Archive for the ‘Humor’ Category

Making an Opinion Count

I had too many opinions over the weekend.

And then last night, I had even more.

It’s serious. I’m talking six, maybe even seven unsolicited opinions! I don’t know the exact number. After half a dozen or so, I lost count.

It’s getting so that if I don’t have an opinion, I just can’t function. Every day, I tell myself that I am restricted to just one opinion. JUST ONE. But pretty soon, it’s a ‘like’ in addition to an opinion, and then a ‘share’ in addition to an opinion, and then a comment about someone else’s opinion, and then a comment that quotes an opinion that I happen to agree with, and then…

Well. I think you can see where I’m going with this. It just escalates. In my opinion, I need a 12-step program for the opinionated.

See? Not even noon yet, and I’ve already started.


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Well, since we’re halfway through May already, I know you’re probably itching for a recipe or two. Never fear – I spent the month of April cooking, so I’ve got recipes stacked up like storm clouds and headed your way. White chicken chili, carrot cake, two-bite brownies, gâteau au citron, jalapeño cheese straws, peanut butter oatmeal cookies, almond coffee cake – you name it, I’ve got the recipe.

First things first, however. Like I said, it’s been a while, so we’ve got more than recipes to catch up on. See, the way I look at it, talking without bitching is just unfinished business.  And everyone knows that you won’t catch me talking unless it’s every minute I’m awake. So I think you can see where we’re going with this.

And if you haven’t already guessed from the title, the topic I want to complain about today is the three feline aggravations.

Now, for the past few months, I’ve noticed that the demon trio has slacked off on efforts to drive me to the brink of insanity. I don’t know that you’d call it true hibernation, but it’s like they’ve been in some kind of winter-induced catatonic torpor, or something. Oh sure, they’ve managed to wreak the occasional inconvenience, but their efforts have fallen short of out-and-out havoc by a country mile.

Now that it’s the month of Mayhem, however, all that’s changed. Yes, the catastrophe is out of the bag.

See, just recently, the three cataclysms have emerged from their seasonal stupor with a snap, crackle, and a pop. Whereas a few weeks ago they’d typically spend the majority of the day cached in a pile somewhere sleeping off the effects of the hummingbirds they ate last summer, now they’re raising a ruckus night and day, tormenting the living daylights out of anything that moves. And they’re even worse with things that don’t have the sense to run – like the rugs and upholstery.

In fact, the more valuable the object, the more incensed they seem to be that it’s still standing. It’s like they’ve gone into catabolic overdrive in an attempt to reduce the world to its constituent elements before June.

Well, I’m here to tell you that living amidst the wreckage created by the three destructionistas is no joy. So every morning, rain or shine, they get the boot. Let them take out some of their aggressions on the neighborhood, is my feeling. The house and I can only stand so much.

Of course, nothing suits their diabolical purposes like being pitched out the kitchen door. I mean, the imps have a lot of hell yet to raise, and they’re behind schedule as it is. So, yes, they’re only too happy to go –

– that is, until they get the urge to go.

Next thing you know, the fleet of three is bobbing at the kitchen door with their faces all long and serious and their ears rotated to the side and down like semaphore flags signaling distress.

Well, of course I take one look at that and open the back door like the sucker they take me for. And after a brief flurry of confusion at being given exactly what they want, the three fiends stampede back inside, making a beeline directly for the scratch box. Then, like the precious little princesses they’re not, two stand demurely by as the third takes a turn tossing sand on the Fresh Step beach. And then out they go again, only to repeat the whole process a few minutes later. In-out-in-out – all morning long. And before you know it, it’s time for lunch.

Well apparently, it’s warm and dry enough for most of their outdoor activities (hunting, laying low in the bushes, fighting, taunting birds), but it’s still too cold and wet for them to squat.

Now, I’ll admit that they’ve been shedding, so maybe the fur left covering their delicate backsides isn’t quite up to snuff. And I understand that the deciduous landscape is still too leafless to give them the privacy they prefer. And I suppose the soil is still a little too wet for the pawed squad to dig deeply and cover completely.

Oh yes, they’ve got some good excuses, no doubt about it. I can’t argue with that. Trouble is, “good” is nothing but an afterthought in these fiends’ master plan.

Yep, it’s plain as day what they’re up to once you understand their agenda. See, the three wee weasels go through this rigmarole just to reassure themselves that I am still at their beck and call. Yes. Because ideally, their aim is to monopolize all my waking hours just like they do all my sleepless nights.

Case in point, they could surely use the john before embarking on their daily search-and-destroy, could they not?

Yes, they could.

But do my little inconsiderados ever think of doing that?

No, they do not.

And I don’t expect they’d listen to my advice on the subject, either, so I’m not going to give it to them. Instead, I’m going to quote someone they respect.

Don’t take it from me, mes petits démons. Heed the words of the French Chef herself, who evidently had a particular weakness for creatures of your ilk. It is she who issued the immortal mandate that even you would do well to mind:

First, you take a leek.

~ Julia Child

Leek Potato Soup (Potage Parmentier): About

Everybody makes leek potato soup in the winter months. That’s a good time to serve it, but leeks grow best during cool weather, so they’re in season right now up here in Exile. And if you have any experience dealing with Sybil (i.e., the spring we’ve got up here in the Pacific Northwest), you know we’ll be in need of a batch of this soup at several points during the month of Mayhem. As for the rest of you living it up in Paradise, well, just chill this soup and call it Vichyssoise!

Some leek potato soup recipes are heavy on cream and loaded with various spices. This one is simpler, better for you, and it emphasizes the flavor of the main ingredients. It’s rustic fare, so feel free to add any vegetable you like to the basic mix.

For example, you might try adding a cup of chopped watercress to make Potage au Cresson, à la Julia Child. On the other hand, you might want to add some chopped celery along with the leeks and potatoes – that’s good, too! The combinations are endless, and completely up to you. Improvisez! That’s my advice. (See some suggestions and cooking times below.)

Yes, this soup makes a substantial base for further additions, but it’s fragrant and hearty enough just as it is. Easy, inexpensive, versatile, and flavorful – what could be better?

Savor it as a reminder that it’s often life’s simplest pleasures – like taking a leek – that are all you really need to weather Mayhem.

Bon appétit!

Leek Potato Soup (
Potage Parmentier): Antidote to Mayhem

4 cups (about 1 lb.) sliced leeks (white part and about 1-2 inches of the tender green part)

3-4 cups (about 1 lb.) peeled and coarsely chopped potatoes

2 Tablespoons butter

1½  quarts chicken broth (canned or fresh)

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon pepper

½ teaspoon dill weed (optional)

½ cup heavy cream (optional)

3 Tablespoons chopped chives or minced parsley

1.  Split the leeks lengthwise leaving the two halves attached at the root end. Spread the leaves apart and wash well. Chop into ½ inch pieces, discarding the root.

2.  Using a 3-4 quart stockpot, sauté the leeks in butter over moderate heat until tender but not yet brown.

3.  Add the chicken broth, potatoes, salt and pepper to the stockpot.

4.  Simmer partially covered for 45-50 minutes, until vegetables are tender.

5.  Now you have a choice, depending on how rustic or refined you like your soup. Process the soup using one of the following methods:

a.  Mash most of the potatoes right in the pot with a potato masher.

b.  Run all or part of the soup through a food mill.

c.  Transfer all or part of the soup in batches to a blender or food processor to purée.

d.  Use an immersion blender to purée the soup to the desired consistency.

Personally, I recommend a or d because you won’t scald yourself decanting hot soup, and there’s less cleanup afterward. If you’re serving it chilled as Vichyssoise, however, it should be puréed until completely smooth using methods b or c.

6.  Add dill weed, if desired, and additional salt and pepper to taste.

7.  Optional: stir a couple of tablespoons of heavy cream into each bowl before serving.

8.  Garnish with chives or parsley.

Suggestion 1: Add 1-2 cups chopped celery, diced carrots or turnips, chopped canned or fresh tomatoes, dried lentils, or partially cooked dried beans or peas to simmer along with the leeks and potatoes for the full 40-50 minutes.

Suggestion 2: Add 1-2 cups fresh or frozen cauliflower, cucumbers, broccoli, lima beans, peas, string beans, okra, zucchini, canned beans, shredded lettuce, spinach, sorrel, or cabbage for the last 10-15 minutes of the simmer.

Suggestion 3: Add 1 densely-packed cup chopped watercress leaves and stems during the final 5 minutes of the simmer.

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Raisin Questions

Now, I don’t about where you live, but up here in Exile, Oregon, winter seems to have lost the last of its attitude and most of its punch. Oh, I guess it might still have one or two parting shots left to go, but it’s basically a has-been on the seasonal circuit. By now, winter is all bluff and no content – just one season waiting to surrender its post to the next.

Trouble is, spring is having none of it.

See, unlike the more glorious types of spring you’ll find in other parts of the country, our spring has never been much of a precocious upstart. No, you won’t catch our spring jumping in with the silly exuberance of some springs. Ours is more the edgy, moody type – intense one minute, indifferent the next. It prefers ‘maybe’ to mayhem, and it makes no sudden moves. Yes, it’s a tepid sort who sidles in and out like it can’t quite make up its mind, loitering with a little moue of resentment until summer shows up to take over the shift – all of which contributes to the ambiance of ambivalence that Exile is known for.

And yet for all spring’s lack of enthusiasm, there are tangible signs that it’s lurking in the vicinity. To begin with, there is the ant.

Now, I’m not talking about the thick, black ribbons of armored raiders that come marching in lockstep along the kitchen baseboard. Those will be by later, rest assured.

No, for now, all I’m talking about is the lone opportunist riding in on six legs and a hunch, just to see what’s cookin’ on the range. He may not be the harbinger of spring you were hoping for, but he’s the kind of harbinger you get in Exile. Yep, you know he’s up to something, but with his don’t-mind-me-I’m-just-lost routine, he doesn’t really look like the kind of dangerous outlaw you need to handle right away.

Yes, the ant is really more of a vague disappointment than an out-and-out tragedy – kind of like raisins.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re wondering how we went from ants to raisins in the span of a single sentence. Easy – I just changed the subject. See, I wanted to talk about raisins in the first place, but you got me started on ants. So I just steered us back with the kind of awkward segue that is evidence of a public school education. Now don’t distract me again, or you won’t get your recipe.

So, like I was saying. In my opinion, raisins, like the ant, are really just a mild inconvenience as opposed to an all-out disaster. They’re not inedible, just forgettable.

Oh sure, I’ve been thoroughly disgusted by raisins a time or two. Like when I’ve discovered them masquerading as chocolate chips in cookies, or when they’ve shown up unannounced in cinnamon rolls or carrot cake.

For the most part, though, the raisin is just your average, dependable Mr. Nice Guy: soft, sweet, bland, predictable. Go ahead, admit it: you don’t love him, you just like him as a friend. He’s your mother’s choice – a safe date. I mean, you’re probably vaguely disappointed when he shows up, but he isn’t memorable enough to actually hate.

Well I don’t know about you, but I hate that.

Most people, however, seem to simply accept that raisins are part of the landscape – except in certain cases, of course, where they feel they’re required by constitutional law.

Like in bran muffins, for instance. Now I understand that raisins do serve a purpose here. For one thing, they break up the vast, bland plains of branniness so your saliva glands don’t become convinced that life is all work and no play.

But my question is, why not throw in cranberries, apricots, figs, chopped prunes, apples, or dried sour cherries instead? And what about adding walnuts, almonds, pecans, or heaven forbid, pistachios to the terrain – is that a crime too? Do we really want raisins, or have we just come to expect raisins? Because there’s a big difference. I mean, what good are all these options if we continue to believe that we have no choice? Is the concept of free will just an absurd abstraction under the constraints of breakfast, or something?

I think not. I think it’s high time we pwn our freedom, and we can begin by reclaiming the sorry bran muffin from its drab role as a digestive supplement. Dress it up, trick it out, make it dangerously good. Heck, don’t just sit there letting me and my recipe tell you what to do – throw some chocolate chips into the mix if it satisfies your soul.

Just don’t tell your mother I said you could do that. She’d kill me.

Wilma’s Morning Upstart Apricot-Walnut Bran Muffins

My apricots can take your Mr. Nice Guy raisins any day. So don’t cross them.

1 ½ cups wheat bran

1 cup buttermilk (or 4 tablespoons dried buttermilk powder plus 1 cup water)

⅔ cup dark brown sugar

⅓ cup vegetable oil (I use light olive oil or sunflower oil)

1 egg

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup whole wheat flour (or an equal amount of all-purpose flour)

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

½ cup apricots chopped into raisin-sized pieces (or any dried fruit – even the ubiquitous raisin, if you absolutely must)

½ cup chopped walnuts (or any other kind of nut)

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F and prepare 12-muffin pan by lining with paper muffin cups (preferred) or by greasing.
  2. Stir bran and buttermilk together and set aside for at 10 minutes, or so.
  3. Combine whole wheat flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, chopped apricots, and chopped walnuts.
  4. Add brown sugar, oil, egg, and vanilla to buttermilk-bran mixture, mixing until smooth.
  5. Add dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, and stir until just incorporated.
  6. Divide batter between muffin wells, filling to top or slightly above. HINT: An ice cream scoop is useful for this purpose.
  7. Bake 15-23 minutes, until golden brown on top.

Allow muffins to cool before removing from pan, especially if not using muffing papers. Good served warm with butter, or halved and toasted. These freeze well, so make a bunch.

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So, I was talking to my sister Beulah the other day, and the subject of these kitchen chronicles happened to come up. Well, I found myself trying to explain what was going on here – is it humor, or is it cooking, or just what? Because, according to some people out there who seem to like their rice white and their coffee black, it can’t be both.

Well as you’ve probably guessed by now, I have my own thoughts on that. See, in my opinion, food without any humor never quite hits the spot. I think humor should be considered a culinary mainstay in anybody’s kitchen – not just mine. Sniff around a bit and you’ll find that the best cooks are masters of laughter, and most of them wouldn’t be caught dead without a big pot of humor simmering away on a back burner.

Take, for example, my hero Julia Child. In her esteemed opinion,

The best way to execute French cooking is to get good and loaded and whack the hell out of a chicken. Bon appétit.

See what I mean! That sort of irreverence was the secret ingredient in Julia’s success as a writer, as a person, and as a cook. No, The French Chef didn’t shy away from wit one bit, and you can bet that her guests walked away positively tipsy from the handfuls of humor she’d thrown in.*

Yes, cooking is a serious business, and being short on humor is NOT the kind of poverty you can afford. In fact, humor is sometimes the only thing that can salvage a real wreck of a situation.

Take, for example, the day the fudge frosting you’ve been slaving over for the last 20 minutes refuses to set up. Well, ever the impatient optimist, Miss Haste E. May is not about to be deterred by such a minor setback as semi-liquid frosting, and she rashly decides to slather it on anyway.

But as the warm, runny frosting meets room-temperature, freshly-baked cake, said cake begins to crack, eventually splitting clean down the middle like a calving iceberg with one half heeling over to starboard like a sinking ship. Finding itself freed from the horizontal aspect, the aforementioned frosting naturally takes this opportunity to slide slyly over the edge of the plate onto the counter where it forms an oozing rivulet heading straight for the nearest edge. Over it goes, like a thick, molten tongue of chocolate lava, down the front of the cabinets you just cleaned yesterday, onto the floor that you just mopped last month, where it finally comes to rest – yes, finally decides to set up – in one of those waiting drifts of cat hair that tend to build up at the baseboards. (And don’t pretend that you don’t have those, because I happen to know that you do.)

Now before you ask, the answer is, yes – this actually happened to me. And did I somehow manage to resurrect this unholy mess from its state of utter ruination? Did I recover my wits and my frosting in time for dinner at eight? Did I miraculously succeed in transforming my kitchen catastrophe into an elegant masterpiece that I graciously served to astonished guests after a five-course meal, like some sort of culinary superhero dressed in pearls and an invisible chef’s cape??

HELL no. I threw that sucker in the trash where it belonged. It was good for a laugh, but that’s about it. The point I’m getting at here is that without humor, that cake – along with its evil counterpart, the frosting – would not have been good for anything at all.

Yes, humor may be invisible to see, but you sure can tell when it’s missing. It’s the antidote to dullness and fatigue and bland living – the REAL spice of life. Get some and use it with abandon. You’ll be able to taste the difference.

* Of course, the half-bottle of sherry might have had something to do with it.

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Rachel Laudan

A Historian's Take on Food and Food Politics

in vita esse

To be alive. Dispatches from the surface of the planet.

Kicking and Screaming into the Kitchen

and other thoughts on eating, cooking, living, loving, writing from an ex-circus sideshow performer turned elephant advocate and author