Be yourself; Everyone else is already taken.— Oscar Wilde.
This is the first post on my new blog. I’m just getting this new blog going, so stay tuned for more. Subscribe below to get notified when I post new updates.
Be yourself; Everyone else is already taken.— Oscar Wilde.
This is the first post on my new blog. I’m just getting this new blog going, so stay tuned for more. Subscribe below to get notified when I post new updates.
For the joys of travel many obstacles must be endured. Most are trivial and the overcoming of them contributes to the satisfaction of a good trip. One that looms large over most voyages is finding a way to get around in one’s destination. Unless that spot is discreetly walkable or served by excellent public transportation (think Chicago, NYC, Paris, London), that means renting a car. While purveyors are numerous and the booking easily completed on line, finding the car you actually want and securing it once you get there, standing in for an extended grilling at the counter worthy of the stasi, make the whole thing a less than pleasant experience. For the Florida trip I’m currently completing, I stumbled into another way to do this thatI heartily recommend. As an owner of Jeeps since 1990, I love it when I can happen upon one for a rental. Few companies even offer them at all, and for those that do they’re often out of stock for the destination sought. We love a big Jeep Wrangler 4 door whenever we hit Tampa Bay. Popping those roof panels to let in the Florida sunshine and hitting the causeway is a joy. It was actually an experience with one of those rental Wranglers a few years back that convinced us that’s what we wanted for our next car. But trying to make arrangements earlier this month found that the usual suspects didn’t have any Jeeps. It might have been a Google search, but I found a company – Turo (1) – that had plenty of Jeeps around TPA. Turo is what they call a “ride sharing service”, sort of an AirBnB for cars. The website coordinates your interactions, but you make your deals with the actual owners of the vehicles. There were at least 5 Jeep Wranglers displayed on their page that would be available in the time I specified. One was a gen-you-wine soft top, just like the one we own. I clicked that and entered the same sort of queries that any rent-a-car site would ask. Completing them, my car was secured. I received a confirmatory e-mail from the owner with instructions of how to meet up once I hit TPA. It cost a little extra to hook up at the airport. For free I could find my way to the owner’s house. The overall cost was about 20% less than what I’d been paying for similar cars from the big guys. As we touched down, I had some trepidation how’d we complete the exchange. The owner texted me to meet him in the parking garage, and as we walked in, there was our big yellow taxi looking for us. He walked over, shook my hand, pointed out some features on the vehicle, and handed me the keys. No questions, no 20 minute reiteration of everything I’d provided already to some agent behind a screen, no nothing. Yeah, I liked this. Our Wrangler was a beast. The “Hella Yella” paint job would make it easy to find in a parking lot.
The 35X12.50R20 LT tires set it several inches higher above the ground than what we were used to (ours are P225/75R16; R is diameter of wheel, so there’s 4”). It was an automatic, and Kathy loves to grind through the gears on ours, but she adjusted. There were some personal touches, like a collection of little plastic animals on the dashboard, like you just don’t see in rentals from the big guys. It performed flawlessly, not moving much from our driveway as we sat on the porch of our Madeira Beach house until we took it up to Crystal River and the manitees then Ocala for my high school buddy and finally back to TPA. The handoff there was as smooth as the pickup, with me texting the owner on the way and meeting him in the departure zone. It was this exchange that had me most concerned. One thing the big boys do o.k. is the dropoff, usually a painless pull up. Any hitch here and you start to get antsy about missing your flight. Facing our departure from TPA, our owner offered meeting us at departure to minimize our haulage. So here, looks like no problem.
Even before we assured ourselves that start-to-finish Turo was a good deal, we booked another car through them for our California trip in April. Snagged another Jeep Wrangler from several available around San Jose Mineta, the dinkiest airport in the Bay Area. As Bogie says to Claude Rains at the end of Casablanca “I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” (2)
So, it seems I’m on that path again. It doesn’t always go to addiction, cancer, and death, but can lead to pleasure and camaraderie. How I got here is a long story, but let’s start at the beginning. Now I’d classify myself as a lifetime non-smoker, but that’s not entirely correct, especially if you include non-tobacco products. The summer after I graduated high school, knowing my fate as a future University of Michigan student, I decided to prepare myself for the insults my lungs would face once on campus. Cannabis had not yet permeated Vicksburg, so I started buying Pall Malls (unfiltered) and sucking those back. The experiment worked, as once in the dorms I held my own at every dope fest, coughing only sporadically. I left the Pall Malls aside and didn’t pick up legal cigarettes again till midway through my senior year. I don’t know why I started, but I pissed off my music major roommate at Zapata House, eventually laying them aside after a month or two when I began to recognize cravings. I married a smoker, although she’d been ex for a couple years when I met her after she’d chain-smoked her way through College of Wooster swimming and playing basketball, field hockey, lacrosse, and softball, lettering X 14 plus All-America in backstroke.
Tobacco continued to have an allure, and when I travelled, I’d always pick up some Cubans in the duty free. I’d fire one up from time to time but began to realize all they did was nauseate me and make me spit a lot. I finally gave them all to the very appreciative husband of a nurse friend.
Which brings us to the near present. The building housing the AirBnB in the Loop where we stayed during our Christmas jaunt housed on its second floor Iwan Rees & Company (1), the oldest tobacconist in America. The pleasant aroma of that shop greeted us whenever we entered or left the building. I do like the smell of tobacco, so long as somebody isn’t blowing it in my face. We finally took the venture up to explore, and oh my. All that paraphernalia made me want to take up smoking again. I bought a couple tins of little cigars. All with a purpose. Whenever we go to northern California, I make it a point to attend the “Safety Meetings” my friend Dave holds with his like-minded buddies in the back room of Maselli’s hardware store in Petaluma, which one of them owns. The typical male shots of booze, dope, and, yes, cigars are trotted out. Given my previous experience with cigars, I’ve been a less than enthusiastic participant in that component of the ritual. During my time out here on the Gulf beach, I booked an April trip to California that would include these guys. Recalling my Pall Mall experiment, I wondered what a gradual reintroduction to cigars might do.
Into my Florida packings went, or so I thought, those two little tins of cigars. For sure, I thought, I could fire one up while sitting on the porch watching the waves come in. If an old man can’t sit in his rocker on his porch in a free state and smoke a cigar overlooking the Gulf of Mexico, what was all that fighting 1775-1783 about? But when the time came and I went rounging for those tins, I couldn’t find them anywhere. Kathy denied hiding them. But plan B was easy. All those Cuban refugees made sure the area was well populated with cigar stores. Yelp told me there was one nearby, Mad Beach Cigar and Smoke Shop. Alas, it was not where Yelp put it and had gone out of business at the location the guy at the nearby Daquiri Shack told me it had moved. But a cigar bar had opened right next to Lucky Lizard, where Kathy and I had a beer during our explorations. Goombahs Cigar Lounge was clearly a serious place, with a big humidor room full of their selections. I picked 4 of his smallest, an “A Fuente Gran Reserva”, and reading about it later I understand better why they cost so much (2). I bought a Bic lighter at Winn-Dixie and was ready.
As the clouds that would shape the sunset began to gather, I took my position at the other end of the porch. The breeze wouldn’t let the Bic do its job, so I moved inside for the fire up. The tokes were pleasantly familiar, and the nicotine quickly took hold. Now nicotine is a wonderful drug, and I can see why its wildly addictive. It both calms and concentrates the mind. Oh, how I’d like to reach into that while writing. With each pleasant puff the feeling spread, and soon my legs and torso were tingling. Finally, as I got down to the butt, it was all over, and I had to drag myself off to bed in hopes it would all pass in time for me to make dinner. The sun hadn’t set by then, but the cloud accumulation made it clear it wasn’t going to be a Kodak moment when it did. About 2 hours later, I woke up thinking it might be the next morning, foul taste in my mouth and coughing profusely. Indeed, the clock said 7:22, but Kathy was saying “where’s dinner?”. I was able to set myself to the task and execute it competently. But I had no desire for a second cigar.
Which is not to say I won’t tomorrow. My brother John is coming over, and he’s a big-time cigar aficionado. Yes, it’s a huge male bonding thing, and what man doesn’t look bolder with a cigar jutting out of his mouth? As cigar aficionados, I think my brother and me are in pretty good company.
I’m sure you want to hear that tune (3). And I’m sure there’s probably almost as many smoking songs as there are drinking songs, but you can’t beat this one, sung here by the ol’ Commander, complete with his own videography (4).
1, Iwan Rees & Co. https://www.iwanries.com/
2. Arturo Fuente. The Arturo Fuente Gran Reserva®. https://arturofuente.com/our-cigars/gran2/
3. Tobacco Road-The Nashville Teens-1964. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eGuZY6NVXqU
4. Smoke Smoke Smoke (That Cigarette) by Commander Cody. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LyYLrVNKE68
If you’ve been following along, you’ll know that my wife and I are very fond of those little Amtrak trips to the Windy City. Chicago was a place for me to grind it out for my trade for 5 years, but now is a fabulous adult amusement park, complete with rides (what do you think the El is?). I’ve not gone all encyclopedic on the great things you can find here, except maybe for that compendium of jazz clubs (1). Today, I’ve come up with something similar, if not nearly as lengthy. Our recent Christmas trip was so much fun, we decided we needed to come back for St.Patrick’s day and actually be there when they make the Chicago River flow green. We’re trying to get our single friend from the Rockies to join us, and she mentioned how she’d like to see a Shakepeare play. Theaters are all around us in the loop, but we’ve never stepped into any of them in all our times there. We were taken by an ad for “Drunk Shakespeare” on our last trip (2). Taking place a block north of where we were staying in the loop, the plot is that one of a group of actors downs several shots before trying to read some lines, and the rest adapt. Sounded like fun, but they had an archaic COVID policy: proof of vaxx required! Nuts to that, so we enjoyed the extra sleep, hard to come by when you’re whirling through Chi-town!
So in order to provide our friend, and us, a logical compendium of the choices available should we decide to step out to the theater, I came up with this list. To note is that so many of the really great theaters are right in the loop. These were several thousand seat ornate palaces built in the Roaring Twenties and have been restored to their glory. There’s also history in places outside the loop, like the Biograph (now Victory Gardens Theater) in Lincoln Park where John Dillinger was gunned down and the Merle Raskin Theater of DePaul U where the famous Goodman School started in the mid 20s. Note that not all these theaters feature plays. The old Chicago Theater in the loop features mainly musical acts and some places are just very comfortable movie houses with great bars.
Because of our run-up with COVID regulations last December, I’ve sought out policies for each of these theaters. It looks like nearly all have gotten with the program, although many would still like you to wear those silly masks. (The column seems not to survive the transfer). Two venues had a seemingly strict policy, the Lion Theater roaring yes indeed and the First Folio Theater in Oak Brook, stating proof of vaxx is required, then goes onto say it no longer checks! Don’t ask, don’t tell! Still wise to keep a mask in your pocket. If it’s an UnMask (3), you’ll be able to breathe through it.
So here are your many many choices. I’ve left out the few far flung venues in the ‘burbs. You may end up sitting among huge crowds in the baroque palaces of the loop all the way down to a few new close friends in the 45 seat converted garage of the Trap Door Theater out west in Bucktown/Wicker Park or the 2nd floor of a church City Lit occupies in Edgewater. But you sure don’t want to pay full price for those tix! Not here in the city of the Deal! After all, whose hotel spire lords it over the skyline, name proudly emblazoned at the base? It ain’t the Sears Tower (which is what the locals still call it. Willis?). As you practice your own art, you can get half price tickets on line through Theater in Chicago (4). An outfit called HotTix has two storefront operations in the Loop from which they deal, and they also work online (5).
address (* in the Loop)
COVID policy (as of 1/10/23)
|Annoyance Theater & Bar (comedy)||851 W. Belmont Ave||https://www.theannoyance.com/|
|Apollo Theater Chicago||2550 N. Lincoln||https://www.apollochicago.com/||vaxx (not updated since 5/22/22)|
|Auditorium Theater||*50 E. Ida B. Wells Dr||https://auditoriumtheatre.org/||masks rec’d|
|BoHo Theater at the Edge Theater||5451 N. Broadway||https://bohotheatre.com/||masks req’d|
|Briar Street Theater||3133 N. Halstead||https://www.briarstreetbroadway.com/|
|Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place||175 E. Chestnut||https://www.broadwayinchicago.com/theatre/broadway-playhouse/||masks rec’d|
|Cabaret ZaZou (Cambria Hotel)||*32 W.Randolph||https://cabaretzazou.com/|
|Cadillac Palace Theater (Palace Theater-1926)||*151 W. Randolph St||https://www.broadwayinchicago.com/theatre/cadillac-palace-theatre/||masks rec’d|
|Chicago Dramatists||798 N. Aberdeen||https://chicagodramatists.org/|
|Chicago Shakespeare Theater||800 E. Grand Ave (Navy Pier)||https://www.chicagoshakes.com/||masks rec’d|
|Chicago Theater (1921)||*175 N. State St||https://www.msg.com/the-chicago-theatre||depends on event|
|CIBC Theater (Majestic -1906)||*18 W. Monroe||https://www.broadwayinchicago.com/theatre/cibc-theatre/||masks rec’d|
|City Lit Theater||1020 W. Bryn Mawr Ave||https://www.citylit.org/|
|Davis Theater (Pershing -1918)||4614 N. Lincoln Ave.||https://davistheater.com/|
|The Edge Theater||5451 N. Broadway||https://www.edgetheater.com/|
|The Edge Off Broadway||1133 W. Catalpa||https://www.edgetheater.com/|
|First Folio Theater||4614 N. Lincoln||https://firstfolio.org/||vaxx, but won’t check masks req’d|
|Free Street Theater||1717 31st St, Oak Brook||https://freestreet.org/||(guideline link won’t open)|
|Greenhouse Theater Center||1419 W. Blackhawk St||https://www.greenhousetheater.org/|
|Harris Theater for Music and Dance||2257 N. Lincoln||https://www.harristheaterchicago.org/||masks rec’d|
|iO Theater||*205 E. Randolph||https://ioimprov.com/|
|The Jarvis Square Theater||1501 N.Kingsbury St||https://www.nealshowproductions.website/|
|The Lion Theater||1439 W. Jarvis||https://www.theatreinchicago.com/theatre/the-lion-theatre/369/||vaxx req’d|
|James M. Nederlander Theater (Oriental – 1926)||*182 N. Wabash||https://www.broadwayinchicago.com/theatre/chicagos-james-m-nederlander-theatre/||masks rec’d|
|Mercury Theater Chicago||*24 W. Randolph||https://www.mercurytheaterchicago.com/|
|Music Box Theater (1929 – movies)||3745 N. Southport||https://musicboxtheatre.com/|
|Raven Theater||6157 N. Clark||https://www.raventheatre.com/|
|Reginald Vaughan Theater (Invictus)||3733 N. Southport||https://www.invictustheatreco.com/||vaxx req’d|
|Steppenwolf Theater||1106 W. Thronadale||https://www.steppenwolf.org/|
|The Theater School at DePaul University (Merle Reskin Theater) (Goodman School – 1925)||1650 N. Halstead||https://theatre.depaul.edu/Pages/default.aspx|
|Theo Ubique Cabaret Theater||60 E. Balbo Ave||https://theo-u.com/|
|The Virginia Wadsworth Wirtz Center (Northwestern)||721 Howard St, Evanston||https://wirtz.northwestern.edu/|
|Theater Wit||1229 W. Belmont||https://www.theaterwit.org/||masks req’d|
|TimeLine Theater Company||615 W. Wellington||https://timelinetheatre.com/||masks req’d|
|Trap Door Theater||1665 W. Cortland||https://trapdoortheatre.com/|
|Victory Gardens Theater (Biograph – 1911, where they gunned down John Dillinger)||2433 N. Lincoln Avenue||https://www.facebook.com/victorygardens/|
1. Ike B. Chi Jazz. WordPress 5/23/21. https://theviewfromharbal.com/2021/05/23/chi-jazz/
2. The Drunk Shakespeare Society. https://www.drunkshakespeare.com/welcome
3. The UnMask breathe with us. https://getunmask.com/
4. Theater in Chicago. Half Price Ticket Deals. https://www.theatreinchicago.com/tictix.php
5. HotTix. https://hottix.org/locations/
Our travels have introduced us to the wonders of foods of the world. While the wonders are on most prominent display at dinner, we can’t forget that most important meal of the day: breakfast. We’ve touched down in the UK twice, and for the bad rap their supposedly tasteless, boring, overcooked food gets, they sure can do breakfast!
Our first morning in Dingle (Ireland), we sat down to a “full Irish breakfast”. Full it was, as were we after consuming it. Two poached eggs, 2 plump sausage links, two patties of blood sausage, a chunk of fried potatoes, grilled mushrooms, soda bread, and a little cup of baked beans. Sometimes, there’s a couple of grilled tomato slices. Of course, it’s all washed down well with a pint of Guinness. Such is how we started our day on our Irish trip, which would also take us to Kilkenny and Cork.
It all harkened back to memories of my youth, where I first encountered the “full” breakfast, in Jolly Old. The first English breakfasts I encountered were called just that – no “full” – if maybe “proper”. I was not used to seeing that much food, or that variety, for breakfast: two eggs, two slices of grilled tomato, two big slabs of bacon (their thick non-crispy kind), grilled mushrooms, toast, and of course that little cup of baked beans. Tea was the accompanying beverage, another reason I’m glad I’m part Irish.
Finally, up early enough for breakfast in South Queensberry (north of Edinburgh) this morning, we encountered the full Scotch breakfast (of course) on the menu. Components looked about the same, with the addition of haggis, a deal killer. Not sure what the Scots wash this one down with, but for me it would have taken several drams of uisce bethea to get that taste out of my mouth. Or so I thought till I actually took advantage a couple mornings later. The menu entry looked plenty tasty (except for that haggis).
And on the plate, it lived up to its billing.
The little wedge in the middle is a “potato scone”, a tasty little pocket bread number I must learn to make. The speckled patty at 4 o’clock is the haggis. I’ve never before been able to stand this stuff, which is basically offal and oatmeal cooked in a sheep’s stomach, a mushy mess (1,2). There were some whole grains in this preparation to give it some texture, and the meaty flavor from the lamb parts, however disgusting their origins, was pretty good. Not saying I’ll try to make it back home, but I won’t be turning my nose up on it on the menu.
Others have made the effort to analyze and describe the differences between the “full” breakfasts of the UK (3). Note there’s also a “full Welsh”
So, on the bus home from town later the same day, Kathy and I decided to come up with our “full” breakfast. So, here’s the “full Harbal”, first draft
Poached eggs have a rep of being kind of fussy to make, and/or require a special cooker. While there’s more to making one than laying it out on the hot bacon grease, it’s really not that difficult:
And a note on one of the ingredients: Hatch green chile sauce (4). In Santa Fe they slather this on everything, and we understand why. You can make it up yourself if you can get your hands on the chiles, grown in the Hatch valley of New Mexico (natch). Our Santa Fe friends bought it in jars put there by the Zia Green Chile Company. Fortunately, they sell on Amazon.
Finally, the mundane spud. I’d about given up making decent fried potatoes, be they American, hash brown, or whatever. The inside always seemed to get mushy before the outside got brown let alone crisp. I seem to have figured out French fries, but that requires tallow and I need to make up a new batch. Tater tots fill the bill: brown, crispy, and tasty, right out of the oven. But our old friends from the ‘burg, Dan, and Jill, the Shutesies, showed us another way. We tried it for the maiden voyage of the full Harbal, and waddyaknow.
And how did it all look on the plate?
Pretty tasty. No special beverage this time, as we’d already killed some mimosas and the better part of a bottle of chardonnay. But if starting from scratch, I’d recommend some vampire Marys , that garlicy version of a bloody Mary out of The Stinking Rose, San Francisco (5).
For those of you who like 3X5 cards:
1. Traditional Scottish Haggis. tasteatlas. https://www.tasteatlas.com/haggis/recipe
2. Haggis. VisitScotland https://www.visitscotland.com/see-do/food-drink/haggis/
3. Massoud J. What’s the difference between and English, Scottish, Welsh, and Irish breakfast? DishCult 8/26/21. https://dishcult.com/articles/england/whats-the-difference-between-an-english-scottish-welsh-and-irish-breakfast
4. Original New Mexico Hatch Green Chile By Zia Green Chile Company – Delicious Flame-Roasted, Peeled & Diced Southwestern Certified Green Peppers For Salsas, Stews & More, Vegan & Gluten-Free – 16oz. https://www.amazon.com/dp/B074SYZ24Y?ref=nb_sb_ss_w_as-reorder-t1_ypp_rep_k0_1_11&=&crid=VRAXEZF9EUZL&=&sprefix=hatch+green
5. Ike B. Vampire Marys. WordPress 2/6/20. https://theviewfromharbal.com/2020/02/06/vampire-marys/
Trigger warning: my wifey thinks this is gross
I’m hope you’ve had half as much fun this Christmas as I have playing with a pig part.
I haven’t had this much fun with a boar’s head since Joe Shook’s pig roast half a hundred years ago. After eating, we took the head of the beast and stuck it on a pitchfork, finding a way to wrap somebody’s coat around its “shoulders”. We put our creation in the back of Joe’s pickup and paraded it through the streets of Vicksburg. Fun like you just can’t have in the big city.
I became aware of my need for another pig’s head during my recent trip to Santa Fe. It was there many years ago I first learned about posole, a scrumptious soup/stew of dried corn and pork that I now whip up every year about this time. In Mexico, where the dish originated, it’s called pozole. Eating it is said to confer good luck for the coming year. I’ve been making posole this time of year for several years using pork shoulder, and it’s been delicious. I’m sure it’s accounted for some good luck in the year to follow. Here’s the recipe I worked up.
It was a communication with a lady of Latvian descent living in Kalamazoo that pointed me to another way to provide the pork. Somehow, it came up in our e-mails that she and her friends were about to make up their own batch, this after I told her about the lovely multicolored posole I’d just bought in the SF farmers’ market.
Posole is a name also given to the dried corn that goes into the dish. Its proper name is maiz Cacahuazintle, and is one of the favorite types of corn in Mexico (1). It has giant kernels that are whiter, softer, thicker, with rounder tops, than the regular white or yellow corn. It also has a deep, mealy bite. North of the border its called hominy.
The recipe at the end of the link my Latvian friend gave me (2) used a pig’s head rather than the chunks of pork shoulder I use. Gotta have it! Wifey wasn’t too enthused, probably thinking about checking the pot and seeing someone looking back at her. Farmer Mark, who’s getting me the head, said the head meat is by far the tastiest part of the pig and that the posole he made with one last year was fantastic.
But of course, there’s always a problem. I thought I’d only need half a head for my recipe and Mark can only get them whole. So what do you do with leftover pig head? My memory harkened to a treat that’s been lost for generations: head cheese. You can still get it at some better delis. There’s not a speck of coagulated casein in it. Contents are entirely those from the boiled pig: chunks of whatever falls off the skull sitting in the congealed juice of whatever other stuff was extracted. I don’t think I’ve had it since I was a little kid, when my one-time farmer grandparents made it and loved it.
Making headcheese is butt simple (3). You just need a big pot and some patience. All you muscle physiologists out there know that the more a muscle is worked, the tougher it will be. How much work does Mr. Piggy smiling and chewing put through his head muscles? So there they land in that gel ready for our ecstatic nibbling. The only problem is consuming the product in time. I think it can be frozen.
There are recipes that let you cheat (4), but how can you call it “head cheese” if there’s no head involved?!
So I was geeked for head cheese, too. When I picked up my head from Mark, I asked about cutting it in two. He pointed out that pigs use the tops of their heads to “communicate” and thus the skull there was quite thick. A dedicated bone saw like you’d find in a butcher’s shop would do it, with a home remedy being something like a Sawzall with a large enough blade. I had one of those! Visions of brains, blood, and gore flying though my garage got me to realize maybe one pig’s head recipe per season was enough. I could feel Kathy’s relief as she stood behind me as I went through my logical progressions. I also got to ask Mark about brains and eyeballs, which he said don’t factor into culinary uses of the modern-day pig’s head. Kathy signed relief with that news, too.
The pig’s head, all 7 ½ pounds of it, came home frozen solid.
Of course, it had to thaw out first. I put it into our smaller kitchen sink face down so it wouldn’t be looking at us the next 2 days. More kudos from the missus. At the end of the afternoon, some of his parts were already getting soft. I moved him from the sink to atop the freezer in the garage. Plenty cold out there these days. Out of sight out of mind, even more kudos from the missus.
While the pig sits, there’s the posole itself to take care of (excuse me, ” maiz Cacahuazintle“). You’d think that coming from a school with colors “maize and blue”, I’d respect maize. Several steps to getting those kernels ready, the first being an overnight soak. They emerged looking much fuller and prettier.
Displaying your soaked kernels in a glass bowl is totally optional to this recipe.
Next comes the chemistry experiment. The soaked kernels have to be cooked in a basic (high pH) solution to be edible. When the first few recipes I came across called for “slaked lime”, I panicked. No store around here had such a thing, even when I checked for “calcium hydroxide”, what was what it was. Fortunately, there’s nothing magic about this particular base. The same can be accomplished by good old baking soda (sodium bicarbonate). Ya cook the soaked beans in enough of this till you can bite through ‘em, then let ‘em sit overnight. Tomorrow I rinse ‘em, slide off the slimy coat from each kernel, then take and snip the tip from each kerne! It was at this point in reading the recipe that I knew it was the Mexican women who cooked this. The tipos probably slaughtered the pig and cut its head off, but sat back and drank beer while their ladies did the rest. The snipping of each kernel tip produces a flower-like appearance so of course I thought to myself I’m going to do it. The modern male anal-retentive chef steps in to do what Mexican men wouldn’t. But when I saw how many kernels I had the next day, I nixed this step. I doubt the Mexican men appreciated the little flowerettes anyway, except maybe the gay ones.
The pause allowed for a photo shoot. The star of the show here – Mr. Pig (or at least his head) – looks kinda like a nondescript chunk of meat in his previous shot as he came home in a bag from the farm. I thought he should be displayed properly, so here he is on a silver platter, which I believe is the standard for displaying severed heads.
The platter was a wedding gift from my good friend and Barnes buddy Rajiv, who’s a strict vegetarian.
I’ve had some friends with that angular sort of face, but I won’t be making comparisons here.
Tomorrow, he goes in the pot with the coddled corn, some garlic and oregano, and a paste made with a bunch of soaked dried peppers. Then just wait till meat falls off the bone. I suppose the skull comes out then. Like lots of stews, the longer it sets, the better it tastes. I’m not sure how long we’ll be able to wait.
But, I’m getting ahead of myself. First comes a simmering of that corn for about an hour. Then it’s time to lower the pig’s head in.
After an hour or two of simmering, enough to cook up some broth, comes the step with the peppers. You can’t make a Mexican dish without some dried chilis. My recipe called for 6 guajillos, 6 anchos, and 4 regular chilis. Alas, I only had the regulars. As it was Christmas eve at this point, I wasn’t going to run out to the Mexican grocery. My stash included some souvenirs from Santa Fe and finds from Bombay Grocers, another culture that loves hot peppers. So I used 6 New Mexicos, 12 sambars, and 8 kashmirii. They still looked nice at the ready.
In my past attempt at posole, I just threw the dried peppers in. My current operating instructions call for a little more manipulation. You put the peppers in a bowl, ladle over some of that broth from the pot, let it sit for a half hour or so, then buzz everything in a blender. That slurry mixes right in with the soup, enhances the color, and gives the flavor a nice punch. Peppers in posole are more for the flavor than for the heat. Fortunately, some people are very serious about dried chilis, and measures of the heat level – indicated in Scoville Heat Units (SHU) – of chili varieties are available (5). Here’s how my substitutes measured up to the intendeds
So it looks like I shortchanged the recipe on the heat side, although I used more of the substitute peppers than called for in the original.
I let the pot simmer till bedtime, then carried it out to the cold garage. Sometime Christmas morning, pick away at any meat still left on the head, chop that up, heat it back up, and it’ll be ready!
That’s quite the task. While the pig’s head should yield 3-4 pound of meat, ya hafta go get it. It doesn’t just fall off into the pot like I expected. It’s just a matter of taking your kitchen knife to anything soft and digging away. I felt like I was earning the “…and surgeon” as it reads on my medical license. When I opened the beast’s jaws looking for even more soft stuff, I even felt like a porcine dentist. But the meat just keeps on coming. I think my pig would give the young Rob Reiner a run for his money (6).
That’s done. Now who needs a fresh pig skull? I’m thinking of throwing it over the back wall to spook the animals. Probably still some good pickin’s on it, like the brain and eyeballs. But I’m about to pick some posole out of a big bowl. I’ve never doctored up the posole I made before, but what I read says Mexicans like to sprinkle on stuff liked sliced onions, radishes, and avocados, even broken up tortilla chips. I’ve got ‘em all in the house, so Kathy and I will give ‘em a try, too. Plus, any meal goes better with musical accompaniment, and I just realized John, Paul, George, and Ringo sang the perfect tune (7).
Have fun with this dish however you make it, and buen provecho!
P.S. It wouldn’t be fair to leave you without the recipe:
1. Pat Jinich. Corn. Hominy, Maíz Cachuacintle, Mote, or Giant Corn. https://patijinich.com/hominy_maiz_cacahuacintle_mote_or_giant_corn/
2. Rancho Gordo. Classic Red Pork Pozole. https://www.ranchogordo.com/blogs/recipes/classic-red-pork-pozole?_pos=8&_sid=a4238dd59&_ss=r
3. Homemade Headcheese. The Elliott Homestead 12/8/14. https://theelliotthomestead.com/2014/12/homemade-headcheese/
4. Pittman B. Homemade headcheese. The Cookful. https://thecookful.com/homemade-headcheese/
5. Spices Inc. How Hot are Dried Chile Peppers. https://spicesinc.com/blogs/how-hot-are-dried-chile-peppers
6. All In the Family TV Show Wiki. Rob Reiner. https://all-in-the-family-tv-show.fandom.com/wiki/Rob_Reiner
7. el perro beatle. Piggies – The Beatles (LYRICS/LETRA) [Original] (+Video). YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O3bCtx7SNAE
I hope this doesn’t sound like bragging, but my wife and I never came down with COVID. We never got vaxxed. We never paid much attention to anyone’s guidelines except when forced, which of course was often. We did get sick once, but it was when influenza A was sweeping the campus in November ‘21 and we joined in. From the first news of a somewhat different potentially dangerous virus coming our way from China in 2019, I paid close attention. With a master’s in microbiology and research experience in several virology labs, I knew about viruses. A career in rheumatology includes grappling with the ins and out of the immune system, so I had that too. I filled my blog with observations and opinions, eventually compiling them into a book (1). I’m not seeking to reiterate here all the points I made that I think were, in retrospect, correct. I just want to describe how Kathy and I lived it, showing up some glaring deficits in how the medical establishment powers that be missed chances to lead. As even Uncle Joe says the pandemic is over (2), I think it’s time for such reflections
We never hunkered down. We went out freely to the few places allowed, like the grocery store, and hobnobbed with the employees there. You couldn’t get into the store without a mask, but we never joined the idiots wearing those face diapers inside the car. We got outside as much as possible. Sunshine (through vitamin D) (3) and that fresh air (4) are great antivirals. We loved that walking exercise, knowing physical exercise can enhance immunity, including against coronavirus, through multiple mechanisms (5). Our outings were marred only when we met the masked on the trail, which I tried to greet with a feigned cough, or outright confrontation (6). We ate well, all home-cooked, and drank too much. But when you’re dousing your hands with alcohol, should you neglect your insides? We socialized, mingling with those friends and family who saw the pleasure of our companying outweighing the risk of contracting some dread disease. Social interactions enhance immunity and resistance against viruses in particular though a number of mechanisms (7). Social deprivation consequent to COVID mitigation efforts has had disastrous effects (8). Did the medical establishment tell us about any of this? Instead of hearing about positive things we might do for ourselves, we were constantly hectored about masks, distancing, and vaxx, vaxx, vaxx. Oh, yeah, we also travelled, ultimately hitting California, Santa Fe, Colorado, Florida, and Chicago as well as multiple stops around our Mitten. Travel was easier during COVID. Crowds were way down, as scaredy-cats stayed home. Prices for everything were cheaper. As regular travelers, we were a bit sad to see the pandemic lift, as demand pushed ticket prices back up.
Our neighborhood Memorial Day get together was riven by the hostess’s imposed vaxx requirement. My comments about the idiocy of it all (9) left scars that have not healed. As COVID hysteria grew through 2021, it touched our University of Michigan when President Schlissel, a medical doctor, decreed that all the faculty shall be vaxxed before fall term started (10). Just to get it out of the way, I quickly applied for a religious exemption and urged my still-teaching wife to do the same. Mine was granted quickly but Kathy had to make a virtual visit with an allergist and regale her with tales of recurrent anaphylaxis. It took longer for Kathy to get news of her exemption, and she was never told which type it was. So, she got to go into her office, but was treated like a pariah there, none of her colleagues deigning to visit her. Plus, we had to go into campus to spit into a little tube weekly. Never vaxxed but always test-negative, you’d think we’d be the safest people to be around. But that’s not how we were received. Those sheets of negative test results were necessary passports to most everything, like basketball games. At least they didn’t impose proof-of-vaxx passports. Today, when those Hiroo Onadas (11) whose establishments still ask, we just pass ’em by.
So, with Christmas 2022 coming, we approach the third anniversary of the release of that almighty ~ 100 nanometer (a human hair is 1000 times wider) ultimate game-changer. Life seems almost normal nowadays, at least sometimes. There are still the scattered idiots wearing masks (even in the open air and in shuttered cars!), obsessive-compulsive users of hand sanitizer, and implorations for “vaccination” and multiple “boosters” even though today’s coronavirus strains have mutated so far beyond SARS-CoV-2 they’re barely recognized by primed immune systems (12). With proof lacking that vaxx impairs transmission, reduces infection, or does anything besides its original mission, at which it’s failed anyway (ha!), ya hafta wonder why anyone would bother getting jabbed at all. We sure didn’t, and here we are, happy and healthy. Plus we carry within us what may be the most valuable commodity in the world (13)!
Peace, Love, Health, and Merry Christmas!
1.Ike R. Musing through a Pandemic. My year and a half with Mr. Corona. Volume I. about Mr. Corona. Amazon (Kindle) 2021. ISBN: 9798530730. https://www.amazon.com/Musing-through-Pandemic-Year-Corona/dp/B098GV14KY/ref=sr_1_7?crid=3VTXFGNW63QK2&keywords=%22Robert+Ike%22&qid=1671647763&sprefix=robert+ike+%2Caps%2C242&sr=8-7
2. President Biden: “The pandemic is over” | 60 Minutes. YouTube 9/18/22. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MIQz0fsX38U
3. Ike B. sunshine on my shoulders kills my COVID. WordPress 11/23/20. https://theviewfromharbal.com/2020/11/23/sunshine-on-my-shoulders-kills-my-covid/
4. Hobday RA, Cason JW. The open-air treatment of pandemic influenza. Am J Public Health. 2009 Oct;99 Suppl 2(Suppl 2): S236-42. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2008.134627. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4504358/pdf/AJPH.2008.134627.pdf
5. da Silveira MP, da Silva Fagundes KK, Bizuti MR, Starck É, Rossi RC, de Resende E Silva DT. Physical exercise as a tool to help the immune system against COVID-19: an integrative review of the current literature. Clin Exp Med. 2021 Feb;21(1):15-28. doi: 10.1007/s10238-020-00650-3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7387807/pdf/10238_2020_Article_650.pdf
6. Ike B. Fauci’s feeble-minded fear-filled followers. WordPress 2/4.21. https://theviewfromharbal.com/2021/02/05/faucis-feeble-minded-fear-filled-followers/
7. Leschak CJ, Eisenberger NI. Two Distinct Immune Pathways Linking Social Relationships With Health: Inflammatory and Antiviral Processes. Psychosom Med. 2019 Oct;81(8):711-719. doi: 10.1097/PSY.0000000000000685. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7025456/pdf/nihms-1068346.pdf
8. Okabe-Miyamoto, K., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2021). Social connection and well-being during COVID-19. World Happiness Report, 2021, 131. https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Shun-Wang-31/publication/350511770_World_Happiness_Report_2021/links/6063d797299bf173677dca9b/World-Happiness-Report-2021.pdf#page=133
9. Ike B. Thoughts shared with Donna on Decoration Day. WordPress 5/30/21. https://theviewfromharbal.com/2021/05/30/thoughts-shared-with-donna-on-decoration-day/
10. Office of the President. University of Michigan. COVID-19 vaccination requirement 7/310/21. https://president.umich.edu/news-communications/messages-to-the-community/covid-19-vaccination-requirement/
11. McCurry J. Hiroo Onoda: Japanese soldier who took three decades to surrender, dies. The Guardian 1/17/14. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jan/17/hiroo-onoda-japanese-soldier-dies
12. Wang Q, Iketani S, Li Z, Liu L, Guo, Y, Huang Y, Bowen AD, Liu M, Wang M, Yu J, Valdez R, Lauring AS, Sheng Z, Wang HH, Gordon A, Liu L, Ho DD. Alarming antibody evasion properties of rising SARS-CoV-2 BQ and XBB subvariants. Cell (2023), https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cell.2022.12.018. https://www.cell.com/action/showPdf?pii=S0092-8674%2822%2901531-8
13. Mercola J. Unvaccinated Blood is Now in Very High Demand. Epoch Times 12/20/22. https://www.theepochtimes.com/health/unvaccinated-blood-is-now-in-very-high-demand_4934809.html
We’ve invited our Colorado friend June to join us on one of our upcoming Chicago jaunts. Seeking to gauge whether she might like the same things as we do, I mentioned our love of jazz clubs. She came back saying she loves jazz clubs and also blues clubs. Plenty of those in Chi-town, but it got me thinking about a blues club venture I’ll never forget.
I wrote to her: If you wanted to go to a blues club back in my day, here’s where I would have taken you for the real deal (1). I went there once with a group of U of C med students. It was only a 2 mile drive from U of C, but a world away, across Washington Park (the western edge of civilized Hyde Park), then up Indiana, three blocks from the Dan Ryan expressway, which Mayor Daley put in to really cut off the ghettoes. Theresa’s was in a neighborhood called Bronzeville, and you can guess where that name came from. When we lived in Hyde Park, we were taught our boundaries. The northern border was 47th. I lived for 3 years on 48th. I never tiptoed an inch north. There lies Bronzeville! Buddy Guy’s club was on 47th then, and we didn’t go there either.
But Theresa’s was a trip, straight out of the movies. From the street, it looked like somebody’s house. There was a big chain across the door, which they lifted to let you in once you checked out. You walked downstairs to the club, which was rockin’, in that bluesy sort of way. I have no recollection who was playing. As we stood there, our few white faces standing out big time, some of the larger local male patrons sidled up and asked respectfully “can we dance wiff yo’ dates?” Um, yes, was the answer, and no harm came to anybody. I’ll bet some of those girls can tell better stories than this one. After a while, we headed back to our own world, knowing we’d had an “only-in-Chicago” experience.
1, Chicago Bar Project. Theresa’s Lounge. https://chibarproject.com/reviews/theresas/
Kathy and are in the midst of our annual Chicago Christmas jaunt, taking in music and all the other wonders that make up Christmas in Chicago (1). This afternoon, after a Chicago Architecture Center tour on the origins of the EL, we took in a matinee at Orchestra Hall. These are great bargains, as they are never heavily attended, and we serve to bring down the average age of the audience. Just the day before, I’d received an e-mail from my old friend John. As across the street neighbors on Barton Lake, his piano tinklings competed with my blats on the trumpet. John went much farther, making a career as a concert pianist, NYC and all, with an advanced doctoral-equivalent degree from the University of Cincinnati.
He currently runs WAIF, a radio station in Cincinnati, in addition to his performing and teaching. As I was due to respond to him anyway, I thought I’d try to impress him with some of my “music journalism”. Here’s what I wrote him about the concert:
“Kathy and I just got in from a light Chicago snow, home from a matinee at Orchestra Hall. Guests conductor Nikolaj Szeps-Znaider and organist Cameron Carpenter leading the way. Kathy loved “Sorcerer’s Apprentice”, especially the oboes, but couldn’t get the cartoons out of her head.
I was in high anticipation of the concluding piece, St. Saën’s Organ Symphony, having never heard it with a real live rafter-shaking organ. The middle piece – Poulenc’s Concerto in G Minor for Organ, String Orchestra, and Timpani – provided Mr. Carpenter with ample opportunity for fireworks. So, I was on the edge of my seat when intermission concluded, the orchestra filled back up to full force, and these Guest guys appeared. I’d forgotten that St. Saēns doesn’t release the organ till the 4th movement. After the Poulenc, I was ready for lots more, and right now. Like any good Frenchman, St. Saëns wove a seduction, Szep-Znaider employing in sections the ample talents of this wonderful orchestra. Finally in the 3rd movement, the vaunted Chicago brass stepped in – they’d sat on the sidelines for the Poulenc – and did they have plenty to say. When they came back halfway into the last movement, they paired with their neighbor with the 5 kettle drums to build to an amazing climax, just in time for Carpenter to hit those pedals and bring this puppy in for a landing. The crowd erupted in a way that would make a Frenchman proud. If there were any dry eyes in the place, mine certainly weren’t among them. I wanted Carpenter to come back and do “In-a-gadda-da-vida” for an encore. Such was not to be as all we got was more applause to each player and section standing and taking a bow. All-in-all a pretty good deal.
I think Kathy and I will come back and do it again. Kathy is now addicted to sitting in Terrace. See our view of the stripped-down orchestra getting ready for the Poulenc. Sound from those instruments is omni-directional.
Scan here the many CSO offerings (2). Look carefully for the “Terrace” seating option. You’ll be surprised at how fun it is to listen to a concert at the back side of the orchestra.
But there’s no way you could be surprised at how much fun Chicago is at Christmas. It’s an easy train ride from Ann Arbor and some of our Kalamazoo friends like to drive to Hammond and take the South Shore line in. Bottom line, you do not need (or want) a car in Chicago. Driving brings grief and parking pecuniary. But it’s worth the trip regardless. Michiganders, one of the greatest cities in the world is oh so close. It would be folly to miss the opportunity. Come.
…amoenam circumspice. That’s the motto of my home state of Michigan, where I’ve lived for all but 9 of my 70 years. I never want to leave.
In English, it’s “If you seek a pleasant peninsula, look about you.” Indeed. Actually, we’ve got two, and they’re both pretty damned pleasant. From trapping to logging to machining to fullout car manufacturing to the automated robotic manufacturing of the future, folks in my state have always made a pretty good living. Agriculture has been important from the get go, and remains so. That prosperity has supported a great university and a bunch of pretty good ones. If you’d like to read about that arc, a little book by native son Bruce Catton – he the author of many books on the Civil War, the third in his Army of the Potomac trio (1,2,3) winning the Pulitzer prize in 1954 – Michigan: A History is a good place to start.
It stops at the early 70s, but folks my age have lived through everything since. It’s still available on Amazon, cheap used (4).
But this piece is about my kitchen, believe it or not. When I wrote about my kitchen some time ago, I mainly focused on the hardware of cooking, the software needed (i.e. cookbooks and recipe boxes) and the staple ingredients, like spices (5). I portrayed my kitchen as “my lab”, and it remains so. But what about some of the accessories? You might detect a theme.
Every chef needs a good cutting board, and I have several. But I’m especially fond of a recent acquisition, spotted at the Jerome Country Market (6) where I’d gone to pick up my recently butchered lamb.
Handling those hot pots on the stove requires some protection, and a little shop on the Kalamazoo mall – K’zoo in the Mitten (7) – gave me the perfect mitt. I’m on my second. As you can see such items take a beating.
The big venting hood over the Viking range where I cook my stuff is a perfect place for the car magnets that adorn our Jeep on game day.
I’ll admit that not all my creations are perfect right off the stove. Sometimes a little seasoning is in order. Thanks to my sister Suzanne, I have the shakers for the job.
Presentation is everything, so when my creation calls for a big platter, I’ve got just the item.
Following the cooking and eating is always the cleanup. The drudgery is lightened if you have something fun to wipe with. I’ve stocked up so there’s always at least one clean one in the rotation.
So it’s for sure a Meechegan (!)(8) kitchen. Should you come visit, I even have a beverage for you.
After your visit to my Harbal kitchen, I hope you’ll leave with a song in your heart – whether it’s ”Michigan my Michigan”(9) or “Hail to the Victors”(10) – and warm feelings for the dear state I’m so lucky to live in.
I always wondered what I’d do with those two labels I’d so carefully soaked off a couple of magnificent bottles of booze from many Christmases ago. They rested in a plastic basket next to my blue recliner amongst all the other stuff I didn’t know what to do with. With my unexpected but wonderful reacquaintance with my Arlington rugrat cousins (1), a big window opened. My late Uncle Jim had a real thing for nicknames and all his kids had one. See my wife and me with 3 of them at cousin Linda’s Arlington house Saturday before last:
Left to right, it’s Rinnie-Linnie, me, Kathy, Sandy (forgot what her nickname was), Rugged Rick, and Maria, Linda’s EMT/firefighter daughter. Not pictured is Uncle Jim’s son after Rick: Jo Jo the Dog Faced Boy (Joe), currently a preacher. There are 5 more.
“Rinnie-Linnie” grew out of Linda’s girlhood love of the TV show about the intrepid German Shepherd Rin-Tin-Tin. So, easy slip from “Rinnie” into “Rinnie-Linnie”. When this accomplished schoolteacher in her 60s needs a nickname these days, she chooses “Linnie”.
So, when I was tidying up the many piles around my blue recliner and came across those labels (again!), it was obvious what needed to be done. I made this scan:
and fired off an e-mail to my Rinnie-Linnie. It would require some education for the teacher. I wrote: “So they forgot a consonant – those Norskis – but still pronounced the same! Kathy and I are both about a quarter Norwegian, with her mom’s sibs very big on observing their traditions, especially around Christmas. One of them is aquavit (“water of life”), distilled from grain or potato and seasoned with caraway. Especially good aquavit – like the stuff in the bottle that wore your label – spends at least one circumnavigation of the globe in the hold of a ship, the gentle sloshing said to enhance the flavor, especially if the ship crosses the equator. The backside of the label (also shown) has a map of the voyage taken, dates of the voyage, and a tally of the number of times it crossed the equator. Twice, for this bottle. “Linie” is Norwegian for equator.
Drinking it is quite the ritual, as important a part of Little Christmas Eve (eve before Christmas Eve) as the gravlax (which we make). The closer to frozen the aquavit gets, the more palatable it is. I take an empty half gallon milk carton, put in the aquavit bottle, cover it with water, and let it freeze solid. Peel away the milk carton and you’ve got an impressive looking chunk of ice with a perfect-temperature bottle of aquavit inside. Of course, the 80-proof aquavit doesn’t freeze, but it does get a little slushy. The drinker pours out a shot glass, looks soulfully into the eyes of another in the room, raises his/her glass and says “skōl” meaning “cheers” or “good health”. The person addressed just then must take a glass, fill it, then throw down the aquavit in one gulp at the same time the skōl-er does. An aggressive skōl-er can get the room pretty shitfaced pretty quickly. By tradition, the hostess/host is exempt from this ritual, as she/he must stay sober enough to keep the party going.
The Slaters I knew might have tippled a bit around Christmas, but I never saw them doing anything like this
As the Norwegians say: god jul!
While I didn’t include it in Linda’s e-mail, here’s the recipe I use for gravlax. Tim Laing is my colleague who gave us the recipe years ago, written out on 3 pages of a Naprosyn notepad. We prescribed the stuff, a real good anti-inflammatory, in buckets back in the day. Today it’s Aleve, over the counter in a much wimpier dose than what we use to dish out.