» Archive for November, 2009

A bean situation

Wednesday, November 4th, 2009 by kara

Yesterday I decided to make a pot of bean soup.  I learned two things as a result of my shopping trip that day: 1.) That it’s probably impossible to get a ham bone from the meat counter at a grocery store, and 2.) that a four-pound bag of dried Northern beans makes a HECKUVA lot of beans.

Talked with the guy behind the meat counter at Kroger, and he explained that they don’t save bones anymore, except for the really huge cow leg bones that people want as chewies for their dogs.  He did, however, point me in the direction of pre-packaged, smoked pork neck bones, which will work admirably for the meaty, smoky base.  You really do need the bone in order to get a good, appealing soup stock, in my little opinion.

Next came the beans.  Money’s still kind of tight, so I stood there with my calculator, ciphering the per-pound cost of dried Northern beans in the different-sized bags.  The four-pound bag brought the cost of the beans down to about $1 per pound, so that’s the one I went with.

Bear in mind that I’m not a stupid person.  Intellectually, I know that cooking legumes or grains will roughly double their bulk, i.e. cooking one cup of rice with one cup of liquid results in two cups of cooked rice.  But sometimes I have a little problem with spatial rationalization:  I knew that I’d end up with a lot of beans when I finally cooked them, but I didn’t stop to consider that if I soaked them all, I would not have a stock pot big enough to cook them.

And sometimes I’m just an absent-minded ditz.

So I start putting the stuff together for the soup, starting with sorting and soaking the dried beans.  If you’ve never worked with dried beans before, you should know that before you do anything else with them, you need to sort through them and pick out small rocks, bits of twig or grass, suspect-looking beans and any other ‘stuff’ that you don’t want to eat.  Then you rinse them thoroughly, and do either a fast soak or an overnight soak to rehydrate them.

It took me an awful long time to sort through that four-pound bag of beans.  That should have been my first clue to slow down and re-evaluate the situation.  It felt like I was hunched over that colander FOREVER, picking out discoloured and munched-on-looking beans.  But did I stop and think about what I was about to do?  Aw, hell no!

I got out my four-quart stockpot and dumped the beans in, and filled the rest of it nearly to the top with water.  Yeah, that was another moment in which I could have calculated the volume of beans I’d have to cope with, but I didn’t hesitate there, either.  I was thinking of other things, like our rescue’s Angel Trees at AgriFeed here in Knoxville and Smoky Mountain Feed in Maryville, and how best to print pictures of the adoptable fuzzies from Small Breed Rescue of East Tennessee and Cocker Companions Rescue.  It’s safe to say that I was a bit distracted–not enough so to screw up the soup, but sufficiently to miss the significance of the bean poundage.

To do a ‘fast soak’, put the beans in a large pot and pour roughly twice their volume of cool, clean water over them.  Bring the pot of beans to a boil and maintain the boil for two minutes, then cover the pot and remove it from the heat, letting it sit for the next hour.  Voila!  When you return to the pot, you’ll have rehydrated beans which you can then proceed to cook.

When I came back to check out my beans an hour later, the stock pot was FULL of them.  They’d gladly sucked up almost all the water and climbed almost to the lip of the stockpot, and they overflowed my big white colander when I drained and rinsed them.  All in all, that four-pound bag of dried Northern beans made 8.28635 pounds of beans.  Let’s just call it 8 1/4 pounds.  Which is quite a lot.  More than I had anticipated.  Don’t know what I was thinking.

Anyway.  I fixed a big batch of bean soup with half the beans, and then divided the rest into two big Gladware bowls to be covered with water and frozen. I couldn’t just toss the remaining four pounds of beans, because if I did that, I’d be wasting money–even though my original intent was to save money.  If you buy something in a large package because it’s less-expensive that way, but then you don’t USE it all, you’re not saving money in the long run.  You may as well have just bought a smaller package that didn’t scare you so badly to begin with, and avoided wasting the excess food.

Nice part of this little debacle is that the next time I want to make bean soup, I won’t have to go through the tiresome sorting-and-soaking routine again.  Nasty part is that I don’t really know WHEN I’ll feel like making bean soup again.  If ever.  *sigh*

Gratitude and expressing it

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2009 by kara

Have you seen the Gratitude Campaign video?  It offers everyone a simple, graceful way to show their appreciation for the service of our armed forces.  If you see a service member, you can offer them this elegant gesture that lets them know that you are grateful for their efforts.  It’s very moving.  When my friend, Cyn Mobley, posted it on her Facebook page a few months ago, I promptly cannibalized it and re-posted it on my own.  And I vowed to perform this gesture the next time I saw a serviceman.

I hadn’t had this opportunity until just this afternoon, when I was flying through Kroger with a few items necessary for dinner.  I was zooming through the meat section and noticed a camo’d serviceman, blonde, about my age or maybe a few years younger.  Perfect opportunity to offer this simple and heartfelt gesture of thanks–but I couldn’t remember exactly how to make the hand gesture, and I didn’t want to screw it up really badly and inadvertently offend him in sign language.

Instead, I leaned over and said “Hey, thanks for your service.”  There was a moment of nervousness (God forbid I stuttered or messed THAT up somehow), and then he turned and thanked me for thanking him.  I smiled and moved on, but was surprised at the rush of emotion, the prickle of tears behind my eyelids, that I felt as I walked away.  I AM truly grateful for his service, and for the service of all our brothers and sisters in arms.

I recall too vividly watching the September 11, 2001 coverage of the attacks on the Towers on television, shocked and clinging to the Pumpkin while tears rolled down my face.  The vicious, vengeful harpy who lives inside me came out then, and wanted to make a dimple in the Earth out of the general geographic region from which these perpetrators sprang.  But it isn’t as cut and dried as all that, and I realized that not everyone in the Middle East was behind the attacks.

I don’t approve of the war in Iraq.  I think it was ill-advised and impetuous to invade, and that it will never truly end, and that it contributes to the United States’ image as a bully of other nations.  I recall distinctly the hour and the minute of the day when George W. Bush announced that we’d be slapping back at the terrorists who knocked down the World Trade Center, and I said as much, then.

But I understand the spirit of the men and women who enlisted out of their desire to help, to fight back, to DO SOMETHING about this assault on our nation.   Years earlier, I became a volunteer firefighter out of a desire to help people, and that desire is a stronger motivator than one can ever imagine.  There were enjoyable aspects of being a firefighter that balanced out the danger and hard work, mind you.  I didn’t act completely out of altruistic goodness, but that was a big part of it.

My father-in-law, whose life-long career in law enforcement often put him in the path of danger, told me once that he thought I was nuts to run into a burning building.  I countered with the thought that any cop dealing with people on a daily basis had to be a little crazy–people in general can be evil, sneaky and vengeful, and therefore as a law enforcement officer, I would have to approach every traffic stop and domestic complaint with my weapon drawn, locked and loaded.  Fire isn’t evil and vengeful, it just IS, and therefore it’s a lot less frightening to me than human nature.

But I know that whatever he and I might have experienced, it is peanuts compared to what our armed servicemen and women endure in a combat zone.  There’s no hot-bath-and-a-beer-to-make-it-all-better at the end of their days.  I was born in 1968, many years after my father returned home from his combat service in World War II.  Even as a child I watched him twitch and groan through nightmares when he fell asleep on the sofa in the evening, and although he didn’t talk about it ever, I knew that he was back on the battlefield in his dreams.

So this simple gesture of thanks is the very least we can offer our returning servicemen and women.  Don’t be shy or hold back when you see someone in uniform!  Who can fault you for saying “thank you”?

Turkey bacon is NOT real bacon

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2009 by kara

For Sunday breakfast, we had home made French toast and turkey bacon.  The turkey bacon is kind of an unusual food in our house, because we both have a deep and abiding love for real bacon.  And aside from being somewhat healthier than regular bacon, there aren’t too many benefits to eating a form of pig meat made of fowl.

But I had a coupon for it and thought we’d give it a try.

It was OKAY.  It looked a little odd, because instead of white fat and red meat, it had strips of tan-ish and brown-ish meat, with one of the edges formed into a regular scallop shape–same shape, same colours for each strip.  It was smoky tasting, like regular bacon, but the texture was different, probably due to a significantly lower fat content.

Rick and I like our bacon crispy to the point of almost being burnt so that’s the way I fixed the turkey bacon.  It produced an astonishing amount of blue smoke and never really got truly crispy.  As far as using turkey bacon in place of regular bacon in a recipe, it should work because the main characteristic of bacon in a recipe is the smoky flavor.  I suppose if we were on medically-necessary low-fat diets, I would consider buying this on a regular basis, but we’re not yet, so I won’t.

Oddly enough it tastes a lot better when it’s eaten out of the sandwich bag while standing in front of the refrigerator at midnight.