January 2018

Dinner for the Ladies

I have an excuse for not marching on January 20th. I was cooking dinner for five women.

Well, see, i was jonesing for some of my Texas chili, which i’d not cooked since summer before last in Petaluma, and the only way i’d get any was to cook dinner for some people who’d eat both peppers and pork.

Fortunately, i already knew a couple of people who liked my chili, my friends Ruth and Pam, so all i needed was three more diners to fill the table.  And since the women in my new apartment complex have been way more friendly than the sourpuss men, i figured i’d just invite only women.

I’ve been here only since last August, but i already know lots of enjoyable women in the complex, and when i started asking them in order of which pleasant ones i saw first, only one declined owing to the menu before i’d found three.  And of course by now everyone in the village but those four knows they weren’t invited.

So what did i serve those who made the cut?

The traditional accompaniment for chili is beer, and i had on hand Anchor Steam, Heinekin, and a 22 oz. bottle of Naughty Aud Imperial Stout that i’d smuggled down from Petaluma.  Also, i figured i’d open this bottle of 2006 Fetzer Valley Oak Gewürztraminer as the guests arrived since it would go well with the salad and also with the chili as an alternative to beer.

Since we’re not French, i started with my Rocket, Blackberry, and Gorgonzola Salad.  Yes, the fringe benefit of our having got hardly any rain so far this season is that some of our farmers are still bringing limited amounts of blackberries and raspberries to market.  And of course the farmers’ markets are full of beautiful rocket and wall rocket (popularly called “arugula” and “wild arugula”).  For the gorgonzola, to keep it local i substituted Point Reyes Blue.  For the vinaigrette i used walnut oil and my blackberry vinegar.

The main course, of course, was the chili, which i call by its Mexican name in my recipe, Chile con Carne.   For the meat i bought five pounds of pierna sin huesos at the Lucky Pork Market on Mission between 22nd and 23rd St.  Yeah yeah, i was being disloyal to Casa Guadalupe, just south of 25th St., where for years i’ve bought produce not available at my farmers’ markets and my stewing hens.  They also have pierna in their pork section, but alas, they sell it sliced in fillets.  At Lucky Pork Market, the butcher just cut a five pound chunk off a big, well trimmed fresh ham.  When i arrived at that neighborhood forty years ago, Lucky Pork was a Chinese meat market.  By now, the only thing Chinese about it is the name, and the signage is all in Spanish.  And the other reason i went to Lucky Pork is that shortly after i moved back here in August i went to my favorite meat market on Mission St. only to discover that the whole damn building (and a big one it was, several storefronts on Mission and stretching all the way through to Bartlet St.) was gone.  Condos.

I also served fresh cranberry beans with chopped onion and carrot, and to preserve truth in advertising i told the diners that i’d bought the beans fresh last fall at the Heart of the City Farmers’ Market, spread them out on newspapers for a day on my livingroom floor to help them relax,  shelled them easily since they were no longer putting up a struggle the next day, blanched them, and froze them in plastic bags so i’d have them to serve throughout the winter and spring.  Treated that way, they are indistinguishable from fresh.

For a green vegetable, i did Braised Green Garlic, a dish that has surprised and delighted everyone i’ve served it to.  I varied the recipe this time by using toasted sesame oil instead of butter.

And of course i served cornbread.  This has always been popular, but it’s even more so since i tweaked Grandmother’s recipe by slightly increasing the wheat flour and sugar.

I warned the guests to pace themselves to allow room for dessert but also noted that the dessert was light, my Flourless Almond Torte.  Something Happened this time, and it wasn’t as light as usual, but the guests knew no better and gobbled it up.  Also, to entertain them i spread their slices with my raspberry jelly and then topped that with quark.  By that point in the evening, i had them eating out of my hand, since they’d all eaten something for the first time and liked it, so even though none of ’em had eaten quark, they were all game to try it.  My kind of guest!

With the torte i served that old standby, Quady Essencia Orange Muskat, the perfect down home alternative to a pricey Trockenbeerenauslese.

I have to say that this was one of those wonderful occasions when everything i cooked turned out just as i’d wanted it and the people i invited turned out to hit it off famously with each other.  So it was a wonderfully enjoyable evening.

By next week i’ll have recovered and will start thinking about doing another dinner.  Until then i’ll be feasting my way through the leftover chili.  To soak up some of the chili i’ve bought a huge garnet yam, a flavor combination of the gods.  Somehow the sweet starchiness of the yam counterbalances the savory piquancy of the chili.  To take it over the top, add a dollop of quark or skyr.

Meanwhile, we’ve all read a great deal about the gentrification of the city, and certainly there’s been a enormous amount of upgrading since i moved here in ’75.  Still, a few pockets remain untouched.  Here’s one at the corner of Mission and 17th St.



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Tax Reform

I thrashed around for some time gathering notes and linking to substantiating articles on our President’s great tax reform package passed by Congress last December as its Christmas present to the nation.  I tried to detail the winners and losers in the years to come, not only the tranches of our population in terms of relative wealth – the top versus the bottom percentages –  but also the various types of businesses – mom and pop groceries as opposed to big banks.  I took a close look at how our new tax structure will affect our national debt, formerly of great concern to the Republican party.

Oh yes, i gathered quite a pile of notes.

And then i blundered onto a graphic that utterly undermined my intellectual endeavor, one worth way more than a thousand words.  I cringe with shame over not being able to find the name of the author, but it looks like George Grosz has been resurrected.

Oh dear.  An early reader has got back to me that the graphic doesn’t display for him.  I’m trying again to insert it in a form that all readers can see.




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The Rat’s Reward

I’ve been a volunteer in medical studies for decades, so i have a long history as a lab rat, but it is very rare that they give you any information about your results, if for no other reason than that all the better studies are double blind, so they don’t know any information about you.  Your reward is getting to feel good about yourself as a volunteer and, in my case, getting to brag for decades about being in the cohort of volunteers in the late seventies who participated in the development of the vaccine for hepatitis B.

In recent years, though, a number of the studies i’ve been in have offered a nominal payment, so after you’ve completed the tests, they give you an envelope with a twenty dollar bill in it.   I always tell ’em i’m not doing this for the money, but somehow i always end up pocketing the envelope.

I’m currently volunteering in a VA medical study of the mental decline of veterans with AIDS, which has been quite interesting.  Last fall the doctor running the study offered to do an analysis of the current state of the mental health of any of us who wanted it, perhaps out of gratitude but probably because this would give her more detailed information about a subset of her subjects.

In the case of this particular study, i’d already been handsomely rewarded.  They had given me an Apple I-Pad to use every six months at home for the follow-up testing…and to keep after the study has run its course in a couple of years.  So the offer of something more was bit embarrassing.

Not so embarrassing that i refused her offer.

Even though my internist is up to the minute on all the latest AIDS developments and provides me superb care, it would still be nice to get a second opinion, one focused on my mental health.  So i said yes and set up the appointment.  Three weeks ago i drove down to the doctor’s office in the Palo Alto VA hospital, handed over the paperwork for my latest blood tests, and did a couple of hours of mental tests under the supervision of one of her assistants.

Then i saw the doctor, who performed a physical exam, put me through some physical tests, gave me a couple more mental tests herself, and then grilled me at some length to determine my current grasp on reality.  I knew who was president and could name my local politicians.  I also knew what day it was and where i was although i lost points for not being able to name the county Palo Alto was in.  Which i still gnash my teeth over.

I couldn’t help noticing that she had clearly worked in medical research all her career.  Bedside manner?  Oh please, just the facts.  When she was done, she briskly thanked me for being one of her volunteers and told me she’d send me a copy of her written analysis.

I got it the other day.  The result:  I show no signs of Alzheimer’s disease and my only cognitive impairment at this time is the normal decline to be expected in a man my age.

This is quite a relief since i’ll no longer view forgetting some trivial something as Alzheimer’s wingèd chariot drawing near.

And besides, i can now prance around calling myself a very stable genius.  Ummm, or at least very stable.

Meanwhile, here’s a swath of sideways January sun on some Market Street bamboo.

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