To Cook The Dinner You Must Be The Dinner

Professional food people – chefs, fry cooks, army chow sergeants – can cook anything at any time, whether they want to do it or not. That is a trait shared with other professionals – the ability to do a job in spite of everything. Amateurs can barely do it when conditions are perfect – pros can do it under fire. I know – I used to be a professional in a profession and I could indeed do the dance.

But back to food – the amateur cook may be feeding themselves alone or may be doing it for the family as well. There may be good facilities or bad ones – lots of ingredients or very few – but there is one thing absolutely necessary for success. The person making the food must want the food.

Not just want it to succeed or look good or taste good for others. They must want to eat it themselves. If they commit to that, they can do it.

Take a simple fried egg…possibly the most complex food known to man. Escoffier deeply feared eggs. Brillat-Savarin would never allow one to cross the road in front of him. And I have heard it said that eggs swear at Gordon Ramsay…

To make a fried egg you need an egg. And heat. And something that prevents the egg, while frying, from adhering to the hot surface. The egg should be fairly fresh – it need not be warm from the chook’s bum, but likewise do not attempt to cook it if it is already pecking at the toast crumbs on the floor. You can check for freshness by floating an egg in a container of benzene, but do not light a match while you are doing it.

The non-stick frying pans work well while the coating is new but become egg-traps as they wear in. Generally you can figure that when the egg slips around and fries with no grease whatsoever, it is because the coating is new and dinner will taste like Love Canal. When the nerve agents and dead cat extract that comprise the non-stick coating wear off the eggs will taste better but you’ll need to get them out of the pan with a wood chisel.

Spray-can release agent is fine and helps many people to make fibreglass canoes from moulds. They can also be used to free that egg.

I favour bacon grease that is leftover from cooking in the pan just before you crack the egg. It’ll let the egg slide about at a certain point and then you can capture it with the egg-slice and get it onto the toast. Best trick of all is the non-stick pan that has tall, heavy sides and bottom, and can be heated in an oven with a griller element above it. You heat the pan, cook the bacon, transfer this to a warmed dish, and then crack the eggs into the hot fat.

Pop it back under the grill and the eggs cook from both sides in half the time. No more slimeys. No more sticking.

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Another New Year Dawns

Is this one the Ukrainians? Or the Doukhobors? Or the Irish?

No, wait – this one’s the Chinese. Apparently we are about to hit the Year Of The Pig.

Ah, good old Chinese. They have the right idea. Declare a new year that is named after something you can eat. Pig, rabbit, rooster, snake, etc. Not so sure I fancy rat or dragon, but someone somewhere is tossing them in flour and heating a wok. In any case it makes a very practical way to characterise a celebration.

Not so the various UN and other intellectual organisations who declare Years Of The Fashionably Oppressed or Years Of The Ousted Government. If they were to declare the Year Of Paying Their Rent or Year Of Removing Tribal Leaders As Presidents For Life it might lead to more celebrations. If they could persuade the Chinese to declare a Year Of Eating The Presidents For Life they might get somewhere…but you’d need an awful lot of hoi sin sauce…

I shall avoid the dragons and the drums this year, but not the buffet. I may not be a good chopstick eater but I can manage some dishes without flinging chunks past the other diners or stabbing myself in the eye. I shall throw salad at the ceiling, however…

 

The Oslo Lunch – Part Three

How long is lunch hour? If you are a child at school it is often an hour – if you are adult in retail trade it is often half that. If you are in a situation with inadequate staff, it can be 20 minutes or less – depending upon how willing you are to be chivvied back out to work.

Those people who get no lunch break at all are free to sneer now – but then they are also free to consider why they have no lunch, whether that is a pleasant thing, and what they might do to remedy the situation.

Now that I’m retired, I am always pleased to be able to take some time to eat in the middle of the day, and can do so about 20% of the time. The other 80% of days are ones in which I am flat-out travelling or working at a hobby and eating takes a back seat. In addition, there is the problem of eating alone when out…few places that you care to eat at care to have a single person eating at them.

At least the problem of lunch hour is solved – most cafes and bars will chivvy you out as fast as they possibly can to make way for more money to come in the door. You are lucky to get 20 minutes undisturbed and 30+ is unheard of. You will be ” attended ” until you either spend more or rack off. But I do not blame the owners of the cafes – they are in business  for a limited period of time before the next owner.

Time on the road can be a foodies dream or nightmare. I find that truckstops are fine if you are a truckie – they expect you and cater for your needs. The rest of the travelling population can be considered a nuisance and ignored. This is blazingly obvious in some of the roadhouses and service stations on the  road across the Nullarbor. It is wise to carry your own food and water – much as you might have had to do in the 1860’s – because you may be bloody invisible to the staff at the truck stops.

One place that nearly always can be depended upon for calories is a country pub. If you are prepared to restrict your desires to pies, sausage rolls, pasties, and chips you can eat. You can nearly always get a cold beer to go with it – the pub with no beer is a song. Occasionally there will be someone trying to make a gourmet paradise out of the pub and you might get a salad and a steak.

Ideal lunch? You’d be surprised how good things can be in some of the Asian cafes that spring up in small shopping centres. Not the big chain ones – the Mum and Dad ventures that can do simple curries, rice dishes, and stirfries. The prices are often a pleasant surprise as well.

 

The Oslo Lunch – Part Two

Lunchtime was a bittersweet experience for me as a child. Oh, not when I was at home –  lunch was lunch, and if there were brown ‘n serve sausages and eggs, chicken noodle soup, or bologna sandwiches, all was right with the world. The problem was at school.

As I mentioned before, some schools in the US and Canada served hot lunches for the students. They were simple meals, with soups, stews, macaroni and cheese, or other staples forming a large part of the menu. There were hot dogs, but rarely hamburgers. There was always some form of vegetable and/or fruit and most school canteens had no carbonated drinks – you got milk, orange, or apple juice. I sometimes ate at the schools that had a lunch canteen and I think my mother appreciated not having to put up sandwiches.

It was only later that I reflected that these lunches might have been the only meal that some of the students got all day. We were not living in inner-city ghettos – these were suburban schools – but there was a level of neglect there that I did not see in the 6th grade. I did get to see it in the 8th grade when we moved to a bush area for dam construction. The camp children were 15 miles from the school and were bussed in by the company, so it was tin lunchboxes and thermos flasks for lunch.

My lunch was varied – soup or beans in the thermos in the winter, milk or juice in the summer. A sandwich, a couple of cookies, and a piece of fruit. The occasional treat of a square of chocolate. I was never hungry at lunch…But I do not know whether the other camp children were as lucky. I know some of the local children from the bush town were not – and lunch time for them was hungry, sad, and pointless.

There were paper sack lunches that seemed to be two pieces of dry bread with uncooked bacon in between. Or jam sandwiches. Or just a candy bar. Or nothing. Part of the hostility I experienced at the time was due to academic achievement and part of it was probably envy at my lunch. I was at a loss as to what to do in either case, so I just kept studying and eating by myself.

In retrospect, I can’t say whether poverty or ignorance or just lack of care was the cause of their problem, but if ever a school needed a lunch program it was Lodgepole Elementary.

The Oslo Lunch – Part One

Look it up – I did. The Oslo Lunch was a real thing pre-war – an experiment that worked in improving children’s health via better nutrition. It was essentially whole-meal bread, cheese, milk, and fruit or salad. Not a bad thing overall, and apparently led to weight and height gain for under-nourished children in Norway and Great Britain.

I believe it featured here in Australia and I can vaguely remember some mention of it at Governor Stirling High School in 1965.

School lunches in my childhood in Canada and the USA were generally either a cafeteria hot meal in the more affluent areas or home-packed in all the others. In one memorable junior high in Calgary there was a policy of sending the students back home for their lunches unless there were such dire weather conditions that they could not go out. Even then, one had to have a signed form citing ” inclement weather ” to be permitted to huddle in the school assembly area for the lunch hour.

I think, in retrospect, it was just a move to get the students to clear off and let the staff members have their lunch hour to themselves. I wonder if they were required to walk a mile either way four times a day…Mighta been good for their lard asses.

Note – inclement weather in Calgary generally had to be an active prairie blizzard with drifts of snow higher than 3 feet. We did not have ” Snow Days ” in the 60’s. Snow was an accepted fact of life. After the blizzard blew out you went to school, drifts or not. I bicycled into a parked white Oldsmobile that was buried in a drift one year. Now that’s educational.

Lemon-flavoured With Real Lemon-type Fluid ( Reconstituted )

I sincerely wish that the food, drug, cleaning product, and motor oil trades had never heard of lemons. Because as soon as they became aware that the yellow fruit could be squeezed, crushed, ground, pulverized, or synthesized…they insisted on putting it in everything.

Everything.

I like a good lemonade. I like a lemon wedge squeezed over fried fish. Mrs. DeSouza’s Lemon Slice that she makes for the local P&C bake stall every election day is worth getting there early for. And voting for. It beats the Democracy Sausage all hollow.

But I do not wish to encounter the blasted fruit in every recipe, cleaning lotion, face cream, and suppository on the planet. It may be doing wonders for the Vitamin C level and the complexion, but the omnipresence of it eventually makes everything taste the same. And it is not like it makes everything taste Like Mrs. DeSouza’s baked goods – it makes everything taste like Vim Cleansing Creme for the bathroom tiles.

I am also dirty on fruit and herb-infused hand lotions or car deodorants. I want my car to smell of oil and petrol and I want my hands to smell of my car. I want my wife to smell like my wife – not pomegranates and tumbleweed. I married her when she smelled good and she still does as long as she doesn’t roll in the fruit and vegetable bin at Coles.

Note: I am prepared to tolerate a twist of lemon in a martini or manhattan cocktail but only in months that have a vowel in them.

The Role Of Caffeine In Civilization

Caffeine role…? How about the Caffeine Roll – now that would sell! I know people who would queue up for them…shaking hard.

I take coffee. I take tea. I avoid caffeinated soft drinks – but that to keep away from the taste, not the effect. I can stand caffeine in measured doses, and the standard measure seems to be the railway tank car.

The morning will see two cups of Nescafé. Another mid-afternoon, and a strng espresso after dinner. Then another Nescafé at 10:00. It is a wonder I get to sleep before midnight.

We have often been cautioned against this. Just as we have been warned off eggs, meat, sugar, potatoes, and every other foodstuff that has ever been grown, baked, or boiled. And then we have been told that the demon food or devil drink is quite all right…and the attention of the scolding press turns to another thing. I have adopted the sensible attitude that it is all a load of twaddle designed to gain money and power…and ignore the dire warnings. Unless a sandwich is filled with equal parts of dried smallpox scabs and liquid Lewisite, I am prepared to take a bite.

The Wiki entries on coffee and tea show that they come from foreign climes. This would make them suspect for those of the population that subscribe to xenophobia, but it doesn’t answer the question of whether they are healthful and nourishing in the places where they originated. Seeing as the people there are just about as long-lived as the locals here – bar the occasional revolution or tsunami – the health fears would seem to be exaggerated. And seeing as the places where they are used are generally full of citizens who are up and active – for good or ill – it would appear that the caffeine is doing a reasonable job.

Can you have too much coffee? Of course you can, and there are medical records – written in jittery longhand and covered in brown rings – that document the self sacrifices of pioneer doctors who experimented on themselves.

Can you have too little? Go a fortnight without any and then tell me, but don’t weep or scream as you do so. You will disturb my cappuccino.