This Guy

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Native son to the American Deep South - now living in Portland, OR. Lover of people, sustainability, justice, culture, writing, history, cuisine and coffee.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010


I was recently watching this documentary about a zen priest who happened to be a chef -- it wasn't actually a good least to me. The guy was kind of full of himself and really impatient with the folks he was teaching.
He did though, share some interesting thought on the art of cooking.

It was at least something I felt the need to remember.
He said something along the lines of, "When you cook, you put yourself into the the end, it becomes a part of you.."

Set aside the cheesiness and you have something good to work with.
I think for the most part, people who love to cook feel somewhat therapeutic about it all.
There's the cutting, the mixture of spices, the attention to detail and the timing.

Somehow, this works in my head. There's that challenge of having three for four things cooking at the same time, and determining how to make them come out evenly.

However, because I like to cook doesn't mean I'm great at it.
I have my things, like everyone, that I'm good at cooking. Mostly because I cook them so often, I've gotten better and better. This goes the same with cooking in general. I believe the more you do it, the better you'll get. There's so much out there to learn from...cook books and those addictive food network shows. If they inspire you to cook, do it!

This past weekend, I had loads and loads of free time. I decided to try my hand in making bread. Baking, unlike most stovetop cooking, requires careful measuring. It involves yeast and warm water. Timing and mixing. Resting and kneading.

All are so very crucial to the final product. My first few attempts were epic failures. The bread did not rise and tasted like salty flour. Of course, I was trying to make my favorite kind, ciabatta, and there's a lot that goes into it.
The recipe I found that showed the best results [and had creepy Youtube commentary], called for the dough to sit for 18 hours. Good bread is definitely something you should think about a good day and a half before hand. It takes time, and that's what is important.

There's something quite humbling about baking bread. The elements of time and temperature - all for something so simple as a loaf of bread.

This is something that has become so dear to my heart.
Knowing that whatever I'm cooking, I'm putting myself into it. In turn, it is feeding others.
No, I'm not feeding others my soul, that sounds mostly creepy, but I am putting love and who I am into what I cook.

And I hope for your sake, it tastes good.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

beans and rice.

I used to hate beans and rice with a passion.

It seemed boring and lacked what I needed as a kid to be considered an exciting meal. [Which was either chicken nuggets, pizza and french fries...]
Now my mom, bless her heart, would generally buy some Popeyes chicken to go along with it, just to make us happy. I never fully appreciated the means of a hearty portion of beans and rice.
My mom, as most southerners who cook beans and rice, cook it down with some beef sausage or pork sausage. Sometimes incorporated in the beans, other times served on the side.

It's only in the past couple of years that I have begun to regain my roots of this soulful dish and the history it has with my people.

It is a tradition in the South, mainly in Louisiana and Mississippi, that you eat beans and rice on Mondays.
I was confused as to why Monday constituted a day for this simple, but hearty meal.

I recently bought this "soul food" cookbook that has some pretty decent things, but it was the story of why we eat beans and rice on Mondays that caught my attention.

Apparently, it's due to the meal you eat on Sunday - which consists of many things cooked with lots of fat -- but mainly, a ham. The ham fed the whole family. Sort of your typical "meat, taters, veggies and bread" Sunday meal.
When the meal was finished, you'd take what is called the hambone - which is exactly what it sounds like.

You take the hambone and submerge it in a big ole' pot of red beans (or kidney beans). I reckon' depending on if you're cooking with dry beans or canned, you still need to cook them for a while.
Dry beans take a while unless you soak them in water for an extended amount of time.

So, you have your beans and your hambone cooking on a low heat all throughout the night and into the next day. Anybody who loves things cooked low and slow knows the goodness of this science. The juices from the ham and the flavor of the bone incorporate into the beans, filling them with that good salty pork flavor.

There ya have it.
Beans and rice on Mondays.

Now, these days, I don't have the time to cook beans that long, so I buy canned kidney beans.
I saute' some onions, garlic and pork sausage in a skillet till the onions have caramelized a bit.
I drain most of that goopy liquid from the can of beans and dump them into a decent sized pot.
I fill it with water till the beans are slightly covered. Then I add the onions, garlic and sausage.

Lately, I've been buying some raw bacon ends from a local market and cooking that down with the beans as well.
I mean, it's bacon. You don't have to say anything to justify it's part in this meal.
We don't typically eat a huge ham on Sundays here in the Harrod-Casper household, so bacon does the job just fine.

I add some hot sauce, **tony's, salt, pepper, and the usual barrage of whatever it is you like to taste.
I let simmer till the beans have soaked up all the water [typically about an hour -- depending on how much you're cooking] and are a bit mushy when stirred. This is how I like them, anyways.

Make some cornbread. [which could also go several ways.]
Boil some rice and voila.

I want to make this a tradition with my family, someday. I want to learn to make them good and I want to appreciate the value of this cheap, simple and flavorful meal.
Every country has their version of this, and this is mine -- so I'm learning to hold it near to my soul.

After all, the food you make is a reflection of who you are. It's spiritual and most likely, tastes really, really good.

**Tony's is short for "Tony Chachere's".
It's a spice mix I've used my entire life. I guess it's considered a cajun seasoning, but I put it on mostly everything. You can find it at any grocery store in the South, and so I've found, any grocery store in Oregon. Including Safeway and Fred Meyer. **

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Working Class Foodie

It's true.
I've turned into a foodie. [I mean goodness, I have a blog..sigh*]
A full blown gastronome. I don't know if I like it.
Foodies are often obsessed people...who watch Food Network religiously and would consider a show on cheeseburgers to be a kind of "food porn".
(But luckily for me, I don't have cable.)

There's nothing wrong with loving food, especially if you're like me, and you're wanting to learn to cook more for yourself, friends and family. It's important to love the food you cook and eat. It's good practice for the future (for folks like me who don't yet have kids) where I'll most likely try to cook as much from home as I can.

Though I don't have cable, I do have the internet. This means I spend lots of downtime watching indie cooking videos and maybe an episode or two of Bourdain's, "No Reservations". Yes, Yes. Slightly obsessed. But, I feel most foodies are quite obsessed with Bourdain. He knows what's up...

I came across a cooking/"how to" blog called, "Working Class Foodies" and was immediately ecstatic. Hey, I'm a working class foodie...or at least in the working class. I'm still working on the foodie part. There's a lot of food I still have a hard time coming to terms with...but I love the idea of cooking for others...and cooking well at that.

This small webisode/cooking video blog captures the essence of cooking on the cheap. That is, finding locally sourced goods that are decently priced with the intention of bringing everyone into a knowledge of good, fresh food.
The videos are also really well done...and I just like them. Plain and simple.

Here are a few of my favorites:

Tacos de Lengua

Roasting a Chicken

Pig Butchering/CSA Info

Stocking Your Pantry

And here's to us, the working class foodies.