Wednesday, June 30, 2010

They Come In A Rush

Well, the tomatoes are in rush mode now. What you see are what has come off the vines since Sunday. You wait and wait for the first ripe tomato. Which one will it be? Is it perfectly ripe and ready to pick? Eating it is a near religious experience. The first BLT, the first tomato and cheddar sandwich, the first Caprese salad, the first fresh tomato with pasta, the first eggplant Parmesan with fresh tomato, the first pizza Margherita...but then it happens. The deluge. Look what I will be trying to get into jars tomorrow.

It seems like a lot of work, and it is, but when you can go to the pantry in the dead of winter and pull out a jar of your own fresh made sauce you remember why you work so hard in the summer.

And no, the bananas did not come from the garden but note the small bowl of gravel potatoes. They are absolutely brilliant pan roasted with just a little EVOO and salt and pepper.

Putting By Pickles

Another batch of pickles done. These are a bit of an experiment. They are dills but I soaked the spears in hydrated lime water for 24 hours. You do this to make crisp sweet pickles so I am going to see if it works to heighten the crispness of dills. None of my dill pickle recipes suggest liming so it will be an interesting test. I only have a few cucumber vines but they seem to be up to the task right now. Goddess knows what I will do with all the cucumbers when all the hills I planted the other day start producing. All the plants are already up with all the heat and moisture so it should be but a month or so until the cukes start coming. Seeing has how the new plants number about 10 times what I have producing now (if not more) I'm liable to be inundated.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Miracle Whip Redemption

I grew up eating Miracle Whip instead of mayonnaise but gave up Miracle Whip when they changed to using HFCS instead of sugar. Madam still uses it so we have it around. I noticed on the jar in the fridge now that sugar is back on the ingredients and HFCS is missing. Good for Kraft Foods. I still like mayo for a lot of things but it is nice to see MW is back as an option.

I mention Miracle Whip because I used it today on the first BLT using fresh from the garden tomato. Think sliced crispy bacon and a thick slice of Cherokee Purple tomato on homemade sourdough with a bit of romaine for crunch and lots of Miracle Whip and freshly ground black pepper. Arguably a BLT is one of the best sandwiches going but it really shines with fresh tomatoes.

Hoover Is Back

Well, the early news out of the G20 heralds much misery for a lot of folks both here and in other parts of the world, especially Europe. The news includes a pledge from the largest nations on Earth to halve their budget deficits by 2013. This misplaced austerity can't come a worse time for the global economy. Krugman even brought up the "Third Depression" in his latest column. Most everyone with any credentials in economics sees the shadow of at least a double dip recession, if not full blown depression, as this scenario unfolds. It's going to get very ugly.

The reality is that such "shock-and-awe" fiscal austerity has a strongly deflationary effect. If these actions to prematurely address deficits trigger a deflationary spiral(which it likely will) we will be helpless to do anything to alleviate it. We are at the 'zero bound' with  baseline interest rates already effectively near 0%. We are out of room to affect things with monetary policy and that is bad news.

Something that doesn't get spoken to much is that such unwarranted austerity has a very negative implact on the social contract. The historic bonds of trust and reciprocal help are severely strained when so many of the social norms are severed in acts of fiscal whiplash. Free and democratic societies rely on the lubrication provided by the progressive programs of assistance that are threatened by this hysterical austerity. Couple this with the continuing massive and long term unemployment and the potential for social unrest and you have a formula that endangers the very foundations of democracies here and abroad.

This week will tell the tale so watch the news out of Toronto. We shall see if Hoover has truly risen once again. Make sure to keep an eye on the stock markets as well. The 'Haves' and 'Big Money' are on the horns of a dilmema. They are torn between screwing the little guys one more time (their favorite pastime) or stuffing more excess cash into their pockets. Tough choice and it will be interesting to see which way they swing.

While we are talking misery it might be fun to point out some of the most interesting facts in the new CBO data on changes in incomes and taxes for different income groups:

* In 2007, the share of after-tax income going to the top 1 percent hit its highest level (17.1 percent) since 1979, while the share going to the middle one-fifth of Americans shrank to its lowest level during this period (14.1 percent).

* Between 1979 and 2007, average after-tax incomes for the top 1 percent rose by 281 percent after adjusting for inflation — an increase in income of $973,100 per household — compared to increases of 25 percent ($11,200 per household) for the middle fifth of households and 16 percent ($2,400 per household) for the bottom fifth.

* If all groups’ after-tax incomes had grown at the same percentage rate over the 1979-2007 period, middle-income households would have received an additional $13,042 in 2007 and families in the bottom fifth would have received an additional $6,010.

* In 2007, the average household in the top 1 percent had an income of $1.3 million, up $88,800 just from the prior year; this $88,800 gain is well above the total 2007 income of the average middle-income household ($55,300).

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Already Tomatoes

No garden work today except harvest. Picked enough paste type tomatoes over the last couple of days to warrant a canning run. Just a few pints of chopped tomatoes. Enough other tomatoes to make a pot of sauce for some eggplant parm for dinner since we also have a surplus of Japanese eggplant. Unfortunately falling behind on the green beans, yellow squash and patty pans so I have to figure out something for all that.

Madam noticed a sale at Target in the paper this morning for a 3.5 cubic foot chest type freezer for $129. Couldn't pass it up as the basement refrigerator freezer is already bursting with peas and green beans. I am not a big fan of freezing yellow squash but it is functional in a casserole. Currently staying ahead of the okra but with the heat it is coming on strong and some of it will find its way into the freezer as well. Again, not ideal but usable in stews and soups.

Worked all day yesterday putting pickling cucumbers and a few more squash in where the potatoes were. I did ten hills of cukes and then 6 of zucchini and more yellow crookneck. The zucchini didn't do well this year and we have only had a couple so I thought a second planting justified. The rest of the winter squash are doing OK except for the French potimorron which have failed for two years in a row. It must just get too hot too early for them around here and I won't waste space on them again. Also put in 6 hills of pie pumpkins or sugar pumpkins. I tried to buy one last year to make pies at Thanksgiving and Whole Foods wanted nearly $4 a pound for them. It would have been about 12 bucks for two pies. I used Libby's.

Off to finish reducing the tomatoes for sauce and then grill some aubergine. Madam loves eggplant in all its forms but I could take it or leave it, though Parmesan is not too bad. It wouldn't be so bad if it was nutritious in any way but it is pretty lacking in the nutrients. Enough olive oil, garlic, sauce and cheese will make it much more acceptable.

The picture is from our stay in the French countryside with our English friends in August of 08. Those are the potimorron squash that looked so nice on the wall that I have failed to successfully grow here in Georgia.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Potato Day

I've been trying to ignore the fact that the potatoes are ready to be dug. It's hot and muggy and there is 120 feet of potatoes just waiting. I might pretend for a little longer but I actually need the space for my late season pickling cucumbers and they need to go in now. So that is where I will be for the next few hours. Madam is all ready to help. It is a great childhood memory...following Grandad along the rows as he forks the potato plants over and you get to dig out each gem. Big ones small ones and even tiny marble sized ones, it was always great fun. Doing the digging, not so much but the reward of new potatoes and fresh green beans for dinner helps a little. Could have rain by early afternoon so at least I can't stay out there all day...that's something.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Had to Be Done

I'm glad to see the President do the right thing with respect to General McChrystal.  Even though it is not acceptable to have a commanding general's in open disagreement with the president having a general and his key staff actually mocking the President is an unpardonable sin. If President Obama had left McChrystal in command it would have sorely weakened his status as commander-in-chief. The 'war' in Afghanistan is not one you can win. The Taliban and their drastic Islam is embedded in huge swaths of the population and they will never be gone. There is no Al-Qeada presence in the country and the Taliban won't allow them to reestablish it. We need to disengage ourselves with the utmost haste. The sooner we admit this the better.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Old Fashioned Pinto Bean Soup

One of the commenters (Bustedknuckles) is looking for a recipe for old fashioned bean soup. Here is mine but if you have one you like please post it. This is a simple soup but there are two 'secrets' to a great bean soup. Soak the beans overnight in salted water then drain and rinse using fresh water for the cooking and finally remove a cup of so of the cooked beans at the end and either mash them by hand or run them through a blender or food processor to make a 'gravy' to add back into the rest of the beans. A lot of old recipes for beans warn not to salt the soaking water but it is somewhat like brining chicken or turkey and it really helps the beans maintain their integrity when cooking.

1 pound dried pinto beans soaked over night in 2 quarts of water with 2 tablespoons of kosher salt then drained and rinsed
8 cups water (or a little more)
2 tablespoons butter (you can use oil if you insist)
1 cup finely chopped celery
1 cup finely chopped carrot (optional but I sometimes add it to sweeten the soup a little)
1 cup finely chopped onion
2 bay leaves
1 clove garlic minced

1 - 2 tablespoons chili powder according to your preference (I use Penzey's regular chili powder and I only need one... it's not supposed to be chili after all)

In a large heavy bottomed pot or ideally a Dutch oven saute the onion, garlic and celery (and carrots if using) in the butter until tender. Add the chili powder to the pan and saute with the vegetables for a minute or so until you can smell it. Add the beans and water along with the bay leaves. Bring to a low bowl and the lower the heat to a bare simmer. Cook covered for two and a half or three hours stirring occasionally and adding additional water if necessary. The beans should be nicely tender but not mushy. If you are using very old beans it might take a little longer. Once the beans are done remove a cup or so and either mash with a fork (my grandmother's method) or run them through the food processor. Return the mashed/blended beans to the pot and check the consistency. If you want a thicker soup then repeat the mashing bit until you get what you want. Don't forget to remove the bay leaves.
This makes a big pot of soup that will easily serve 8 especially if you make a big pan of cornbread to go along.

Note: I have also added a cup of smoked ham to this just to add the smokiness but you could also add

1 teaspoon ground cumin when you add the chili powder to bring some smokiness to the party and there is always adobo sauce as well. I kind of like the all vegan idea and I almost always add the cumin instead of the ham. Not that I have anything against ham mind you.

If you are in the mood for beans here are some other good bean recipes that I have posted over the years are Cajun style red beans and Hearty Bean Soup and Tuscan Bean Stew

Monday, June 21, 2010

Summer Solstice

Happy Summer Solstice. Today the days begin to get shorter again. In the U.S. we consider this the first day of summer but traditionally other cultures considered this the middle of summer. Regardless it is a power day for pagans and Wiccans so everyone who cares to, celebrate Litha with spirit.

I managed to get the grass mowed this morning before it got too hot. Got some beans and squash picked early this morning plus a few plum tomatoes. Very little gardening is going to go on while it is in the mid 90's. At 1pm today it had already reached 92 F here in the Northern burbs of Atlanta. Madam and I started a batch of old fashioned Southern limed pickles from 7 pounds of cukes yesterday so today will be the canning of same. Shame to heat up the kitchen during the hottest part of the day but there is no other time to get it done.

Oh, and a belated Happy Father's Day to all you who qualify. I celebrated by slow cooking a couple of slabs of ribs on the grill yesterday. I've decided that a St. Louis cut is the best all around for cooking Memphis style. More meat, cheaper than 'baby backs' and the fact that they are heftier makes it easier to control the heat while cooking. Five hours at about 230F did the trick yesterday. I used the Weber kettle instead of the smoker since I was only doing two slabs and there is enough room to keep the ribs off the direct heat. The Weber smoker does a fine job and since it has two levels and the water pan to block the heat it is the tool to use when you have a lot of stuff to cook like a couple of Boston butts or a half dozen slabs of ribs but it is a pain to clean and not worth the trouble when just doing a small job.

Anyhow, off to can some pickles.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Dilled Green Beans

Today encompassed the other part of a big garden. Putting by, as my grandmother used to call it. I picked about 12 pounds of green beans yesterday and I had skipped a day so some were more mature than I like for just eating in a quick saute. The best thing, in my humble opinion, is to pickle the bigger ones and I really like pickled green beans. We managed 12 pints of beans from about 5 pounds of the beans and the rest we blanched and are freezing.

Here is the recipe my family uses for making "Dilly Beans" as we call them.

4 wide mouthed pint canning cars with rings and lids
2 lbs of green beans tipped and strung as necessary
1 tsp cayenne pepper
4 cloves of garlic peeled
4 largish sprigs of dill
2 1/2 cups of water
2 1/2 cups of white vinegar
1/4 cup of kosher salt

Bring the water, vinegar and salt to a boil. Have your water bath canner at the boil. Soak your jars in the boiling water for a couple of minutes to sterilize and heat your ring and lids in a small pan of water. Pack the beans lengthwise into hot pint jars (wide mouthed are best) leaving about a quarter inch of head space. Make sure you get them in tight. To each pint add 1/4 tsp cayenne, sprig of dill and a garlic clove. Fill the jars to within a 1/4 inch of the top with the hot vinegar/water/salt mixture. Seal and process in the hot water bath for 10 minutes.

These pickles need to rest for a few weeks before you eat them but they are great on a relish tray but I just eat them out of the jar and use them just like pickles. I've still got four pints left from last year's canning that will hold me over for a month or so until these are ripe.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Pig Boy on Hungry Kids

Not to be outdone  by the likes of Alice Waters, Rachel Ray and Michelle Obama, Rush Limbaugh has an answer for all those kids that are going to miss the nutrition provided by school lunches while on summer holiday.

Rush Limbaugh: Let them eat dumpster scraps. What a class act.

h/t BadTux

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Medico Day

Been doing the doctor thing today. Won't know all the details until the blood work comes back but it was very red so I think its fine. Madam Doctor insisted that I also have an EKG when I explained about the health insurance and she gave me a referral for a colonoscopy...oh boy!. I'll have to see if I can get it scheduled before the end of the month so that I can get the insurance to cover it. Who knows how much it would cost me otherwise. I've had one but it was just the lower 1/3 type so she wants all the plumbing examined. Funny really since if it does show anything untoward I won't be able to have anything done about it without insurance. Whatever. One good thing is that she loaded me up on the one prescription drug I take that doesn't have a generic...Actos for blood sugar. Without insurance it is going to set me back $240 a month so that one may be on the chopping block until Medicare in 5 years. You can get a generic in Canada and Europe but, of course, not here in the good old U.S. but we do have the best medical care in the world right?

I also had the eyeballs checked and they are looking OK as well. My vision has even improved a hair since my last visit. I ordered new lenses for the glasses since my current ones are breaking down and some of the coating is peeling. They offer you a super duper coating for the lenses but it doubles the price and just the lenses are nearly 200 bucks. I have good titanium frames that aren't really showing the 3 years wear so lenses will do me just fine for now.

So I've had my tune-up and we'll take the no insurance ride until Medicare.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Bad Person

I guess I am a bad person. I couldn't help a little smile when I read that the 'Touchdown Jesus' monstrosity in Ohio was hit by lightning and burned quite rapidly to the ground. The church vows to rebuild but I might advise them to take the hint. That 'in your face' religiosity just irks me.

Short Term Thinking

As if we haven't already figured it out yet the NYT offers more proof that BP was ever more concerned with the bottom line than the possibility of a massive disaster.
Internal BP documents, including an e-mail message calling the well drilled by the Deepwater Horizon a “nightmare,” show a pattern of risky choices made to save time and money in the weeks before the disastrous April 20 blowout, according to a letter sent to the oil  company by the leaders of a House committee on Monday.
The leaders of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce cited five areas in which the company had made decisions that “increased the danger of a catastrophic well,” including the choice for the design of the well, preparations for and tests of the cement job and assurances that the well was properly sealed on the top.
Taken together, the documents offer the strongest case yet that BP bears much of the responsibility for the catastrophic explosion that killed 11 workers and the still-unchecked leaking of millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

Included in the bad decisions, obviously driven by short term thinking, that led to the disaster:
  1. BP saved $7 to $10 million by using a cheaper -- but less reliable -- method to complete the well casing. The so-called "tapered string" meant the well had less capacity to resist upward pressure caused by gas bubbles.
  1. BP ignored advice from Halliburton to deploy devices that would have given the well additional stability because they would have taken too long -- 10 hours -- to install.
  1. BP did not fully circulate drilling mud which would have created better conditions for doing cement work. The reason: fully circulating the drilling mud would have taken 12 hours.
  1. BP did not run a comprehensive test on the cementing job even though its own engineers had grave concerns about the quality of the cement work. Again, the reason was time: the test would have taken 12 hours.
I read somewhere that is was costing BP about a million a day to run the drilling operation on the Deepwater Horizon so if my math serves me they might have saved as much as 11 million or so with these decisions. That's not chump change in anybody's books but when you look at the long view and the results of those decisions they were monumentally dumb and no one can claim ignorance since all of these decisions went against the prevailing 'best practice'.
We've seen the result of short term thinking when it was done by the fat cats on Wall Street and  by Bush and Cheney. They, most regrettably, have not suffered the consequences of their actions but maybe BP will. And yes, I feel sorry for all the investors who will lose money but by the same token they were more than happy to cash the checks when BP was violating safety rules and common sense. Even if this disaster should bankrupt BP there are plenty of other players to step in and fill the gap and just maybe this will be a lesson learned by both big oil and the government. I am sorry to say that I don't think this will be the case. All of the 'small government 'drown it in the bathtub' types and 'free market', self regulating harpies will just keep on marching us all to hell. 

Monday, June 14, 2010

Flash Floods

It may just be my faulty memory but it sure seems to me that we are seeing more extreme weather than I ever remember. We have always had summer 'cloudbursts' but the ones lately seem harder and longer than I recollect. The flash flooding in Arkansas last week and now the flooding in Oklahoma City just seem extraordinary. Madam is on the phone right now with our friends in NW Arkansas to see how they are making out. I hope the folks in Oklahoma City and surrounds make out better than the folks in Arkansas. What a way for a peaceful holiday in the woods to end.

Very Suspcious

The report the New York Times of newly discovered mineral deposits in Afghanistan just sounds weird.

The United States has discovered nearly $1 trillion in untapped mineral deposits in Afghanistan, far beyond any previously known reserves and enough to fundamentally alter the Afghan economy and perhaps the Afghan war itself, according to senior American government officials.
The previously unknown deposits — including huge veins of iron, copper, cobalt, gold and critical industrial metals like lithium — are so big and include so many minerals that are essential to modern industry that Afghanistan could eventually be transformed into one of the most important mining centers in the world, the United States officials believe.
While it is great for those interested I think I am justly suspicious of this. It sounds very much like the old 'WMD ploy' . I can just see 'protecting the Afghans while they create a mining industry' as very convenient excuse for maintaining a significant military presence there. We should be very alert that this is not used to allow the U.S. to back off its commitment to get the hell out of Dodge ASAP. Those minerals have been there a long time and will be there long after we leave and the Afghans have their civil war. Once all the brouhaha is over the Chinese can come in and get the mining underway.

Still Flowing

Well the oil is still flowing from the well in the Gulf and news reports this morning indicate that not only is the well not under control but that the sea floor around the well is fractured and leaking oil and gas as well. This is not good. If the well structure is damaged, as is believed, then even the relief wells will have limited effect in controlling the oil coming out and now we hear that even the relief wells may not be functioning until December. The news just keeps getting worse and we know we don't know what BP is not telling us.

It is nice to see the President Obama getting more engaged and threatening BP with escrow requirements but the reality is that no matter how much money is poured on this mess nothing is going to repair the damage to the ecosystem and lives along the coast and who knows what else. Whole species of turtle may be gone forever and an unknown number of fish, shellfish and bird populations may never recover. We like to think that enough money will solve any problem but the harsh reality is that is won't. The true effects of this disaster will never be known and surely not accounted for by BP or anyone else.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

It's Now Summer

Just barely noon and it is 88F with 85% humidity. Went out early to get a little gardening in and after just a few minutes picking beans I was soaking wet. I grow Mountain White Half Runners for my green beans and while a nice tender bean they have a tendency to come all at once. I have been picking a gallon or more a day for the last few days and now I have to do something with them. I had to compost some of the beans we froze last year. One, they were Kentucky Wonders and Madam and I have decided they are just too stringy and tough. Two, they were frozen 'wet' in bags after blanching and they didn't have much texture after freezing. The half runners and Maxibel beans we froze were much better but still nowhere close to a fresh bean. This year I think we will try freezing them on a tray loose before bagging and see if they stay a little better and I am going to cut the blanching time in half as well to see if I can preserve some measure of crispness.
The first of the cucumbers have been picked so it will be a cuke and Vidalia onion salad for dinner. I mentioned the old fashioned way of preparing them with just oil and vinegar and sugar and a bit of salt. Might be my favorite salad of all time. A little fresh parsley is a nice addition as well.
Should have a tomato or two in the next couple of days. It looks like the Roma tomatoes will win the race this year but the Cherokee Purple are not far behind.
Speaking of squash I did stuffed patty pan and yellow crooknecks last night for dinner. Just for some variety I stuffed the patty pans with a mixture of blue cheese, walnuts, bread crumbs and an egg yolk and the crooknecks got Greek feta, Kalamata olives, bread crumbs, egg yolk, fresh oregano and olive oil. All baked until just done. Very nice. BTW Trader Joes has authentic Greek Feta in resealable little tubs that is a very good value. The domestic feta you find most places pales in comparison to the real stuff. One the domestic is made with cow's milk and real feta is made with sheep's milk. It makes a world of difference. The little tubs allows you to keep it submerged in the brine so it stays perfect for weeks and weeks, if it lasts that long.

Wish you guys were here to share in the harvest it would be great to have a big feast of "dinner from the garden' with all my friends.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Fermenting Away

OK, the sauerkraut is finally finished and on its way. I got delayed by a day but was out early this morning and collected about 25 pounds of cabbage. All shredded and salted and muddled and in the crock. All that cabbage and it only filled the crock about a third of the way (It's marked 10 gallon) after the muddling and salting. The crock has been in the family for who knows how long and my mother passed it to me. How much kraut and how many pickles has it made? BTW 25 pounds of cabbage is a lot of cabbage to shred. We should have sauerkraut by August.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Dinner From the Garden

Managed a whole meal from the garden last night. As you can see we did tempura. Sweet potatoes(last year's crop),sugar snap peas, baby green beans, yellow squash, broccoli, cauliflower and icicle radish. With the exception of the sweet potatoes all of it harvested just a few hours before. Brilliant and delicious.

It is just amazing how well the sweet potatoes have kept in the basement. We still have about a dozen or so that were harvested last fall and they are just as nice as when fresh. We actually have 4 butternut squash as well from last year.

BP Overlooks A Few Details

It should come as no surprise that there was very little reality built into BP's disaster planning.  This is just another example of the fallacy of  'self regulation' which the GOP defends so dearly. The AP did a detailed analysis of the BP disaster plan and found a few discrepancies.I think is is more than time for BP to hand over the checkbook and let someone less obviously incompetent/willfully negligent get the job done.
Professor Peter Lutz is listed in BP's 2009 response plan for a Gulf of Mexico oil spill as a national wildlife expert. He died in 2005.

Under the heading "sensitive biological resources," the plan lists marine mammals including walruses, sea otters, sea lions and seals. None lives anywhere near the Gulf.

The names and phone numbers of several Texas A&M University marine life specialists are wrong. So are the numbers for marine mammal stranding network offices in Louisiana and Florida, which are no longer in service.

BP PLC's 582-page regional spill plan for the Gulf, and its 52-page, site-specific plan for the Deepwater Horizon rig are riddled with omissions and glaring errors, according to an Associated Press analysis that details how BP officials have pretty much been making it up as they go along. The lengthy plans approved by the federal government last year before BP drilled its ill-fated well vastly understate the dangers posed by an uncontrolled leak and vastly overstate the company's preparedness to deal with one.

h/t Americablog

No Future for Your Children

I won't repeat what Kevin Drum says here about the possibility of any real climate legislation but let us just say that we will get what we deserve. Whether fortunately or unfortunately it will not be us that suffers the results of our lack of inaction but our children and grandchildren. It just amazes me that a majority of Americans agree that climate change is real and that human activity is the primary cause and that something should be done but don't want to pay for it.

Social Spending

You hear all the time from conservations in the U.S. about our "liberal socialist welfare state" and how regardless of how many poor people we have we are still better than everyone else. Thanks to Kevin Drum here is an interesting article on Social Spending and Poverty by Lane Kenworthy. In spite of what you hear from the Master of the Universe and other elitists the U.S. doesn't really compare so well with countries such as Denmark and Sweden when it comes to social spending. Kenworthy's post is worth a read as he is a genuine expert in the field.

Health Insurance Frustration

Well, my COBRA benefits end at the end of the month so I have spent the last few days trying to find replacement health insurance. Not going to happen. I first tried to convert my present Blue Cross to an individual policy. BCBS quoted my $895 per month with a $3,000 deductible pending application approval. It took them about an hour to reject my application. I don't know the reason but I am pretty sure it is because I am a Type 2 diabetic even though it is well under control. I bet my blood sugar on average is better than most non diabetics. That combined with my age (61) was probably the deal killer and I am not sure I really wanted to pay that much for insurance anyway. I called several insurance brokers in the area and all of them told me that they didn't represent one company that would take on a diabetic...especially one over 60 but that the diabetes was enough to insure I probably won't be able to get health insurance at any price anywhere.
One broker suggested that I call the state insurance commissioners office and inquire about the high risk insurance pool that was part of the health care reform. I did and was informed that the state is suing the Feds over the health reform bill and would not be providing insurance under the plan for high risk folks. It looks like I join the millions of other uninsured Americans on July 1. Other than the blood sugar thing which I have well in hand I am pretty healthy for an old fart so I am just going to have to cross my fingers until I qualify for Medicare in four years(if it's still there). I have enough savings to cover anything minor but major surgery or something will mean trouble. Fortunately Madam is already on Medicare and with a supplemental policy is covered very well. I am just going to have to take my chances and try and stay healthy.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Squash Fight

Madam and I are having a dispute over squash casserole. The recipe I posted earlier is the one I think is best and closest to what you will generally find around the South with variations. Madam thinks the one our friend Beverly uses for the annual "Dinner From the Garden" get together is better. In order to preserve domestic peace and tranquility I will post Beverly's version as well  since they are different. I think it has too much mayo and I definitely think the addition of Hidden Valley Ranch dry dressing mix is heresy. But whatever. You can try both and decide for yourself. This casserole always goes well at the picnic and everybody always compliments it. I eat it and it is fine but I think the flavor of the squash is better in my recipe. Oh, and Madam will have my version for dinner tonight.

Beverly's Squash Casserole

Butter to grease a 8x8 casserole
12 saltines
4-6 yellow squash sliced thin - depends on the size of the squash
2-3 onions slices - again size dependent
3 large eggs
1 cup of mayonnaise - not low fat
1/2 packet of Hidden Valley Ranch salad dressing mix
1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese

Butter baking dish. Crumble saltines into a large bowl. Blanch or steam squash for 2 -3 minutes until just tender and add to the bowl with the crackers. Steam or blanch onions until they are just translucent. Drain and add to the bowl with the crackers and squash. In a separate bowl beat the eggs with a fork , add mayonnaise and dry seasoning and mix. Add the cheese and combine with other ingredients. Mixing with your hands will keep the squash from breaking up. Pour into prepared baking dish and bake at 350 deg F for 40- 45 minutes.

Doubling the recipe will fill a 9x13 baking dish.

Yellow Squash Time

Quite a bit of rain this weekend but still plenty of time to garden (just not enough to mow the lawn). The yellow squash is starting to come in and that means it is time for a Southern treat. I have eaten this casserole in the first couple of weeks of June my whole life and as the yellow squash appear it's the first thing I think of. Every Southern family probably has its own recipe but I like the following. If you can try it with Vidalia onions it is extra special good. It is also important to use smaller squash as they get 'seedy' when they get too old. Tradtitionally my family used Ritz crackers for the topping but since they are now made with HFCS I just use breadcrumbs instead. I might also note that it was not uncommon to use process cheese(Velveeta), the kind that came free from the USDA, instead of Cheddar. It was the cheese available and it was free. Even though I am a bit of a food snob I am not sure I would refuse to eat a casserole made with it but I do prefer a good Cheddar.

Squash casserole

3 pounds yellow squash, sliced about 1/8 inch thick, a mandolin helps here
5 tablespoons butter or margarine, divided
1 onion, chopped (about 1 cup) A Vidalia onion if you can get it
1 cup (4 ounces) shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 cup mayonnaise ( use a good mayo like Hellman's)
2 teaspoons sugar
2 scant teaspoons Kosher salt
3/4 cup bread crumbs (if you don't mind the HFCS you can use crushed Ritz crackers which is the traditional topping and you'll need about 20 crackers)

Blanch sliced squash in boiling water for about 5  minutes or just until tender. Drain well; gently press between paper towels to remove the excess moisture.
Melt 4 tablespoons butter in skillet over medium-high heat; add onion, and sauté 5 minutes or until tender. Remove skillet from heat; stir in squash, cheese, and next 4 ingredients. Spoon mixture into a lightly greased 11- x 7-inch baking dish.
Melt remaining 1 tablespoon butter. Stir together melted butter and bread crumbs(or crushed crackers) and sprinkle evenly over top of casserole.
Bake at 350° for 30 to 35 minutes or until set.

Note: This recipe also works for 'patty pan' squash and zucchini but yellow(crookneck) squash is the tradition. 

Friday, June 04, 2010

Not A Lot Of Good News

Rained out of gardening this afternoon so here I  am. I did pick the first pepper and first yellow squash however so all is not lost.

Not much good news today other than it appears BP has gained some control over the spilling oil. It's still early in the game though and I would pop the bubbly just yet. In spite of BP's best efforts, pictures of oil soaked wildlife are breaking into the mainstream media. There was a big picture of an oil soaked brown pelican on the front page of the AJC this morning and there are scores and scores of heart rendering pictures on the net.

Markets went South big time today on the weak jobs report and the falling Euro. Looking more and more like we are going to get our double dip recession. Retail sales are down and nearly 30 million Americans, who should be spending money, don't have jobs. In spite of the 41,000 private sector jobs added in May we are still shedding jobs on a whole since population is growing. Estimates are that 22 million new jobs have to be created before we are anywhere near full employment. One of the biggest tragedies is that our elected officials and especially the Senate just can't seem to grasp the difference in short term deficits and long term debt. Our problems are with long term debt and that can only be addressed with a robust economy. Short term deficit spending, to replace the missing consumer spending, is the only thing that will trigger any meaningful economic recovery. The only reason we aren't into the double dip now is the stimulus, which is 75% gone, and the near zero interest rates. Now with the pressure from the bad news on the Euro we should be back into a full recession before the summer is out. It is going to get very ugly out there since the deficit hawks are in control and nothing constructive is going to happen until after the fall elections, if then.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

It's Still Gushing

BP is reporting that they have finally cut off the riser and that they will have the containment dome in place this afternoon. Let's hope so. It just  amazes me that it is taking this long for the leak to be controlled. This really is just another symptom of the conservative campaign 'to starve the beast'. The government now has to rely solely on private industry to get this thing fixed when years ago we might have had the capacity in some part of government to do it. Not only is the lag in getting a resolution symptomatic of a starved government the whole spill is a result of the conservative campaign to let business self regulate and shrink the regulatory capacity and authority of government. This whole disaster would have been far less likely to happen under a strong and capable regulatory system.

That reminds me. I was asking myself the other day why these oil wells don't have a passive closure system. Why can't the BOP be driven closed by the pressure of the oil and must be held open by an outside force whether hydraulic or something else? These kinds of 'fail-safe' fluid handling systems are used in industry, especially for dangerous liquids. If something untoward happens the well would slam shut on its own accord.

I'm off to the garden to put extensions on some tomato stakes. The five foot stakes have now been outstripped by the plants and I need a couple of extra feet to tie them to. The twenty or so six foot cages are still OK but  won't be in a week or two that I will have to 'Rube Goldberg' something for them as well. This latest 'fix' is bamboo attached with cable ties and we'll just have to see if this will do the job. I've still got three months of tomato growth to anticipate so it could get ugly. Everything looks pretty neat and tidy right now but once the tomato plants start getting out of control it will be no longer. Amazing what a little fertile soil, good rain and bright sun will do. Not only do I have problems with tomatoes but my pole beans have just about outgrown my 7 foot bamboo 'tee pees' and it looks as if I am going to need a ladder to pick beans in a few weeks.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Dirty Dozen

Before you put that stalk of celery in your Bloody Mary make sure it's organic. The Environmental Working Group has issued its latest 'dirty dozen' list. It's a list of those vegetables and fruits most likely to be contaminated with pesticides. Celery is the worst offender and based on reports from the USDA reviewed by the EWG and can have residues of as many as 67 different pesticides. The list is really not any different than last year's.

Granted organic foods are more expensive than regular but you really should consider buying organic if you buy and consume any of the 'dirty dozen'. I mean really, pesticides are designed to kill things...think about it.

Here are the 'dirty dozen'. Those fruits and vegetables most likely to have significant pesticide residue(in order of risk) if not organic:

Domestic blueberries
Sweet bell peppers
Spinach, kale and collard greens
Imported grapes

New Month and Sex in the Garden

It's a new month. The official beginning for what is expected to be a brutal hurricane season. It's Bryan's Name Day over at What Now? so Happy Birthday!

I hope everyone had a good weekend. Fairly nice here, just a few scattered thunderstorms but we needed the rain. Madam and I were invited to a friends mountain house on Sunday for a very nice dinner. Yesterday I grilled a dead chicken during a thunderstorm  and served it with fresh pineapple and potato salad.

Not a good weekend for peace in the Middle East. The Israelis decided that piracy and murdering NATO relief workers who were attempting to relieve some of the suffering in Gaza was a good idea. What's worse they are threatening to use even more force on the next ship headed to Gaza. What wasn't right for the British re: the ship Exodus seems to be just fine for the IDF against someone trying to help the Palestinians. Washington seems to be fine with it however. Not good.

Just getting worse with respect to the Gulf oil disaster. Today BP will attempt to cut off the riser and install another dome. There is a good possibility that this will make the flow of oil into the Gulf worse. My fingers are tired of being crossed but I hold on. Please let something go right.

I've headed out twice this morning to the garden only to be turned around by rain. Since I am not seeing the bee activity I think I should I have been manually pollinating squash. It's a rather tedious process of finding a male flower and cutting it off then peeling back the flower to expose the male anther and then using it to pollinate the female flowers. This time of year it is mostly male flowers with only the occasional female but that ratio should improve as it warms up. You have to do it in the morning as the squash blossoms are only open then. I might miss my window today. For some reason the process always reminds me of the scene from Doc Holiday where the mechanics are dressed in their bee costumes and doing their pollination dance during the Grady Squash Festival parade. I am out to give it one more try as maybe the overcast will keep the blossoms open a bit longer. I don't want to hear any cracks about candlelight and soft music either.

Update: Lots of bees in the squash this morning so my efforts are not required and I can let Mother Nature do her thing. I am sure the squash will be better if the bees do it. I must admit that doing the pollination by hand kind of 'cheapened' the whole experience.