Sunday, November 23. 2008
Haven't written much the last few days, and I'm likely to soft-pedal the politics for the next few weeks -- unless, of course, the lame duck decides to strut his stuff. The transition is boring, the post-election analysis even more so, and the propagandizing borders on the ridiculous. I trust that Obama will do pretty much what he wants, and that predictions from certain quarters that he will opt for socialism are downright foolish. The only interesting thing about Clinton as Secretary of State is that it would signify that she understands that she's never going to be able to run for president again, and perhaps more importantly that she understands that it's no big deal. After running such a pissy campaign, she came out of the convention gracefully, and has been a Mensch ever since. (Of course, once she starts hiring people like Richard Holbrooke I'm likely to have second thoughts here.) I can't even get worked up about Gates, although that hasn't been in the news much lately -- does that mean the deal is done or dead?
The New York Times continued to beat its war drums today. They followed up on last week's "A Military for a Dangerous World" editorial with six letters -- five even more hawkish than the editorial, the other mildly demuring that European countries, after having experienced WWII firsthand, no longer go in for such nonsense. Then they recruited a bunch of "experts" to offer advice on how best to salvage the empire in Iraq and Afghanistan: Donald Rumsfeld, Ahmad Chalabi, Frederick Kagan, Anthony Cordesman, Peter Mansoor, Linda Robinson, and token dissenter Rory Stewart. If Ike Eisenhower were still around, he'd be warning us about the threats to democracy of the military-industrial-New York Times complex.
We've started another round of home improvement work, which is taking a lot of my time, disrupting my life in many ways -- not least of which is that I'm having to get up way too early, without managing to make any compensatory adjustments at the end of the day. Three big projects on the house: 1) cover the remaining wood outside the house with vinyl siding; 2) rebuild the electrical system, replacing the service entrance, panel, and as much of the really old wiring as possible; 3) remodelling the kitchen. The first two will mostly be done by contractors. The siding people have been working for a little over a week, and should be done in 2-3 days. I'm meeting with the electrician tomorrow, and will try to get that scheduled over the next couple of weeks. The kitchen work will mostly be done by a friend and I, so no doubt will be the biggest, slowest, and ugliest of the projects. We do have a good general plan, but still need to make detailed drawings, select (above all else) a range, make some decisions on cabinets, flooring, etc. I figure it'll probably take two months, although I've already procrastinated that much. Nothing gets done until you get started.
Meanwhile, the old kitchen is still somewhat functional. I tried making Chinese on Friday, and it turned out pretty well. The final menu was:
I used to jot more about personal things like this down in my online notebook, but that gave way as the blog became more ambitious politically -- sensitivity, no doubt, to the common charge that blogs are little more than personal indulgences. I've long figured my website to be more of a public filing system, where I keep stores of data of personal interest to myself, and make it publicly available on the off chance that others may find some of it useful. The recipe section is a good example. I started it to make it easier to look up some things, like my mother's chicken and dumplings recipe. Occasionally, I mentioned dinners in my notebook, and the recipe section grew to document them. At some point over the last couple of years, I wearied of the old format, so started to work up a new one, which should make it easier to index by cuisine, source, and ingredients. But I didn't make much progress, so one thing this dinner reminded me of was that unfinished work.
The links above are in the new format -- two were updated from the old format, the others new additions. Aside from the yams, they're all dishes I've made before: the green beans dozens of times; the crabs, scallops, and rice close to a dozen times. While the recipes are the most useful info for me, at some point I should write more on how I pick these things, and how the dinner comes together. Cooking Chinese is typically a lot of prep work, followed by a short but feverish fire drill, leaving a huge pile of pans and prep plates and bowls. For this particular meal: aside from the ham (which started first and cooked pretty much all day) and the cake (done conveniently the night before), everything else took 5-6 hours of prep, followed by about 30 minutes of stir fry. Four dishes made use of the deep fryer, but they were all in the prep stages, and that was all cleaned up and out of the way before the real action took place.
Chinese is pretty easy to cook once you:
The scallops dish is a good example. The fresh water chestnuts required a trip to Thai Binh, by far the largest Vietnamese grocery here -- a stop at the more convenient Broadway Market didn't produce them. My pantry has all the Chinese staples -- wine, soy sauce (thin and dark), several kinds of vinegars and sugars (although the palm sugar turned out to be petrified), spices, bean sauces, dried things, etc. -- so I rarely have to think about them. But I don't have dried orange peel, so just picked up a fresh one, cut the peel off thin with a vegetable peeler early, and set it out to air dry. Marinaded the scallops the night before. A few hours before the dinner, I velveted them in water, put them in a bowl. Peeled and chopped the water chesnuts, put them in a bowl. I deep fried the spinach, put it on a paper towel. Piled all the aromatics (garlic, ginger, scallions, 3 dried chili peppers) on a small plate. Mixed the sauce in a little cup, and the sauce thickener (cornstarch and chicken stock) in another. None of those steps were big, and only the water chestnuts were ugly. I could take breaks to check mail and switch CDs and what not. Then, about the time the guests arrived, all I had to do was finish the dish: heat up the pan, swirl some oil, dump the aromatics in, stir, add the sauce and water chestnuts, stir, add the scallops and thickener, stir a bit more, scrape the whole thing into a dish, garnish with the spinach. Took less than 3 minutes to finish a spectacular dish.
Aside from the ham, only the eggplant took as much as 10 minutes on the range -- much of it covered, so I could fry the rice at the same time. The crabs were even easier: just dust them in cornstarch, brown them, and dump the pre-mixed sauce (including cornstarch to thicken) on top, swirl around, and serve (garnished with a bit of cilantro). The ham is the other kind of easy: something you put in the pot and just let cook, basting it once in a while, as much to catch a better whiff of the spices as anything else.
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