Sans le Nom: Cookery, Rhetoric, and Other Forms of Pandering

"Now I call this sort of thing pandering, and I declare that it is dishonorable."Plato

"When a name comes, it immediately says more than the name." —Derrida

April 28, 2008:  This Week's Lost and Found

I've been threatening to do this for a while, and now it's time.  Having a self-diagnosed case of OCD, I'm aware that I have several compulsive behaviors (really, just several, not like hundreds or something because that would be a bit over the top). 

Some are conscious.  For example, though I have no time to shave my legs, I read the New York Times more than 10 times a day because I worry someone in the world will get to a new story before me. 

Others are unconscious.  Everyone I know insists I am the most organized person they have ever known (and is equally convinced this is a sign of my disease.  Is it, I wonder? ).  Yet I think that if I were truly organized, I would not constantly be looking for my keys, wallet, credit card bill, cats, husband, etc.  And this is not age-related.  I have been losing things religiously since I can remember.  The fact is I have an unconscious and compulsive losing habit.

(Tangent: I swore off gambling at the age of 18 when I lost a $2 bet at Oaklawn.  I said to myself, "If I lose this two dollars, I will never gamble again."  There's your proof that I'm pretty good at keeping promises.  Unfortunately, I don't need horse races, casinos or the dog track in order to lose lots of money.  I've found other, more convenient ways, to wit:  leaving it on a desk in the library or overnight in my unlocked car, lending it to old friends, buying artichokes in the dead of winter at $3 a pop only to forget they were in the fridge until it was too late, ETC. with a capital E, T, and C.  End Tangent.)   

I have accepted the things I cannot change (my addiction to The Times), so now it's time to have the courage to change the things I can.  Thus, I give you the list of items lost and still lost or lost and then found for this week—my attempt to kick losing things. 

Item One:  Keys.  Lost about fifteen minutes.  Found on top of the file cabinet in my study.  An obvious place to look, but I wandered the house aimlessly in search of them, nevertheless.

Item Two:  Denim jacket.  Lost exactly 30 minutes (I was curious).  Found in the storage room, hanging on the back of the door. 

Item Three:  A red bandana.  Lost about four days.  Still looking.  This is what I tie around my head to soak up any wayward Rogaine.  Now, I don't have to have it, but I ask you, what would have inevitably happened if I had gone the wig route, instead? 

Item Four:  A new grill burner.  Probably lost (or actually installed?) two years ago when I put it in a place where I would remember (ha!).  I gave my husband the project of replacing it on Friday.  This is Monday, and we still can't find the "new" one.   

Item Five:  The instructions to a battery charger.  Lost about five minutes.  Found after I realized I had put them away…in order to put them away (that's not a typo). 

Item Six:  A thing I can't remember.  Still lost because I told my husband I wasn't looking for anything else for the rest of the weekend.  I just couldn't take it anymore and, apparently, decided the problem merited a bit of denial. 

Item Seven:  My last nerve.  If you find it, I need it back, quick!  It's highly strung, kind of purplish, and makes a constant sizzling sound.  You can contact me through the shoutbox to your right.  Oh, yeah, and handle with care; it bites. 

April 25, 2008:  Bartrean Dawn...and Dusk

Bartrean Dawn: Written on a Summer Morning Circa 1998

I woke at dawn this morning to a quiet house and to Bart sitting at the foot of the bed staring fixedly out the bedroom window.  The sky was gray with clouds, and the rising sun cast a strange orange pall. I whispered over the sheets, “Boo?”  He didn’t turn his head or even switch his tail.  He just sat transfixed.

I moved to lie down next to him and looked outside for the thing that had his attention.  The thought occurred to me, “He longs to be outside—where cats belong.  I should free him.”  This is a dalliance I worry myself with often, but once outside, Bart doesn’t seem too eager for freedom: he eats a little grass, slinks next to the house suspiciously, and seems happy to come back in. 

No, Bart was searching for something else in the shadows of the gray morning.

There’s this place.  It’s somewhere, but it’s nowhere.  It’s real, but it can’t be seen.  One step, and I find it; another—and it’s gone.  It fades elusively from my determined footsteps.  The more I ache for it, the more it evades me.  Bart was looking for it, too, and for those few moments, it was there.  We watched as the silent reverie came and then left. 

Melancholy is the sadness you don’t want to shake. 

Bartrean Dusk

April 11, 2008 was the last day I would ever experience "Bartrean Dawn."  Long ago, when I read Derrida's thoughts on absence, I understood what he meant by its "presence" intellectually.  But only death can make it possible to feel the absolute, palpable presence of absence:  There is where Bart slept.  There is where he ate.  There is where he complained loudly about the water not being fresh.  There…but not there…anymore.

I worry that the gateway to those elusive moments where I found "that place" is now forever closed because the companion who so often opened the gates is gone.  I remember him like he's still here.  The awful drawing of him I attempted while finishing my minor in art, the time he stole my mother's bacon from the breakfast table, holding him as a kitten in my arms and thinking I could never love another creature as much as I loved him at that moment.

To end this period of mourning for these losses—Bart and the little reveries—I only need to forget.   But I don't want to forget these things.  I feel I owe him remembering.  And, maybe, in remembering, I will happen upon "that place" again. 

So I return to my melancholy, to the knowledge that we are all here but not here, to the understanding that the second we find each other, we'll lose each other again.

The sadness you don't want to shake.   

April 23, 2003:  Clowns

Our president has finally found a way to handle the abysmal U.S. economy:  Go on Deal or No Deal, albeit, not as a contestant (I wonder what he would do with his winnings?). 

Am I the only person who sees this as the most callous act of nose-thumbing in Presidential history?  Or have our newspaper editors become so jaded by Dubya's obliviousness to our current state of affairs that they are no longer surprised?     

*beating head against door jamb*

Just 271 days to go, just 271 days to go, just 271 days to go...

April 21, 2003:  The Morel of the Story

The best way to enjoy an Arkansas spring is to eat it.  So we set out for my in-laws' in search of the elusive morel mushroom and the much-more-abundant fiddlehead fern.  It struck me, as we headed north into the mountains, that we were going back in recent time.  The foliage turned from newly leafy green to just budding, and the dogwoods and redbuds were once again in bloom. 

I didn't mind a repeat of that. 

My husband had us marching up and down steep hillsides in search of the treasure for three solid but beautiful days—80 degrees, not a cloud in the sky, surrounded by titmice, chickadees, cardinals, nuthatches, woodpeckers—raucously celebrating the pleasant weather.  With all the exercise, we paid for our decadence before we indulged in it.  But it was worth every ache and sore muscle.

And here's the decadence:  Chicken breasts with an Asbach glaze and a   morel cream sauce; fiddlehead ferns sautéed with butter, garlic, and parsley; lightly steamed asparagus; and a glass of pinot grigio. 

A weekend of hiking topped off by the best meal I've had in a long.  Life doesn't get any better.

Animal Sightings:
6 deer
2 raccoons
2 bullfrogs
1 turkey 
1 red fox (The Foxy Lady of Witts Springs)
1 drowned copperhead (a victim of recent flooding)
1 salamander
1 lizard
1 pileated woodpecker

April 20, 2003: Ch...Ch...Ch...Changes!

Things were getting waaaay too disorganized around here.  There was just too much stuff to note, track, ping, and follow up on.  So I had to make some changes.  I'm getting rid of all the channels and just "blogging" because it's the most straightforward way to maintain the RSS feed. 

I regret the inconvenience (to everyone who reads this, but especially to myself). 

As a token of apology, I will be posting, posting, posting in the next few days:  food stuff, random thoughts, a eulogy (possibly, if I can do it eloquently, which I probably can't, so don't hold your breath),  lists of items observed, lists of items wished for, and natural adventures. (That last bit sounds like a nudist publication, doesn't it.  Meh, I'll leave it alone in a shameless effort to "up" my Google page ranking .)  I will also be re-arranging and cataloging all the old content to make subjects easy to find.

Stay tuned! 

April 13, 2008: Henpecked

Yeah, I've been on hiatus.  But I'm back in full swing.  So back off. 

This weekend I took care of the animals belonging to my Friends-of-Lost-Key- Fame.  It had rained for nearly four days straight, culminating in the threat of long-track tornadoes on the final day—the day I first went out to their place.

(Tangent: Every time I've had an appointment to get my haircut since January, NOAA has issued a tornado watch.  Not only that, but when I look at the national news during these watches, it seems that the newscasters are zeroing in on MY HOUSE as the most likely area of potential threat and warning me (Your Sans) that a tornado is expected within 100 feet of my current position [no matter where I am] sometime within the next 24 hours.  Maybe I, and my hair stylist, should start issuing our own alerts?  End Tangent). 

Having milked cows, saddled horses, and slopped pigs in my lifetime, I know what a chicken yard is like after a long hard pour.  Unfortunately, one forgets when one hasn't been around the farm for a while.  I stepped into the run with the full confidence of a naïve city girl in my cute blue moc-crocs and silver studded capri-length jeans.  I was feeling young and broncky in my 40 years, ready for some farm-fresh eggs.

And the next thing I knew, I was on my ass, humbled, and covered in chicken shit.  As if they knew what was coming, about seven chickens and a Pretty Rooster had cleared a place for me to fall (with nary a cackle of dismay issuing from their beaks—a fact I find deeply suspicious).  I sat there in the muck looking at all of them cocking their heads, as if to say, "Silly, Monkey, 'tricks' are for kids." 

At least chickens have a sense of humor.  

Expecting my reward, I managed to pick my old, tired self up and walk into the coop.  My eyes followed a line from the furthest-left nest box down each box...until...they ran of the black-mottled chickens. 

Posted up. 

With one egg in the nest and another obviously on its way. 

My Great Aunt Cordy taught me how to use a stick to hold a nesting hen's head back while I gingerly reached under the chicken to grab the eggs (a lesson I'm pretty sure was meant as a practical joke on her older sister's first grand-child [moi, Your Sans]:  my Great-Great Grandfather Bill was notorious for these jokes, and his grandchildren, of which she was one, were his most-treasured victims). 

I was not in the mood for any more fuss.  Besides, I could tell poor Henny Penny had already been harassed enough by the previously-mentioned Pretty Rooster.  She didn't need any more trouble from me.  So I refreshed the pellets and the water, threw out the scratch, and got out of there. 

Only to notice that I had cut my hand on chicken wire and bled all over my cute moc-crocs.   

Blood AND crap.  That's what I call "double-yolked goodness."      

April 13, 2008: Crawfish Étouffée

I spent some time (April 1-5) in New Orleans recently—the first time I've been there since Katrina.  I was so inspired by the crawfish étouffée I had at Arnaud's Rémoulade (a little offshoot of the famous restaurant), that I had to give it a try. 

By the way, several people have asked about the condition of the city.  I was unable to tour the lower ninth ward, which was the hardest hit of the areas, because of time constraints.  So I really don't know how the outlying areas are faring.  The French Quarter is still its exotic self.  Canal Street has been totally cleaned up (all the shady businesses are gone; there's even a Saks Fifth Avenue [!] near the river).  In four days, I was only asked for money by two different panhandlers.  And I was still able to go on a fantastic all-seafood diet for very little money.  Oh, yeah, and Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop (oldest bar in the U.S.) is still serving its real-fruit-juice Hurricanes in candle-lit austerity.  I have never been able to get enough of this one city, ever.  If you've never been, go.  If you haven't been in a long time, return (and invite me).  Ignore all the silly warnings

From my research and testing, this is what you need in order to make bona fide étouffée—a lovely amalgamation of French and American cooking—and perfect for a Web site titled in French, written by an American of the Southern bent.  Read the recipe all the way through before you buy ingredients.  Then, read it again before you start making étouffée; then, read it again as you're cooking.  And, finally, laissez les bons temps roulez! 

Two stalks celery (or 1/2 cup)
One small onion (or 1/2 cup)
3/4 medium-sized green pepper (or 1/2 cup)
3 large scallions (or 1/2 cup)
2 T butter

Melt the butter over medium-low heat.  Add the vegetables and stir frequently until soft.  Take off heat and reserve. 

8 cloves garlic, skinned
1 10 oz can Rotel-Hot (tomatoes with habanera chilies)
4 whole tomatoes of the canned variety (reserve the liquid and extra tomatoes for spaghetti sauce—an upcoming recipe?)
1/4 c tomato paste
1/4 c Worcestershire Sauce
1 T Tabasco
5 sprigs fresh Italian parsley (leaves and stems)
2 t dried basil
2 t dried oregano
1 t dried thyme
1 t paprika
1/2 t ground allspice
1/2 t ground cloves
1/4 t ground cayenne (trust me at this point)
freshly cracked black pepper 'till your arm gets tired (again, trust me)

Place all ingredients in a food processor.  Blend into a nice, somewhat-runny paste.  Reserve.  You'll use this to taste, freezing the rest in 1/4- 1/2 cup increments, as you choose.  And, yes, it's freaking hot.  Get over it. 

1 cup vegetable oil (except olive oil because its smoking point is too low)
1 cup all purpose flour

This is the most important part of any kind of cajun/creole cuisine.  Master this, and you've got everything else down.  It's simple enough to be deceiving.  Follow my instructions to the letter.

The reason you're making this much roux is because it will be easier in the long run.  You can freeze the portion you don't use in the recipe below —just thaw, pour off any excess oil, and warm gently before using in your next recipe. 

Now, heat your cast-iron skillet (I'm not liable for any instructions given here, but I'm especially not liable if you don't use cast-iron—the point is your pan must have a thick bottom) at medium-high until it's hot.  Add the oil.  Then, add the flour.  Crumble any lumps into the oil and spread the flour out evenly. 

With the amounts used here, you should be able to get away with stirring the mixture frequently, rather than constantly, but don't go surfing the Internet or watching TV while the roux is cooking.  If you decide to make only what the recipe calls for (1/4 c oil + 1/4 c flour), you'll have to stir constantly.  Don't leave the skillet even for a minute. It's important to use a wooden spoon (preferably a flat-headed spatula type) and to scrape at the bottom of the skillet to get up any thickened flour as often as possible (if yours is a gas range, pay special attention to that circle where the heat is concentrated). 

Cook and stir for 45 minutes to 1 1/2 hours.  Seriously.  When the roux turns a peanut-butter color, remove from the heat and keep stirring.  Then, move it back and forth over the heat until it reaches a caramel color.  Once it has turned caramel, move it to another cool skillet and keep stirring.  It will turn dark brown via its own heat. 

If you start getting black bits during the caramel to dark-brown stage of cooking, you've probably ruined the roux.  Taste it.  If it tastes burned, start all over.   If, however, you've got a well-used skillet, you'll probably get black bits—old bacon, ham, bits of sautéed vegetables—during the first part of cooking, when the flour is still white.  As long as the flour hasn't sat in the skillet over the core area of the burner and turned black—rejoice at the extra flavor you will be adding to your roux.  Think of it as a reduction and gaze in wonder at how slick that iron will be when the process is over.  Beautiful science.  

The Rest
1/2 c roux, above
2 c chicken broth, heated to medium-hot (hopefully homemade)
All the mirepoix, above
Cooked rice (I use brown Thai jasmine rice—in keeping with the original theme of this channel)
1/4 c seasoning, above
1 lb crawfish, fully cooked (or crab or shrimp or even a combination thereof)

I like to cut up all the vegetables first (for the mirepoix and seasoning), sauté the mirepoix while I'm compiling the seasoning and cooking the rice, and then focus all my attention on the roux alone once everything else is done.  Once the roux has cooked, I let it cool, pour off the excess oil, measure what I need, and transfer it into another skillet, while dividing the leftovers into approximately 1/2 cup increments for freezing.   

After the appropriate amount of roux has been transferred, warm it gently (if you allowed it to cool), and add the chicken broth to the skillet. Stir until thick.  Add the mirepoix.  Stir.  Then, add the rice.  Stir.  Add about 1/4 c. of the seasoning (or to taste).  Stir.  Once everything has combined nicely, ladle into bowls and add cooked crawfish as garnish (about a handful per bowl).  Serve with a bowl of extra seasoning for guests to add at their pleasure, with the appropriate warning that "this stuff is HOT!"

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About Me
I teach; cook; write; hike; read; dally; canoe; eat; write; rock 'n roll; eat some more; tumble and fall; dawdle; complain; bento; write; organize; watch movies; ignore e-mail;  renovate; write; curse computers; brew my tea dark and bitter; herd cats; live in Arkansas; Plato, Derrida, and rhetoric (yes, those are verbs); remain overly cautious; persuade; imbibe; GTD; and oh, yeah, I write a little. 

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All images and text copyright © 2004-2008 by Jennifer Deering.  All rights reserved.
E-mail me at sanslenom at msn dot com.

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