Friday, August 1, 2014

The Daily Special: Vegetable Tacos with a side of Snark

“…Maybe just think about that fact, which is that poor people are more likely to be overweight. Why is that? In the vast majority of the world, poor people are underweight, not in America. Stop giving them so much money, and they won't eat so much.”
                                     -“Son of the American Revolution,” New York Times commenter

I wonder if “Son” could healthily feed himself on $5 or $6 per day.*  Day in and day out.  What if he had a family?  Could he do it if he lived in a “food desert,” with no practical access to an actual grocery store, as so many of our impoverished citizens do?  What if he lost his job and had to pay his mortgage or rent, utilities, healthcare, childcare,  and transportation costs on a maximum of $240/week?**   Imagine the kind of gluttony he could support with that sort of excess cash!

Or perhaps he would do the right thing, pull himself up by his bootstraps, get a minimum wage job, and dine finely on the McDonald’s Employee Budget?  Surely he’d have no trouble re-educating himself at a local community college while doing so. He would certainly be eligible for a full scholarship, and be bright eyed, studying late, and scoring straight A’s, after a week of  double shifts and countless hours spent on public buses getting from home to workplace to classroom and back each day.  Oh right, there might be some kids in the picture, too.  Do you suppose, after all this, he just might - just might - fall victim to inexpensive,  subsidized, and readily available high fructose corn syrup laden foods and/or the dollar menu at his place of employment?  Or would he have the extra time, energy, and money to pick up some whole grains and organic broccoli rabe at the Circle K on his way home?  Does he even have the necessary skills to make himself a healthy dinner on a few bucks, if he could acquire the necessary ingredients?

As it turns out, in addressing this last question, someone is actually doing something to help our poorer citizens - no, no, not just them, but everyone - eat not just healthy food, but satisfying taste-good food on a budget.  Leanne Brown, as part of her master’s degree in food studies at New York University, has written “Good and Cheap,” a beautiful (and free!) cookbook that advises SNAP recipients (or anyone else who is interested, and who isn’t?) how to eat well on $4 a day.  It’s free for anyone to download.  Go ahead, I did.  For those without the luxury of computer and internet access, she has funded printed copies though her successful Kickstarter Campaign.   Although the scope of her work can not address most of the challenges to eating well listed earlier, Ms. Brown rightly points out that “kitchen skill, not budget, is the key to great food.”  Do you have the kitchen kung-fu to feed yourself well on $4 a day, every day?  Does “Son?”  We aren’t born knowing our way around the kitchen, and fewer and fewer of us are being taught this essential life skill.  Her book isn’t perfect***, but Leanne Brown is doing more than most in teaching us all how to fish for ourselves.

Don’t just stand there.  Do something.

Tonight’s Cheap Eats: Make a couple corn tortillas by mixing together a few cents worth of Maseca and a splash of water in a bowl.  Or get some masa at your local tortilleria. Or go full-on kitchen psycho, and make and grind your own nixtamal.  Anyway, shape the dough, however you've acquired it, into smallish golf balls, and flatten them until they, you know, look like tortillas.  You don’t necessarily need a tortilla press for this.  I am known to use a flat, heavy pot to press them between the cut apart sides of that annoying ziplock bag in the back of the drawer that refuses to close properly anymore.  I must say at this point, though, after using an actual tortilla press for the first time today, (borrowed), I’m sold****.   Cook the tortillas a few seconds to a minute on each side in a dry skillet, and adorn them with some bits and scraps of leftover vegetables (corn, tomatoes, and onions, in this case), and a few gratings of whatever cheese needs using up in the fridge drawer (cheddar).  Serve with some salsa and a dollop of that great multi-tasker, drained whole milk plain yogurt, since you never actually buy real sour cream and you're certainly not going to pay for Greek style yogurt.  Eat quickly and run off to your low paying job.

*Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) aka Food Stamp benefits can be found here.
**Arizona maximum unemployment benefits.  After 26 weeks, you’re on your own.
***I really wish she offered tips on reducing food waste (using your freezer skillfully, getting into the habit of eating in order of perishability, etc.), and more on buying and cooking in bulk when it makes sense, for example.
****Yup, I've been too cheap to buy a press. Plus, I wasn't sure it would be worth the footprint space in my small kitchen. It totally is.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

More Excuses

It doesn’t matter that just sent you a cool new Adventure Dry Bag to review, or that the stack of music you have to learn is so heavy it collapses your sturdy Manhasset stand, or even that you have no fewer than 14 half written blog posts in the queue, summer’s bounty doesn’t politely align itself with your personal schedule.  In fact, by the time late July arrives, the botanical production line outpaces even a speedy little Ducati.*  Ready or not, it's time to stock the pantry.

Montmorency Cherries with Ducati 696
“Cherry bike!” a friend called out.  I could probably ride 200 miles in the time it will take me to pit 30 lbs of pie ** cherries.

Raspberry Something
A friend’s raspberry patch bears fruit according to its own schedule.  A test batch of Eating on Two Wheels proprietary Raspberry Something extends the fruits’ culinary life when nature lacks restraint. (Don't worry, I'm an ATGATT*** rider and canner. I always wear my safety gear, and adhere to all USDA canning safety guidelines.)

Raspberry Turnovers
Not everything is destined for the canning pot.  Raspberry turnovers last week, cherry pies tomorrow, plus great quantities slurped straight up while standing outside or over the sink... the happy eating never ends!

A Tucsonan has no real need to bottle up Utah’s sunshine, but with the marked lack of fresh apricots in southern Arizona, it’s well worth it to let the rest of my life rumble on idle, while I preserve these beauties.

*There are faster machines on the road, to be sure, but with an 80 hp to 355 lb (not including fuel, engine oil, or market produce) power to weight ratio, she “gits along jest fine.”
**They’re not just for pie!  I forecast a succulent cut of pork, rich with drippings, balanced by the tingling bite of sour cherries. Whatever the details of this yet to be fully developed recipe, I’ll call it Pork Montmorency and serve it the next time the snow hits the  mountains in Tucson.  (Yes, we do see snow in Tucson.)  No, no, I'll call it Hog Montmorency, even if I don't ride a Harley. 
***All The Gear All The Time 

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Trailside Food Find

So today, while I was tripping gaily down Richards Hollow Trail (on two feet this time, not two wheels), I came across three off-road motorcyclists resting by the side of the stream.  I teased them for “cheating” before admitting that I, too, have been known to employ a motorized two wheeled vehicle to gain elevation at times.  I continued on my way, until one of them said something that stopped me dead in my tracks.  “Want some homemade cheese?”  My heart stopped.  “Whose home?” I asked back, in what I hoped was a nonchalant manner, while my heart stopped stopping and started pitter-pattering with anticipatory delight.  “Rockhill Creamery!,” came the reply, and a little flicker of recognition lit up my brain. “You’re the market cheese guy!”

Richards Hollow Trail Rockhill Creamery Pete
Pete the cheese guy and his old trials bike.

Yes, he was indeed the market cheese guy, whose stand I happily patronize several times each summer.  Not only did he send me home with a generous and delicious hunk of “No Name Tomme,” he also delivered a great tip for the Ducati “Hell on Wheels” trip I have planned for next week.
I am here to tell you, dear readers, that the business of skipping* past waterfalls and through great meadows of waist high bluebells is only made better with a mouthful of tasty alpine style cheese.

*In my mind, I was skipping.  The waterfall and bluebells (along with many other types of flowers, a bubbling stream, picturesque rocky outcrops, and a beaver dam) were for real.

Friday, June 6, 2014

The Daily Special: Dessert

You know your beagle’s got grit when she’s rattling the cage bars earlier than anticipated, after a major piece of surgery.  Bless that little goblin, but she sailed right through the cross-your-fingers-operation and the critical recovery period, and is home a full one to two days ahead of schedule.

Beagle Resting Comfortably

I think I’ll just let her sleep in that place right between the bedroom and kitchen while I put some bits and scraps from last week’s birthday cake to good use.

Strawberry Maria Cake

Whoopie!*  I’ve never been so happy to drain my bank account and not ride the Ducati to Colorado in my whole life!

*Whoopie Pies: Dig around your cookbooks and the internet for a chocolate cake/cupcake/whoopie pie recipe that uses your one remaining egg, and your extra, now untempered chocolate.  Bake off into little UFO shapes and fill with your leftover Strawberry Cloud Cream (or whatever you might have left in your pastry bag.)  Aren’t you glad you stabilized it? I’ll freeze them and call them fancy ice cream sandwiches.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

The Daily Special (Chinese Steamed Buns)

When you’ve canceled today’s planned motorcycle departure to Colorado, because your beagle is in surgery for a “large grapefruit sized” tumor on her little liver*, and you are so tired, but can’t sleep, and all you can do is knead your worry into bread dough, but it’s too hot to fire the oven for an hour or more, plus you have little bits of pork with chile paste leftover from last weekend’s birthday party, then what you do is add some sautéed mushrooms and onions, those remaining shreds of cabbage in the crisper drawer, a bit of garlic, ginger, soy, sriracha, and sesame, and make char siu bao**.

Plus, you have a few crappy archival photos from last time you made them. (No beagle in the hospital that time.) 

Char Siu Bao 003

Chinese Steamed Buns

Char Siu Bao 010

We’re not out of the woods yet, but the surgery went really well.***

Beagle with Chicken
The face I see when she's at my feet in the kitchen.

Another thing you can do is paint your bedroom pink. I did that yesterday.

*She didn’t tell me about it at all. I found it during a belly rub. 
** Use any simple, soft, white, yeasted bread dough recipe.  I'll often fly in the face of convention and add just a small fraction of whole wheat flour.  Let it rise a bit, portion it out, roll flat, fill, wrap them, then steam them for 15 minutes or so. Silly, puffy, good!  They’re also really inexpensive, which is handy, since I just completely emptied my wallet for this little veterinary adventure.  Beagle repairs, as it turns out, are significantly more expensive than Ducati repairs.
***If she makes it through these next critical 48-72 hours, the prognosis is very, very good.  “Littlest love,” I reminded her right before she was admitted. “Littlest only in stature!”
UPDATE - see "Dessert" here.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Sweet Homecoming (Again)

At first I thought my air compressor was broken.  Rrrr, rrrr, rrrr, it could barely muster enough energy to make a sound.  But ho ho, no no!  It wasn’t the air compressor, it was the motorcycle.  Clicky, clicky.  No starty, starty.  The Ducati had failed self proclaimed Ducati test day.  It would not, could not start, it would not be charged, it could not be jumped, it would not be bumped.  (I didn't try to bump it, but it rhymes, okay?)  Given its history and my long absence, I guess I wasn’t surprised, but that doesn’t mean I had to be happy about it. There was good reason to believe it was just the battery, but, honestly, in all my life it’s never been “just the battery.”  No, not once, not ever.  Not this time, and certainly not last summer in southern Utah, when every last bit of the Ducati’s alternator insulation melted away like so much dark chocolate on a June day in my not so climate controlled house*.

Aside from celebrating the fact I was in the same locality as my motorcycles for the first time in two months, this ride was specifically designed to answer two questions.  1) Is the Ducati running? (Answer: No)   2) Can I still corner respectably?  So I went up the mountain in search of Answer 2 on the trusty old Kawasaki.  (Answer: Yes)**   Bless that bike, it’s 15 years old, has never seen the inside of a shop, is held together with more tape than a toddler’s first gift wrap job, and, last link not withstanding, runs happily every time.

Yesterday, I put a new battery in the Ducati.  Damn that M696 design team, but you actually have to pull the gas tank to do so.  It took me utterly by surprise, but when that machine gaily started, I actually burst into tears of relief. It really was just the battery!***

Ducati Hoodoos Mount Lemmon
Ducati with Mount Lemmon hoodoos.

On the way home from today's post-op ride, I picked up enough pork shoulder to test the capacity of my top box.  I'll simmer it slowly it in a silky, shimmering, red mud bath of Eating on Two Wheels chile paste.

Chile Paste
Good red chile paste sorcery can and does cast a hypnotically alluring magical spell.  You may even accidentally cast it upon yourself.

Colorado trip next week?****  "We are ready to go!"*****

*But, WAIT!  My house has recently become so climate controlled that I actually tempered chocolate in it earlier this week.  In May.  In Tucson.  I love my little ductless minisplit heating/cooling unit!!  What’s next, croissants in June?
**An additional question remains unanswered: Why do you need a shiny sports car to drive up Mount Lemmon at 30mph?
***So what if I jostled the lambda sensor when wrestling with the tank, such that 10 minutes into my test ride today, the engine light went on?  The real miracle here, folks, is that I could interpret the error code, knew what and where said lambda sensor was, and could re-jostle it all in the T.J.Maxx parking lot.
**** As it turns, out, we didn't go to Colorado.
*****You have to say that part aloud, in the same voice Pilot Guy uses to radio the airport tower when we've successfully completed our run up, are poised at the runway hold short lines, and are, well, ready to go!

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Sweet Homecoming

The bikes are running,* the desert is blooming…

Saguaro National Park West
The ironwood trees are blooming like crazy this year.  Time for another ride through Ironwood Forest National Monument.

Saguaro in Bloom on Cresta Loma
All the saguaro with full heads of blooms are impossibly out of reach. So are those whose luscious fruit, red as sin, is tantalizingly split open. The doves can reach them easily enough, though, as can the Tohono O’odham people, who use long sticks (saguaro ribs, I think) to knock them down for the noble purpose of wine making.

…and the burritos are actually pretty good***! 

Horseshoe Barbecue
How delicious to be back in the land of Sonoran tortillas, the only flour tortillas fit for human consumption. Unless you’ve been here, or make them yourselves, you simply don’t know. My deepest condolences.

Sweet Jesus, I am home!**. I'm not ashamed to admit I kinda got choked up today.

*Well the Yamaha is. Tomorrow is Ducati test day.  It (and I) are headed to CO soon.
**After two months of exile in Flatistan, where, you can see, I wasn’t exactly suffering, but still… 
***The customary taco truck was AWOL, but Horseshoe Barbecue surpassed my expectations.