Sunday, May 24, 2009

If it ain't pinto, it ain't Southwestern

This is a paen to the pinto bean.

You see, if you are a Southwesterner, you know about pintos. The rest of you do not. Doesn't mean we can't all be Americans, here, but you are missing a prime part of the Southwestern cooking culture if you don't know about pintos.

When I read a recipe labeled Southwestern cuisine and it first says "take a can of kidney beans" I know it is not Southwestern. Those of us who are indigenous to the Southwest are a little puzzled anyone would choose a kidney bean over a pinto. We never,ever do. If further, it adds, "add a chopped green Bell pepper", we simply say, "huh?" Sometimes, those recipes can be tasty.

But honey, they aren't Southwestern.

I don't care if you add cumin, and we pronounce it "koomin" not "cuemin", or if you add garlic. In any case, you usually don't add enough, so what's the diff?

Pinto beans are delicious. When mixed with rice and/or corn, they are an excellent source of (no cholesterol) protein. Pintos have their own flavor, but when added to meat or tomatoes, they take on some of the flavor of their partner. They are done when tender. They don't have to be mushy, but always tender when done.

Many of our Southwestern children knosh slices of bean burritos sliced on their high chairs as their first finger solid, sort-of foods. Of course, bean farts and evacuations are highly odiferous, but we can handle it.

Pinto beans can be cooked by themselves with cumin and garlic, with tomatoes and onion and peppers, with hambones, with hamburger, and with chicken broth.

Oh, and when I say peppers, I mostly mean green chiles, jalapenos and habeneros.

Pintos are tasty their ownselves, but they take on the flavor of what they are cooked with. Cooked till done with a little garlic, cumin, and yes, a smidgin of bay leaf, they can be a thin, tasty soup. Cook longer, and they become thicker and can be smudged into heated (not cold) flour tortillas. Finally, they can be sauteed in a skillet and mushed into nothing with either a touch of healthy canola oil or a smidge of bacon grease and turned into refried beans.

Fry up some corn tortillas (shells are also NOT Southwestern), add the beans, add some cheddar, chopped lettuce and onion and tomatoes, and gorge. Top with salsa. Oh. and while the beans are simmering, add jalapenos and (blush) Tiger Sauce to it for some bite.


Monday, May 18, 2009

Diet Green--and I don't mean lettuce

Well, there you go.

I wrote about my simple effort to lose weight by using salad plates for portion control. A reader left a note telling me about a new product called Flavor Magic.

She refers to a website, and I went there. Who knew? I thought. Here's a whole industry aimed at making a buck off portion control. Well, of course there is. I slapped myself. For every action humans make, another human somewhere is trying to make a little dough off of it. There are diet meals, of course, but I was talking about a do-it-yourself approach. And someone has come up with a product that goes with that. Of course there is.

I am saddened. Try as I may, I don't seem to have a money-making gene. And I really wish I did.

I commented myself that if I had some marketing spin to use describing portion control, a special ingredient or special time, it would be more attractive. And there you go. I have a comment telling me about just such a product on the market. And I ams sure it can work. Does work. And she pays money for it and just loves it.

My father started a savings and loan in 1934 in the middle of the depression. It thrived, grew, and is still going strong. On the other hand, when my mother was in junior high, one year she had only two dresses to wear. Her mother washed and ironed one each day while she wore the other. The reason was because my grandfather, a preacher with a parsonage and a regular, if small income, got talked into a gold mine swindle in the 1920s and basically beggared the whole family for a year. Not too smart. I think I know which side I take after, although I do have enough of my father's sense to hold a generally stable course. Just not a prosperous one.

I like to do things for folks, or tell them about helpful things. It just never occurs to me how to profit from it. It is extremely irritating.

Oh, well, I also hate to shop. I suspect those go together. For my continued survival, that's a good thing.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Looking for a few Good Blogs

I need help. You all have helped most eficiently before, so....

I think a number of the readers of my blog find me by the labels. How do I do that if I want to find other sites? In the last couple of years, I've saved at least a dozen blogs into my favorites. Most of these are now closed or inactive. Need to look further.

I write what I remember of childhood in the 40s, 50s and 60s, about efforts to build a positive life, and sometimes about my frustrations and confusion with new laws and technology. I am Green. Fairly a-political, though I vote regularly. I thoroughly enjoy attending church. I am strongly pro-choice. About everything. I want as much freedom as I can get, and I don't want the rest of you telling me I can't do something for my own good, or because someone else might abuse the freedom. And I say this having been a conscientious bureaucrat of sorts for many years.

So please leave your advice, and your url so I can read you. Or someone tell me how to go looking. : )

Thank you.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Simplicity Doesn't Sell Without a Magic Feather

When I was a junior in college, I became quite busy with extracurricular activities; specifically, working on the student newspaper. I had a couple or three other things, two, and dated on weekends (no time during the week.)

I had read an article sometime before that said the best way to study was to read for 10 or 20 minutes at a time, for maximum retention of content. By this time, I had finished my core courses and was into my two majors. Still, this was a scary idea. But I was busy. Very busy. So I started doing it.

If I got to class 10 minutes early, I read ahead. If I were waiting for a friend to meet me, I read. After lunch, if I had 15 minutes before my next class, I read. I kept up with all my classes, to my astonishment. The promised retention occurred. I hardly had to review at all before tests, because I remembered the content.

My sorority sisters nagged at me and screamed. "We never see you studying! You are going to flunk!"

We all had observed the phenomenon of the magna cum laude students among us who went out to eat, to the movies, to party during Dead Week, when the rest of us hunkered down. They aced their tests, too.

Because that is what I did. For the first time in my life, I aced every single class. After my first two years of very average grades, my new study habits simply gave me a respectable, not stellar, GPA at graduation. I was happy. And I had had a lot of fun intermingled with the studying.

And not one person who reads this is going to try it because it worked for me.

Which brings me to my recent moderate success. I've written a couple of boring blogs about it, and I am sure they ARE boring. I lost a lot of weight. Pretty much effortlessly. Without lapband surgery. Lapband. Surgery. People! Can you get a grip?
I didn't buy some product. I didn't stick to grapefruit, steak and eggs, or cut out all the fats, or eat only fresh vegetables and fruits, or any other such thing.
And that is what is so boring. I didn't really go on a diet.

The bad news is I did it with portion control. The good news is that I started off with six meals a day. Never got all that hungry. I called it Little Plate, because I used salad plates (no, I didn't measure the portions). I ate what I wanted. If I had a craving for lasagna, for instance, I had a square. But it had to fit on the plate, no stacking, no overhanging. No bread on the side. Everything had to fit on the plate. If I wanted salad with the lasagna--and I do crave my crunchy greens--the slice had to be smaller. And if I were starving 2-3 hours later, I could do it again. Or if I had to have the bread, it had to fit on the plate with the square of lasagna. No stacking. No overhanging the sides.

First couple of weeks, I did have to exercise some self-vigilence and control, but then my body, my stomach, started getting used to the smaller portions. After all, I was eating stuff I liked. Yeah, it helps that I really like salad, fruit and steamed vegetables, because as I began to lose a pound or two a week, my decision to include more of these was, I think, understandable. It was working. Why not do more?

I never weighed more than once a week. Over a year and a half, I lost 70 pounds. Before that, I had lost another 20. I didn't do it all healthily. At some point, I cut down my eating to about two small meals a day because I lost my appetite. Won't make that mistake again. When my appetite came back with conscientious better eating, I gained back a few pounds I am losing again. Sigh. Life is always about balance. But I did NOT grow out of my new wardrobe.

The point is, I'm the one in control, not some drug or some surgeon. In tough financial times, my way to kick the pounds is way cheaper.

I find it interesting that people can get lapband surgery if they are "morbidly obese" despite few current health problems. Yet if the weight loss results in a hanging curtain of abdominal skin over the genitals (old-fashioned medical name for it was "Job's apron"), insurance won't pay for the removal because it's plastic surgery, considered cosmetic, never mind that it has to be swept away to keep from peeing on one's own skin.

No, I don't have that problem, thank goodness.

Like Dumbo, I think, we all want a magic feather to convince us that we can fly. If I told the studying anecdote and said, "But you absolutely have to study for 15 minutes after every meal" it would be more attractive. If I said of Little Plate, "Absolutely every day you have to eat--uh, half a jar of marinated artichoke hearts on a bed of greens, no dressing", the diet would seem more enticing.

Anyway, last night a new friend found out I had lost some weight. She wants to lose some. I told her I would tell her later. And sigh. It's just a nice anecdote to relate over a meal together.

More salad with artichokes?

Friday, May 8, 2009

A White Rose for my Mother; a Red Rose for my Granddaughters' Mother

A proclamation establishing a national Mother's Day was signed by President Woodrow Wilson in 1914, which means a few people may have a vague memory of a time when Mother's Day didn't exist.

In the 1940s and 1950s--the primary years of my childhood--Mother's Day was celebrated at home and in church, which a majority of people attended back then, at least in my hometown.

It wasn't lavish, but it was heartfelt. Little gifts at breakfast in my family, where only my dad, my mom and I were there. Then, before church, my dad went out to his rose garden and picked red roses, pink roses and white roses. Red and pink, the stems tacked to the shoulder with a straight pin, went to those with living mothers. White went to people with no living mother. Dad would clip as many extra as he had, sometimes a couple of 3-pound coffee cans filled with water and roses, and take them to church with a packet of straight pins for parishioners who didn't have flowers in the garden. The preacher would recognize the oldest mother, the one with the most children and the mother with the youngest child. Then home for Sunday dinner with both my grandmothers and my grandaddy and my uncle. The rest of the day was relaxed and happy, and usual.

I remember the sprigs of red and white roses at church for men, women and children into the '60s, and even the '70s. Then it kind of died out.

While it is not a National Holiday, meaning a day off, it is a really popular holiday. I know a few men who get horsy about recognizing "the wife" instead of just their own mothers, but not many. The fact is, it is a joyful part of the marriage and their love for each other when men have a good wife who is also a great mother.
I celebrate my daughter-in-law, who not only is a wonderful wife but a great mother to my granddaughters. I celebrate her, and give thanks to my son for marrying this wonderful person. She deserves celebrating. Her daughters think so, too.

This year, we'll celebrate at their house with standing rib roast and loaded baked potatoes, and a friend has sent me my old recipe for kahlua chocolate cheesecake, which I will make tomorrow. My younger son will be there, too. A feast, but nothing lasting, except the memories and laughter.

Works for me.

Monday, May 4, 2009

The Times Just Keep On A-Changin'

I was listening with half an ear to the radio while I did this and that a little while ago and heard about a nationwide survey of what Americans think are necessities. Wish I had paid more attention, but I was pleased that only 52 percent thought TV qualified. Fifty percent thought a computer was. And I was surprised, but a much higher percentage thought landphones are.

Looking at the country and the demographics, I would have to say a lot of folks either are busier or more discriminating about tv entertainment than most assume--but they may be tired, or bored, and sit down and watch, anyway. So, not a necessity, but used a lot. The computers don't surprise me, either. They cross all demographics you can think of. Landphones? Around here, most 30 and under have nothing but cell phones. In the Metroplex, we have excellent coverage and reception. A lot of the country still has poor reception, making landlines still a necessity.

I was amused at how few nationwide thought air conditioning is a necessity. I remember years ago when a Texas colleague was going to a national seminar in New England in the summer. She, of course, asked about the air conditioning. The registration clerk said there was none, but said participants would be comfortable.

"I don't understand," the clerk said. "The only participants who have asked about air conditioning so far have been you and the one from New Mexico."
Guess she hadn't heard from the participants from other Southwestern states yet.

Funny how our perspectives change. Or our emphases. For me, books and libraries are necessities. So is quite a lot of music, but I have tried an iPod and really dislike the music being inside my head and blocking out other sounds--or making them darned hard to listen to. I know that puts me in Neanderthal or at least curmudgeon status. It isn't my age, folks. It's just me. My BestKind of music still is live, almost any kind, almost anywhere.

The number one necessity, everyone agreed, was a car. Hmm.

It will be interesting to see how such a list reads in 10 years. But maybe by then, running a survey will no longer be a necessity.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Polio was the Feared Scourge of my Childhood

In the 1940s and 1950s, we had the polio epidemics. Hence the establishment of the March of Dimes, which to this day exists for children with birth and developmental defects. I remember those white cardboard cards at school with slots for us to slip in the dimes we brought from home. Dimes, of course, went a lot further back then.

No one was sure how polio was transmitted, except it seemed to have something to do with crowds. It hit mostly children and younger people. A former colleague of mine contracted it in 1942 while her husband was overseas during World War II. She was in her 20's with two small children. Her mother took care of the children while she went to Warm Springs for the warm water therapy that was proving beneficial. She recovered and returned to her home with a brace on her leg and a crutch that she needed for the rest of her life. She couldn't even get up at night to go to the bathroom without her brace. But she worked, cooked amazingly, had a beautiful garden and reared two outstanding children. She learned to cope, you see. Since her husband died in the war, her own survival meant her children were not orphaned, a good thing.

Seeing persons with the permanently atrophied arms and or legs used to be common. Now many of you have never seen a polio victim. In extreme cases, some few persons survived in an iron lung - an electronic, coffin-like device where the whole body except for the head was inside with the machine forcing the lungs in and out. Such persons suffered such severe paralysis, their lungs couldn't function without mechanical help. Some recovered enough to get out of the machines. Others didn't.

It was impossible at the onset to tell who would live, and with what degree of paralysis, and who would die. Doctors could do almost nothing for those infected. No, it didn't seem to hit all the children in the family, usually just one. And then, in the next epedemic, it might take another, or not.

We never had an epidemic in Alamogordo, New Mexico, but El Paso, Texas, 90 miles away, did have them. The epidemic, of course swept across the Rio Grande to the sister city of Juarez, Mexico. We had two or three victims in Alamogordo, but they mostly had been somewhere the epidemic was known to be. Our small town could not manage such serious illness, and they were transferred to the El Paso hospitals.

I remember one particular summer in 1953 when polio raged in El Paso. As a kid, I didn't really understand what the fuss was all about, but I remember I couldn't go swimming that summer, and I couldn't go to the movies. In August, when it was particularly bad in the distant city, my parents seriously discussed whether to attend church or not. Mother was a preacher's daughter. My dad taught Sunday School. This was extremely serious stuff that they would consider staying home, and it got my attention. They decided we would continue to attend, but come straight home afterwards.

It was suspected gamma globulin shots might increase immunity to the disease, so for years, I had that huge, painful shot in my buttocks each summer, even when polio was not epidemic. I know others my age who had the shots, too. It was later discovered these painful shots did not help at all. It was something our parents could do. SOMEthing. There was so little else.

Jonas Salk was a hero to the world when he developed a vaccine for the polio virus. I was a freshman in college in 1961 when I finally had the opportunity to walk over to a neighborhood school from my college room and take my first dose dribbled on a sugar cube. There were three doses to be taken, as I remember. Even at 18, I had the sense to know I really needed to get those doses, and I did.

I never knew anyone who died from it, although I heard about the daughter of someone my parents knew who was in an iron lung. I had classmates occasionally with a withered arm or a leg brace. I didn't meet the colleague with the leg brace until 1965.

Polio, however, was such a devastating disease that we were all aware of it. We feared it.

I hear 30,000 people die every year from the flu, mostly the elderly or already debilitated. I have no idea how many of these people who die have had flu shots. Certainly, some of them have had the shots, get sick and die anyway. That's said.

My impression is that one reason for the fear of the H1N1 strain is the lack of a vaccine. I understand medical people are also wary of how contagious it is, or how virulent. We still have a tough time fighting viruses. We will get these answers, and in the meantime the precautions--handwashing, not congregating, etc., etc., etc. --either seems to be working or it was a weak virus in the first place.

New viruses arise all the time. Polio is mostly gone, but AIDS is here. Medical officials around the world are convinced that, sooner or later, we will have some illness that will kill many people. That seems logical.

But I remember the hot summers when I couldn't go swimming, or to the air-conditioned movie theater for my whole summer vacation because of polio. In the United States, much of our population has no memory of deadly epidemics. For those of us who do remember, it was so long ago that perhaps we have just been jarred awake.

Life changes. Old dangers pass. New ones come along. And throughout, the basic nature of human beings stays the same.