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Monday, November 2, 2015

Jane Austen Buys a Horseless Carriage By Phorevva Petty

Our guest blogger today is one with whom I’m sure you’re all familiar.  Besides being the author of such splendid novels as “Jane, Jane, Go Away,” and “Pride and Recipes.” Phorevva Petty also made headlines when she forced a recall of Fuller Bras, after a long court battle involving a burst strap and the resultant death of her Chihuahua.

                            Jane Austen and the Horseless Carriage

Opportune Autos sits precipitously at the intersection of Abyss Avenue and Rocky Road.  Jane chose to obtain her first horseless carriage from said premises, not because they offered an expansive selection, but rather because the choices sat primly in decorous shades of black, white, and empire gray.   The stately and subdued array appealed to her sense of modesty and order.

“Can I help you?” said a man of mid-age, crushing his cigarette under the toe of a scuffed shoe.

“Can or may?” Jane asked sternly, in a vain attempt to light the dark halls of ignorance.

Misconstruing her meaning, the man rolled his shoulders and gave her a lecherous glance.

Jane recoiled with a look of vexation that hoisted the flag of despair.

“Watcha looking for?  Something racy that’ll light the fire and pin your panties to the seat?”

“Hope withers, I fear,” Jane replied.

Undaunted, he continued, “Maybe you’re lookin’ for something bigger, with a smooth ride, that won’t break the budget.”

Seldom had Jane known the same degree of agitation experienced in the preceding moments.  Without further remarks, not even the normal civility of a goodbye, she turned and left, with firm resolve to fulfill her stalwart desires in a different venue, and one more in keeping with good taste and etiquette.

A visit to Quickly Assembled Cars produced a similar result, as did Jolly Good Motors, and Humphrey-the-Lad's Auto Pista.

Hope withered within her heart.  The eager joy of spring took on the bleakness of a winter’s dim gray pallor.  Certain of failure, Jane allowed a cab to deposit her at the offices of Saintly Cars:  The Friendly Dealership.  Her first impression, which she reflected upon only silently, was that perhaps its advantages lay hidden under its diminutive appearance.  The sturdy brick and large window, displaying only two vehicles, sang to her sense of neatness and simplicity.

A sign over the door stated:  Super Deals, from Super Guys that are SUPER friendly, in letters so generously scrolled as to defy the natural curvature of the human eye.  With such a list of superlatives, borne on the wind of redundancy and defying logic in its every aspect, Jane pondered entry.  Perhaps this visit was also doomed to flounder on the rocky shoals of tasteless commerce.   Her hesitancy prompted a man to approach her forthwith, his attire neither elegant nor off-putting.

“Good afternoon, ma'am,” he said, in an accent so far removed from Oxford as to sound casually foreign and badly in need of repair.

Even so, Jane was less than astounded, having known from previous visits with relatives from Savannah to Philadelphia that the so-called English babblings on these shores ranged from the soft drip of butter to the cold steel swish of a well-swung scythe.   “I am considering a vehicle of some size,” she said.

“Watcha mean?”

“The answer to your inquiry eludes me, sir,” said Jane.

“I mean, what size?  You said some size.  That pretty well covers all our cars.”

“Are you being obtuse?”

“Nope.  Lost 30 pounds in the last 30 days.”

“Pray tell, what’s the meaning of ‘Super Deal’?

“Best price.  In fact, a price that will knock your socks off.”

“Your familiarity is quite beyond the pale,” said Jane, blushing slightly and wondering how he could have possibly known she wore socks beneath the gown that draped downward across the toes of her shoes.

She stood before him, tall and erect, awakening certain common feelings within his breast.  Many were the happy hours that he himself had stood tall and erect.

On Jane’s part, the merchant was not unhandsome, in a somewhat vulgar sort of manner.  He had a certain something.  Perhaps she noticed the arrogance in his eye, or his stiff upper lip, a feeling that he was of a propensity to lead her where no proper woman should go.

Her mind wandered to dens of iniquity where she would be free to cast off the cloak of propriety.  Perhaps, she pondered, she could breathe in the gust from a cigar, allow strong drink to graze her lips, or raise her hem about the ankle.  Not too high, of course, because of dangers she was all too well aware of.  A night chill, for example, or the prying eyes of neighbors in distant estates, or – perish the thought, - disdainful glances from those she loved most, her dog Muffinluster, her sisters Gwindleholtz and Christiline, or worse still, Her Ladyship, the patron saint of all things good and proper.  “Oh, Satan, unburden me from unworthy thoughts,” Jane said.

“What’d ya say?” said the tall, erect merchant.

“Sir, you do me an unkindness by eavesdropping.”

“You spoke out loud, Lady.”

“I did no such thing!”

“Did to!”

“Did not!”

And so the vexing conversation continued for three quarters of an hour until Jane purchased a Chevrolet Topless Horseless Carriage, although the merchant mentioned something she could scarcely believe. “There are eighty-five horses under the hood.”

“Under the bonnet,” Jane corrected.

“The hood.”

Finally, in desperation, Jane drove to her estate and away from this perplexing man who strove to make her believe eighty-five horses could actually fit in a space the size of two bathing tubs.  What nonsense!

Still, as she sat alone in her room, thoughts plagued her of the young man, standing tall and erect.  He filled her dreams and thoughts and often she pictured him unbuttoning his waistcoat, leaving her cheeks flushed such a rosy pink that Ma-ma summoned the family physician, who advised bed rest, warm goat's milk, and keeping a lid on the unseemly thoughts.

Many days later, Gwindleholtz, who spent a good deal of time gazing hopefully at the long, dusty, winding road leading to the house, saw a lone rider approaching in a shiny, two seat motorcar.  “Oh, Ma-ma!” she screamed, “Look who’s come to call!”

“Why whom, my dear?”  said Mrs. Stepandcramp, wiping away the sweat with a Turkish towel and calling to the team of serving girls to bake sweets, brew tea, and get out the best china in preparation for their visitor’s arrival.

“It’s the fine young man from the automobile concession…and Ma-ma!  He has a gleam in his eye!”

“Surely not!”

Gwindleholtz squealed and ran down the stairs, then danced around the sitting room, knocking over lamps, laying waste to fine china, only pausing now and again to whinny.  “Oh, Ma-ma, surely he’s come to court silly, foolish me and make the happiest, brainless girl in all of…of….where do we live?  I never can remember.”

“On a large estate that we’re about to lose because your father, Mr. Stepandcramp has only 5000 a year and that is why all of my daughters much marry rich men and save us all from destruction.”

“Oh, dear, it’s all on my shoulders,” said Gwindleholtz.

“Or on your back.”

“But, what about Jane?  Could she not marry and save us all from having to sleep five to a bed?”  Gwindleholtz paused, considering Jane’s only ability being able to scoff and eat crumpets at the same time.  “Ok then, how about Christiline?”

“It’s true,” said her mother, “Christiline is truly beautiful and attracts more beaus than a roomful of wrapping paper, but that’s spelled differently, and besides, she is already betrothed to Mr. Fiddlewhimp, who brings with him only 300 a year and will be the ruin of us all!”

“ And plain sister Jane?”

“I fear that Jane is a grape destined to wither on the vine.  Oh, that some rich man would hasten to pluck her.”

“Ma-ma, perhaps the young, virile purveyor of horseless carriages, whose father owns the auto concession and several more and whose very name is spoken in whispers by those tarrying in bank vaults, with blisters on their counting fingers.  Perhaps he is a worthy plucker?”

“Oh, you silly girl,” shouted Ma-ma, with a volume that could awaken the dead. “Who would want to pluck Jane, with her haughty ways and abrasive tongue?”

“I could but overhear how ill you speak of me,” said Jane, swishing into the parlor, with an abundance of petticoats whispering her arrival.

“Not at all, my dear,” spoke Mrs. Stepandcramp, embracing a newly conceived conciliatory tone with enthusiasm.  “It is with a passion known only to the gods that I hug to my heart the fervent wish that all my daughters marry wealthy men and save us all from penury.”

“Hello,” said Hobble Goldsmith, second son to the co-owner of the automobile emporium and not at all whom they had expected.

“I blush,” said Christiline.

“Me, too,” echoed Gwindleholtz, batting her eyes with enough rapidity to gain flight.

“And what about you, plain, but adorable Jane?” said Hobble.

“I am but unavailable,” said Jane, causing Ma-ma to collapse upon the love sofa and use her fan as if a squadron of flies buzzed about her face, and sending both daughters racing upstairs to change their moistened knickers.

Hobble, clearly unnerved exclaimed to Jane, “May I inquire as to your betrothed?”

“Pastor Bendenpray,” said Jane, plainly.  “For it is he who purchased my auto with the 85 cramped horses and asked me to put my top down.”

“Oh, Mr. Stepandcramp, we are ruined!” shrieked Ma-ma.

The daughters returned to face the aftershocks.  Gwindleholtz reined further destruction on vases and candlesticks.  Christiline hid her tears by facing the magic mirror, combing her often admired golden locks and chanting, “Who’s the fairest of them all?...not counting supermodels, of course.”

“May I speak plainly, Jane?” asked Hobble.

“As plainly as you like,” said Jane plainly.

Ma-ma glanced sharply at the other girls, indicating it was time to depart the salon for sewing, piano, and demureness lessons.

“Now that we’re alone,” said Hobble, “I wish to declare my undying love for you.  From the moment you walked into the showroom and spoke with my half-brother.  I heard you sing in your clear voice of your desire to put your foot down.  I pictured you dancing at the Winter Ball, my father the 7th Duke of Blankenmind is throwing for all of those who have 5000 a year or some such.”

“Go, Jane!  Do go!” whispered Ma-ma with the volume of a rutting boar, while peeking through the crack in the door.

“What about me?” Gwindleholtz could be heard whining over the noise of broken glass.

Without thinking, or blinking, or a nod, Mr. Goldsmith continued, “By all means invite your sisters.  My half-brother, who has shamed us all by breeding Afgan Hounds with his own seed, will be there…and he has 10,000 a year.”

“The perfect gentleman for our Gwindleholtz!” exclaimed Ma-ma.

“What about me?” whispered sister Christiline, freshly arrived from her demureness lesson.

“You shall be the bell of the balls!” pronounced Ma-ma.

Gwindleholtz once again raced up the stairs, ever hopeful for fresh linens.

“What about the third brother at the dealership, whom I have heard is also standing tall and erect and who no one has spoken of until this moment?” asked Mr. Stepandcramp, as he emerged from his study, adjusted his spectacles and peered down his aquiline nose.

“And Pastor Bendenpray?” shouted some feminine voice.

To this, Jane answered, “He unnerved me, standing only four feet eleven and stuttering as he does.  It always appeared his true desires always led him to places he should not go,”  said Jane, pressing both hands to her breast.  “But he has quickly found another.  My good friend, Fanny Tag-ur-it.”

"My goodness, when did you arrange this," asked Ma-ma, both astounded and pleased.

"Just moments ago, I sent Jeremy, the fatigued footman to call on the Pastor and deliver the news."

"And he has already attached himself to Miss Tag-ur-it?"

"As fast as you could turn the page," replied Jane.

“My goodness!” exclaimed Mr. Stepandcramp, laughing “I do believe my daughters are the silliest girls in all of England…except for you, Jane, who has managed to discard your betrothed, yet still hang on to the Chevrolet convertible.”

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Pork Belly: Your taste buds will love you!

Ok, you hungry gourmets, and inebriates….I always get those two mixed up…it’s time for a new recipe.  Pork belly is the au courant delectable on many snobby restaurant menus these days, so let’s try that.  What the hell is pork belly anyway?  Don’t think stomach; that’s on the inside.  Belly’s the meat on the outside and when it’s cured with sugar, or salt, or smoke, we call it bacon.  So, think of pork belly as a big slab of uncured and unsliced bacon.  One difference for Americans is the thick slice of skin that remains on top.  Europeans are used to seeing a strip of tough covering, as their bacon also usually comes with the rind in tact.

Between the layer of rind and the meat is a layer of fat, and it’s this layer that will lead to a heavenly flavor and the tenderness you only get from your spouse on special occasions. 

The secret to a great pork belly is to give it a chance, and that means lengthy cooking at low temps.  Try to rush it and you’ll see disappointment and scorn on the faces on the other side of the table.  The more volatile will smash plates.

Follow my instructions, which I present with love and good wishes, and all you will see are smiles.

Preheat the oven to 250ºF (120ºC)

Pork Belly

1  to 1 ½ lbs pork belly, dusted with salt, pepper, and sugar

For the sauce

2 Cups water
1 Heaping tablespoon of Bovril (my favorite, or use another brand of beef extract)
1 Bottle of beer (I used Bitburger pils)
½  Cup soy sauce
½ Cup sugar

Puttin’ it all together

Leave the skin on and braise the pork on all sides in 2 Tablespoons of oil, then remove it from the pan and set it aside.

Put the sauce ingredients together in a large saucepan (with a lid), or a small roasting pan. Stir while it comes to a boil.

Add the pork belly to the saucepan, cover, and put it in the oven for 3 ½ hours. 

At the end of 3 ½ hours, remove the pork belly from the saucepan, slice off the skin, and put the meat aside to rest.  I sometimes slice the skin into bite sized pieces and put it in a 400ºF oven until it’s crisp.

Remove the skin and here's what it looks like after removal
 Chill the broth and skim off the fat.

While the meat rests, put the sauce back on the stovetop and cook until the broth is reduced by half.

Return the pork belly to the saucepan and allow it to reheat, turning it once. 

Remove the meat, slice it into serving portions, put the portions on plates and ladle on the sauce.

I served this with small boiled potatoes, halved, skin left on, and sliced zucchini with diced onion and a sprig of rosemary, lightly steamed and laced with balsamic reduction.

Now you’re asking me to get to the good part and tell you about the wine.  Ok.  A wonderful Italian Primitivo.   Don’t know about Primitivos?  Well, I’m happy to oblige, but not now.

Monday, October 26, 2015

The Truth and Other Lies by Sascha Arango

Henry Hayden, hedonist and best selling author – make that best selling and adored author, the toast of every book signing - has a problem.  Just a sec, he has more than A problem.  He lives on an anthill of problems, bringing pleasure, but also spoiling his picnic.

Nevertheless, his wife loves him for all his faults.  He loves her, as he should since she’s the silent author of all his best sellers, and therefore directly responsible for the celebrity status he so richly enjoys.

They live in a home worthy of an architectural magazine article.  He drives an eye-catching compliment to Italian luxury.  He’s swamped by fanfare in restaurants and grocery stores.

Oh, there is one more thing:  His mistress is carrying his child.  Something must be done about that.  An endless steam of possibilities roam Henry’s self-centered world.   Not that he entertains objections about any of them.

Sascha Arango, in his very first novel, creates that most interesting of characters, an ambitious, multi-faceted rogue, with an uncanny sense of self-preservation.  Exposure lurks around every corner and in his struggle to survive, Henry has to peer around all of them.

You ask yourself:  What would I do?  But, that’s not a fair question.  For most of us, moral objections loom large, so let’s put it to Henry:  What should he do?  Confess all to a loving wife?  Convince his mistress to have the abortion she does not want?  For Henry, whichever choice he makes, self-protection and preservation of lifestyle are the beacons that guide his way.

Yes, it’s quirky, so you may well ask:  Why did I pick up this book?  I like to be entertained. More and more I’ve turned to European authors, especially if they are male and German.  The finely etched characters stand out.  (The Collini Case:  But also, so many European plots avoid the expected flow of the wide-river stories, and instead follow the personal tributaries, and rivulets that trickle in unexpected directions and lead to unexpected results.  Another thing I like is the cohesiveness.  Everything leads toward the character and the plot.  No irrelevant angst and dithering to fill fifteen pages with useless verbiage.  In a word, leanness.  Europeans write their mysteries sparsely.  No distracting fat, and the prosaic knife cuts almost unexpectedly straight to the bone.

The Truth and Other Lies is one such mystery.  As you read, you’ll constantly ask:  What happens next?  Good luck.  Think the laugh-out-loud bits make this a comedic novel?  Good luck with that one, too.

You’re going to pick this novel up and become so involved, so quickly that anybody who interrupts you is going to be met with a barrage of verbal gunfire.  Oh, yeah, it’s that kind of book.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Argentine Beef Stew -with apricots? Oh yeah!

When you dine at a fine restaurant, you come away with more than a warm memory.  The spark of creativity suddenly flames up inside you and you long to get back into your kitchen.

Creativity is like that.  Go to a wonderful garden, you come home and plant flowers.  After leisurely strolling through an art museum, you fixate on color and design.  You rush home to throw paint on a canvas, or touch up all those fading spots on your house, or rearrange the furniture.

Art in all its forms plants the seeds of creativity that will readily bloom in your garden…if you let them…if you accept that we are all creative, whether it’s painting, or music, or drawing, or flower arranging.  The ‘what’ isn’t important, the ‘embracing’ of your own human need to create is what matters.

What does this have to do with beef stew?  See, you interrupted me and made me explain all that other stuff, all of which should have been self-evident.

Argentine Beef Stew (My version).  A stew with apricots and sweet potato and all that other junk?  Again, there you go, suppressing your urge to create, to start something new, to step smartly into new adventures.  Stop leaning so heavily on your adulthood and be a kid again!

Besides the philosophical and psychological aspects of this dish, it’s delicious, or for you heathens, damn good!

Getting Down to It!

Argentine Beef Stew

 The first thing you need to know is, you can’t do it wrong.  There are as many versions of this dish as there are cooks in Argentina.

1 to 1.5 lbs beef, cut in cubes (I use a whole chuck roast, slice off most of the fat and cut the rest into cubes)

1 One large brown-skinned onion, peeled and diced

4 Cloves of garlic, peeled and diced

5 Cups of beef broth (I used 6 heaping tablespoons of Bovril in 5 cups of water - just to make the broth richer)

1 Can (14 oz) of whole tomatoes, drained

1 Lg sweet potato, peeled and cut in a medium dice

1 Green bell pepper, seeded and diced

1 Sm to med Acorn Squash, peeled, seeded, and chunked (don’t worry if you don’t get off every bit of skin)

1 Cup dried apricots, chopped

1 Teaspoon dried or fresh oregano (You should have planted some oregano last spring!)

Salt and black pepper to taste.  Careful with the salt because the broth is already salty.
Getting it Done!

Heat the oven to 250ºF

On the stovetop, put some olive oil (about 2 Tablespoons) in a stew pot and heat to a medium temperature.  Add the onions, garlic, and green pepper.  Slow is the secret.  Do not let the onions burn.

When the onions are translucent, add the beef and stir to lightly brown.  Add the whole tomatoes by squashing one at a time into the pot.  You’re not really a cook unless your hands get messy and smell like onions and garlic and tomatoes!  Add the oregano and give everything a stir.

Add the beef broth and bring to a boil.

Cover the pot, put it in the oven, and cook for two hours.

Add the cubed sweet potatoes, chunked squash, and apricots.  Cook another hour.

Bring the stew pot back to the stovetop, take off the lid, and boil the stew until the broth is thickened and reduced by about half.  Judgment call at this point.  Give the broth a taste.  Rich and wonderful?  It’s done.  Still too watery?  Leave it on a while longer.

Ready to eat!  I serve it with thick slices of heavy bread.  If you really want the flavors to meld, let the stew cool and reheat it the next day!

Before reduction.  Boil it a while longer!
A vegetarian?  Sorry.  Tell me again why you’re reading about BEEF STEW.  Don’t like green pepper?  Not a fan of sweet potato?  Don’t like the idea of apricots in your stew?  Ok, you whimpy whiner, grab another beer, sit back and let the rest of us eat this succulent Argentine Beef Stew in peace.

Don't forget to also try my Steak and Ale Pie!  It's going to be a long, cold winter!