctuate, some moving out, others moving in. And they also fluctuate within the list, especially if I re-read a book after several years and find it as exciting as I did on the first read— if it’s still meaningful to me. Or, vice-versa. I recently moved The Wind in the Willows from 26 to 73. As a child it was one of my favorite books, and I still believe it to be a great story, but it just didn’t grab me on my last read the way a top 40 book should.
The Canterbury Tales, by Geoffrey Chaucer. Fiction # 99.
 I can guess that those of you who were English majors probably feel I’m giving short shrift to The Canterbury Tales, listing it way up there at 99. I agree—sort-of. It’s a great work of literature, but then I have to ask myself: how often do I pick a copy up and read from it for pleasure? How many times a month do I say to my wife, “Hey, dear—how about a few lines from old Geoff C. before we hit the sack?” The answer to both questions is: not very often.
I do, however, read from it now and then. As a writer of fiction, I find The Canterbury Tales to be a great idea stimulator because of the wide range of topics Chaucer covers. I also enjoy reading about the pilgrims themselves—their prejudices, disagreements, and the way they used their stories to “get at,” to “bug” the other pilgrims, the ones they were not getting along with. As a young man, when I first began reading these tales, I enjoyed the bawdy, vulgar ones the most. And now that I’m older . . . I still do. “The Miller’s Tale” is a genuinely funny story, and I can read it over and over and actually learn something new about writing every time. Sometimes I focus on the story, itself, and other times on the pilgrims.
As with most books needing translations, it’s difficult to find a really good version of The Canterbury Tales. My favorite is the “New translation by Gerald J. Davis,” released in 2016. It is easy to read, and still poetic. But it always helps to have a CliffsNotes Canterbury Tales nearby.
Non-Fiction No. 99: Aliens. Sub-titled: “The World’s Leading Scientists on the Search for Extraterrestrial Life.” Edited and with an introduction by Jim Al-Khalili.
Wow. I just finished reading Aliens and had to put it on my list. Over the next few months I’m sure it will rise, eventually settling somewhere in the 40s-50s, but I’m still digesting this gem.
Let me be up front on the subject of aliens—meaning space creatures, not people on the other side of the border. I started reading science fiction at 13, and have loved it ever since, so believing in aliens has been a no-brainer for me. I not only believe in aliens, I’ve seen UFOs. I never make a big deal about the UFOs. I saw them. I believed in them. Until now. Damn-it-all if Al-Khalili’s little book hasn’t left me thinking the same as one of the essayists—Lewis Dartnell, in his chapter, “(Un)welcome Visitors: Why Aliens Might Visit Us.” If there are civilizations beyond our solar system that have mastered space travel, there is no reason—none!—for them to come here, except out of morbid curiosity. And who travels a few hundred light years out of their way for nothing but curiosity? The fact is, we have nothing to offer them.
Once again, wow! It’s sobering to think that I’m a member of a civilization with nothing to offer an alien. But it’s true.
If you’re at all curious about this planet, its future, or aliens, or how and why life evolved, I recommend this book. It is both optimistic and pessimistic. Al-Khalili has done a fantastic job of rounding up essayists who give both sides of every important question mankind should be asking itself.
A sad conclusion I’ve come to after reading Aliens is that I now agree with several of the writers that humans, in our present form, will not ever travel to other stars. It isn’t cost efficient, and one thing we’re good about is watching costs. I always knew I would never travel to other stars, but always felt that someday my descendants would do so. I think not. We humans, in the form we now have, are earthbound. Forever. It might be possible for a robot of some type, perhaps with our DNA embedded within it, to travel to other stars—but not us. Not humans. We are not the ultimate life form after all. Damn. That’s a hard fact for a human to absorb.
As for aliens—do they exist? Of course they do. The odds, the chances, are on the side of life being almost everywhere. After all, in our tiny, quaint galaxy alone, there are several billion star-circling planets and we find more and more in the “earth-orbit-life-friendly” zone every day.  
Will the aliens resemble us? I doubt it. One of the essayists in Aliens tells about his studies of octopi, and how they are as alien to humans as anything we’ll ever find on other worlds. And we don’t know anything, really, about the octopi. Maybe we should learn all we can about our own world before we try to find life elsewhere.
See? This book will make you think long and hard about many, varied subjects. And, after all, isn’t that what a good book is for? To open up our minds?

So there you have it. If you read—if you study— The Canterbury Tales and Aliens, you’ll never have to worry about running out of subjects to talk about at the next party you attend. 

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Fantastic Meals. The Top 100 (Mostly Southern) Meals and Side Dishes of All Time.
by Earl G. Fisher

Number 91
Summertime Soup

     When August drifts around every year, there is little to celebrate here in the Deep
South. It's hot and humid one day, hotter and more humid the next. A day or so ago

the humidity was at 99%. I thought we had to be under water to get a 99% reading. 

     There is one good thing about August in the South, however, and that's the

proliferation of summer vegetables. Tomatoes, peppers, okra, squash, and cucumbers

will grow like weeds if there's enough rain. And that's the reason I developed a recipe

for Summertime Soup--it's chock-full of tomatoes and peppers, along with a few other

items.

     During our horrid summers I have a favorite vegetable market I go to once a week

in Millbrook, Alabama, just a few short miles from my house. I like this market over

other ones in our area because one of the family-owned farms--Penton Farms, out of

Verbena, Alabama--sells me a weekly box of "seconds" tomatoes for a very good

 price.



         "Seconds" are the tomatoes most buyers don't want, because they usually

consist of over-ripe, under-ripe, small, or blemished fruit. I don't care what they look

like or if I have to toss several of them in the compost pile. I'm not looking for perfect

tomatoes. I use them to make tomato juice, one of my reasons for living--especially in

the summer. Once they become juice, who cares what they used to look like? 

     Now--the recipe for my homemade tomato juice is also on my list of top 100

dishes--it's in my top 10, as a matter of fact. But it's not the dish I'm telling you about

today.

     Summertime soup is a derivative of my tomato juice, however, because once I

squeeze most of the juice from the tomatoes, I have a large pot of  leftover tomato

carcasses--the pulp and skins of the guys who sacrifice their juice so that I can make

it through another awful August. This leftover pot of tomato pulp makes fantastic 

spaghetti sauce, chili sauce, and, of course, Summertime Soup.

     The other main ingredients of this soup are potatoes and peppers, and today I have

some red potatoes, along with some bell and banana peppers that came from the same

farming family that sold me the box of tomato "seconds." The only problem I have

with bell peppers is that most Americans think bell peppers are green when they're

ripe--like limes--making the ripe ones difficult to find. I won't buy green bell peppers.

I like them at the peak of their ripeness, bright red or yellow. This means I often have

to buy banana peppers, which are almost always good and yellow--in other words,

ripe. 

     I don't care which kind of peppers I use--banana or bell. I like them all. 

     So here you go--the ingredients for Summertime Soup.

          2 tbs. good oil, either olive, grape seed, or canola.
          4 cloves garlic, minced
          2 good-sized onions, chopped. I use Vidalia, or other type of sweet onion.
          4 cups peppers, chopped. Red, yellow, banana, bell--it doesn't matter.
          4 cups potatoes, skins on (I always eat the potato skins.)
          1 - 32 oz. container of chicken broth.
          4 cups tomato pulp (or, if you don't have any leftover tomatoes, use two 15 oz.
 cans of stewed tomatoes.
          1 tsp., more or less, Tony Chachere's Original Creole Seasoning.

     Sauté the onions and garlic in the oil. Add the peppers, potatoes, and chicken broth. Bring to boil, reduce heat, and simmer 20 minutes. Add the tomatoes and seasoning, bring back to boil and simmer another 10 minutes. Allow to cool slightly. Add, in batches, to a blender and blend until smooth. Pour a big bold bowlful, add a little more Tony Chachere’s if you dare, and enjoy the fruits of summer.

     Years ago I didn't blend this soup, preferring to eat it with chunks of vegetables,

instead. Now, however, I prefer it smooth, with all the various veggies blended

together. Try it either way, or put some aside before you blend it and have some both

ways. And if you can't have your soup without meat in it, sauté a pound of ground

beef and add it after you blend the veggies.

     No matter which way you choose to make this soup, it's one great way to get

yourself through our danged hot-as-hell summers.



Sunday, December 15, 2013

Fantastic Meals. The Top 100 (Mostly Southern) Meals and Side Dishes of All Time. Number 92.

Number 92
Who-Needs-Pimientos? Pimiento-Cheese Burger


            If you ever sit down and read a few pages of John T. Edge’s excellent book, Hamburgers & Fries, an American Story, I’m willing to bet that by the time you finish the preface, you’ll be on the prowl for a burger. I was. After reading about hamburgers stuffed with short ribs, or onions, or bacon, or smoked Gouda cheese—after he described burgers topped with caramelized onions and porcini mushrooms—I was more than a little burger crazy. I jumped in my car and drove until I came to the first hamburger joint I could find. I got out, and ordered whatever they were serving. I wasn’t going to be particular. I just needed a hamburger. Any hamburger—as long as it was a mound of ground beef—would do. After rewarding myself for reading the first seven pages of a book, I returned home.
            I believe I thought that if I stuffed myself with ground beef, the rest of the book would have no effect upon me. I was wrong. I do love hamburgers—there are several, for instance, in my top 100 meals—and the more I read, the more I wanted to try every recipe John put in his book. Little did I know what was coming. On page 47 Mr. Edge begins writing about cheese burgers. Well, I cannot eat a hamburger without cheese. Then he says, on the very next page: “. . . J.C. Reynolds, who operated the Dairy Bar in Columbia, South Carolina, from 1932 to 1984, is the man who popularized the pimiento burger.” A pimiento burger? I had lived some sixty years at that point, and never, ever, had I heard of a pimiento burger. How could such a thing have come to pass, and I hadn’t heard about it. I simply love pimiento cheese, and for years had made my own, eating home-made pimiento-cheese sandwiches three or four times a month. But when it came to hamburgers, I was still topping them with plain old medium cheddar cheese.
            Hell. By the time John T. Edge got to page 51, and mentioned all the joints in Columbia, South Carolina that served pimiento-cheese burgers—“Maurice’s Piggy Park. The Salty Nut. Edisto Market. Rockaway’s. Palmetto Sandwich Shop. Harper’s. The Mousetrap. What A Burger. And, of course, Eddie’s”—I was going insane. I had to have a genuine pimiento-cheese burger. I hopped in my car and drove straight through to Columbia, South Carolina, where I dragged my younger sister from her Internal Medicine doctor’s office, and accused her of treating me like a red-headed stepbrother all these years. “Why?” I asked. “Why have you never even mentioned getting a pimiento-cheese burger when I was in town?” Her answer was, “Because you never said you wanted one.”
Here's a shot of a Who-Needs-Pimientos? Pimiento-Cheese Burger. Don't let the size of the large serving plate fool you. That's one big hamburger. 


            You might think I’m kidding about driving to Columbia just for a pimiento-cheese burger, and I am, but only partly. I did go visit my sister about a month later. She now lives outside Columbus, in Lexington, and I did speak those exact words to her. She and my brother-in-law apologized. They didn’t realize that I’d never had one of Columbia’s famous pimiento-cheese burgers. They were so ubiquitous, my sister and brother-in-law never considered the fact that the rest of us, we non-Columbians, might be living like savages, never having the good fortune of eating a pimiento-cheese burger. For lunch, the same day I arrived, we all packed in two cars and went to Rockaway's, where I ate my first pimiento-cheese burger. It was heavenly. Nowadays, every time my wife and I visit my sister and brother-in-law, we go to Rockaway's and we all have a pimiento-cheese burger. The problem is, I cannot live on one or two pimiento-cheese burgers a year. I require more. Many more.
            Thus, I have conjured up my own recipe for the tasty, calorie-laden sandwiches. Mr. Edge gives a recipe, too, on page 54. He calls them P C Burgers. I’ve tried his recipe, and it’s good. My own recipe, however, is spectacular. I call it the Who-Needs-Pimientos? Pimiento-Cheese Burger because I wanted to make them one day and didn’t have any pimientos, usually a staple at my house. I did, however, have a jar of Mt. Olive Roasted Red Peppers. I tried them. Zowieee! Talk about making a great sandwich better—these peppers did the trick. Here’s the recipe. I advise you make one as soon as possible, or you might, like me, feel the urge to drive to South Carolina and order one already made. Not that there’s anything wrong with doing just that. But, c'mon—save yourself some money.

Ingredients:
½ jar (12 oz.) roasted red peppers, sliced and chopped. I use about one and a-half peppers.

One handful—about a cup’s worth or more—of shredded, medium cheddar cheese (or mild, if that’s all you have.)

¼ cup good mayonnaise. (Hellmann’s).

½ teaspoon of Tony Chachere’s Original Creole Seasoning.

1/8 teaspoon of canned chilpotle peppers in adobo sauce (I keep a bag of these in the freezer and they last a year.) Don’t use too much, unless you really like hot-
flavored foods. I find that as I get older, I still yearn for the taste of hot foods, but
can’t take the heat, so I use less than I did as a young man.

Mix ingredients well—especially if you added chilpotle peppers. Refrigerate or, if you are as antsy as me and already have your burgers ready—begin the countdown. I no longer grill my burgers for this delicacy. I fry them slowly in sesame oil in a cast-iron frying pan on the stove top, with slices of onion where I can work them in the pan. I cook them eight minutes per side. I drain them well and toast a whole-wheat hamburger bun. On the top bun I add mayo, on the bottom bun I add a little mayo and Mister Mustard Original Hot mustard, place the burger on the bottom bun, add as many fried onions as you like, and pile the Who-Needs-Pimientos? Pimiento Cheese on top. I microwave the cheese-topped burger for 20 seconds to melt the cheese, put the top bun on, and grab a good handful of napkins. Now I can start to slow down and enjoy my feast. I sit and dig in. It takes both hands, by the way. And several napkins. But, believe me, it’s worth it. Let me reiterate—zowieee!

Here are some shots of a recent construction of a Who-Needs-Pimientos? Pimiento-Cheese Burger. 


Here's the bowl of mixed ingredients, awaiting the burgers.


Here's the burger with fried onions piled on.


The cheese has been melted. Almost ready.



 Ta-da! Put the bun on top and dig in. Don't forget--two hands and lots of napkins. Enjoy!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Fantastic Meals. The Top 100 (Mostly Southern) Meals and Side Dishes of All Time. Number 93 Catfish Soup (Yum!)

Fantastic Meals. The Top 100 (Mostly Southern) Meals and Side Dishes of All Time.

Number 93
Catfish Soup (Yum!)

            I lied. Yep. Right there in the title is a big, fat lie. I’ve never made catfish soup, you see—I use cod. But in order to make this a “Mostly Southern” recipe, I lied and called it Catfish Soup. The actual name is simply, “Fish Soup.” There’s nothing wrong, however, if you prefer to use catfish in this recipe. It would probably taste even better than with cod. I use cod because of the health benefits of cold-water-salt-water fish, and because the fillets are boneless. I’m rather particular about using certain items when I cook for “health benefits.” For instance, I won’t prepare catfish at home, but will eat entire platefuls if I go out to eat, and the entrée is fried catfish. We have a great seafood buffet restaurant nearby, and my wife and I go once a year. I eat all the fried catfish, oysters, clams, and shrimp I can stuff down. I eat so much, I won’t want any more fried fish for a year. I’ve always found it quaint that in the South—in Alabama, anyway—we refer to catfish as “seafood.” The main dish at every “seafood” restaurant around here is fried catfish. I guess it’s similar to when we use the term “barbecue.” We don’t add the word “pork,” to it, because everyone here knows it means “barbecued pig product.” Everyone except for a few Texans, who pride themselves by being different from the rest of us Southerners by meaning “beef” when they say “barbecue.”
            But I’m getting off track. Making fun of Texans is fun, but this is supposed to be about Fish Soup. I wonder, though—when a Texan says “fish soup,” does he mean “beef-tongue soup?” Oh, well. Here’s my recipe, and I must explain the reason I present it at Number 93. I’d prefer placing it much higher, closer to twenty-two, or twenty-three, but cannot. My family won’t allow it. They don’t even want Fish Soup in the top 100, but some things cannot be left undone, and this is one of them.
The two chores of raising children and cooking meals are not only tied together out of necessity, they are similar in other ways, as well. You may not consider either one a chore, of course, but I’ve never met a man or a woman who didn’t consider feeding children “properly” to be anything other than a chore. By “properly,” I mean feeding them “healthy” meals.
Sure, anyone can order pizza to be delivered, or pick up fried chicken, hamburgers, or mass-produced tacos. These meals, to use the term loosely, are not what I mean when I say “feed children properly.” Getting kids to eat pizza, burgers, or tacos is no chore at all. Nor are these foods considered healthy for our children. My fish soup, on the other hand, is outstandingly healthy. And my kids—yours, too, I’ll bet—would all starve before they’d eat fish soup. This recipe, therefore, is not for your children. It’s for you. Do not even attempt to entice a child to eat it. Tell them that some things are not meant for them. They can’t watch R-rated movies, drink the same beverages you drink, wake up to a cup of hot coffee, and they damned-well can’t have any of your fish soup. Make them eat a greasy taco while you sip fish soup, going “ahh” and “ooh” every now and then, with your eyes closed, as you imagine yourself on a tropical isle, ladling exotic flavors from the sea down your throat.  Who knows? Maybe the little rascals will sneak out of bed in the middle of the night and steal a mug or two.
            I don’t know about you, but I’ve always been able to imagine how wonderful a really good fish soup would taste. I felt it would be a combination of clam chowder and oyster stew, two of my favorite meals. My problem is that over a period of twenty years, I never came across a recipe for plain old fish soup that came anywhere close to these dishes. My other problem was that I used to religiously follow the recipes I found, rather than experiment, or modify them. I was certain I’d find a recipe—one that was definitive—that I loved. Because of my bullheadedness, my children suffered. I prepared meal after meal of quite-awful fish soup.
Some of us men are lucky in life. We have wives who’ll always come to our rescue, who’ll stand beside us as we attempt to raise our kids together, no matter what we do wrong. We lucky men, though few, have an ally, a friend, a bulwark, one who comes to our aid when the children refuse to do as they’re told. Most of the time I am among these lucky, most fortunate of men. But not when I bring a huge, steaming bowl of fish soup to the dinner table.
My helpmate, my wife who promised to always adore me, crossed over to the other side and joined the children the first time I served up fish soup. Hey—I know it was awful tasting, but great cooks have to experiment, and who better to experiment on than one’s own family? Well, to make a long story short, we ordered lots of pizza back in the days when I was experimenting with my fish soup. The children, always themselves, would see and smell a big pot of fish soup on the stove and ask what we were having for supper. I’d say “fish soup,” and they’d jump up and down with joy, shouting, “Yay—it’s pizza night!”
Several years ago, after all the children had finally moved out (and, yes, we’ve had the same experience most Americans have had—entire batches of the children, with their own children, have moved in from time to time, out of economic necessity), I finally saw the error of my ways. I was never going to find a clear-cut recipe for fish soup that was like the one I had in my mind. I was leafing through some magazines and came across three recipes for fish soup, each different, and yet each similar in some respects. I decided to take only the parts of each recipe I knew I would like, add some Tony Chachere’s, and see what happened. What happened was a “Eureka!” moment. I ended up with two fish soup recipes, both of which I loved. I tried them immediately, and both were wonderful. The only problem was that my wife, inured from many years of not-so-tasty experimental fish soup, would not even try them. She still won’t. “Not for me, thanks,” is all she’ll say. I ruined her—or, as we say around here, “ruint her”—by fixing too many distasteful fish soups. Oh, well. Nowadays, when I fix fish soup, I let my wife eat leftovers. Or she orders a pizza. Not me. I place the bowl of steaming vegetables and sea creatures on the table, sit, and take in the wonderful aroma. I close my eyes, dreaming of tropical paradises, and feel blessed that there aren’t any complaining children present whom I need to scold because they aren’t eating the healthy meal I prepared. I plunge my spoon into the soup and go “ooh” and “ahh.” I take my time and enjoy every sip of my wonderful creation. It took me close to twenty years to find this soup. Now I want to enjoy it for another twenty.

Fish Soup Number 1.
Tomato-based Recipe.

Ingredients:

4 tbs. olive oil
3-5 ripe bell or banana peppers, chopped (red or yellow, not green)
2 onions, chopped.
4-5 garlic cloves, chopped
1 jar of pimientos (optional), chopped
1 can green chiles (optional) chopped
2 carrots, chopped
2 bottles (8 oz. each) clam juice
1 box (32 oz.) chicken broth
1 can (11.5 oz.) V8
Lg. can (28 oz.) crushed tomatoes
1-3 tbs. Tony Chachere’s Original Creole
1 tbs. sugar
1-2 pounds raw, shelled shrimp
1-2 lbs. cod fillets, cut into one-inch chunks (or catfish)
1 bag frozen scallops
2 packages (10 oz. each) chopped or leaf, frozen spinach
1-2 heads broccoli, chopped (optional)
1 celery root, chopped (optional)
1-3 cups water, as needed

Fish Soup Number 2
Cream-based Recipe

Follow the ingredients for Tomato-based with these exceptions and additions:

Omit:
Crushed tomatoes and V8
Add:
 1 can (10 ¾  oz.) cream-of-celery soup
1 soup-can of milk
1 soup-can of cream
1 large or two medium potatoes, chopped (leave the skin on)

Directions (for both):

Heat the oil over medium heat. Stir in the fresh vegetables (the onions, garlic, peppers, potatoes, carrots, celery root, etc., depending on which recipe you are using, and which vegetables. Don’t add the canned vegetables at this time.). Sauté for five minutes.
Add all other ingredients except shrimp and scallops. Cook over low-medium heat for 20 minutes. Don’t cover with lid. The soup should have a gentle roll as it slowly boils, sending sweet scents throughout the kitchen.
Order a pizza for your wife and children.
Add shrimp and scallops. Cook another 5 minutes. Turn off heat. Let sit for five minutes (on the burner is okay).
Toss all scallops that didn’t open.
As soon as pizza is delivered and paid for, suggest that the kids and your wife watch TV while they eat. Go to soup pot and ladle some soup into a sturdy bowl. Put bowl on a plate, grab a big, man-sized soup spoon, a heavy-duty napkin, and take all to table. Sit. Relax. Place both your arms on the table—no one’s watching, man. No need for Miss Manners tonight. Be yourself for a change. Smell the aroma. Close your eyes. Close out the sound of the TV. Take the first sip. Burp if you feel the need. Yep—you’re there—you’re on the tropical isle. Go on, admit it. This is the best damn soup you ever ate. Even if you have to eat it alone.


Earl.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Fantastic Meals. The Top 100 (Mostly Southern) Meals and Side Dishes of All Time.

Fantastic Meals. The Top 100 (Mostly Southern) Meals and Side Dishes of All Time.

Number 94


Miracle-Making Black-Eyed Peas Dip

            I live in Alabama, and though I wasn’t born here and didn’t even move here until I was in my late thirties, I have come to be All-Things-Alabamian. For those who don’t know, we attach miracle-like attributes to many of our foodstuffs here. Black-Eyed peas, for instance, are thought to bring good luck throughout the South, especially when served on New Year’s Day. Well, who needs good luck then? Good luck is most appreciated when it matters most, and when it matters most here is now—the days following Thanksgiving.
You see, we are very different from the rest of you. For instance, the holiday just passed, the one y’all call Thanksgiving, is known here as Turkey Day. It’s part of a pantheon of Holidays, or—as we prefer, using the words the way they were first spoken—The Holy Days. Each one of The Holy Days, also called the Four Hoarse Men of the Apocalypse because of the way every Alabamian will be talking in 48 hours, has its own name.
The Holy Days begin on Thursday with Turkey Day. Though called Thanksgiving Day throughout most of the Union, we put off our title of Thanksgiving until Sunday. Turkey Day is so named because most of the people in the state dine on turkey this day, and because the Ritual Name-Calling begins. Here’s a cleaned-up version of one of the many phrases used. “Your &%$# quarterback‘s so #^@%$# dumb he raises his $#@& face to the heavens when it’s raining—like a $#%@?’ turkey!” It must be added here that the author believes that when the young quarterback lifts his head up to the heavens, as all of them seem to do, the boy is actually praying. He’s not trying to drink the rainwater as real turkeys do. Comparing people to turkeys is a scientific specialty in Alabama. Farm-raised turkeys, for instance, are not considered real smart. If one is hunting a wild turkey, though, the fowl is considered one of the wiliest, most intelligent creatures on earth. Turkey hunting and turkey farming are big deals here. I would say the people of Alabama know more about the habits and customs of turkeys than the residents of all the other states put together, and many of us will even act like turkeys over the next few days. The quarterbacks, however, do not. Why farm-raised turkeys and wild turkeys are so different in character, I have not yet figured out. Perhaps they are like convicts. A convict in jail is considered stupid, but if a sheriff is hunting one down who is wild and free, the convict is considered wily and dangerous. But that’s something we’ll have to take up another time. Back to the Holy Days.
Following Turkey Day is Great Friday, also called the Day of Rest, because like the “rest” of the nation, most of us go shopping. Unlike those shoppers, though, we buy stuff to get us through the next Holy Day—the Big One—Game Day. My personal shopping list includes dip ingredients, chips, and plenty of beer. I’d say my fellow Alabamians have pretty much the same list as me.
After Great Friday is the Holiest Day of all—Game Day—the Day our two largest, greatest, Most Holy religious organizations go head-to-head in an effort to see which one will claim the Highest Denomination prize, an award that lasts only one year, though it often seems like a lifetime to half of us. There may be religious freedom in the rest of the United States, but not here. When one crosses the Alabama state line with the intention of living here, he or she must make a decision on which Most Holy religious organization to join. For native Alabamians, this decision is expected to be made before one’s thirteenth birthday, and one puts off this decision at the risk of being ridiculed, or, in some cases, tarred-and-feathered. History and historical mannerisms are important to Alabamians.
After Game Day, a day that sometimes seems to last far longer than it actually does, comes Sunday. Sunday is a day when many people throughout the rest of the nation take time out to slow down and relax. Not here. In Alabama this is a Holy Day that’s just as important as the other three Holidays—this is the true Thanksgiving Day, also called Gloat Day. Approximately half of the people throughout the state, even ones who haven’t been to church in months, will suddenly show up in our cathedrals wearing ties displaying the colors of their chosen religion—either red and white or orange and blue. Gloat Day, also known as We Have the Right to Look Down on You Day, is probably our favorite Holy Day of all. Our myths, jokes, and about half of all the words we’ll speak in the next 365 days, will be related to what happened on Game Day. We’ll talk about the mystic Coach Who-Walked-on-Water, the Coach who uttered, “Punt-Bama-Punt,” and the Coach who sat at the right side of the Holy Father and pleaded, “Let Bo Roll Right.” We’ll place our hand over the imprint of the High Priest Joe Namath’s hand and wonder how any mortal could hope to have such a huge finger spread; and we’ll praise the Holy Duo of Pat Sullivan and Terry Beasley, and wonder what Great Sin they committed to cause them to lose the Great Game of ‘71. But most of all, we’ll worship at the feet of the New Chosen One—the Coach Who Wins on Game Day. The other one—the Great Loser—The Great Turkey—will wear sackcloth, shave his head, and be paraded down the streets in chains to the chopping block. He deserves nothing less.
Thus, knowing the power of Miracle-Making Black-Eyed Peas, and wanting to do everything within my ability to help my own religion, I will begin the ritual. Today I will make “Miracle-Making Black-Eyed Peas” and stuff myself withthem. A word to the wise: if you live in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Mississippi, North Carolina, etc.—your religion may be involved in an upcoming, all-consuming, intra-state battle, too. Please make and eat some of this miracle food. It may not help your team, but it’s actually good for you.

Miracle-Making Black-Eyed Peas Dip

Ingredients:

1-2 tbs. canola oil
1 lb. ground sausage (I prefer Jimmy Dean’s Hot. Any good bulk sausage will
            do.)
1 large onion, chopped
2-4 cloves garlic, chopped
3 cans (15.5 oz.) black-eyed peas (I prefer Bush’s Best.) Sometimes I drain
            them, but I usually add them liquid and all. Empty one can into a bowl.
1 can (28 oz.) crushed tomatoes
1-2 tbs. Tony Chachere’s Original Creole Seasoning
2 tbs. chili powder
1-4 bags chips (I prefer Fritos Scoops!)

In a large frying pan or medium pot, heat oil, adding sausage, onion, and garlic. Cook until done. Pour off grease into empty pea can for responsible disposal. Please don’t pour it down the sink.
Add tomatoes, spices, and all the peas. Lower heat and cook, uncovered, 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
When cooled slightly, pour what you need into a bowl, dip a chip, and pray for a win.

And I cannot leave without some final words—some shout-outs for some of the sects of my religion in their rivalries in other parts of the South on Game Day.

My religion requires it.

I apologize ahead of time if I anger half of the Deep South. Please remember,
“It’s better to get mad than to get even.”

Go, Gamecocks!
Beat ‘em, Dawgs!
Whip ‘em, Blue Devils!
Roll ‘Noles!
Stick it to ‘em, Bulldogs!

But most of all:
WAR-DAMN-EAGLE!!!!!


Earl Fisher. From his blog 500opinions.blogspot.com

Friday, November 22, 2013

Fantastic Meals. Number 95 of the Top 100 (Mostly Southern) Meals and Side Dishes of all Time

Fantastic Meals. Number 95 of the Top 100 (Mostly Southern) Meals and Side Dishes of All Time.

Number 95

A-Plus Soup

            If you were to ask me if I considered myself a soup lover, I would tell you “No” without even thinking about it. Isn’t it strange how I can tell a lie so easily; how I can fool myself into thinking things about the way I act that have no bearing on reality? I mean—I must be the Grand Marshall of Liars, for why else would I tell people—those both close to me and strangers—that I detest soups, stews, and their ilk? All one has to do to prove I'm a liar is take a peek at my final list of Top 100 Meals and Side Dishes. Not only are sixteen of the meals soups or stews, my Number One is a stew. In fact, the Top three out of five are soups or stews. I am living a lie. And, worse, I’ve lived this lie about soups my entire life.
            A case in point.
            When Linda and I married, about 25 years ago, we both had two children, and cooking meals was going to be a chore for someone in our new family—a big one. Well, like most men, I was not eager to take on this chore. It would interrupt my down time after work, my beer time, my watch-the-news-and-get-angry time. Plus, I’d been cooking meals for myself and my two sons for several years, and knew well the pitfalls of being the Head Family Chef. No matter what the Head Chef prepared, there would always be at least one in the family who detested it. And it was a known Law of Families, that if the Chef tried to put together a so-called Healthy Meal, all would detest it—perhaps even the Chef, himself.
            Linda, anxious to be the Best Mother and Homemaker she could, even though she had a more-than-full-time-job as a teacher, was crazy enough to volunteer as our Head Chef. Hell. I let her. Sure, I enjoyed cooking; in fact, I used my cooking skills as a way to woo her into marriage. A single mom with two kids who doesn’t have to cook every night because the guy she’s dating does it for her once or twice a week is an easy mark. Pay attention, all you guys out there looking for a wife.
            So . . . we anointed Linda as the family’s Head Cook. And now things became a bit sticky-wickity, to borrow and corrupt an Englishman’s phraseology. We had stews. Mostly, I think, beef stews. Looking back, it seemed as if all we ever had were beef stews—beef stews and cornbread; for my new wife was a cornbread lover, and her former husband was a cornbread lover, too. So, naturally, Linda expected all Southern Men to love cornbread. After what seemed like several weeks of endless stews and cornbread, I could take no more. I told Linda I didn’t really like cornbread—I preferred rolls, and didn’t really want rolls more than once or twice a year. I didn’t require bread with my meals. I still don’t, though I do love sandwiches. I also mentioned how I didn’t like soups or stews. I didn’t use the word hate, but did consider it. I explained to her that I preferred my meat and vegetables separate, because I liked to eat them one at a time. And, in truth, this is the way I like to eat most of the time. If you watch me, you’ll see that I attack one food type on my plate at a time. I tell myself it’s because I love vegetables so much that I wish to savor their individual tastes, and this is a fact. I do love all vegetables, and I do love to savor their tastes one at a time. But this is only part of the truth, because I also, unbeknown to myself, love their tastes when mixed.
            To make a long story short (I’ll continue this story later. I call it, “How to Make Your Wife so Mad She . . .”), I became the Head Cook. I realized that unless I wanted to spend the rest of my life eating beef stew and cornbread, I would have to shoulder the responsibility of being the family cook. It wasn’t easy, but I thoroughly loved it. Linda says—although she may only say it to make me feel good—that she was happy and relieved for me to take over as our family cook. And, whether she was lying or not, I immersed myself into one of my life’s passions—cooking. Even cooking soups.
            So here is one of my favorite meals—A-Plus Soup. I call it this because of all the vitamin A in it. I have to admit that the base for the soup came from a Mark Bittman recipe, “Curried Sweet Potato Soup with Apricots,” a splendid recipe if there ever was one. I encourage you to try his version, as well as mine.
A-Plus Soup.

1 tbs. butter
2 tbs. cooking oil (I use a canola-olive-grapeseed blend)
2 tsp. - 1 tbs. Hot Madras curry powder (Be careful. The tbs. amount will be HOT)
1 tsp turmeric (This is an ingredient in curry—an ingredient that’s supposed to be
            good for us. As you’ll see, this is a recipe where I’m going for “healthy.”)
1 sweet potato—cut up, but unpeeled. (I don’t peel any of my potatoes—sweet or
            white. I believe, as we’ve been told, that the peels have most of the vitamins,
            etc.)
2 carrots, cut up
1 bag apricots (6 oz.)
2 tsp. – 1 tbs. Tony Chachere’s Original Creole Seasoning (Once again—be careful.
            The larger amount may be too hot for some people.)
1 large container chicken broth (32 oz.)
1 can (15 oz.) pumpkin
2 cups (more or less) water
1 can (14.5 oz.) chicken broth

            Still living with the lie that I don’t like soups, I tell myself that if I’m going to make and eat a soup, I’m going to make it a health food. Hey—I love this soup. I even drink it cold.

Melt butter in a large pot and add oil, curry, turmeric, sweet potato, and carrots. Keep the heat medium-high. Push the veggies around in the mixture for about a minute, letting them get coated with the spices, turning slightly gummy. Isn’t this fun? The scent is divine. To me. I love Indian-curry-scented foods.
Add the apricots, Tony C., and large container of chicken broth. Bring to a boil, cover, and reduce heat. Cook 30 minutes. Add pumpkin and two cups water and extra can of chicken broth (you may use any mixture of water or broth you wish. It’s up to you. I really like three cans of broth, but usually don’t have that much on hand. Plus, I don’t buy “Less Salt” broth, so sometimes it’s a bit too salty for me.)
Mixture should be cool enough (if not, wait) to put in blender, a third at a time, and thoroughly blend.
Pour back into pot, warm if too cool, and enjoy. For me, it’s at just the right temperature when it comes out of the blender. For Linda, it needs heating up. Linda not only loves soups, she loves them hot, temperature-wise. Me—hell—I detest soups whether they’re hot or cold. Just ask me. 

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Fantastic Meals. Number 96 of the Top 100 (Mostly Southern) Meals and Side Dishes of all Time



Number 96

Ron’s Southern-Fried Pork Chops

            I’ve been trying—for two months—to write about recipe Number 96—Ron’s Southern-Fried Pork Chops (Ron is not his real name). It’s been one difficult affair. There are two reasons. The first is because I became (perhaps, I still am) addicted to eBay. I’d never fooled with eBay before, and on September 15th, once I stuck my foot in the door, I couldn’t pull it back. I mean—the thrill of selling something and making five dollars. Wow. You may ask how in the hell can making five bucks be enjoyable? You know why? Because it’s more than I’d have made selling the same article at a Yard Sale, that’s why. I detest Yard Selling. No one at a Yard Sale wants to pay more than a dollar for anything. So when I found out I could make five bucks selling the same item on eBay—I was addicted in about ten seconds. And this will tell you more about me than you want to know—once I try something and really enjoy it, that’s all I want to do. I’m an A-B-C type of person, which to my wife means I go rigidly from one step to another. I don’t like to skip around, I don't enjoy doing several things at the same time, and I despise having to put item C in front of item B. Because of my personality defect, I wrote nothing when I was getting up at three in the morning to see what I sold the night before. But I have reformed. Thus, with a hope that you’ll forgive my lapse, I shall try to be an A-B-c type of person, the “A” standing for my twin careers of Remodeling and Writing, the “B” for Blogging, and the little “c” standing for my time on eBay. It’ll be tough, but my dad was a Marine. I can do it.
The second reason I haven’t tended to my Blogs, especially "500 Reasons," is more serious, a bit darker. It’s because I can find no way to put a light spin on this recipe’s background, no way to tell the story behind the meal without unloading a downer on you. It’s a sad story, and I don’t like sad stories. I refuse to watch sad movies—more than once, anyway. I’ve seen the films Love Story, The Titanic, and Griffin and Phoenix (I cried for thirty minutes when this film hit me with its ending. Good Lord, what a surprise downer.). But I’ve never seen any of these movies a second time. I mean—Love Story is dated, I didn’t like The Titanic, and I simply don’t have the courage to go through Griffin and Phoenix again. The damn movie pulls at me, but—so far—I’ve resisted it. When I finish with 100 Meals and start on 100 Movies, we’ll see what I do when I get to Griffin and Phoenix. The easiest thing will be to leave it out of my Top 100. Can I?
            I do agree that sad movies and books (but not meals!) have a place in our lives. Identifying with the pain of unrequited love, the loneliness of being spurned, or the void left in our hearts after a loved one dies, is meant to show us the reality of life. These sad moments are supposed to inure us to the fact that life is not all happiness. I say, “Nuts!”
            The reality of life is that there isn’t enough laughter, enough slapstick, enough singing-out-loud joy in the world. I believe we should do all we can to add to the small kettle of happiness we have, every moment we’re alive. To not do so will only make us sadder. And, dammit, I hate being sad. Relating the following events makes me sad, however, and that's why I stopped halfway through it. I shall continue. Now. Right now.
            To tell you about Ron’s pork chop recipe, I must begin the day before I hired him, more than twenty years ago. A company I owned was building an addition to a house in Montgomery. Under a huge canopy of magnificent live oaks and magnolias, we were installing the roof decking and the shingles. I had subcontracted this work out to the roofers Ron was working for. They had sent one carpenter and three roofers to accomplish the work, and I could see no way the reedy, long-haired, Vietnamese carpenter could stay ahead of the roofers. I was a carpenter myself, and knew how difficult it was to install decking, but by-golly, the young Vietnamese was a whirlwind, a dynamo. He tossed around full sheets of 5/8” plywood like they were sacks of stone-ground grits. Let me tell you—5/8” plywood is not for the weak. It’s heavy and cumbersome. Ron was so strong and so well-versed in what he needed to do, he ran far ahead of the three roofers. I was impressed.
            The night after the roof was finished, I got a phone call from Ron’s wife. She asked me if I’d noticed the Vietnamese carpenter on the roofing job, and I told her I had. She then asked me if I could hire the man, as he was her husband, and she was speaking for him because his English wasn’t very good. The roofing job was part-time, and he needed a full-time job. The roofers were her brothers, and they only used him occasionally, so I wouldn’t be hiring him away from them. I told her that if he showed up at my office at seven in the morning, he was hired. He was there at 6:30. I never regretted hiring Ron. He was one of the best workers I’ve ever had.
            Ron worked hard, learned what he didn’t know fast, and always showed up. On time.
Back then, being typical construction workers, we were in the habit of having a company party whenever an occasion arose, such as any type of holiday, or sometimes, just because it was Friday. We couldn’t afford to take off from work, but we could throw a company party afterwards, meaning, “drink a bunch of beer.” When we’d have these parties, Ron always attended, but he did it his way. He’d go home first, grab a dish of food he’d cooked up the night before, and bring it to us. Then he’d ask for permission to leave. Ron, unlike the rest of us, was more interested in going home to tend to his children than he was in drinking beer. We had no desire to force him to stay because he’d tell us his kids (five of them) needed him, especially his crippled daughter. He’d leave us a huge platter of food and depart. We were always amazed that he never even drank a beer—not one.
Ron always brought one of two dishes—either Chicken & Noodles or Fried Pork Chops. They were both wonderful, with exotic flavors I’d never tried. I made sure to get the recipes, of course, because cooking them, myself, was important to me. I wanted to share these delights with my entire family. In fact, my kids grew up calling one of our favorite dinners, “Ron’s Chicken.” 
            The reason I’m sad while relating this dish to you is because Ron is in prison. He’s there for the rest of his life. For about twenty years now, I’ve sent Ron a $25.00 money order every month of my life. It’s not much, though there have been times I could barely afford it. It’s more than giving charity, or giving aid to a former employee, though it is both of those. It’s also a payback for the recipes Ron gave me. Don’t misunderstand me. I do not doubt for a minute that my ex-employee deserves to spend the rest of his life in jail. But the circumstances—the events leading up to why he’s in jail—are not only vastly interesting, they’d require at least 30 pages to properly tell in the manner needed. I don’t have space for that here. So, without further adieu, and without going into the reason my employee/friend/fellow cook is in prison, here is “Ron’s Southern-Fried Pork Chops.” Since Ron was from South Vietnam, I can legitimately call them “Southern-Fried.”

      Note that some ingredients must marinate for ½-2 hours. You will need a stir-fry pan or large frying pan to cook this meal. Also, keep in mind that when you cook using fish sauce, the kitchen will stink. I mean, really stink. The food, however, will taste much better than the air smells, so don't give up when the odor hits you. It's similar to cooking chitlin's. Ha-ha. Who cooks chitlin's any more? Who, besides me, has ever dared cook chitlin's in their own kitchen? But that's another story.

Ingredients:

2-4 pork chops, cut into bite-sized pieces or whole.
1/3 cup fish sauce (made from anchovies—found in Asian section of food stores).
1 and 3/4 cups water.
2 onions, chopped.
1 tablespoon sesame oil
3 tablespoons canola oil.
Small head of cabbage, chopped.
1 tablespoon sugar.
1 teaspoon Tony Chachere’s Original Creole Seasoning.
Extra water, if needed.
1-4 tablespoons soy sauce.


Directions:

Place pork chops (I cut mine up; Ron left his whole), one cup of the water, the fish sauce, and onions in a glass container and marinate ½-2 hours, shaking or stirring now and then. Drain.

When meat and onions have marinated, put sesame and canola oils in large frying pan and turn heat to high; just before oil reaches spattering stage, add drained pork
and onions.

Add remaining ingredients and the other 3/4 cup of water, mix, and stir fry for five-to-seven minutes (if using whole chops, turn at this point); cook for 10 more minutes, stirring, or moving chops around. If pan becomes too dry, add extra water.

Remove from heat; drain if soggy; place in bowl and add soy sauce.

Enjoy.
And pray for Ron. Pray for me, too. Lord knows, I don’t need your prayers as much as Ron does, but I do need them.


Earl.