Monday, April 30, 2012

Miss Betsy's Experimental Kitchen - An Avocado and Hominy Frittata

This was yesterday's lunch. I needed something fast. But there was no can of tunafish. No slabs of bologna. There were only eggs.

And a left over 1/2 can of hominy. I decided to make an omelet.

Then halfway to Omeleteville, I took a detour, and diced up an avocado, placed it on my omelet and baked the dish for 8 minutes or so in a 400 degree oven until it was set. Oh the creamy nuttiness of a lightly baked avocado! Why didn't I think of this before-

Of course if I had used more than 3 eggs the frittata would have been puffier. But I liked its thinner crust. This recipe will feed two.

3 eggs
1-2 tbs Salsa Ranchero, depending on how picante you like things. I used canned salsa.
1/2 cup cooked hominy
Butter to coat saute pan
Adobo seasoning- a dash or two
3 tbs crema or sour cream
1 avocado, diced pieces seasoned with adobo seasoning.

Put the hominy, the crema, and the salsa in a mixing bowl, and whisk. Add Adobo seasoning to taste. Beat in the eggs. In an oven proof saute or omelet pan, melt some butter over medium high heat. When the butter begins to foam, add the mixture to the pan and rotate the pan to spread the eggs. Cook until the eggs begin to set, then place the diced avocado on top. Move the pan into a preheated 400 degree oven until the top has lightly browned and set This takes about 8 minutes, but watch carefully.

When the frittata has cooled slightly serve with salsa, tortillas, and sour cream.

Honeysuckle Time

It is warm and humid today in Nashville, and the heavy air is saturated with the scent of Privet and Hall's Honeysuckle. Those who do not believe two plants can perfume a city have not been here in late April and early May. Both plants escaped long ago from gardens, and both have colonized hedgerows and forgotten fields and overgrown lots and city parks. Privet is a shrub. Birds love its berries, and since birds go everywhere, so grows privet. The honeysuckle climbs, then drops, and its vines root at nodes along the ground. Shrubs it smothers wear a scented tea and cream colored mantilla on May Day and Cinco de Mayo.

Privet smells like a sweet dusting powder, and honeysuckle smells like Eden. When I smell how debased the scent of jasmine has become, that it reminds us not of secret gardens, but of toilets in Interstate Highway public bathrooms, I am glad that honeysuckle reminds us how precious it is to be alive to smell another spring-

Here are some photos from today's walk at Percy Warner Park. The first is of a privet bloom. The second is of a barred owl more interested in mice than he was in us-

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Raymond Chandler's Last Word on Making Celebrities Out of Nobodies

"Wonderful what Hollywood will do to a nobody. It will make a radiant glamour queen out of a drab little wench who ought to be ironing a truck driver's shirts,a he-man hero with shining eyes and a brilliant smile reeking of sexual charm out of some overgrown kid who was meant to go to work with a lunchbox. Out of a Texas car hop with the literacy of a character in a comic strip it will make an international courtesan, married six times to six millionaires and so blase and decadent at the end of it that her idea of a thrill is to seduce a furniture mover in a sweaty undershirt".

From "The Little Sister", by Raymond Chandler

The Huffington Post wins the Pulitzer Prize

And I am certain with stories such as "Rick Santorum denies encountering Lindsay Lohan" and "Baby Bumps on Parade" it will sweep next year's awards. What was it Mencken once said about one of Willa Cather's lesser novels?

"It was so bad it won the Pulitzer Prize".

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Please Read

No more anonymous comments will be accepted on this blog.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

What to make with Leftover Pork Loin- Pozole. A Mexican Pork and Hominy Stew

Too often, for leftovers, my freezer becomes an oubliette. A place of forgetting. I remember the frozen puff pastry. And I remember the bag of shrimp and the crawfish- But what is this frozen, unidentifiable lump?

Only when it thaws will I see it is a cooked marinaded piece of pork loin. I was uncertain what to do with it.

Until I bought a Better Homes and Gardens "Special Publication " at the grocery. It was titled "Mexican", and it was an astoundingly detailed look into real Mexican food that Americans might prefer to the grease and cheese of Mexican restaurant food. The magazine studied gastronomic regions of Mexico and had a primer on chiles. And its recipes called for ingredients I have always hesitated to add on this site since they were not mainstream enough. Crema, achiote,Queso-

Then I saw their recipe for Pozole- Hominy and Pork Stew. It had a long list of ingredients I did not have, but I had pork and I had hominy, and I would make my own version. I made it last evening, and I ate it in 24 hours, for I am a hominy lover.

The first photo shows half a yellow onion sauteed in a little lard and sweated with some sea salt. Then I dusted the onions with a half packet of Sazon Culantro/Annato seasoning. The rest of the ingredients went in a sauce pan, and when the onions were done, I spooned them in. I cooked the mixture for 15 minutes, enough to take the bitter out of the diced garlic. I spooned it into a bowl, crushed up fried pork cracklings called "Mexican Wagon Wheels , and put them and some crema on top.

Here is what I put in the sauce pan:

1 14 oz can of hominy
1 canned mild green chile-diced. The other half of the packet of Achiote seasoning
1 diced garlic clove
1 cup cooked diced pork loin
1 chicken bouillon cube
1 cup of water
Juice from one key lime
1 tablespoon of orange juice

To garnish one serving, I used half a dozen fried wagon wheels and a dollop of crema, though sour cream could be used instead.

I plan to make this again to use up the breakfast cut pork chops I bought at a Managers' Special. I will dice them up and brown them well in a little lard, the add them to the next Pozole I make.

This should feed two or three, and could easily be doubled.

To fry the wagon wheels drop them into a deep large sauce pan with an 2-3 inches of very hot corn oil. They will puff up as I have shown in the photo.

Monday, April 23, 2012

An Easy Warm Weather Lunch Dish- Fried Rustic Italian Bread with Vegetable Spread

This is vegetarian and simple to make. I use any good crusty Italian bread such as the Italian Garlic Loaf that Publix sells. I put a couple tablespoons of olive oil in a saute pan and fry the bread on both sides. Use medium high settings, and watch your slices closely. Plan 2 slices per person. For the vegetable spread you need:

3-4 Roma tomatoes chopped coarsely.

1 yellow onion, diced and sauteed in olive oil till golden. Sweat the onions with a little sea salt.

2 garlic cloves, crushed or finely diced.

1/2 teas. Italian seasoning

12 pitted green olives, diced.

1-2 tablespoons of capers.

Olive oil

After cooking the onion add all the other ingredients and saute over medium heat till the tomatoes are soft and cooked through. Taste and adjust seasoning. Adding a teaspoon of Balsamic vinegar is optional, though not for me.

This makes two servings.


"Nobody puts Baby in the corner", says Patrick Swayze's Catskill resort dance instructor in the movie "Dirty Dancing". Unless- Baby is a US Vice-President such as Julia Dreyfus' character in HBO's "VEEP". Not only is this Baby in the corner, she is abandoned in near empty ballrooms, ignored in lobbyists' offices, and forgotten by the man who chose her to be his running mate. She interests only the comedy writers, who turn this thirty minute series into a relentless stream of one liners by characters embodying Irony, Smirk, and Twitter-ing cuteness.

No one thinks much of that office, but the men who have held it esteem it least. Daniel Webster refused to take the job, saying he did not"intend to be buried until I am dead". If I read Robert Caro's biography of Lyndon Johnson, I might know what the Texan thought of living entombment, but for him it ended up being transient- courtesy of Lee Harvey Oswald. Had Kennedy lived, Johnson would never been photographed picking his beagle up by the ears, and reporters would have been denied the chance to get interviews while Johnson sat, pants down, on the toilet seat, haranguing them.

I was entertained briefly(for 15 minutes)by this show, but I think wit should be sprinkled sparingly, for it is as precious as saffron. Too much comedy, too many smart remarks, and the priceless unexpectedness of something really funny is lost.

I have read that the series will never show the President. Perhaps because the Presidency is not funny, or maybe because it is unappealing for viewers to see a man turning gray and lined and defeated in a matter of months.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Wild Geese in an Unexpected Place

As I walked out of work this morning and went to my truck, I saw four or five adult Canada geese herding half a dozen goslings along the hell strip between the prison parking lot and a spacious ravine that takes storm water down to the sloughs along the Cumberland River. The geese were as watchful as mothers at a playground, but I doubt they feared hunters. Anyone bringing guns or rifles within sight of the mobile patrol or the officers within the barbed wire would earn a quick trip to jail. Nor would it be the place to pull out one's camera to get a digital shot of the goslings. The prison people would find this suspicious, though I wager I would have gotten away with it had I had a camera phone with me-

Hundreds of men live within the wires here. Unlike the peaceable geese, they do not wander at will. The barn swallows that nest in the sheds and outbuildings outside the perimeter have more freedom, even when their ancestors have passed to them an unavoidable journey twice a year out over the open and dangerous and exhausting waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

Down in the ravine I have seen red foxes, but only at night, and this morning I was certain I heard a coyote howling from the Sunday quiet industrial terminal across the street. And I have sat at night in the clinic and heard the officers called to look into movement along the fence, though it is only a possum, wandering.

When the sun comes up, House sparrows and starlings patrol the Yard, though what scraps they find I do not know. Even killdeer, surrounded by convicted felons, do not fear the grassy spaces in the Yard or the air above the inmates' picnic tables and the basketball court. Wildlife has grown used to us.

And when I leave the compound after my shift, I am comforted by sparrows bathing in a puddle, by the purple martins high up on the Yard light posts, by the goslings that trust their mothers.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Gremlins and the Kallikanzaroi, or Who Really Hid Your Car Keys

When I was a young girl growing up in the 1950s, I used to go on Sunday drives with my grandfather and my parents. And more fascinating to me than any place we were going, was the car's cigarette lighter. I never tired of unplugging it and wondering how it worked.

"What makes it glow?", I asked my taciturn grandfather, and I never tired of his answer.


Airplane people have always blamed gremlins for plane glitches, and my grandfather was an airplane person. His son, my Uncle Bob, was a metallurgist who studied plane crashes, but he never blamed sprites.

"There are only three things that cause crashes", he told me once, "Pilot error, pilot error, and pilot error".

I think he forgot Canada geese, bombs, and lightning strikes. But I have lived a bit, and I believe now in malicious imps that make it their business to hide our car keys, to cause us to drop our credit card in the supermarket parking lot. Who is to say that they can't put air traffic controllers to sleep?

I read last week about Greek house sprites called "Kallikansaroi" Lawrence Durrell, in his memoir of life in Corfu,learns about them from an elegant and civilized old Count, a man Durrell spent moonlit evenings with, listening to owls and nightingales and talking, talking of history and myth. I have also read that these imps came out of the earth in winter to bedevil humans. The rest of the year they stayed inside the earth trying to cut down the Tree of Life. Nervous householders warded them off by placing colanders outside their doors. The imps were so caught up in counting the holes in the colander that they forgot to make trouble. Now that sounds like a technique I might try. I have a dazzling blue colander from the Viking Store. It is enamel coated, and not only could the imps count the holes, they could admire their reflections.

Any number of our personal or household malfunctions could be the work of gremlins and imps.How do you think the cable remote ended up in the refrigerator? How did unripe avocados go bad in one day? Who made me- tired, sleep deprived, working nights- spray my hair with Basin, Tub, and Tile cleaner instead of hairspray just before I had to go to work?

You know who-

Durrell's memoir of Corfu is "Prospero's Cell". I recommend it. The chapters about the old Count are unforgettable.

The Peaceable Kingdom

Lions may never lie down with lambs, but possums, house cats, and my trio of adolescent raccoons share my night time porch amicably. The possums have come for several years, as have the coons, but the friendly yellow house cat is new on the scene. He stays under the porch couch when it is cold, but surveys it from the cushions in better weather. The other night he was watching the possum and one of the coons as they sniffed at each other from different sides of the pyrex baking dish full of kibble. There was a styrofoam tray of food from the clinic I work in as well. My visitors ate the dressing and the chicken casserole, but nothing about the mixed vegetables tempted them. I left the tray out to see if they would change their minds about carrots and beans.

They did not. They nudged the vegetables away in disgust. When I told the people I work with about this they thought it hilarious.

I think someone else is feeding the cat. He was not interested in the bologna I offered him this morning. I do think the disappearance of the chipmunks, who used to come for sunflower seeds, is suspicious. And I hope the towhees and mourning doves are faster than the cat is. But I do not think the dog food attracts him as much as the couch does. He balls up on it or stretches out his tail in lazy repose as he watches the coons shove each other around. The trouble with the cat is that he comes both day and night, something that the House Sparrows will not care for. They fuss and complain when I sit on the porch. How will they feel about four clawed feet on a yellow and stealthy cat? But they are safe unless the cat learns to fly up to the feeder. They would be better off worrying about the Cooper's Hawk who hides in the leaves and comes out of nowhere-

As for my Shih Tzu, the watcher at the my window, there can never be too many cats or coons or possums. He announces them all, and he never runs out of barks.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Bird Walk April 11,2012- Radnor Lake, Nashville,Tennessee

The early leg of the walk yesterday morning was hand-numbingly cold. What good are field glasses and camera when one has to keep ones hands shoved into jacket sleeves?

But bird people are hardy, and away we went on this walk sponsored by the Nashville Chapter of the Tennessee Ornithological Society. Even a baby, strapped to his mother's chest, made the full tour around the lake. And this baby was born to bird. The wild turkeys made more noise than this infant did-

His two sisters and his brother were there as well,with cameras and binoculars. And let it be said that despite their age and size, these kids were no amateurs. When we met a millipede on the way back on Otter Creek Road, the older boy pulled out a measuring tape to prove the many legged one was three inches long-

Along the way we saw a wood duck pair going in and out of their nest in a tree hole. We saw a gang of young male turkeys running together. One was pied- cream and chestnut colored. My low battery camera cut off just as I aimed to shoot. But a woman on the walk said she had heard about this strange bird , and had seen it herself a few days before. What this bird's chance of mating is I do not know. Probably not good, since he is a non-conformist in a species of bird that live in flocks.

We saw a large flock of Chimney Swifts, heard a few early warblers, and saw rafts of scaups, coots, pied-billed grebes, and blue-winged teal. I was happiest to see a Louisiana Waterthrush bobbing along the rocks in a brook near the park Nature Center.

And the blooming red shrub in the first photo is a Red Buckeye.

*Note the poster about the Steve Winwood concert to benefit the lake. I would bet the money will go to trying to buy more land around the lake to protect it from new 3 million dollar houses on the ridge tops. And to pay for lawyers to challenge a pipeline someone wants to run through the park.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Estate Sale Diaries-April 10, 2012, and a Most Peculiar Scene at the Park

Early today I drove out Highway 70 to southwest Davidson County to go to a moving sale at the home of someone in the Music Business. Though I live in Nashville, I know little of the Country Music scene, and I was curious to see how its nobility lived.

Modestly, in this case. The house , surrounded by forest and pastures. The drive, connected to the paved country road by a stone bridge over a creek. This home was no mansion. Its kitchen was no culinary temple. Yet, like the condo estate sale I went to several weeks ago in Bellevue, this sale was all about the walls and what was hanging on them.

In one room a museum sized painting with a museum sized price tag of $25,000. Not far from it, another painting priced at $17,000.00.

This baffled me. I have been to many estate and yard and moving sales, and have seen many paintings, but never any costing more than $1500 dollars. I do not doubt that art can be pricey. I know this because my father was an art dealer who scoured New England for paintings to auction in Boston and to sell at the galleries on Newbury Street. But these prices? In the setting of a tag sale? It made me wonder who the estate sale company thought might come wandering in with a spare $25,000.

Certainly, not me. I was not even willing to buy a fancy English teacup and saucer for twenty bucks. I left empty handed, as did the handful of people there with me in the first hour of the first day of this sale.

From a sociological standpoint, the sale was not a waste of time, and from an ornithological one, it was a success- for I heard the first Parula warbler of the year along the creek.

Figuring that more warblers were back, I later took the hounds to Edwin Warner Park for a walk.

Oh, why do I ever think leaving my camera at home is a good idea? A few weekends ago I did the same thing and stumbled in on the Nashville Kurdish Council's Annual Spring Picnic. And today-

A convention of another sort- 50 Comcast and X-finity cable TV trucks and their crews lined up at one small picnic area along the river. And I thought a $25,000 painting at a glorified yard sale was strange!

Woe to the poor sucker who put off lunch waiting for the cable man to arrive today!

And what was going on here? A prayer meeting? A motivational speaker? Free high speed Internet for the squirrels? Who knows? Surely the whole fleet was there. Every truck in the city. What a mystery.

Later, hoping that adventure would come in threes, I drove over to the library to pick up an inter-library loan. In the new non-fiction section I found a book I hoped would rival "On the Road" or Ian Frazier's "Great Plains". Blurbs on the dust jacket brought great expectations.

The book was "Lost in America- A Dead End Journey", by Colby Buzzell. The author drove out through Recession America to meet its people.

I made it through three chapters, then put it on the hall table return pile.

The book was as enervating as the author's wasted nights getting wasted and meeting other people in bars who were in the same depressed condition. To use the F word repeatedly as noun, verb, and adverb reveals to the reader that one does not have much to say, and that the "Dead-End Journey" of the title was apt.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Dogberry Winter

Now that Middle Tennessee weather has re-adjusted itself to seasonal, we are having one of our April chill snaps, one of our predictable spring "winters". But in this strange year "Blackberry Winter" and "Dogwood Winter" are here at the same time, so I am calling them "Dogberry Winter", which sounds better than "Black Dog Winter". Tonight it may drop to just above frost, which will be bad news for tomato plants everywhere. Even the plants that don't blacken will sulk and sit motionless until the warm weather comes back. I planted peppers, eggplants, and tomatoes for years, and not once did they go into Nashville earth before Mid-May.

Since migrating birds have more common sense than we do, they come back in numbers starting in mid-April, when the Tennessee Ornithological Society begins its spring bird walks at Radnor Lake. 7:30 every Wednesday from April 11 until mid-May, and I hope to go on all of them, taking my camera and broken binoculars( I can only see through one eyepiece) with me. In the last few years I have tried to learn spring warblers by call, since spotting them in 100 foot trees can be a neck cracking experience, and the chances are when one sees small birds in tall trees that they are certain to be chickadees-

And here is the blossom of the Tulip tree, blooming now.

And another blossom, found in a small patch of Paw Paw trees beside the Main Drive in Percy Warner Park.

Perhaps this summer, if the raccoons, the possums, the coyotes, the chipmunks, and the birds don't get there first, we may find the Paw Paw fruit, or Custard-Apple, fallen to the ground.

Kentucky State University has a webpage about the Paw Paw, with recipes for Paw Paw custard and Paw Paw Pie. Some fruit farmers are growing it commercially, though I have yet to see it for sale. The fruit tastes like bananas and grapefruit, some say. That must be why the Native Indians were fond of it.

*This photo comes from WikiPedia.

And what migrant birds did my friend and I see or hear on our Sunday walk? The Black-Throated Green Warbler, and the Blue Gray Gnatcatcher.

Perhaps I will have better luck today.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Back to the Experimental Kitchen-Carrot Celery Soup with Blue Cheese

"Work", said Oscar Wilde,"is the curse of the drinking class".

It is also the curse of the cooking class, as I have learned after the last two months of a 8 hour a day, too many days a week work stint. (A temporary situation, Thank God).

I have been spoiled for 30 years by 12 hour shifts done two or three times a week. But a full week workday, no matter how easy and pleasant the job, digests the better part of one's life and reduces free existence to two days compromised by house cleaning, trips to get the car inspected , and any other number of what I call "dismalities".

Two months of this, and I too was in line at the McDonald's drive through. Lunch at work became yogurt spiked with maple syrup and carried in in a see through container so it would get through prison checkpoint- Dinner was a cheesy dog topped with salsa and mustard. Dessert? Half a carton of red grapes-

Shifts beginning at 6 am meant mornings so early that 7 pm became bedtime. With the hounds demanding after work, non-negotiable walk time, even plugging in the food processor took too much energy.

Oh, Chunky Soup on Mashed potatoes eaters and every night pizza people, I understand you now, and understand why you find Stouffer's lasagna fine dining-

But this day, one of three off, I pulled down the food mill, cut up a bunch of celery and some carrots and made myself real soup. I baked ratatouille, and roasted beets, and now have dirty dishes everywhere. Wonderful! And tomorrow I am off as well, meaning I can stay up and watch a non rerun CSI in real time at 9pm.

This soup was an experiment, and it did not fail. I put 4 cups of water and 2 chicken bouillon cubes in a saucepan, then added a chopped up bunch of celery and three carrots. I boiled the vegetables in the broth, and when they were soft, removed them from the pan and sieved them through a food mill. Then I added the puree back to the broth along with a quarter cup of heavy cream and 3 ounces of crumbled blue cheese.


And I forgot to mention my Sweet Potato Salad and my Zucchini-Chayote Slaw with Adobe Seasoning and New World spices and Poblano peppers. Pictured here, and safely packed away in plastic. Now I have a conversation piece or two to bring to work for lunch on Friday. Even the checkpoint officers may get a thrill from xraying such deliciousness as they troll for illegal and hidden cellphones!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Porch Reading

No matter what the calendar says, 80 degrees means summer reading. This past winter I read Tolstoy, and then in early spring began Dicken's "Nicholas Nickleby". But I cannot read cold weather books on a warm porch, and I abandoned "Nickleby" until next fall. Summer porches are too distracting-

For there are thunderstorms being born and fabulous clouds. I hear the syrupy song of the House Finchs. I sit and wonder if this will be the summer my Night Blooming Cereus flowers. I can smell the jasmine I bought yesterday, though I did not know when I brought it home that it was a winter and early spring bloomer.

Last summer I read Raymond Chandler. This summer I am going to read Paul Bowles and Lawrence Durrell, specialists in what I call Bohemian Noir. And I will finish Kerouac's "Dharma Bums", which I picked up, unseasonably, last October.

What better short story to read, as clowns of every political persuasion slouch toward their party conventions, than Bowles' "Pages from Cold Point", whose jaded narrator tells us "Our civilization is doomed to a short life.....Let it go-"

Durrell lived on Corfu, then in Provence, in the company of people surpassingly strange. In Bowles' stories, American professors, lost in the desert, are kidnapped and turned into tongueless clowns by Bedouins-

Yet today- I read an all seasons writer, as I passed the afternoon on the ragged old daybed I use as a porch sofa ( It is stained, and was bought cushion-less , for 5 dollars. A mouse made a hole in it, and once lived inside. I cover it with sheets-)

I borrowed "Just Enough Liebling" from Inter-Library loan. And nothing I heard or saw from my languid porch deterred me from Liebling's memoir of returning to the US at the beginning of World War Two on a Norwegian freighter in a a convoy of Allied ships. Or his portrait of a cocky, crazy, and unique American military semi-hero in "Quest for Mollie".

The more I read J.L. Liebling , the more inexhaustible he seems. He loved Paris, good food, journalism, New York, prize fighters. I have yet to catch him perpetrating a dull word.

After all, when he was out to get his big break, he paid a man to march up and down outside Joseph Pulitzer's "The World " newspaper building carrying a placard reading "HIRE JOE LIEBLING".

And oh yes, if that is not recommendation enough- he was booted out of Dartmouth for skipping chapel.

My kind of man.