Saturday, January 26, 2013

Avo-ca-don't mind if i do: a love story.

If you’re like most folk —who hang on every single word I post on Facebook— then you know that I like avocados. Like, more than a friend. Recently this “like” has risen to near-obsessive levels.

What you may NOT know is that I’ve been trying to avoid processed food and refined sugars. Due, in part, to creeping fatness and also to a viewing of a loosely constructed, but very interesting documentary called “Forks over Knives” ( which extolls the virtues of a plant-based, whole foods kind of lifestyle.

Practically this change has translated into fewer crackers, chips, cookies, granola bars (donuts *GASP*) and such on a daily basis and far more fresh, raw fruits and vegetables. So far it’s been great. I wouldn’t call it a diet, but more of a minor lifestyle adjustment for the better. I’ve dropped a few pounds, and have been feeling very well indeed. Plus I get extra fancy-pants-food-snob credits, which allow me to feel vastly superior to the general public.

So ambling through the produce section one day, feeling very jaunty and good about myself, I picked up a few attractive looking avocados, which were on special.  In a sun-bathed 70's style flashback I recalled my days in San Diego (well, mostly Escondido), picking avocados by the shopping bag full from the trees of a few of my lawn care customers, largely sweet old ladies who lived alone on giant ranchos in the outlying areas of the North County, and enjoying the avocados on the tailgate of my service truck on my lunch break, overlooking some scenic canyon.  I intended to eat these raw, and re-introduce myself to the fruit. 

What I didn’t expect was to fall completely in love with them.

Flash forward. I cut into the first ripe avocado and sprinkled it lightly with salt and pepper. It tasted like black magic and velvet sunshine. I was into it. I began packing ‘cados in my lunch every day, counting the minutes until I would carefully slice one open and spoon its contents into my mouth.  A brood of green avocados have since been perpetually ripening on the kitchen windowsill. Each devoured at their peak of smooth, green loveliness.

Though certainly whole, raw and fresh, I had heard for years that the jewel of the San Diego hills was very fattening due to it’s high fat and calorie content. So I looked it up.

True, avocados are high in calories and fat, but that is due to the presence of many GOOD fats, of the omega-3 and omega-6 variety. These fats are actually essential to brain function, skin and hair growth, healthy metabolism, joint health, resistance of inflammation and a healthy reproductive system. So eating lots of delicious avocados will keep me smart, help my arthritis, keep my massive crop of jet black body hair strong and glossy AND keep the wedding tackle in good order? Papa calls that a win-win-win-win. Win.

I struggled to include a recipe in this post, and confess that since this obsession started, I have not cooked a single avocado dish. That’s because most of the fruit goes directly down the hatch.  However, I do have a recipe to share, thanks to my friend Melissa, who whipped up her own special version of the following recipe as a cold dish over the summer, of a sultry evening, after a hot day of shed building. It was so good that I have since replicated it several times— with varying results— depending on what I had laying around, and how hard I felt like working.

So give it a try, if you can control yourself long enough to spare a few of these luscious brain fatteners long enough to cook with them.

Photo credit: Somebody else. 

Papa’s Avocado Pasta

Note: The photo of this dish is completely lifted from the internet, as I said, I haven’t made it recently. The site from which  I lifted it also admits to “adapting” it from another blog, so fuck it. Mine looks similar to this without all the cheese and uppity foodie photography.

Get this:

 Pasta. Whatever kind. The good stuff, don’t get cheap on me.

2 to 27 ripe avocados

2 tbsp good olive oil (also rich in good, sexy fats)

About a cup of fresh, diced tomato- use a variety with lots of flavor, like roma, plum or grape

Handful of fresh basil, chopped

Handul of fresh cilantro, also chopped

A squirt of lemon or lime juice

Pinch of sea salt, dash of black pepper, to taste

Do this:

Cook the pasta to al-dente, drain, and rinse under cool water

Peel and cut the avocados into chunks, throw ‘em into a good-size mixing bowl. Drizzle on the oil. Mash with a fork until smoothish but still kinda lumpy.

Add tomato, herbs, lime juice and salt & pepper. Mix gently.

Toss in cooked and cooled pasta. Eat immediately (like I’d have to tell you) preferably with a california white, or a nice light-bodied ale. Repeat. 

Monday, September 24, 2012

Draggin' Bottom: A Fish Story - or - Never Skin a Catfish When a Dogfish Will Do

Hello, friends, it’s been a while.  I was going to come back to the blog with some magnificent, poetic blog revival type post, but then I got tired.


I enjoy fishing. I have ever since I was a little kid. My Grandpa would come on a Sunday morning and rescue me from church and we’d go have breakfast at Lucy’s Restaurant and then out to a creek somewhere, or the old strip mine ponds and fish. Good stuff.

These days it’s mostly it is an excuse to go out in the calm of the morning and watch the sun rise with a thermos of coffee and a pipe and hear the birds and feel the water move under the hull of my old canoe.

It was on one such morning that I slipped the bonds of society and hit the waters of Fish Creek in the cool pre-dawn darkness, in search of smallmouth bass. For miles I paddled in the thin space between the water’s surface and the slowly lifting fog. It was a world of water birds (some I’d never even laid eyed on before) and unseen cows lowing from pastures up the banks. Even the coal mine operations I knew were there near the mouth of the creek were invisible, and seemed relatively mute as I passed.

I paddled for a couple of hours, taking in the sunrise scenes, passing farms and camps, sending muskrats hurrying to the safety of the reeds and listening to the slaps of big fish rising to the warmer surface water to feed. Totally exciting.

As the sun grew higher and warmed the river, the fog lifted and I began to notice the water around the boat boiling with zillions of tiny fish. They churned in great schools and rippled the water’s surface like raindrops. This was not a good sign. I watched as huge bass rose and gobbled their fill of the tiny fry, strike after strike. The bass were enjoying an endless buffet. Fat chance of enticing even a small bronzeback to hit my half-dead gas-station night-crawlers.

I tried for a very long time to tempt the bass, changing bait, changing gear, trying different spots, different depths… nary a nibble. I went ashore where a gently sloping pasture met the water to stretch my legs and try a hole under a downed tree that would be tricky to hit in the current while trying to maneuver the boat. Climbing a little higher up the bank, I got the perfect drop on the downstream side of the big tree. The bait drifted slowly down with the current, just to where I began pulling it back in, shy of the next branch, when BAM! The line went taught with a heavy, living feeling. After a brief but intense fight, I landed a small yellowish catfish. Catfish! I was so wrapped up in my quest for bass that I’d forgotten all about channel cats! I released the youngster and gave up on the bass altogether. Huzzah! Now I was catfishing.

Just saying the word catfish conjures southern-fried fantasies of po-boys, hush puppies and collard greens. Yes, if I were going to get a mess of channel cats, this would work out just fine. Snooty fat upscale bass be danged.

As I stood on the bank in my revelry I noticed a few cows had wandered close by, and eyed me curiously. I said something to them, probably along the lines of “Oh, hello cows.” And went right on fishing. Then I heard something crashing through the brush behind me. A young bull had put himself between the cows and me, and was making it clear that I was not welcome. He tossed his head and snorted. He advanced a step. I gently reeled in and backpedaled, inching down the bank and toward the canoe. Just as I got near enough to the boat to toss my gear in, he gave a little faux charge, and I hopped in the canoe and shoved out into the stream. Satisfied, he turned and ambled off. I was alive, and back on my mission.

  The moo-cow what chased me. 

I drifted downstream, dragging the bottom of the deepest looking spots on the creek. Over the next hour, I pulled 3 more small cats into the boat, all about a foot long. They were greenish gold, slick and muscular, barbed fins and whiskers bristling. They fought wonderfully. I was having a great time.

I rounded a sharp curve in the stream, where the water moved swiftly. At the end of the curve, the current had cut a deep channel out of the steep bank. The water was very dark green and long weeds hung down and trailed their seed heads in the water. Struggling to keep the boat straight, I half-assed a wrong-handed cast into the channel as I sailed by. And of course I got snagged on something. I swung the canoe about, and paddled up as close as I could to try to free the hook. I had broken my only other swivel and leader holder thingy earlier, and I really didn’t want to cut this one and let it go. Finally I jerked it free and began reeling it in. As I started to drift backward back into the current I felt a long hard tug. This strike made the others feel like bluegill at the kiddie pond. So now I’m hooked up to some monster fish on my lightweight creek-fishing rig in a skinny little boat, floating backward into the fastest water I’d seen all day. Awesome. I was certain this would end in extreme wetness. 

For all his heft the fish didn’t really fight that hard. He hit the bait light a freight train, but after the initial strike, there was only a steady heaviness. He shifted direction violently once or twice as I reeled him in, but just kept on coming. It wasn’t until I got him up along side the boat that I understood why he didn’t put up much fight. When he first struck the bait, he must have rolled around like crazy, for the line was wrapped around him very tightly, constricting him and cutting into his white belly. He had also taken the hook very deeply. It would be very difficult to get out. Though he thrashed the sole of the canoe like… well, a big-ass catfish, I had definitely killed him. I reckoned I was gonna have to keep him, and that meant I was gonna have to eat him.

 The Big Cat

Since normally I just catch and release, I hadn’t really planned on bringing home any fish, but now my game had changed again. If I was going to make a meal, it might as well be a good one. He was plenty big (a bit over 2ft long and probably 7 pounds). A couple more and I would have enough to cook myself a catfish fillet feast, and probably still and give some away or freeze it for later for later.

I hooked him on to my stringer, and let it trail out behind the boat as I headed back toward the dock. I hit a few more holes and pulled 2 more cats —smaller than this one, but still keepers—from the depths, then decided to call it a day.

I was beat by the time I got back to the dock. A stiff wind was blowing upstream, and the temperature was dropping. My back ached and I suddenly felt all those miles all at once. As I approached the dock rain began to spit. A man and a couple of sullen teenagers were fishing from the pier, and appeared to be packing it up for the day as well. The younger boy was all about helping me get my canoe ashore, and in the process nearly fell in when he was startled by my stringer of big cats splashing around in the shallows behind the boat.

These kids hadn’t caught a thing all day. I really didn’t need all of this fish, so I offered them the two smaller cats. They gladly accepted. I tied the boat back atop the Volvo, hastily ended the big cat’s ordeal with my hunting knife, slipped him into an empty ice bag and headed home.

After a clumsy and arduous cleaning process with completely inadequate tools, I ended up with one very decent fillet, and a pile of smaller pieced from the other fillet, which I largely mangled trying to trim it from the fish.

I fried the big fillet in a quickie beer batter, using Bisquick, an egg and half a Dogfishhead Raison D’etre which I was taking medicinally. It was good, but I had forgotten just how strong and gamey fresh catfish could be. I plopped the remaining fish in a container and tried to think of something else to do with it.

A little internetting landed me a few recipes for leftover fish, including fish cakes. You know, like crab cakes, but with fish. Hot damn, that might be just the thing. My kids might even eat something like that. As is my habit, I mashed up a few recipes and came up with a game plan. Mostly based on what I already had in the house.

After relaying the fish tale to my dad, he told me that soaking catfish in saltwater overnight would leech out some of the gamey rivery taste and make it much better "eatin’." This would increase the child consumability level even more. 

I ended up soaking it for a couple of days, and it really did help. Ultimately the kids devoured the cakes, which I simply called “home made nuggets,” for fear the word FISH might ruin everything.

The cakes turned out splendidly, and might now be my preferred way of eating channel cats. We ate them with ketchup, with some leftover dirty rice and steamed broccoli. As the kids happily munched their dinner, I was compelled to tell them about the fish, and how his life ended so that they could eat and grow and live, but then I got tired.  I decided to leave that for a more poetic kind of day.

Papa's Deep River Catfish Cakes

Should you suddenly find yourself in possession of a big ol’ pile of catfish, DON’T PANIC. Here’s what to do.

Get this:

About a pound catfish fillets, mangled or otherwise

1 medium onion, chopped

1 teaspoon yellow mustard

A tablespoon or 2 of mayo
(I didn’t have any mayo in the house, but I DID have some green goddess salad dressing, which is basically green mayo, and that worked fine)

As much Old Bay Seasoning as you can stand. Er, I mean, to taste.

2 cups crushed buttery round crackers, of the Ritz ilk.


about a cup of good vegetable oil (for frying)

Do this:

Place catfish in a saucepan with enough water to cover. Bring to a boil, and cook until fish flakes easily with a fork. This doesn’t take long when the fish is already in little pieces.

Drain off water, and mash up the fish.

Stir in the onion, mustard, mayo, Old Bay, cracker crumbs and egg.

Heat oil in skillet or pot over medium-high heat. I like to use a pot for this kind of stuff to minimize splashing stinky hot fish grease everywhere. Trust me, your house it going to smell quite enough without this mess.

Don’t be like me, turn the heat down if the oil begins to smoke. Unless you need to test your detectors anyway.

Pat the fish mixture into patties roughly the size of a large meatball, kinda flattened, and fry in the hot oil.
Drain on a towel, and serve hot. Makes 8-10 patties.

These also reheat well, and make tasty sandwiches.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Papa and the Bad Day Medicine

If, on any given day, someone bakes you a pie, I think it is fair to say that the day can’t be ALL bad. That’s my hope at least, and the inspiration behind today’s recipe.

You see, my wife has really been busting her hump at work. She does a ridiculous amount, works long hours, and even wakes up in the middle of the night sometimes to respond to incoming emails from around the world. She does this more and more, with little hope of receiving any more compensation regardless of her increased effort.

Sadly, this is the case in pretty much every industry, people work twice as hard just to keep their jobs, let alone get a raise or a promotion. And it sucks.

So here I am on a Friday, knowing she’s having a particularly rotten day, which promises to extend well into a rotten night. I believe the best thing to do is BAKE.

It's Friday afternoon, LET'S BAKE!

My wife once told me that if she ever came home and there was a fresh Key Lime Pie on the counter she would weep real tears of joy. Sounds like just the thing, eh?

So my work-week largely concluded, I set out to prove the theory I put forth in paragraph 1. This one is for you Babe, for everything you do, in the office and out.

Papa’s Bad Day Medicine Key Lime Pie

You will need:

For your Crust (no we will NOT use a premade graham cracker crust, thank you very much!)

6 tablespoons butter, melted

1-1/2 cup graham cracker crumbs (That’s a bout 2 of the packages of crackers from the box, ground up in the food processor)

1/2 cup slivered almonds

For the Filling:

1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk

1/2 cup Key lime juice

2 teaspoons grated lime zest (To my surprise and delight, you can just buy this, right the F at the store. Brilliant!)

2 eggs, separated

1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

1/4 cup sugar

Here’s what to do:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Combine the crust ingredients and pat down into a 9-inch pie pan. Bake for 5 to 10 minutes.

In a medium bowl, combine the milk, lime juice, and 1 teaspoon zest; blend in the egg yolks. Pour the filling into the crust.

Bake in the oven for a few minutes while you work on the meringue, just to help it set up a bit.

For the meringue, beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar until soft peaks form.

Gradually beat in the sugar and remaining teaspoon zest until the mixture is stiff.

Spread the meringue over the filling; spread it to touch the edge of the crust all around.

Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, or until the meringue is golden brown.

Take this meringue business with a grain of salt. I’m no expert, but no matter how long I beat this stuff, it never quite started looking like meringue from a store-bought pie. So Good luck with yours, or maybe just plop some Cool Whip on it or something.

Follow-up. The meringue doesn't look like much but tastes AWESOME. So either way you win.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Great Kale Fail -OR- Treatise on Why One Should NEVER Trust Rachael Ray

Keep your filthy
hands off my leafy
greens, Jezebel!

Ok, let me begin by saying this great failure was not Rachael’s fault. I deliberately slandered her in order to generate interest in this post. No worries, I do not fear Rachael Ray, I know who did her nose. What? Sorry, I digress.

As my faithfuls may recall, I have a stand of kale that has withstood all of winter’s rigors, and until yesterday was still putting out sweet, curly little winter leaves. The kale was my last holdout crop from summer.

Yesterday the sun was out full-power, and the temperature climbed into the 60s, so naturally I abandoned my work to go outside and play in the dirt. There was much to do before planting time; pulling old plants and roots, composting, building more raised bed boxes, etc., and I gloried in the labor outdoors.

I decided to ready the greens bed, since greens are part of the cool weather early crop, which will be planted very soon. (Stay tuned for upcoming garden plan post, it will be AWESOME!) This meant removing the last of the kale, which had soldiered on so bravely and had served me so well. I did this with some reservation. I would liken the feeling to the dog-shooting scene from Of Mice and Men, but that would be unnecessarily extreme and probably a bit upsetting. Whoops!

Kale harvested, garden bed prepared, I went inside and tried to decide what to do with this last bit of green veg. I remembered seeing this crispy kale business on TV and thinking it sounded delicious, so I looked it up and decided to give it a try after the work day was done and kiddos abed.

Here is a how-to video on the recipe I followed, made by one of Ms. Ray's minions:

Now here is where the trouble starts. The kale used by Ms. Ray in the original program and in this video is big, leafy, full-sized Tuscan kale, from the grocery store. My kale is a small, winterized version of a similar species.

In winter, kale can survive freezing temperatures by growing very thick, hard stalks and putting out smaller leaves which are thicker and curlier. The leaves contain a sort of anti-freeze, which the plant creates to allow photosynthesis and growth to occur all year. Ain’t nature amazin’?

These leaves are crunchy and sweet raw, and have a nice bite, even when pan-fried with butter as you would other greens. But in the oven—where broad, thin leaves coated lightly with olive oil (or EVOO, as Ms. Ray would chirp) get nice and crispy and delicious—small, tough, winter kale shrinks into smoldering, greasy wads. Oh well, at least we know, right?

Kale on the baking
sheet "after."


So I managed to stink up the entire house with the smell of burned weeds and failure. In the morning, when my lovely wife and kiddos were off to work and school, I was faced with a day full of work, a kitchen that smelled like a burned lawn tractor and a tray of ashen kale bits. Ok, they weren’t THAT burned, but I tried munching a few with less than pleasant results.

Then it hit me: The best thing to do in this situation was to make an omelet, obviously. And I could chop up the gnarly kale and use it to add a little kick. It worked with spinach, so why not? Plus the kale was loaded with sea salt and olive oil, so it was totally Flavor Ready (inside joke for my college friends.)

In short, it totally worked. Burned kale cooked into a semi-Greek style omelet? ROCK. Burned kale as a snack? Not so much.

Papa’s Kale Fail Omelet

You will need:

3 eggs, beaten

Splash of milk

Half an onion

Half cup of chopped tomato

Half cup of whatever cheese you like, or more accurately, whatever you have in the fridge. (Today it was feta and grated, aged parmesan. I know, right!?)

1 tbsp Butter

Half cup of failed kale. Here’s how the kale is SUPPOSED to work, so if you want to try it, more power to you. If you do not fail at the kale, you could just saute a little in the pan with the onions.

What to do:

Chop your onions, and saute in butter, I mean low calorie cooking spray, until soft.

Meanwhile beat 3 eggs in a small bowl adding a splash of milk to make it all nice and fluffy and smooth.

Chop the crispy kale into little tiny bits, then mix into the eggs

When onions are done, remove from the pan to a separate bowl and pour egg mixture into the hot pan

Cook the eggs on medium heat. When eggs begin to set up add chopped tomato, cooked onions and sprinkle with the cheeses

Fold omelet when the eggs are no longer runny on top, cook closed for just long enough for the cheese to melt, then flip, turn the heat off and let the hot pan cook the other side for about 30 seconds.

Serve with toast and coffee, if you know what’s good for you.