Monday, May 28, 2012

Gardening 2012 - Memorial Day Update

San Marzano Tomatoes 6 weeks after transplant
Back in Minneapolis, this is the weekend we used to set out tomatoes and other cold sensitive plants. But of course, things get warmer sooner these days and if you've been following along you'll recall that we planted out our tomatoes on April 15th! Anyway, six weeks later those scrawny plants have grown into exceptionally vigorous vines that are nearly four feet tall. Since it's apparent they'll easily over-top the ladders I bought, I've ordered another set to extend the ones already in place.

The peppers and eggplants in the front bed are starting to catch up now that they're getting sunlight before noon. It's a good reminder that even though it was warm enough to plant out in mid-April, the Earth is still in the same orbit around the Sun, still tilted 23.44 degrees and for plants like these, there's just not enough light in the day at that time of year to really get them growing well.

The zucchini has also recovered from it's too early planting and we actually have our first baby squash. This is a spot where it's looking like the plastic mulch is going to be a huge benefit. Obviously it keeps down the weeds (even the bamboo that's still trying to grow under there). It also helps keep the soil moist and it keeps the tender plants off the dirt which means we'll have clean zucchini with (hopefully) little or no spoilage.

In the rest of the garden the second batch of cima di rapa has had it's final thinning. I've replanted Swiss Chard because the first batch cima di rapa shaded the original planting so much it was hopelessly stunted. The carrots and beets are coming along. The onions in the old bed are doing quite well while  those in the upper bed have fallen a bit behind. That's likely attributable to the fact that the old bed has had the benefit of a decade of organic cultivation and is far richer and fluffier at this point.

A Note About Ancient Roman Money

Two Asses

Right up there is the price of female companionship in Pompeii - two asses. The one on the left is from the reign of Claudius, on the right Nero. Coins just like these would have been circulating in Pompeii in 69 CE.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Brothels of Pompeii: Part 1

The Lioness - Purpose Built Brothel, Pompeii
Almost everyone who has visited Pompeii (or even heard of it's existence) has seen the large "purpose built" brothel to the east of Pompeii's forum. They may even have heard that there are dozens more brothels located throughout the city. It turns out, of course, that the truth is not quite so spectacular.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Retirement Planning - Health Care

The company I work for peppers us with emails on various subjects on a daily basis. Today's was "Your Financial Welbeing newsletter". The first article started with this line:

The average annual cost of healthcare for families of four in the U.S. is $20,728.

Now, as someone nearing retirement, I have some interest in this subject beyond learning how much mre it's going to cost me when the annual enrollment period rolls around. So I decided to poke around a little.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

It's Grilling Season!

With the approach of Memorial Day the time has come to prepare for grilling season. For us that means cleaning up the old Weber, buying fresh charcoal, and mixing up a quadruple batch of Bobby Flay's New Mexico Rub. Simple to make, it keeps well in an airtight container, so we make big batches a couple times a year. The recipe:
  • 3 tablespoons ancho chile powder
  • 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon pasilla chile powder
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons chile de arbol
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons allspice
If you're like most folks (and us the first time we made it) you probably don't have all those spices on hand. Don't even bother going to you local grocery store. They'll only have 4 of the 7 items and chances are you already have those anyway.  The place to go is MySpiceSage.

The original recipe was intended for pork, but it works well on beef and chicken. Because this rub contains a good deal of brown sugar (22%) you have to be a little careful using it as the sugar will tend to burn. The best indoor approach is to let your meat of choice come to room temperature, apply the rub lightly, and carefully brown the meat on all sides. Then pop it into a 400 degree F oven to finish. Outdoors just move seared meat off direct heat. If you don't have a remote read thermometer, this is a good excuse to buy one.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Cats Laughing - Blast From the Past II

I remember this as a pretty decent performance, but the Cabooze was never going to be the kind of place Cats Laughing would be comfortable playing. In any case, since we went on first we had the opportunity to grab some beer and barbecue while the other bands played. I think we might have gotten comp'd barbecue or a couple beers.

As to the set list... we were hitting the originals pretty hard at this point. Steve Goodman's "I Ain't Never Heard You Play No Blues" is sort of an oddball. I have a feeling it was intended as a little joke after Gloomy Sunday and perhaps to break up what would have been 5 straight songs sung by Emma and LoJo.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

The Art of Paella

On Saturday I took the train out to Atlantic City and the new Revel Resorts where Jose Garces has a number of restaurants. They're running a series of tasting events as part of the grand opening this week. As you might have guessed from the title of this post, I attended The Art of Paella. The event was held in Garces' Amada restaurant, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Peonies & Roses

Gardening 2012 - Mid May Update

Things are happening in the garden! The San Marzano tomatoes have recovered from the little cold snap and are almost half way up the towers.

In the old lower bed the onions are doing well and as soon as I get done typing this, I'll thin the cima di rapa. Just to the left of the onions we've added a few rows of carrots and replanted the beets. Now that temperatures are well into the 70's they should all be sprouting in a matter of days.

Earlier in the week I picked up 4 cheap plastic buckets. They're a classic piece of low-budget container gardening and make excellent pots for tomatoes. So we drilled 5 half inch holes in the bottoms and filled them with potting mix topped off with one Roma tomato plant each.

While it's possible I'll have way too many tomatoes this summer, this will give us a chance to compare the performance and taste of "real" San Marzano tomatoes and the modern Roma hybrid.

In the new front bed the eggplants are doing quite well, but the peppers don't seem real happy. It's still early though and they may still be a little stunted from the cold snap a couple weeks ago. Or... it might be because I forgot to poke some holes in the plastic so rain water could reach the soil. Whichever it is, the weather is now warm and the holes have been poked.

On the other hand the rest of the container plants are very happy. Obviously I was able to bring in the big pot for a couple evenings, so that eggplant suffered not at all on those cold nights.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Vialone Nano & Arancini

Lately we've been experimenting with different types of "risotto rice". Most folks have probably used Arborio - it's available in most grocery stores and makes a decent risotto when treated properly. Next most common is Carnaroli. It's also widely available and many people consider it the "best" for risotto. We recently bought some Acquerello brand Carnaroli and while it was notably better in risotto - both creamier and more forgiving of stirring lapses - it didn't really live up to the significant price difference.

So this week we tried out the third of the famous risotto rices: Vialone Nano and what a difference. In our little kitchen there was just no comparison. It cooked perfectly and easily, the price is reasonable and the finished arancini held beautifully. So here's what we did:

Saffron Risotto

1 cup Vialone Nano rice
2 Tbs Extra Virgin Olive oil
2 Tbs Butter
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 shallot, minced
1 large pinch saffron threads
1 quart chicken stock


Bring the chicken stock to a gentle simmer in a small saucepan and add the saffron threads.

Place the oil and butter in a large sauce pan over medium heat. When the butter foam subsides, add the minced shallot and cook until softened.

Add the rice to the shallot mixture and cook, stirring constantly, until the rice begins to become translucent.

Add the white wine and simmer, stirring until it its completely absorbed. You may ned to reduce the heat further to keep it from boiling away.

Continue the process with half cups of the hot stock until the rice is completely cooked and creamy. It should be quite wet. If you use Vialone Nano it will take the full quart of stock.

When the rice is done pour it out onto a large tray (we used a jelly roll pan) and allow it to cool completely.



Saffron Risotto
Fresh Mozarella, cut into quarter inch dice
3 eggs, beaten until uniformly colored
Panko or plain bread crumbs
Oil for deep frying


In a large bowl thoroughly mix the eggs and saffron risotto.

To form the arancini take a heaping tablespoon of the risotto mixture in one hand, place a cube of mozzarella in the center and form it into a ball. Place each ball on a tray (that will fit into your refrigerator) as it is made. When all the rice has been used you should have about 16 arancini (I got 14 from this batch). Cover them and pop the tray into the 'fridge for an hour or so to let them firm up.

Coat the arancini with panko

When the arancini are chilled, place the panko or breadcrumbs on a large plate and carefully bread each one. I found that panko stuck to the balls very well without additional egg wash. YMMV.

Carefully deep fry...

Once all the arancini are breaded heat enough oil in a medium sauce pan to allow the arancini to be completely covered. Carefully monitor the temperature of the oil and when it reaches 375 fry the arancini in small batches (no more than 2 or 3). Transfer the finished arancini to paper towels and continue frying until they're all golden brown and delicious.

Ready to Eat!

Try not to eat them all at once.

Riso Vignola has a rather informative web site in English.

Monday, May 7, 2012

A Cats Laughing Blast From the Past

Designed by Emma Bull, stapled to telephone poles by all of us, and preserved for your pleasure:

That's February 5, 1989
 It's recently occurred to me that I have a bunch of ephemera from Cats Laughing that nobody's seen in a couple decades. So here's a more or less random sample - the flyer from a gig at the Seward Cafe.

Unfortunately, I don't have a set list from this gig. There's another dozen or so, some with set lists, pictures and more.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Minestra di Riso e Luganica

Adapted from an @MarioBatali recipe: Minestra di Riso e Luganica.

Cima di Rapa From the Garden
We picked the first big batch of Cima di Rapa (thinnings went into pizza a couple weeks ago) from our little garden and used up the last of the chicken broth from the Food Stamp Challenge to make one of our favorite soups last night.

Cima di Rapa is very similar to the rather expensive Broccoli Rabe found in little bundles in grocery stores. Each plant has a single small head (about the size of a dime) on a tender stalk. It's also incredibly fast and easy to grow. We planted the seeds for this batch on March 18 - just 46 days ago. The packet indicated 28-35 days, but I suspect that planting in mid-March Philadelphia had as much to do with the extra couple weeks as optimistic advertising copy.

We made this minestra pretty much exactly to the recipe, only substituting olive oil for the lard.

There's still plenty of time to grow your own (from GrowItalian):


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