August 2010

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Super Sauce

Now that both our tomatoes and herbs are at the height of their production, I’ve been harvesting both and churning out this awesome super sauce. It is simple, tasty, versatile, and keeps in the fridge. It couldn’t be easier!

In a food-processor, blender, magic bullet, etc, puree equal parts (by volume) garlic, cherry tomatoes, olive oil, and fresh basil leaves. That’s it. It comes out fairly orange, and very garlicy.

I use it for a basic pizza sauce. I smear it on toast. I use it for a bruschetta drizzle. I add sautéed onions and mushrooms for a killer pasta sauce. Leave it in the fridge and it will separate a bit, but mix it back together and enjoy; it only gets better with a few days of cold-aging. It’s so good, you’d think it had to be harder. It’s not! Enjoy!

In college, I knew a woman named Wendy Martin who owned a local business, Rooftop Futons. In her high-ceilinged 2nd-floor south-facing office, she had a magnificent pot of giant papyrus growing, at least 6′ tall, the image of which has stuck in my head ever since. I can’t be certain, but I’m reasonably sure her plant was an “Umbrella palm”, Cyperus alternifolius. Now that I have my own ridiculously-high ceilings (16′!), I’ve bought a few papyrus plants to try my own hand at.

After an afternoon spent trolling garden centers and nurseries with my amazing gardening friend Kent Russell,  actually ended up with five plants. In addition to a pair of great Cyperus papyrus “Giganteus”, I now have three smaller varieties: Cyperus involucratus “Baby Tut”, Cyperus albostriatus “Variegatus”, and Cyperus isocladus.

Being late in the season, I bought them all root-bound in 4″ pots. I re-potted into 6″ clay pots with a good gunky potting soil, with a little fish meal worked in for good measure. I aggressively cut back any stressed stems. All five pots were then placed in a large plastic tote, which was filled with water up to within an inch of the tops of the clay pots. I top up the water every three days or so, dosing once with a teaspoon of 15-30-15 fertilizer.

Growth in just the last two weeks has been fantastic! The C.  papyrus and C. involucratus have been putting new stems up at about 1″/day. The C. papyrus is showing crazy root development, already snaking little white rootlets around and over the edges of the pot. The C. isocladus isn’t so much growing up as it is growing out. The poorest of the bunch is the C. albostriatus; It was well into seed when I bought it, so it may just be a phase. The existing growth seems stagnant, but there are quite a few new shoots starting out!

I had at first envisioned an indoor water garden, in a large tub or ideally a small cast-iron slipper-style bathtub. Researching more thoroughly, I see that these plants would do best with summers outside, so I’m trying out more portable ideas. Also, the small varietals really seem to want to spread out; they might share space with the very vertical C. papyrus, but don’t play as well with companions of their own stature. I think I’ll leave them in standard clay pots, which I will in turn submerge inside sealed larger pots, preferably something nicely-glazed. The bathtub idea might still happen, but probably as a strictly outdoor feature.

I’m not exactly sure why I find these so fascinating. There is something neat about these primitive old-world sedges, that can look like both grasses and palms, with leaf-like flowers and flower-like leaves. And of course, the attraction of a plant that is practically impossible to over-water!

Equal Rights

Name a fundamental human right, whichever one you can think of. Don’t worry for now whether it’s a legal or constitutional right; just shoot from the hip and name something broad and basic.

Now ask: does this right apply to you? Do you feel that have this right? Do you feel that this right is protected? If you’re reading this, the answer you’ll probably reach is “yes”.

Now think: Does every other human being in existence also have and share this same fundamental human right? The likely answer is “no”.

Realize: Unless a “right” is universally recognized, upheld, and applied to all, then for those who do enjoy that right, it is not a right right at all, but only a privilege.

Of course, many people would prefer to limit the application of human rights to some particular jurisdiction, such as the citizens of a country. While these rights might be lofty, they are not fundamental; they are legal and constitutional. In a democracy, it is the citizens themselves who (in theory) define their own human rights and the protections thereof. These definitions and protections are subject to change upon the will of the people. Far too frequently, some group will assert a moral prerogative, and move to exclude another group from some legal or constitutional right. Not only does this discriminate against the excluded, but it by extension diminishes the rights of the included. Unless the guarantee applies to all, there is no guarantee!

Privileges may be earned, but they can also be bought and sold. The same cannot -and should not- ever be said of basic fundamental human rights and equalities.

Here during the height of the American Summer, this Canadian has been craving Macaroni & Cheese. Is it really some Canadian thing? Perhaps not, but I crave, nonetheless. Of course, if you’re going to give into a craving, I subscribe to the school of “Go Big or Go Home”. You could use any variety of cheeses; I chose one mellow, one smooth, and one a little sharp.

  • 1 lb of study pasta (I chose my fave: cavatappi)
  • 4 oz Gruyere cheese, diced
  • 4 ox Fontina cheese, diced
  • 4 oz St. Jorge cheese, diced
  • 1/4 lb pancetta, diced
  • 1/4 medium sweet white onion, small diced
  • 20 oz vegetable stock
  • 3 tbs all-purpose flour
  • 2 tbs truffle-infused olive oil
  • a few drops of lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup home-made toasted breadcrumbs
  • salt & pepper

Dice the cheeses while cold, then allow to come to room temperature in a bowl. Over medium heat, fry the pancetta; when it has been mostly rendered, add the onions, lower the heat, and allow everything to get greasy and translucent. Start boiling the pasta in a pot of salted water.

Prepare a roux of the oil and flour, seasoning with a little salt and pepper. Bring the stock to a simmer, then add to the roux (thus creating a sauce velouté). Stir stir stir stir! Watch the heat, keeping it medium-low. Add the cubed cheese a little at a time, stirring like a madman. Stir! Add more cheese. Stir like your life depends on it! Dribble in a few drops of lemon juice; the acidity will relax the cheese and keep it from getting stringy. Stir! If the sauce begins to “break” or gets a clumpy/marbled appearance, you’re either too hot or not stirring enough. Lower the heat and stir like you mean it, you wimp! If the sauce is too hard, add a little hot pasta water. STIR! Do not over-estimate the amount of heat required to melt the cheese; it’s probably less than you think. And… don’t forget to stir.

Drain the pasta, drop into a casserole dish, and drown with the cheese-sauce. Stir!  Scrape the pancetta/onion mix onto the top. Stir! Shake the crumbs on top, set under a broiler for a minute or two, then take it out and try Try TRY your hardest not to eat the damn thing while it’s 10000000 degrees hot. A little cooling will let the cheese set, let the top cool to crispiness, and let your otherwise-soon-to-be-burnt-mouth a chance at survival.